By Michael Gray
An Oscar nomination and a Golden Globe Award for "Almost Famous" starlet Kate Hudson shifted her earlier film, "About Adam" from the backburner to the front for Miramax earlier this year. A frisky comedy by Irish writer/director Gerry Stembridge, "About Adam" gave the young actress her first starring role, sharing leads in an ensemble piece with Dubliner Stuart Townsend and Australian actress Frances O’Connor.
Hudson plays a high-spirited Dublin waitress, Lucy Owens, who falls in love with Townsend’s suave, mysterious Adam, and O’Connor plays her bookish sister Laura, who is likewise smitten by the beguiling rogue. To maximize Hudson’s award momentum, the Miramax PR machine recently flew the three rising stars to New York for the U.S. launch of the film. They convened in midtown to discuss "About Adam" and the films they’ve done since its completion.
The light comedy of "About Adam" is at odds with Stuart Townsend’s career trajectory, which typically steers him toward the darkside. His movie resumé slots "Adam" between the psychopathic bloodbath of "Ressurection Man" in which he plays a character based on the real-life Belfast mass-murderers, the Shankill Butchers, and the bloodlust of "Queen of the Damned," the jugular-sucking sequel to Neil Jordan’s "Interview With the Vampire." The actor readily admits that comedy is hard work and less fun compared to playing ruthless killers.
"I’m not that crazy about comedies," he said. "When you do a comedy the shoot can be quite hard. But when you do something really, really heavy, after a long day you just want to party. Like on "Resurrection Man," we used to do just that every day. We filmed it in Manchester, and the whole cast was Irish, so at the end of the day’s shooting we’d get out the bodhrans and the flutes, and I play a bit of guitar and a bit of piano myself, and we’d sing and drink, and laugh and joke til all hours, because you had to. The story was so depressing."
Townsend’s character in "Queen of the Damned" gives him top billing opposite Brooklyn-born chanteuse Aaliyah, in the title role. He plays the world-weary vampire Lestat, who decides to go to sleep for all eternity but is awakened by the sounds of rock music and decides to become a rock star.
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The shoot took the young actor to Australia, where the film was shot on location in Melbourne.
"It was one of the best experiences I’ve had as an actor," he said. "I had some reservations about it when I went down there, but I left Melbourne just going, ‘Wow! that was a trip!’ It will be very different from ‘Interview.’ Same author, but that’s it. It’s modern, it’s contemporary, with flashbacks to period, rather than period with flashforwards to contemporary.
"I had so much fun making it. When Lestat becomes a rock star, I got to do a rock gig in front of 3,000 people, and that was just the best. And there’s something cool about playing a vampire — you get the teeth, and you get an hour and a half of makeup, you whack a wig on and you look at yourself in the mirror, and it’s like another person. I was dressed in a lot of leather, purple velvet cloaks, and I loved it. The film should be out at Christmas. There’s plenty of blood in it but it’s not scary at all."
Townsend’s "Adam’" co-star, Frances O’Connor, would have felt quite at home on location Down Under, having grown up there. But as her name suggests, her roots lie in Ireland. The "About Adam" shoot in Dublin gave her the opportunity to look up her distant cousins elsewhere in the country.
"My brother’s hobby is tracing family trees and stuff, and he traced the whole family in Ireland, so it was really great to go back there and see where my family came from," she said. "They’re originally from Kerry, a place called Ballylongford. My great-grandfather came out for the gold rush on the west coast of Australia. He walked to Kalgoolie with a wheelbarrow, hoping, like everyone else, to bring it back full of gold."
Accent on the positive
Viewers unfamiliar with details of O’Connor’s background would scarcely guess that she’s not a Dublin native by her accent in "About Adam." She was acutely conscious of Irish people’s sensitivity to foreign actors getting the accent wrong, and relied heavily on her voice coach to get it right.
"There were moments when it was a bit dodgy, but we had this great voice coach working for us, and anything we didn’t get on the day we could dub in later," she said. "It’s a tough accent to do, that Sandymount middle-class accent."
