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How Geoffrey Wright Re-Invented ‘Romper Stomper’ for Modern Australia

Writer-director on updating the Australian cult film for the small screen and modern times, with help from social media, anarchists and new targets for right-wing hate.

It’s been over two decades since Russell Crowe ran the streets of Melbourne, playing the extreme right-wing skinhead Hando in Geoffrey Wright’s Romper Stomper in 1992. Now, for anyone who is curious what happened to the survivors of Wright’s brilliant cinematic diatribe, Stan is continuing the story as a six-episode television series — which premiered on the streaming service on January 1st.

Fusing political rhetoric, modern media mayhem and the rage that fuelled the original film; Jaqueline McKenzie, Dan Wyllie and John Brumpton represent the old guard while a host of new faces, including David Wenham and Lachy Hulme, help bring Wright’s epic vision to a new generation.

We spoke to the director about returning to the world of Romper Stomper and revisiting the characters that made his career…

How has it been stepping back to the world of Romper Stomper, a world you created over 25 years ago?
Well, it wasn’t really a step back, it’s not the old story. Some of the old characters come back, almost acknowledging the time that has passed since the old film. But it’s a different world and a different story.

What can you tell us about that story?
I think it’s fair to say that it is inspired by real events in the Western world, and elsewhere. I think the far right has found a place for itself somewhere in the mainstream. The far left has done, perhaps, something similar. I find that the world of 2017 is politically quite different to the world of 1992 but not less conducive for the mentality of characters like Hando but perhaps a little more accommodating.

It’s fascinating that the anger and hate of the film has now become the norm in the mainstream…
The feeling certainly has but the targets for the anger are not who they used to be. The series, and certainly block one, episodes 1 & 2, acknowledges that. In the film Hando had a big problem with Vietnamese people but in the series, the Vietnamese and Asian people in general, are accepted into modern Australian society. Now the targets for racial hatred are definitely different.

It must have been great to work with Jacqueline, Dan and John again?
Yes, it was. I think they fell back into their roles with varying degrees of ease. [Laughs] It seems appropriate as a concept to bring them back and it seemed appropriate in practice to work with them. It was the right thing to do. It felt right.

romper stomper lachy hulme
Lachy Hulme as Blake Farron, leader of right-wing group Patriot Blue in a scene from the first episode of Romper Stomper.

What made you make the return to Romper Stomper a television show rather than a film?
It certainly could have been a film. I was working on other film ideas at the time. Because of what was going on in the world politically, it was bubbling away in the back of my head that there was another movie in it. People have asked me about a sequel for a long time but I’d never thought it was appropriate. I was very surprised after Brexit and the Trump election, to find myself thinking, well now is the time. And other people have had similar ideas. As it was John and Dan Edwards who, as TV producers, who also had that idea. There were other companies that had approached us [Wright and the original film producer Daniel Scharf] so several factions all had the same idea, all around the same time, because of what was happening with the headlines around the world. It kind of made sense. Stan is committed to producing, and showing, local stories so Romper Stomper fitted into their strategic ambitions. So that is how it came to pass.

Are you prepared for the potential controversy that Romper Stomper may cause?
I don’t think it will be as great as what people think. I don’t care if it is or it isn’t, it makes no difference to me. If anyone has had experience with this stuff, I have. It’s water off a duck’s back to me. I was asked the same question twenty years ago. My whole point is that it will be a storm in a tea cup! I do think the West has probably lost some of its ability to talk about these issues. I think political correctness is a genuine problem. At the same time, it’s a clumsy attempt to address genuine issues. The sentiment is all right but what it brings about is wrong in my opinion. I don’t like it. I suppose I’m starting to think that the PC thing is starting to fray a little bit so there may not be as much controversy as people think. I guess there is some novelty. Nobody has tried to put Antifa in a fictional story before. So that’s kind of funny and interesting. I do know that the local far left, at first were quite disapproving of what we were doing but I did notice some other voices chiming in saying just wait and see.

It would be great to talk about the young cast, spearheaded by Toby Wallace. How did you go about casting?
Well I saw Toby in Boys In The Trees which was a very different story but I saw in him a lot of pent up energy that wasn’t being used in that story because it wasn’t required. However, I thought to myself I would like to tap into that energy because I can see it. It’s fair to say, there was a lot of debate. I didn’t have any doubts, I think the kid has really got something, he’s a huge talent. But I think Toby has been misunderstood in the way he had been cast in the past. Maybe he had fallen into that as well because, well, people just want to work don’t they? So they go along with the flow but I did detect in him certain contradictions that I thought could be used in other material that was very different to anything he’d done in the past.

romper stomper tobyToby Wallace as Kane in Romper Stomper.

The rest of the cast includes the likes of Lachy Hulme, David Wenham and Sophie Lowe. Did you have any of the actors in mind when you were writing the script?
I try to avoid preconception when I’m writing but as soon as I stop and start looking around ideas start to flow very quickly and to me Sophie Lowe, she should be in Game Of Thrones. She’s a strange, medieval, mystical character who has somehow found herself in the 21st century. She’s fantastic and she’s perfect for episode 1 and 2. Lachy I’d worked with before on Macbeth but he’s done a lot of work since then. He’s very game, he’s has a go. He always tries things out and I like that in an actor. He does not lack guts.

And the role Lachy is playing, you need someone like that…
It’s not an attractive role and a lot of actors are concerned about their image. I like actors who go, you know what, this is interesting, I don’t care how grotesque I look or how I came across, I’m doing this. I love that attitude. I think in the modern era to many actors are concerned about their image.

Watching the film again recently I was reminded how great the score was. How will you be using music in the TV show?
The sort of music that John [Clifford White] used so brilliantly in the movie, there’s no equivalent to that in modern times. The racists and nationalists that we are dealing with don’t blast away on the type of music that was relevant to skinheads on the streets back in 1993. So the music plays a different role in this series. It’s not as in your face and confronting. There is some stuff called “Fash-wave”. Like all music, there are versions of it that are interesting, and versions that are not interesting to listen to. We saw that as one possibility. John has revamped the original movie theme but Richard Pike, from the band PVT, is composing the series score. He’s putting together synth music of different types that we’ve used to score the series. I couldn’t lie about it and say they are still listening to Nazi Punk that they had in the early 90s because they don’t. I’m sure they are individuals that do but as a group, by and large, that is not the case. And we have to be truthful.

Top photo: Geoffrey Wright on set. Credit: Ben King.