Tales From The Road: The Cast of Wyrmwood – Keith Agius
To celebrate the phenomenal success of Wyrmwood: Road of The Dead, Fernby Films sat down with several of the cast and crew members for a quick chat about the film. If you haven’t seen Wyrmwood yet, there’s some spoilers in this interview, so please check back here after you’ve seen this brilliant film.
Keith Agius plays Frank, a tough-talkin’ mechanic who joins Barry and Benny (as well as a couple of others) as they try and escape the zombie hordes taking over Australia. Frank loves a beer, loves to cuss, and is as tough as old boots. Although he meets a fairly bloody end in Wyrmwood (as do most of the characters) we just had to ask Keith the most burning question to come out of our screening of the film…
FF: Keith, your character has a relatively brief role in Wyrmwood, and meets a fairly bloody end (oh wait, spoilers…. too late!) but has quickly become a favorite among the film’s many fans. If or when a sequel is made, how would you like Frank to return?
KA: Yeah ole Frankie boy has certainly struck a chord with the fans. He’s a top bloke.
There will definitely be a sequel Rodney but not straight away. There has been talk of a TV series and/or a film sequel but nothing to confirm yet. The Roache-Turner brothers are working on a new project before any sequel is attempted. I’d love for Frank to return but it all depends on the nature of the sequel really. (Spoiler alert ahead!) If it follows on from the original then how do you bring a dead Frank back to life? I suppose if Brooke can reanimate after a bullet in her breast then perhaps old Frankie boy could too? I’ve had these visions of Brooke controlling her zombie army headed by the reanimated Benny, Frank, Kelly & the Doc. I’m sure the fans would love for us to return. Only other option would be flashbacks to fill in the back story of Frank. I will return in another project however but more of that later…
FF: How close is Frank’s personality to your own? If you experienced a similar apocalyptic end-of-the-world scenario, would you be the funny friend who dies early, or the hero who punks-on regardless of personal cost?
KA: Frank is quite a transformation so there are elements of me in there but ultimately he is a very different person to Keith. Frank is an ex-bikie, beer swilling, dodgy ocker motor mechanic joker who runs a chop-shop (a location or business which disassembles stolen automobiles for the purpose of selling them as parts). That is certainly not me! 😉
Does there have to be a choice between funny friend and hero? I love playing with guns & being an action man with a funny turn of phrase too but who wants to die early? If I was writing my own journey of course I’d punk on regardless of personal cost. I mean it’s the end of the world as we know it so I’d go out all guns blazing and crack as few jokes along the way but be the last man standing.
FF: Talk to me about the cast that you worked with. I know you didn’t spend any screen time with Bianca Bradey, but your work with Jay Gallagher and Leon Burchill is quite jovial and at-ease. Did you know either of these guys before you worked on the film, and how did they make your time on the film better?
KA: I already knew Jay as a friend and work colleague and he was the one who suggested me to Kiah & Tristan. I had never met Leon but after working with him we got on famously and are good friends now. The three of us all graduated from the National Institute of Dramatic Art at different times but had a very similar acting language so working together was an absolute pleasure. We also had to work very quickly so it was great to have that short hand.
The first scenes we worked on together was in the zombie truck after we had escaped from the horde of zombies at Frank’s garage. We then worked backwards from my death. Rarely do you film in sequence. Lots of claustrophobic scenes trapped in the truck in armor during the height of summer gave us a good opportunity to sweat and bond. You certainly had to have a sense of humour in that environment. Lots of laughter and ice packs! When we got to the horde scenes at the garage we were up in the blue mountains during winter so blankets, gas heaters & hot water bottles were standard equipment.
I also worked closely with Cain Thompson, another NIDA grad, who played my mate Kelly and also played one of the masked soldiers and a zombie or two. He has a quick wit, great sense of humour and is a very fit lad indeed. He did all his own stunts.
Jay, Leon, Cain & I spent quite a bit of time with Kiah & Tristan workshopping and rehearsing scenes before we started the shoot so plenty of bonding time with that too. We certainly had a handle on the characters and scenes but once we started filming there were times when we had to solve problems very quickly, make cuts and rewrites on the spot so had to be very flexible. A moveable feast!
FF: The director, Kiah Roache-Turner, and his brother Tristan, have created a genuine blockbuster out of nothing. I assume you’re pleased with the end result, but did its quality surprise you at all?
KA: Absolutely thrilled with the quality of the end result although we had to wait awhile to see it. I was always very confident that Kiah & Tristan could pull it all together. I had seen footage before I started filming and plenty of their previous short films so I was confident with their abilities. You always hope you don’t end up on the cutting room floor and thankfully all my best bits made it to the final cut. Having made the film for about 160k to get it to a rough cut we were incredibly blessed to have Screen Australia come on board to help us complete the post production phase. We then snagged some very high profile distributors which helps.
FF: What was it like working with the brothers on this film? Any good war stories to tell?
