Photography by Daniel Boud
The title says it all. Griff is indeed an invisible superhero (of sorts), but as writer-director Leon Ford and co-star Maeve Dermody point out, it’s actually a few decidedly less fantastical powers that are winning over audiences: charm, whimsy and a great big heart. For Ford the movie can be seen as "a comedy, a romance or a superhero film."
Bridging all of these genres is Aussie expat Ryan Kwanten, who returns from his time on the vampiric TV series True Blood to take the lead in Ford’s feature debut. Bullied office worker by day, caped crusader by night, Griff is a long time loner who unwittingly finds a partner in crime in his brother’s new girlfriend, Melody (Dermody). As a fable about meeting your match and embracing your quirks (as well as knocking a few heads), Griff the Invisible both delightfully confounds and exceeds expectations.
Basking in sunny Sydney Harbour, Ford and Dermody recall their recent visit to the Berlinale, where Griff the Invisible screened to a packed house of 1000 as part of the Generations Programme.
“[The audience] were just loving it, like it was a rock concert or something,” enthuses Ford, “and also in Toronto we had a really amazing response. North Americans are very vocal and effusive so that was really thrilling.”
Ford has a theory on what’s striking audiences, and quotes a YouTube comment that puts it best. “'This is like Kick Ass, but the one that my girlfriend would want to see.' To be honest I didn’t see Kick Ass,” Ford admits, “But I think that’s perfect pitch for it; it’s a date film. The guy is going to enjoy it, but it’s mainly a romantic film.”
But with Griff well and truly ensconced in his own crime-fighting world, the film really calls on Melody to be the story’s beating heart. This shifts a significant weight onto the slender shoulders of 25-year-old Dermody, who proves more than up to the challenge after stealing scenes on both stage and screen in recent productions such as Rachel Ward’s Beautiful Kate and the Sydney Theatre Company’s Our Town. “It’s about the combination of the two,” Dermody gently demurs. “Ryan had to carry a hell of a lot too.”
Citing Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Paul Thomas Anderson’s Punch Drunk Love as influences, Dermody clearly has a lot of affection for Melody. “She was this beautiful, amazing character and I had to find ways to honour her.”
Melody’s relationship with Griff also needed some special magic, which Dermody and Kwanten conjured in a rather novel way. “We did a lot of not talking,” she explains. “We hung out and we kind of gazed at each other a little bit. You have to do this work of fostering something. You don’t know exactly what you’re doing but you just kind of fall in love, and it’s not with Ryan Kwanten, it’s with Griff.”
This silent staring contest obviously worked, to their director’s delight. “Much to our relief as soon as we started running the scenes, it was just like, ‘Oh this is perfect. They have the same tempo, they have the same sense of humour and understanding’,” he says.
And while Kwanten’s True Blood gloss can’t help but add to audience appeal, initially at least, this connection was lost on Ford. “I know, it’s embarrassing,” he admits. “I’d heard his name but I hadn’t watched True Blood.”
After missing the chance to meet with the casting director in LA, Kwanten emailed a thirty-second monologue that simply stunned Ford. “I watched this clip on my laptop and was like, ‘My god, who is this guy? He’s ticking every single box for the character,’” Ford recalls. “But most importantly he’s just got these eyes that you fall in love with. You fall into. They’re so honest and they just see straight through you. He gave the character that I had written such dignity that I just loved him.”
“Then I saw True Blood and I was like, ‘Hang on! Whoa whoa whoa! How can that be [the same guy]?’”
Griff is certainly a far remove from Kwanten’s turn as True Blood heartthrob Jason Stackhouse. In fact the character comes across as so distinctly odd, that one starts to wonder if he might have a psychological condition. But while aware of this interpretation, Ford and Dermody are careful to qualify it.
“It’s about diversity,” offers the actress, and Ford agrees, “I have a personal thing about all these names people start giving all these conditions that people have that probably always existed, and probably used to exist under the broader term ‘personality,’ but now have very specific, medicated names.”
So rather than psychologising its hero, Griff the Invisible opts for the charm of magical realism.
“I wanted the audience to sit in [Griff and Melody’s] heads, not outside,” Ford says. “I wanted the audience to think that [their] world looks like just as much fun, more fun than the normal world, so why would I even think about judging someone who is having that much fun?”
Chronicling how inspiration struck from watching a child at play, Ford recalls poignantly pondering, “That just looks like so much fun. I wish I could still do that, but I can’t.”
“Everyone who’s sitting in the cinema will hopefully be aware that we have that [childlike imagination] inside us, and that we did have to give it up at some point, be it because we were being teased, or just general conformity, or growing up,” he concludes. “And in that way I think Griff and Melody are very brave people, because they don’t give that up.”
Street Press Australia (flip to page 57)
Click HERE to read my review
Australian DVD release date: August 2011
US release date: 19 August 2011
And because I was lucky enough to have the marvellous Daniel Boud accompany me on the interview, here are a few more of his gorgeous photographs. See more of his work over at Boudist.