Picnic at Hanging Rock cast speak about how the retelling of the classic is so relevant
The show, based on the classic 1967 Australian novel, tells the story of three students and their teacher who mysteriously disappear while on a school picnic on Valentine's Day
Picnic at Hanging Rock, the highly-anticipated series based on the cult 1967 Australian novel of the same name by Joan Lindsay which was also adapted into a feature film in 1975 by Peter Weir, will premier on Amazon Prime on May 25.
Ahead of the show's release, we spoke to the cast members to find out what it was like filming this fascinating story. In conversation with us were Alyssa Tuddenham and Kate Bradford who play the Kenton sisters, Lily and Rose, Tom Hobbs who plays the role of Louis Montpelier, and Aaron Glenane who plays Reg Lumley.
1. Critics say that the novel Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay is one of best Australian novels out there. Did you read the book in preparation for the role?
Alyssa Tuddenham: Before I was cast in Picnic, I hadn’t read the book but I was interested in finding out a little more about my character and the story. So I borrowed the book from the library but, to be honest, I never quite finished the whole book.
Kate Bradford: Yes, I’m a lover of Australian writing and I loved the story behind its creation, author Joan Lindsay is said to have dreamt the plot of Picnic at Hanging Rock, which makes the dream-like qualities of both the film and mini-series so fitting and great.
Aaron Glenane: I would have to agree. As I read Picnic At Hanging Rock in preparation, I was surprised by how incredibly relevant the themes and characters' predicaments still are 51 years after the book was written. The beauty of Joan’s writing is that, in one sentence ,she can spark your imagination to branch off in many different directions, as she did for me with Reg and developing the relationship with his sister Dora.
Tom Hobbs: No, I haven’t read the book.
2. Have you watched the 1975 film adaptation of the book? What did you think about it?
Alyssa: I think it is an iconic Australian film and Peter Weir did such a great job of making Australia fall in love with Joan Lindsay’s novel. He shows the beauty of Australia with some amazing cinematography and the music adds extra thrill and mystery to the story.
Kate: Yes, it’s come up quite a few times in my life, probably in most people’s lives who grew up here, as it was so instrumental to Australian cinema. I love it for what it represents – the breaking of convention and the Australian story.
Aaron: Criminally, I haven’t seen the original, which is a huge sin because it’s an Australian classic and I love Peter Weir. I’ve been told it’s one of the most eerie and unsettling pieces of cinema you’ll ever see. I’m clearing my schedule right now!
Tom: I watched it when I was very young, and I remember feeling worried about what was happening to the characters in the film.
3. What kind of preparation did you do for your role in the mini-series?
Alyssa: We attended a deportment class before we started filming for the mini-series. After the class, I really got an understanding of how restricting life was for a woman in the 1900s and how this reimagining of Joan Lindsay’s novel will be ever so relevant.
Kate: I chose to do some research that involved gathering images, watching films and collecting materials that resonate with the character and time. A big one for me is also mentally preparing by keeping up with my yoga practice, looking after myself with self-care practices, making sure I feel inspired by filling myself up with creativity and peace.
Aaron: The exciting part was understanding and inhabiting Reg’s mindset and the way he saw the world. He’s a man who desires to reach the peak of society both financially and socially, yet, through his upbringing, has never developed the skills to get there. He holds his sister incredibly close because it’s where he gets his affection. His devotion to his religion is something he hangs his cap on. People may question his commitment to the community, yet, they cannot question his commitment to his faith. Reg wants people to know his name and to be remembered. And that’s exciting to act! One of my favorite quotes from the book about Reg goes, “In an agony of frustrated oratory and punctured self-esteem, he was obliged to pass the time as best he could.”
Tom: I focused on the aspects of Louis that were mostly foreign to me — his occupation as a watchmaker, his French background but Australian upbringing, the time he lived in, what drove him and how driven he was? These are some of the things that allow me to form an idea of how Louis regards himself in society and how he walks down a street. With these aspects and the help of the script, I could understand what his personal thoughts might be.
