Stephan Elliott is a man on a mission – well two missions, actually. He’s been chilling out here in Byron as a kind of intermission in the midst of promoting the release of his latest film A Few Best Men starring, among others, Olivia Newton John.
The Aussie wedding comedy, which is released tomorrow, will have an extra leg-up courtesy of both David Stratton and Margaret Pomeranz giving it four stars.
Not only has Stratton lined up behind the movie but he’s also backing Elliott’s other mission: building a list of celebrities and businesspeople supporting the call for gay marriage equality. (More of that campaign and how Elliott came to it later.)
It should come as no surprise that the writer-director of Priscilla: Queen of the Desert is an accomplished raconteur. As I switch my iPhone to record he recounts a hilarious anecdote of how he landed his ‘bride’, Laura Brent, by getting her to submit a screen test via iPhone from a youth hostel in Germany in the middle of the night – three hours before the deadline – ably supported by a sleepy German backpacker.
Everything about A Few Best Men has been that fast and furious.
‘From the time I put pen to paper to finishing a film it’s usually six years. Then I’ve got to promote it. That can be another year.’
This time he has gone from first take to first night in just 12 months. This is unheard of for a $14 million movie.
And Australia is the first country to see it.
‘The rest of the world will be watching us this weekend,’ he says.
‘It’s a romp, it’s a farce, it’s stupid, it’s got poo jokes. And we’re really proud of it. People are laughing from start to finish – and it’s pissed a lot of critics off.
‘I’ve had quite a few people come back and say “oh is this how low he’s gone?” And I’ve said, “I’m making a really broad commercial comedy. This is what people have wanted me to do for my entire career – and now I’m getting picked on for it”,’ he quips.
One of the delightful twists of the film is that it takes a bunch of British yobbos and plants them among a family of Aussie landed gentry. How often have we seen that premise in reverse?
‘The initial script was set in the UK and the boys were quite posh and I completely flipped it. I said, “no we’re moving it back to Australia,” and the first thing they assumed was that we would go after Bill the Battler in Queensland. And I said, “no, for the first time ever in history it’s going to be the English who are the yobs”’.
The big surprise will be seeing Olivia Newton John ‘completely trashing everything she’s ever thought about herself in one movie’.
‘She is one of the kindest souls I’ve ever met. So having befriended her and had a few drinks and realised she’s a bit of a hoot, I said it’s time she unleashed that bit. She was apprehensive at first but she really got into the swing of things. And she completely let go. And the reaction is fantastic. People are just killing themselves laughing.’
As if he didn’t have enough on his plate with a movie about to open, Stephan is almost as hyped about his second mission: building a list of prominent supporters of gay marriage equality. How did that come about?
While Elliott has never made a secret of being gay (he did write and direct Priscilla after all) never did he consider himself a part of the gay political movement.
That is, until he almost died in a skiing accident in France a few years back and was unable to be accompanied by his partner of almost 20 years in the ambulance, in what he believed would be his final hour, because their partnership had no legal standing.
‘The doctor had told me I was going to die. And I realised I couldn’t say goodbye to my partner because they wouldn’t let him in the ambulance. So that was the trigger that got me revved up.
‘Then they legalised civil unions in the UK. And that was quite a magical point because with our families it’s always been the elephant in the room. Once they realised we’d done it – and we got press coverage in Australia and the UK – it forced our families to realise that we were a loving couple. But it took that civil union to force the issue on them.
‘Now I realise how much good it’s done. And then to come back [to Australia] and see that after going so far forward we’ve gone so far backward.
‘What’s been so dreadful over the last couple of months has been to see politicians arguing about it endlessly, to the point that we’ve got terrible problems going on and that’s all they could argue about.
‘So my thought was that we’ve got to put a positive spin on this because the only people who were talking about it were the politicians.
I’m not just going after celebrities; I’m going after business people too. In the next week, a lot of incredibly senior, powerful business figures in this country are signing up. We’ve got a big fundraiser [tonight] and I’m going to read a list of names that’s going to shock people.
‘It’s just like people coming out: there’s all that horror, all that noise, and then they come out and people say “oh yeah, great… get on with it!”’
Image: Man on a mission: Stefan Elliott chilling out in Belongil this week. Photo Jeff ‘King of the Desert’ Dawson