Shane Jacobson has proven himself to be one of Australia’s more versatile entertainers. While many were first introduced to the talented Melbournian via the 2006 hit comedy Kenny, Jacobson has in fact been performing since the age of 10, travelling across Australia and overseas in the world of amateur theatre.
Since then Jacobson has become a jack of all entertainment trades succeeding in radio, theatre, TV and film.
Now he can add voice actor to his repertoire, with his latest film Santa’s Apprentice now in cinemas. An Australian / Belgium co-production, Jacobson stars as the jolly fat Christmas icon himself Santa Cause, who is near retirement and begrudgingly searches for a replacement which he finds in young Sydney orphan Nicholas (Jake Versace).
Matt’s Movie Reviews spoke to Jacobson about giving voice to Santa and his career thus far.
Christmas movies and animated films are not a fixture in Aussie cinema. Did Santa’s Apprentice being both contribute in your decision to say yes to the film?
To be honest mate it was like I guess how all projects start, although seldom do they turn up on your desk with the words “animated feature” across the top. It’s one of those things where with every project, once you get told you’re being considered for a role, first and foremost if you’re available time wise, which I was even though it’s a Christmas story…and how can they be a bad story, if you know what I mean? They are all gonna be full of fun and joy, but you still want to make sure that it’s the right sort of story.
I read the script and like most projects, if not all projects I’ve decided to do as an actor, once you start reading the script and you find yourself in a rush to turn the page, you know you’re onto a good thing. Being that this is a Christmas film, my only concern from the outset was that Christmas is the one thing that all of us, no matter how old or young but in particular for older people, is the one constant you look forward to every year from the day you remember.
The very first memories you’ve got you remember looking forward to Christmas, then as you become parents you look forward to seeing our kid’s faces on Christmas, and as you become grandparents you look forward to watching our kids with their kids during Christmas and being around them.
So it’s the one story where you kind of figure, “Josh…is this just gonna be the same story?” Whether it be the Scrooge version or the same kind of Christmas story rehashed. So I started reading it and, I’m not sure how much you know about the story of the film, but it poses the question: how long is Santa, Santa? And if Santa had to retire at same point, although Santa’s live for a very long time, if it’s time to choose an apprentice where do they get that person from?
At that point I thought it was fascinating…as far as a Christmas story, this is such a different story and one that I’ve never heard. So at that point when I read it I thought this is a great story, it’s so original, its Australian because it turns out the apprentice for Santa is going to need a young buy called Nicholas from Australia.
It was back when cartoons began, and I’m sure your readers would agree that hand drawn cartoons is when all the animation began. The three most important things to any project be it theatre, be it television, be it film, animation or otherwise, are a good story, a good story, and a good story. That’s what this is.
Whether to be told through animation or not, it’s a great story. But I just love the fact that this is gonna be right back to, where most of your readers are gonna agree, to when the true world of make believe came to life for many of us in hand drawn animation through people like Disney, and this ticks all of those boxes. It’s a great story for kids to watch, for grandparents and parents to take grandchildren and children to, it’s about kids being pure of heart, it’s a Christmas story hand drawn where it all began, and drawn by animators right here in our very great country.
"It’s a great story for kids to watch, for grandparents and parents to take grandchildren and children to, it’s about kids being pure of heart, it’s a Christmas story hand drawn where it all began, and drawn by animators right here in our very great country." - Shane Jacobson
The Santa voice you use in the movie is very different to your own. Did it take some time to find the voice you wanted?
It’s one of those things mate, where very quickly when I realised I wanted to play this you just go... Santa Clause! You don’t want to go recreating him. I mean he is the one superstar that we all…he’s been a constant, if that makes sense?
No matter how old you are we know him. He’s been in our shopping centres, he’s been on our TV, he’s been shown to us ever since day one, so you don’t want to recreate him too much. To be quite honest, I think the expression that always gets bandied around about life or about personalities, is to sing like no one can hear, dance like no one is watching, and love like you’ve never been hurt.
I think with Santa Clause the difference with him is he laughs like he wants the whole world to hear. So I realised the trick with him is just to let it all go and dare I say it, and I bet your audience would know, the thing I think Santa encapsulates is like a great grandparent or an uncle or auntie, to truly gage with kids is like, and I know that there seldom around now like they used to be, but those milk bar owners that particularly in country towns I think they still exist, that when a kid came in with a .10c coin or a .5c coin that milk owner for the next minute or two will not be handing out milk and bread, they will become Willy Wonka.
