Ridin’ the wave

Xavier Samuel: The rising Aussie actor tells us how to fake surf and what it’s like prepping for prison
Film+TV | 10 February 2015
Interview Vincent Levy
Photography Fabien Kruszelnicki.
Fashion Adam Winder.

Xavier Samuel shot by Fabien Kruszelnicki for HERO 12: Darkness Falls

Above: Xavier Samuel shot by Fabien Kruszelnicki for HERO 12: Darkness Falls. Sweater by DKNY FW14; jewellery (worn throughout) Xavier’s own

Taken from HERO 12: Darkness Falls, out now

Xavier Samuel is refreshingly easy with his words, given his one to watch status amongst Hollywood’s finest young actors, each of his answers seems a step closer to letting his inner dialogue fully slip. Hailing from Australia you might say there’s some truth in the laid-back stereotype, but career-wise he seems to have done everything to avoid this. Despite his made for Tinseltown looks there’s been no quick succession of samey heartthrob roles, avoiding typecasting in favour of the “unchartered territory” he finds most thrilling. And flipping the biggest Aussie in Hollywood stereotype on its head, whilst Samuel didn’t begin his career on the small screen, it could well be somewhere he’s headed. Just not for a small town soap opera.

Vincent Levy: Hi Xavier, how’s your week been?
Xavier Samuel: Pretty good, it’s nice to be back in LA.

VL: Are you managing to have any kind of summer holiday?
XS: Not really, I’m kind of always working away. I haven’t seen a winter in a while though, as I usually go back to Australia towards the end of each year, and it’s summer there.

VL: That must be weird. What do you get up to when you do actually have some down time? I realised there’s surfing in three of your films, is that a hobby?
XS: No. Sometimes I think I must be the only Australian that doesn’t surf! I grew up in the suburbs, nowhere near the coast, but I think at an audition at some point I ticked the ‘Yes, I can surf’ box.

VL: Is that an approach you’d recommend when you’re setting out as an actor? Just wing it?
XS: I think that’s the general rule [laughs].

VL: [Laughs] Where do you call home now?
XS: I guess home has become a strange idea. When you move away from home, and you arrive in a new place, it’s like ‘This isn’t my home,’ but soon neither is the place you came from. I guess you figure it out on the basis of where your mail goes [laughs].

VL: You balance your Hollywood roles with plenty in Australia. I’m assuming it’s important for you to keep supporting the Aussie film industry in that way…
XS: There’s some great talent there. I want to continue to be a part of an industry that’s provided me with an amazing springboard, and really supported me and Australia is just a big part of who I am and how I see the world.

VL: Do you have an Aussie clique that you hang out with in LA?
XS: [Laughs] I don’t know if you have it as a Brit, but when you’re an Australian and you travel abroad, the last thing you expect to see is a whole bunch of your fellow countrymen. You like to imagine it’s going to be your own experience, but obviously it hasn’t been the case [laughs]. I’ve got lots of Aussie friends here and it’s good to have people around that feel familiar, but you know – it’s not like we’re all convening.

Sweater by DKNY FW14; jeans by LEVI’S FW14

Sweater by DKNY FW14

VL: Oh, so there’s no club house?
xs No, we’re not all howling at the moon [laughs].

VL: Mia Wasikowska was in September with you. Do you bump into her often?
XS: Yeah, I see Mia occasionally. That was pretty much my first film, and I think she’d just done a few before that, so when we met it was really the genesis of things for us both. She’s often off in some strange place making another film though. It’s difficult bumping into people here, as it’s rare that films actually get made in LA.

VL: What films did you watch when you were younger and think, ‘Wow, I need to be a part of that’?
XS: I loved ¡Three Amigos! when I was a kid [laughs]. It sounds ridiculous, but I was obsessed with it.

VL: So is comedy something you’d like to do more of?
XS: I don’t really have any prerequisites, or anything I’m burning passionately to do. It’s just good to change things up every so often. I think that’s what I find most exciting – the idea of unchartered territory.

VL: You’ve done some incredibly dark roles. I’m thinking of Plush especially.
XS: Well that came out of the wacky mind of Catherine Hardwicke. I played an obsessed fan that happens to be a musical prodigy. That was a trip down somewhere brilliantly unusual.

VL: Have you had any strange real life experiences with fans?
XS: [Laughs] Not really, I mean I haven’t got any stalkers, or people jumping out from around corners and handcuffing themselves to me.

VL: Even though you were in the third part of the Twilight saga? You’d assume being part of that whole phenomenon would be pretty intense.
xs Not being able to leave the hotel without the feeling of being followed – that was an odd feeling. But even in that kind of situation, I think there’s a way to deal with it all. You don’t have to perpetuate it I suppose?

VL: Your brother Benedict also acts, would you ever consider roles alongside one another?
XS: It’s something we’re always thinking about, and looking into. It may well be something we cook up ourselves, but obviously we’d want to be intelligent about it, and not create something gimmicky.

VL: Would you bash heads creatively?
XS: Well Ben is about four years younger than me, so I kind of had a head start. I moved to Sydney to be in a bigger town, and he graduated and moved up too, suddenly we were in this shared house, all friends and all actors. It sort of became the culture of the place to spend a lot of time sat at the kitchen table, having a drink and discussing our ideas. It’s really always been a part of the way we hang out.

