CLAYTON JACOBSON Brother’s keeper

A black comedy about two brothers with murder on their mind may seem like a curious second outing from the director of Kenny, but Clayton Jacobson thinks the two films have a lot of similarities underpinning them. His latest film, Brothers’ Nest, sees him once again pairing with his real life brother, Shane Jacobson, to bring a dark slice of Australian cinema to the big screen. DAVID O’CONNELL sat down with Clayton to talk about a film that fitted the Jacobson brothers like a glove.

What drew you to Brothers’ Nest, as it’s almost like this script was written for you?

It’s funny you should say that, it was written for me. It was one of those lovely moments where I was experiencing one of those common times that directors have, where they have trouble getting a second film up. I’ve had a number of things fall on their knees, and was finding it hard. Jamie Brown, a writer friend called up, and said “l hope you don’t mind, I’ve written a piece for you and your brother”. I said it was incredibly flattering. “Well you might want to read it first before you say flattering,” he said. Then I read it and knew what he meant by that (Clayton’s character, Jeff, is far from a flattering character – DOC).

It really was tailored for Shane and myself. Shane was incredibly supportive. “We’ll just do it, and you’ll have another film up. Let’s just push that wagon a bit and see if gravity will take hold.”

This is a darker comedy than Kenny, how did you find maintaining that balance between comedy and the darker elements here?

It’s funny as I’m drawn to that kind of Coen-esque humor. And it’s interesting as people see Kenny as a comedy, but it’s a very black film. It’s about a man seeking validation from anyone, and being put upon by everyone. So I do like that canon of film making, where you are saying something about the human condition. There are laughs in there but they are born out of a reality around us. It’s that classic old adage of tragedy plus time equals comedy.

The original script was much darker, but you can’t have an audience leaving the cinema feeling drained. So much of the time was spent massaging the ride. A roller-coaster isn’t a roller-coaster without the some scary moments, but it can’t just hit a wall. It takes a few twists and an unexpected turn, but we do ease everyone back at the end.

Not to give anything away, but considering how strained the family relationships get, especially in one sequence in the car graveyard, was there anything you found cathartic about filming this?

The saddest thing about Shane’s fame is how little time I get to spend with him. There are very few people in the world I’d like to spend every waking moment with, apart from my partner, my own family and Shane. He’s an absolute joy. The great thing about this rather than when we were doing Kenny is that he has his chops up. He’s worked with a lot of really great directors, and l was curious to see how it’d play out. Shane is so film savvy now, I actually had a comrade with me.

There’s seven years difference between us, and there was a period where I couldn’t stand the bastard. He was this annoying little ankle biter that wanted to be everywhere I was. My dad pulled me aside and told me once “that kid idolises you – you’re his older brother.” Now that’s not a given, if you fuck that up, you can’t repair it. And l damn near nearly did when Kenny came out. The older brother kicked in again, until Shane told me he had to go forward his own way and be his own person. When it came to this, l reminded him of that. We revisited some dark moments and really amped them up. So it was really cathartic doing those scenes, and l know we scared the crew a couple of times.

As you’ve said Jeff isn’t a flattering character. How was it to play someone so capable of justifying almost anything?

That’s the sadness of the character. You know, here is a character that has been at sea since the death of his father. So he’s had to readjust and find his own place in the world, and a lot of that’s been about mythologizing his father. I think if you lie to yourself as often as that character has, you start believing it as truth. He’s actually a weak desperate character masquerading as the older brother, and gotten away with it,

In a strange way, that’s what I like about it. We took those common hierarchical things that exist in a family unit, and just put a Bunsen burner under things and really let them cook.

You’re also playing a character obsessed with lists and schedules. At the same time you also had to be obsessed with schedules because you were directing. How did you handle that?

It wasn’t lost on me that I was doing the same thing to Shane that my character was in the film. The irony was, I’m the director, I am in a weird sort of way playing that character both on and off screen…not with the same malice! It really forced me to investigate it all and revisit those structures.

I say it’s a two-hander, but there was a third omnipresent character in the farm. What prompted the change from the initial plans just to shoot it at your farm?

The honest answer is, I said to Shane we can’t shoot this at my farm. My farm’s a great farm to live in, but it’s pretty clean cut. You’re going to be looking at two fat guys in orange suits and white walls. How long is that going to hold anyone’s attention?

One of the things I love about film making, is that the script should be your bible. I want a good road map but I love straying off the beaten track. I have attitude about film-making. You get these nuances, these happy collisions that happen on the way.

The first place the location manager went to was the one we ended up shooting at, but I thought it was wrong. I thought we weren’t going to be able to afford to get all those radios out because it’s so cluttered. But there was just this niggling thing, so I decided to go there. I actually fell in love with the place, so much so that I actually rang up the writer and said we have to rework the script to suit the place, and that’s what we did.

Over your career you’ve been a writer, director and actor. Which do you prefer?

Directing. It’s just so much fun. That thing when you are a kid and inventing worlds. You are like a little demigod, creating worlds. Every skill you have as a human being gets exercised.