They will go up to this kid and say “What do you have?” and they just let it all out, the same as those grandparent, uncles, and aunties, just older figures that we met in some cases, or in my world it was my uncles and aunties, but I also had friends parents who were just great. Like I say grandparents do it so well, but they realise the world is so joyous like how does a bird fly, or where does chocolate come from, or how does that airplane stay in the sky, you know?
When they’ve got those minds, sometimes we get so busy we can say to our kids “How was school this week mate?” But when a grandparent asks, and I think this is something Santa does, they go (adopts grandiose voice) “And how was school this week?!” Like they’re so excited for them, and I think when it came to finding the voice of Santa I realised I’ve got to be excited about every word and every question, because Santa’s world is a world of children and the toys he makes for them and takes to them.
I just realised that it’s about being so involved in every word and emotionally involved, and that means about being loud and animated.
Your career has expanded into a lot of different areas. Was it always your goal to do different things?
Yeah, definitely. Quiet often people say I do both normal film and animated, television and I do live performance. I’ve done radio and I do comedy and all sorts of things…I do dance, I’ve done all that and people do say if you have to choose between film, television, theatre and the corporate world which one would you pick, I always say I have actually chosen and it’s just that I’ve chosen all of them!
It is like being a parent of multiple children, they’ve all got varied personalities and I love them all to bits.
"No matter how old you are we know Santa Clause. He’s been in our shopping centres, he’s been on our TV, he’s been shown to us ever since day one, so you don’t want to recreate him too much." - Shane Jacobson
Kenny really launched you into the stratosphere. What memories do you have going through such a life changing time?
Well, it’s funny, I was on the radio this morning doing a radio show and a young girl was given a chance on that radio show and they even called Molly Meldrum and had him listen to her over the radio and was asked “What do you think of this kid?”, who’s working there at the radio station and just happens to be a trainee journo and is there just getting confidence and helping out around the radio station.
It was Eddie Maguire her heard her voice singing and just said “You’re amazing! What a voice”. She said that’s kind of my dream and give him a CD. He played it on the radio and they said “Hang on. We’re gonna stop the show and play it. Come in, sit down, stop making coffee’s and helping out, we’ve got Molly Meldurm about to ring in and we’re gonna get him to listen to it and see what he thinks”.
He heard it and said it was wonderful, and said live on air “I want to meet this girl and listen to some more of her work before I head off overseas this week.” I saw her eyes light up and she became quite emotional, and off air she got quite teary.
What I loved seeing in her was that moment that you go “This could have all changed you from this moment forward. The dreams that used to only occur in your mind at night when you laid on your pillow, may in fact become your reality in what you wake up to every day”.
So to answer your question I loved seeing that today because I remember when me and my brother were advertising with Kenny, we finished the film and were putting up flyers and posters outside the AFI’s (Australian Film Industry awards), in the splash down toilets and around the AFI awards watching Russell Crowe rehearse and seeing the AFI awards.
The film was going pretty well at that point, as in it had been received well and hadn’t been released yet and he said, “You know, I reckon you’ll be up there one day. We’ll be up there.” Fast forward a year or two later, I was up there getting an award, then fast forwarded two years beyond that I hosted the AFI’s last year!
So it’s funny but my dreams became my daily job, you know. So my best memories were those moments when me and my brother would daily ring each other and say “It’s going really well in the cinemas! It’s still making money and people are going to see it.” Looking back on it now, at the time it was moving very fast. But when I look back it was fast but I had so many memories, and at the time it was like a runaway train, but I look back and I remember every individual moment where you go “Oh my God, it’s gone the next step!”
I think at the moment I stood with my brother and he put his arm around my shoulders and said “You’ll be up there one day”, was the first time that I excepted it may be a reality.
What is Christmas like at the Jacobson household?
It’s very loud. It’s a lot of fun (laughs). It’s filled with voices, giggles and laughter, and it’s very loud. But its family with a million stories all being told, one on top of the other.
Working with Paul Hogan in Charlie ‘n’ Boots must have been a blast. What was that experience like?
It was a pinch yourself daily moment. He was fantastic. He couldn’t have been nicer to me. He was so generous with his time and advice. He kept saying “I have no advice for you, other than to keep doing what you’re doing and stay yourself” which I thought was wonderful.
It was the greatest compliment I could ever been given, you know? Because you kind of look at someone like him and you ask “Have you got any advice?” And he said “My only advice is don’t stop being yourself. People enjoy you because you are yourself.”
But it was one of the greatest moments in my entertainment career, that two months acting every day alongside Paul Hogan was as good as I could ever have imagined or hoped, and he was a diamond of a man.