17.11.2009 0

Art and Culture: Hollywood actor Anthony LaPaglia goes international at the Antipodean Film Festival in Saint-Tropez

More than just a trace of Oz

Think of Hollywood actor Anthony LaPaglia and the word "Australian" may not be the first that springs to mind. Famous for playing Jack Malone, the lead in the hit US TV series 'Without a Trace', LaPaglia is so well known as a tough talking New Yorker these days that most people have no idea that he was born and bred in Southern Australia.

Portrait of Anthony LaPaglia
TV and film star, Anthony LaPaglia, was taking a well-earned time out at the relaxed and fun film festival in Saint-Tropez

Having been living in the United States for over thirty years, he has no hint of an Aussie accent nowadays and he says, without hesitating, that he sees himself as an American. However, this doesn't mean he hasn’t retained a great love for his childhood home. So much so, that he couldn’t have been more delighted to receive an invitation from the organiser of the Cinema des Antipode to come to Saint-Tropez and represent Australian film makers on the festival's prize committee.

A whirlwind world tour

LaPaglia is clearly enjoying the relaxed, autumnal Saint-Tropez scene when we meet by the pool at the Hotel des Lices on the penultimate day of the festival. "This is my first time in Saint-Tropez," he tells me, "and it's so beautiful.”

Considering he's been on the road for the past two months, promoting his new film Balibo, it's no wonder he’s appreciating the festival’s intimate, laidback vibe. Since Balibo’s premiere in Melbourne in early August, LaPaglia has been travelling non-stop. After Saint-Tropez, he’s headed to the London Film Festival, where Balibo, which LaPaglia produced and also starred in, has been shortlisted for Best Film.

For LaPaglia it's a considerable achievement that this small production, with a budget of three and a half million dollars, is being recognised on the international stage. Perhaps all the more so because the subject matter deals with an uncomfortable episode in Australia's recent history: the murder of five young journalists during the 1975 Indonesian military campaign in East Timor.

LaPaglia explains that the film has had such an impact back home that the government has reopened the murder case after 35 years, a move that jeopardises Australian trade relations with Indonesia. "I hate saying stuff like this but it really is the film I am most proud of. And it’s not that I want to be a political creature in public," he adds, "in that respect I see myself as the Switzerland of the celebrity world, because I think people should make their own minds up and not listen to the opinion of some actor."

This is typical LaPaglia: unstarry and without an overblown sense of his own importance. The 50 year-old credits his attitude to his age - "when you’ve gone from the youngest to the oldest on set, you stop suffering from shallow angst and you relax about your success" - and his Australian upbringing. "Of course you need a certain amount of ego to be an actor in the first place, to assume people want to watch you but growing up in Adelaide I was always taught not to take myself too seriously," he shrugs. "Australians are more like the Brits in the way that we can laugh at ourselves. I think it helps stop our egos from getting too out of control."

Love affair with Europe

LaPaglia also has strong ties to Europe, his mother was Dutch and his father was a "fresh from the boat" Italian immigrant. Although he doesn't know France as well as Italy, his experience of the festival and of Saint-Tropez this time around has been very favourable. "It's been wonderful, everyone has been so professional and welcoming. Even the journalists here have been different: more knowledgeable about cinema and interested in the craft of film making. No one has opened an interview by asking me what my favourite breakfast cereal is," he laughs. It is, of course, my final question.

Before he rushes off to watch Lucky Country, which is the final screening in the festival’s Best Film competition (Samson and Delilah ultimately wins the prize), I suggest to LaPaglia that he buys a bolthole in the Cote. "No really, I'm thinking about it," he says nodding seriously before winking, "then I'd truly be a citizen of the world.”

Balibo had its European premiere in London on October 20th and is on general release in the UK this month.

Hannah Marshall

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