Sweater by NEIL BARRETT FW14

VL: Do you think acting is something that’s in your blood? Or is it really more of a craft you’re constantly honing?
XS: I think it’s a combination of both. You pick up something from every new actor you work with, and it all becomes part of the artillery. But then I do think there are those that are gifted, that have something else they’re blessed with.

VL: Something indefinable?
XS: Absolutely.

VL: You’ve worked with some great names on your latest projects, what can you tell us about them?
XS: Well, Healing is a new film directed by Craig Monahan, a really talented Australian director. It’s set in a mid-security prison. Kind of like a working farm. One of the programs offered in this system is rehabilitating injured birds. Obviously there are a lot of metaphors to be drawn as you’re dealing with a caged human being and a caged bird. Fury is a World War II film, which is a really realistic, brutal look at war. It deals with a group of guys running one particular Sherman tank, and how they become a kind of family.

VL: Both films deal with pretty heavy subject matter. Is it difficult to put that down at the end of the day? Obviously acting isn’t like a nine- to-five. You can’t leave it all behind as you head for the lifts.
XS: I suppose you just weather the storm, and enter this equation where you have to say to yourself, “OK, I’m gonna be thinking about whatever it is for quite a while,” and commit yourself to that period. I mean it’s not like I’m having nightmares and sitting up in the middle of the night [laughs].

VL: I just wondered whether some of the emotions stick somehow?
XS: Yeah they do kind of linger. When we were shooting Healing, we were coming from set in these green prison outfits, but staying at this kind of vineyard. So there’s us amongst the Mulberry trees and a bunch of sheep drinking Pinot Noir, thinking “I’ve gotta go to prison tomorrow.” It’s bizarre more than anything – those two worlds together. We did actually go to this prison and talk to the inmates, it was just about trying to ask questions respectfully without being a privileged bunch of wankers.

VL: That must have been difficult. Forgive me for steering things somewhere lighter so quickly but how was it working on Fury with the legend that is Brad Pitt?
XS: [Laughs]. Well I always think it’s crap when people say in these situations, ‘Everyone was really talented, and really down to earth’ as if we’re all playing Ring a Ring o’ Roses or whatever, but he’s genuinely a down to earth, totally professional, incredibly talented guy. I think that could be partly why he’s had such longevity, because he’s a really nice person and he does his job so well.

Jeans by LEVI’S FW14

VL: Another name you worked with fairly recently, also of that generation, is Robin Wright in Adore. She’s just as transfixing in House of Cards on Netflix. Is television something you’d consider, now that the whole medium is being reconsidered?
XS: Absolutely. The tables have turned I think, and it also presents this rare, unique opportunity to spend hours and hours with a particular character. I was actually just watching The Sopranos for the first time, and it’s so full on. I think to turn your nose up at that would just be crap.

VL: The thirst for it is amazing as well, because you can obviously just sit there getting square-eyed for six hours.
XS: Yes. The fact that now it’s all within your control. I remember growing up and having to wait a week for the next episode of Dawson’s Creek! [laughs] You’d be like, “Fuck!” if you missed it.

VL: [Laughs] So you were a Dawson’s Creek fan?
XS: [laughs] I’m sure I was just roped into it. I promise I don’t have any Dawson’s Creek lunch boxes or anything. That would be disturbing. Everyone watched it didn’t they? Don’t make me feel like the odd one out here.

VL: [Laughs] I could probably sing the whole theme tune.
XS: [Laughs] But now you can just binge! A Breaking Bad binge, why not? Get it done. A good friend of mine is in the Garth Davis series Top of the Lake, and I sat down and watched the whole thing at Sundance. It was just so overwhelming. I was a mess.

VL: A great indulgence, really. Going back to our talk of ‘legends’, it’s been reported that you’re to play the real life kind. Is it true you’ve won the role of Banjo Paterson?
XS: Well, I mean that’s the word around the campfire. I think they’re still trying to get things organised, and hopefully it will be up and running. The script is actually less about Banjo Paterson the poet, and more about the shearers’ strike and political unrest in Australia at that time. Hopefully it will all happen.

VL: Say it does – how do you go about preparing?
XS: Well obviously there’s a library worth of reference material. I think when you hear Banjo Paterson you think of some dude out in the bush with a beard, but he was a refined poet and a city guy. I think it’s probably more daunting if it’s someone that everyone knows well, who’s part of the public consciousness.

VL: Isn’t he on the Australian ten dollar bill?
XS: Yeah he is, but I don’t think a lot of people know much about who he really was. He was a highly regarded poet – comparable to Rudyard Kipling in the world at that time. Maybe I should retract that statement actually? I’m sure the vast majority of Australians know all about the guy [laughs].

VL: So what else is on the horizon? Is there a grand plan?
XS: Not particularly. Just the idea of working with my friends, and working with people I admire, that are interested in telling stories in a compelling way. It sounds like I’m beating around the bush, but right now I’m just too grateful to be thinking about it all too much.

VL: OK. What about for the rest of the day then?
XS: Well it’s kind of a nice day here, maybe I’ll go for a stroll.

VL: It’s always a nice day in LA isn’t it?
XS: Yes, actually [laughs].

Fashion images additional credits: Hair KOTA SUIZU at CAREN using TIGI BED HEAD; make-up HADEEL EL-TAL using SISLEY SKIN CARE; fashion assistants KAYLEIGH JONES and CHIORI TAKAMATSU

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