Long regarded as one of Australia’s favourite comedic performers, Melbourne actor Stephen Curry has cracked up audiences in Aussie comedy classics like The Castle and The Wog Boy. Recent years have seen a shift into dramatic territory with Curry winning praise as TV legend Graham Kennedy in The King, and that stellar work continues in his portrayal as champion jockey Damien Oliver in The Cup.
Directed by Simon Wincer (Phar Lap) and co-starring the likes of Brendan Gleeson and Tom Burlinson, The Cup recreates the events that led to the 2002 Melbourne Cup where an emotionally shattered Damien Oliver overcame the grief of losing his brother Jason and went on to win the coveted race on Irish horse Media Puzzle.
Matt’s Movie Reviews talked to Stephen Curry about The Cup, his career, and the pressures of recreating to one of Australia’s most memorable sporting moments.
You had the premiere a few days ago. You will have the general release tomorrow. What was great about the premiere is that you got to see the film with Damien Oliver. What was that experience like?
Pretty freaky! What is was is we saw it together at a private screening, and it was very nerve racking. It was the moment of truth, where we knew whether we done him a service or not. He was there with his wife and I was really nervous and kind of holding my breath, and at the end of it he came up and was really emotional, thanked me and thanked the production for telling this story as honest a way as possible, and as respectful a way as possible.
He said his brother would have loved it and his dad would have loved it, and that to me was… (exhales).
A sigh of relief.
Yeah, it was really nice. It was just lovely to feel like we hadn’t let him down.
It took Simon Wincer 9 years to get this story to the screen. How early was your involvement?
I was involved…4 and a half years ago, maybe…something like that. It fell over 7 times in the time that I have been attached to it and one time it fell over because Sheik Mohammed, who owns the Godolphin stables, and his connections offered $32 million to make the film and…I don’t know if I’m meant to tell you this, but this is good…bugger it, let’s go!
He owns Godolphin stables and has basically won every big horse race in the world apart from the Melbourne Cup. He had a couple of runners in the Melbourne Cup, one of them being Pugin, so part of the pre-viso, the “Quid pro quo Clarice” was that if it was his money, Damien wins on his horse!
Completely ignore history and… he was like “No, no. Damien still wins! It’s still an emotional story.”
But it has to be done on Media Puzzle. That is the only way it would work.
It was ridiculous! It was such a shame for Simon, because I think he had one restless night over it, but what do you do? You would become a laughing stock if you did that. Imagine having that kind of money which you could throw at a production so you place in people’s collective memory that you have won a Melbourne Cup?
Hopefully people will think that I won the Melbourne Cup! That would be nice. Look at the poster. It gives away the ending.
"Damien said his brother would have loved it and his dad would have loved it, and that to me wasreally nice. It was just lovely to feel like we hadn’t let him down." -Stephen Curry
Many people associate you with Australian comedy, yet your role as Graham Kennedy in The King changed a lot of perceptions. Did you find that performance opened new doors for you?
Yeah, it did. You get pigeonholed pretty easily in Australia, and I suppose anywhere as an actor, people remember you from certain things and you know, in particular was The Castle where people remembered me for.
Most of my roles in the preceding years after that were comedic roles, and based on peoples recollection of The Castle. So it was nice to do The King…I had done Changi in 2001 which was set in Changi prison during World War II, and that was a bit of a drama but I guess I play a bit more of comedic character, but it was a very dramatic piece.
But The King was that thing where people could see it and have proof that it’s not just about doing stupid faces, or I don’t know….but I enjoy doing the dramatic stuff.
There is a in the film where you as Damien talk about the preparation that a jockey goes through, waking up at 4am, jumping in the pool, etc. Was your own preparation as stringent?
Not at all. No. Fitness was a big part of it and diet was a big part of it, but you look at what these guys go through day in and day out for 30 years in there career, and what I do is nothing. They are amazing athletes and dedication is the word that keeps coming back, you know?