California native Kate Hudson mastered the accent as well, but only after she found a real-live Dubliner on whom she could model her Lucy character.
"We’d been shooting for like three days and I got this huge pimple, and the make-up girls said go to his place and get a facial, and there was this girl there who was about 18, and she wouldn’t stop talking and I thought, ‘This is Lucy,’ " Hudson said. "She was this perky thing, a young girl whose mom was probably very Catholic, and she wasn’t, growing up in this suddenly cosmopolitan city."
The two actresses differed on the morality issues raised by the film, O’Connor preferring to see the funny side of Adam’s seduction of the three Owens sisters, and Hudson emphatically stating that Adam should be ratted out.
"If I had sisters and one of their fiancés started coming on to me, I would say, ‘Don’t marry this scumbag, he’s hitting on me,’ " Hudson said. "The movie’s about something different, but I would totally tell!"
O’Connor’s take is more philosophical. "The idea of who’s good and who’s bad is shown from very different perspectives," she said. "I don’t think it answers any of those questions, but it pulls those strings for the audience. But it’s meant to be a fun piece, a romp, a quartet."
The film is left wickedly open-ended to keep the audience guessing as to just how much Adam can get away with, when he marries one sister without ending his romance with the other two. Frances O’Connor predicts disaster as the likely next chapter for the deceptive protagonists.
"Especially because they’re Catholic, there will be a lot of people heading for the confessional booth," she said. "But I like the ending where Adam just looks at the camera, and suddenly you get to see inside him."
Director Stembridge cast Kate Hudson as Lucy when she was far from a household name, though she had acquitted herself well in supporting roles in less-than-stellar films like "Desert Blue" and "200 Cigarettes."
"Great little script"
"When I read Gerry’s script, it’s like, I need to work, but it was one of those great little scripts that you read and you think this is going to be one of those great quirky small movies, and the fact that it was very funny on paper and it really translated well, and it was fun to play an Irish girl," Hudson said. "It was just one of those movies that you walk out and think it was so cute, yet the guy screwed the entire family, so you fooled the audience."
Hudson was thrown in at the deep end, going into the studio before shooting started to sing the songs that would be dubbed in later on for her singing waitress scenes.
"I had so much fun singing, but it was hard, though, going straight into the studio," she said. "When we were shooting it, Gerry was saying, ‘You have to be cheekier, act like you’re standing in front of a stage and you’re Lucy,’ and I said, ‘Man, cheekier than this?’ "
Stembridge’s humor was the hook that drew Townsend to the role as well, and after one reading he knew he wanted the part of Adam.
"I sat in a room on my own reading and when I go to see the scene with the brother, I was actually in tears, weeping with laughter," he said. "I said to myself, I have to do it. And it was a chance to see Ireland in a different light, no IRA, because I had just done ‘Resurrection Man.’ And it was nice to show the Dublin I grew up in. And hopefully if people from outside Ireland see it, they’ll look at it and say, ‘That’s refreshing.’ Dublin is like that. And I liked the family dynamic, the mother is a very classic Irish mother."
When Townsend was growing up in Howth, his co-star Hudson was a child of Hollywood. The actress said she feels the experience of growing up in Tinseltown with famous parents, mom Goldie Hawn and stepdad Kurt Russell, makes her burgeoning stardom easier to handle.
"The great thing about them is they really enjoy acting and they don’t take themselves too seriously," Hudson said. "My mother really enjoys making people laugh, my dad enjoys running around with guns and being a great actor. He just finished working with Cameron Crowe, and it was so great to see someone who’s been a acting since he was 9 years old come home and still really enjoy what he does. That’s the main thing — it’s about what you love to do."
From a singing waitress role to Oscar nomination and the cover of Vanity Fair, Hudson’s star is in the ascendant. Frances O’Connor’s upcoming films include Steven Spielberg’s "AI" and John Woo’s "Windtalkers," and with likely box office success ahead for Townsend’s vampire flick, the trio will look back on "About Adam" as a seminal film on their respective routes to stardom.