4. What made you want to audition for this role?
Alyssa: With it being such an iconic Australian story, I was very interested when I was asked to send in a self-tape. As soon as I read the script, I knew that it was going to have an impact and I’m so grateful I was able to be a part of it.
Kate: I’m passionate about Australian work in any form. There’s so much opportunity for women in this story and the potential is huge. I’d also just seen Picnic at Hanging Rock on stage at Malthouse Theatre (directed by Matthew Lutton) and it was my favorite show of the season. It was so different to any way I’d ever viewed Picnic. The ensemble was incredibly strong and talented, and it was terrifying! I was sitting next to a school group and everyone was gasping and jumping in their seats, including me. After such a fresh re-envisioning, auditioning was a no-brainer.
Aaron: Beatrix and Alice’s scripts are phenomenal. Not unlike Joan, they write in a way that sparks creativity. For example, when describing Reg and Dora’s house, they write, “The Lumley abode tells us that a roof and walls do not make a home. Reg’s bachelor habits have underlined an absence of love with a layer of dirt.” A home reflects the person and this got my brain ticking over as to what this says about Reg. It’s terrific. The opportunity to work alongside Natalie Dormer was incredibly exciting. I was blown away. She is a masterful actress who has such a graceful gravity.
Tom: In a series where the notion of time is constantly distorted and tested, Louis, surrounded by clocks, is the keeper of time. I was drawn to that. It's a fascinating role to play.
5. Name a co-star you loved working with. Why?
Alyssa: It is so hard to name just one person as everyone was so lovely and genuine, especially when we were all tightly confined in corsets and many layers. The energy on set was so positive and crazy. Everyone brought their own individuality to it and shared so much with each other.
Kate: I loved working with the women I did most of my scenes with: Bethany, Markella, Mayah and Alyssa. We formed a strong friendship right off the bat and it’s continued after shooting. It is one of the most lovely things to come out of the project. I turned 23 in Ballarat while we were staying on location and they surprised me with balloons, gifts and a whole vegan spread. I cried!
Aaron: I was fortunate enough to share most of my scenes with the incredible Yael Stone. Yael is hugely experienced and, while I learnt many things from her, the biggest takeaway was that you can never go too far with your character if it comes from a place of truth. Her characters are so detailed and rich, she’s unrecognizable from role to role, which I love. Yael’s such a skilful actor and, on top of everything, she’s a lovely woman.
Tom: I filmed most of my scenes with Lola Bessis. She is a really great human. Very funny, sharp and witty and a generous actor which made working together always a pleasure.
6. Out of all the projects you've worked on so far, how highly would you rate your performance on Picnic at Hanging Rock?
Alyssa: Having only worked on small student films, being a part of such a large production certainly brought a new taste of the industry.
Kate: I don’t view my work in that way, but I’m proud of the project and my contribution.
Aaron: Haha. I’ll let you guys be the judge of my performance. As a working experience, this was definitely in the top tree. Larysa was pushing the boundaries both with performance and cinematography in a way that I hadn’t seen before. Wiping panes of glass across the lens, shooting scenes multiple times while raising the camera a couple of millimeters higher or lower to create a distorted, dream-like feeling, it was amazing to watch. She’s a physical director who "gets her hands dirty" with you. Her energy really rubs off on you as a performer and she pushed me to go to the limits.
Tom: 8 out of 10? Wait, no, 9 out of 8. I don’t know. The last thing I want to do is rate myself in such an opinionated industry. You be the judge.
7. Looking back at the series now, is there anything that you would like to change?
Alyssa: I don’t think there is anything I would really change, especially watching it with my friends and family, seeing all the shots come together, even though I had read the script, I was still so invested in the series, gasping at all the little twists. It still blows me away seeing how talented everyone is and how every detail matters.