To get on the inside of that and see behind the scenes on what goes on and what they go through is phenomenal, and I can’t claim to even have done one grain of sand in the entire beach in what they do…gee, what an analogy! That is a 15 interviews later analogy (laughs). I’m clutching at things. “Yeah, grain of sand on the beach…” You know what I mean.
How did you view horse racing before The Cup? Were you a fan of the sport?
No. Well….I’ve been a big fan of going to the races. But…
I saw an interview yesterday where you said the bar held a much bigger appeal than the race itself.
(Laughs) I haven’t seen that one! There you go. Yeah. You know, I didn’t know anything about it and it has been a real learning curve and a really interesting kind of thing to get involved with, and it goes back to that kind of sudden realisation of what amazing men and women jockeys are.
And how dangerous their sport is.
It’s the most dangerous sport in the world. More people die in horse racing than any other sport. Add to that practical starvation and the dedication, the hours, the exercise…the everything that goes into it is just astonishing.
Making a movie like The Cup is tricky because the real life story is so well known. What is the trick in keeping the audience in suspense when they know the conclusion?
It’s about the journey. If you can’t keep people in the moment and I guess, experiencing the immediacy of the story than you are losing.
It’s a really good thing to know that at the premiere there was a big round of applause after Damien crossed the line in the film, as if it was kind of like this relief and surprise…everyone knows the story. I don’t think anyone is going into that cinema not knowing that Damien won the Melbourne Cup. But I feel that it is a testament to Simon Wincer that they’ve been taken on this journey and been so involved with, as I said before the immediacy of the story that they’re kind of all hoping to God that he does win, going against the logic of it and feeling without it.
So to me that’s really a great achievement on Simon’s behalf to keep people so engrossed.
"The thing about this story is that it’s so incredible and so unbelievable if it wasn’t a real story, that you kind of don’t need to muck around with it much." -Stephen Curry
The Cup is a movie. It’s not a documentary so there is some room for creative license. What type of balance did was there in creating a film that is historically accurate but also something that is entertaining and dramatic for an audience?
Yeah, it’s interesting. Well first and foremost we kind of decided from the word go that we weren’t going into any mimicry. I’m not a mimic anyway so I would be selling Damien short attempting to do that. So that in itself is I guess taking some artistic license in that fact that I don’t really look like Damien.
I think personally that when you see Damien at the end of the film, which is a really emotional shot when you see his actual speech that he gave at the Melbourne Cup, I think that he really doesn’t do a good Damien Oliver because he doesn’t look like me (laughs).
No, I guess…the dialogue still has to be written and we weren’t there, and Simon and Erick O’Keefe who wrote the script, wasn’t there when Damien was going through this time, so the dialogue has to be based on what Damien has told him, and there is artistic license taken there.
The thing about this story is that it’s so incredible and so unbelievable if it wasn’t a real story, that you kind of don’t need to muck around with it much. They don’t take a great deal of artistic license in the chain of events that occurred so yeah…when the story is that strong and there is so many events that kind of conspire to make this triumphant result, I guess the story in kind of a way writes itself.
I’m hoping with what The Cup does with Australian cinema is that it makes producers and directors look at Australian stories, because we have so many great stories whether they are on the sporting field or not. Is it your hope as well that maybe The Cup will start a thing that people will look at what has transpired in the lives of Australians over the years, and some great moves will come from that?
I hope so! It’s so important that we tell Australian stories, you know? It’s what makes us…us. We are still creating our history as we go. Since the white invasion to this country, let’s say, white Australia has a very black history and we are creating people like Damien and that moment was only 9 years ago but it is now firmly ensconced as a really proud part of our history.
So many stories want to be told equally and hopefully the hardest thing in the last however long has been getting Australian’s to see Australian stories, getting Australian’s to shout out the money to the cinema, and it is very much the responsibility of the film industry to create films that people want to see and stories that are engrossing and appealing on a large scale. Red Dog just done this really effectively and I believe it is just about to make $20 million today and that puts it in the top 8 Australian films of all time.
If we get anything like that, then that would just be fantastic. Who knows, but I would like to think that stories like this and stories with such a mass appeal will hopefully re-invigorate people’s faith in the in going to the cinema to see our stories told.