Kate: I would reflect even more strongly on how those times would've affected the women and what it meant to be a young woman at that time. We all felt it just by wearing the costumes: corseted, covered, "feminine". Always being watched. Perhaps that was enough. But it’s definitely what stuck with me.
Aaron: I wish Reg had fallen off his 1900s bike more often! I was acting so hard to stay on the thing I should’ve been more truthful and fallen off!
Tom: I have just seen the first episode, so call me in a few weeks. I always try to enter a role as prepared as possible and then, when it's time to step on set, I try to let it all go and trust the moment that something interesting can happen between myself and the other actors, and, of course, the camera.
8. How hard is it to land a role in a good series or film?
Alyssa: There isn’t a big range of productions happening in Australia compared to the US. It is such a demanding and challenging industry to be a part of. Picnic was my first role in a big production and I’m so grateful for that opportunity and experience as it has really made me want to work harder and pursue this career no matter how challenging it may be.
Kate: I don’t really focus on that. If there are no good roles, write something! Or create the thing that’s missing.
Aaron: Make no mistake. It’s challenging. But so is anything that is worth pursuing. I like the challenge. It’s like playing snakes and ladders. You start off heading along square one, square two and so on. Then you might jump up a huge ladder, or you might come falling back down a snake. But, as with all great games, the key is to keep playing!
Tom: It's very difficult. There is so much hard work involved from a lot of people, and then, the stars need to align for it to become real.
9. What did you do before you started acting?
Alyssa: I have always aspired to be an actor but in my final years of high school there was a big pressure to study and do something "useful". So, aside from acting, I am now a fully qualified early childhood educator and have a class of little three-year-old that I currently teach.
Kate: I didn’t have a strong sense of direction before I found acting. All I knew is that I had to do something creative that I was intensely passionate about. I played music, wrote, created art. Then acting stole my heart!
Aaron: When I was a kid, my job of choice was to be an NBA basketball player. I wanted to share the court with Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen. When that didn’t play out, I was fortunate enough to realize in my late teens that I wanted to act. And I haven’t looked back. Nothing else has inspired me in the same way acting does. However, to become an actor, I’ve had many jobs along the way. Shoveling up horse shit and cleaning out 1850s boilers at Sovereign Hill, setting up and pulling down circus tents, hosting corporate functions in boot scootin' classes, retail, bartending, teaching... It goes on.
Tom: I have always liked flying and I love space. I'm terrified of it but also so desperately want to get out there and venture into other worlds. So, I wanted to be a pilot or an astronaut, but I didn’t have the math skills for either.
10. Which is the one film, play or TV series that made you want to join the industry?
Alyssa: To be honest, I can’t actually name one. Mum always took me to productions from a very young age, and the love for performing has always been there. There is such a different range of movies and series out there that I enjoy watching and certainly make me want to continue in this industry.
Kate: My first role in a short film (Winner Winner Chicken Dinner directed by Claudia Holmes) got me hooked. The amazing detail by the production team blew my mind. I had a moment when I was sitting in my character's room and there were pictures of her family on the walls, even her school books were written in, and it felt so real. Every person was a valuable piece in bringing that story to life and we all learnt so much together.
Also, the film Candy (Heath Ledger, Abbie Cornish) always inspires me. I love heart-wrenching, gritty and raw stories and the intimacy the audience feels with the characters in such stories. No frills. I want to be moved, and I want to move people.
Aaron: I was so lucky that Mum took all of us kids to see lots of local, amateur theatre around Victoria. Whether in cold church halls, or the theatre that’s been in town for 100 years, there’s something special about seeing live shows when you’re a child that is so important. It’s a face-to-face, visceral connection that runs deeper than if you’re seeing it on a screen. But it was the moment I stepped on stage during a local production of Oliver! when I realized that this was what I wanted to do.
Tom: My mother took me and my siblings to a lot of theatre as we grew up. There wasn’t a specific show, it was just the joy of seeing those people on stage, especially when they made us laugh. I remember thinking, "Man, I want to do that, I want to make people laugh by saying something on a stage." With regards to film, in 1997, a little film called The Fifth Element was released. It completely blew my mind and, from that moment, I wanted more than anything to be involved in something as amazing as that. It is still such a good film, by the way.
11. Would you change anything now if you had the power to?
Alyssa: I am very happy with how everything in my life is, anything that was a challenge has simply helped shaped me into who I am. And it will continue to do the same as I get older. I feel as though, if I were to change anything, I wouldn’t be who I am today.
Kate: I’d give more funding opportunities for work created by women, for representation of LGBTQI+ stories, disability and diversity. Today's landscape should be represented in the entertainment we consume but there are still huge gaps. It’s also a dream of mine to have more free spaces for artists to occupy — for readings of new work, for rehearsals, for new creations. If something is given space, it will flourish.
Aaron: Wipe money off the face of the Earth. Change our mindset from putting a value on money to a value on creativity and relationships.
Tom: Are we talking anything in the world? If so, then yeah, heaps — worldwide equality, global use of renewable energy, get rid of all the plastic in the ocean and so much more. If it was something a little less serious, I wish I had the power to talk to animals.
12. Tell us a funny audition story.
Alyssa: There was this one audition where I had learnt the script and, when I was called into the audition room, I was called in with a boy. We walked in and the casting director said that we are no longer doing the script we learnt and that it was now a prom scene. This poor boy was young and was totally thrown by the change but made for such a great awkward audition.
Kate: I once had to pretend I was being "tickled by rain". Yeah, that happened.
Tom: When I was younger and still living at home, I had to film a self-test audition and the person who was going to read opposite me cancelled very late. It was a time-sensitive audition so I had no choice but to ask the only other person in the house, my mother. Mum is actually an actress, so you would think a great substitute for the person who cancelled. Except the scenes were between two lovers, and dialogue was pretty intimate. It was a complete disaster, I was angry at first thinking why I am I so bad at this. Mum pointed out this was one of the few roles she couldn’t help me with.
13. What future projects can we expect to see you in?
Alyssa: At the moment, there are no future projects, but I am working on furthering my acting skills through courses and, hopefully, some more projects will come my way in the meantime.
Kate: I can’t say right now, sorry!
Aaron: I’m currently filming Rachel Griffith’s directorial debut Ride Like A Girl alongside Teresa Palmer and Sam Neil in the telling of the incredible true story of Michelle Payne and her historic journey to be the first female jockey to win the Melbourne Cup. Once this wraps, I begin filming Danger Close alongside Travis Fimmel and Luke Bracey. It tells story of The Battle of Long Tan where 108 men from Delta Company battled 2,500 Viet Cong in one of the most relentless encounters in the Vietnam war.
14. Tell us about yourself in one word or sentence.
Alyssa: I’m very much an overachiever. I love to push myself to get the best results although I’m still not sure if that’s a good thing or bad thing.
Kate: I love red wine and yoga, two very different means to a pretty similar end!
Aaron: Quietly curious.
15. What got you into acting?
Alyssa: Ever since an early age, I’ve been drawn to performing, whether I was putting on a performance in front of my family at home or getting involved in school performances I was always drawn to it. I guess it is something that has stuck with me and has always been a place where I can find comfort. So I followed my passion. I started taking classes and haven’t really looked back or second-guessed my love for something that makes me so comfortable.
Kate: I was very young and struggling to find a direction for all my fire, passion and intensity. Code for angst, anybody? And when I found acting, it was the anchor that held everything in my life together. I can’t imagine where I’d be without it.
Aaron: Dad was a potato farmer and, while he was delivering spuds to McCains, we’d have to wait an hour or two while they were being graded. He’d give us a cassette tape of Good Morning, Vietnam with Robin Williams. My siblings and I would share a headphone each, crack up at Williams’ characters and listen to the tape on repeat. We loved it so much that we would go home and make up our characters and radio shows. I remember Sean Connery" featured heavily. That’s the first time I remember "acting".