KA: I cannot praise these guys enough. One word comes to mind…AWESOME. They are like yin and yang but work in a very complimentary way. Having grown up together watching copious amounts of film, producing many shorts together and sharing a passion to become film-makers it was inevitable that they would work together. Always respectful, think outside the square and both have a crackers imagination which I love. Anything is possible in their eyes and Wyrmwood is testament to that. I am blessed to have jumped on the Roach-Turner train!
Best war stories from my time on set would be during our blue mountains shoot where we shot the zombie horde scenes. I had never seen so many zombies in one place. This was the biggest shoot the brothers had done so far with 80-100 setups per day. I can remember Kiah taking all the zombies aside and giving them a tutorial in how to walk, growl, dribble, spit, eat brains and generally be disgusting. That was a sight to behold! He would also mud and blood everyone when able or get the crew to do it. Now that is a hands on director who isn’t frightened to get down and dirty.
Apparently on one of the early shoots the police turned up after a complaint that someone was being murdered. Not far wrong! And I’ll never forget Tristan sculling a beer while introducing the film at our Sydney Moonlight Cinema premiere. Now you know why the beers ended up in Frank’s medical box!
FF: What input did you have on the script in terms of your character, as far as funny lines or moments of “hero” time, if you will?
KA: I suppose the input came in the early stages of the script and character development when we workshopped it in rehearsal. We’d improvise around the particular draft we were given and the brothers would go away to rewrite before our next rehearsal with a newer draft. I certainly worked out a back-story for Frank which definitely informed my choices & the handlebar moustache was my idea. I also assisted Kiah and Leon with the final version of Benny’s story at the opening of the film. True collaborative spirit.
Kiah & Tristan came up with many of the great one liners from this process but it was the execution that nailed those moments as well as some pretty darn fantastic editing by Kiah. There were also times on the shoot where an improvised line would make it into the final cut. Leon, for instance, came up with the line “mind if I finish this?” (relating to the longneck beer handed to him in the truck) just after Frank dies. Jay also came up with “what did you learn?” after Benny gets back in the truck after the zombie attacks him while taking a piss. I’m also sure that there were a few extra “fuck’s” thrown in for good measure.
FF: Have you been surprised by the film’s success, both here in Australia and overseas? Why?
KA: Certainly didn’t expect that it would arguably become a genuine cult classic. I was hoping that the Aussie humour would translate overseas and for the most part I think it has. We are definitely getting a huge following of horror fans worldwide and pretty decent critical responses. I think it is definitely speaking to a wide range of genre fans due to it’s mashup of action, horror, comedy and it’s definite nods to Peter Jackson, Sam Raimi, George Miller & George A Romero to name but a few. I also think that the new elements of zombie lore like their blood and gaseous breath being used to power vehicles along with Brooke’s new found powers sets it apart and reinvigorates a somewhat tired genre. The dry Aussie humour and the DIY quality also gives it an edge I believe. Rough, riotous and rambunctious!
I am a little underwhelmed by the media coverage here [Editors note: he’s right, coverage here in Australia has been appalling to say the least!] and the relatively lackluster efforts by distributors to promote homegrown cinema in the same way they do with international films. Being an Indie film with relative ‘unknowns’ I feel there is a perception that it is not worth the investment dollars. How wrong can they be! I just wish we could have had a wider cinema release here with the requisite funds and publicity support. As a cast we have been super proactive on social media and always been available for appearances and interviews such as this one. So thank you for the support! Now that the DVD/Blu-Ray is releasing around the world and word of mouth is spreading the momentum is certainly building. Long may it continue.
FF: How much did you get to work on the effects, like zombie makeup, blood and gore, and did you enjoy yourself?
KA: I worked with blood and gore in Frank’s final moments when he gets bitten and his wrist is snapped. Our wonderful SFX team created an exact copy of my left arm and hand with all the requisite bones, tissue, blood and gore ready to be snapped and spurted all over the inside of the truck cabin and all over me, Leon & Jay. This happened around 1am in the evening during summer after a very long day shooting in a confined space wearing battle armor and copious amounts of blood seeping through every imaginable orifice. Did I enjoy myself? What do you fuckin’ reckon! Hahaha. Actually I did.
FF: Because of the film’s lengthy production gestation, did you at any point worry that it might not amount to anything? A three and a half year shoot over weekends isn’t conducive to confidence in the end result, surely? How did you keep your enthusiasm up?
KA: I had boundless enthusiasm mainly because I came on board late 2012 and started shooting early 2013 in the final year of filming. I couldn’t wait till our weekend shoots and was very sad when I finished later that year. I would imagine that Jay, Bianca and some of the other cast members who started before me would have had their concerns but happily we made it to the end. There was one actor that due to the length of the shoot and other commitments had to exit the film early. That is where Leon came into the picture. The film changed quite a bit from it’s early start.
FF: Your IMDb profile indicates you’ve been around the Aussie scene for a few years now. Shows like A Country Practice, All Saints, Blue Heelers and more recently Paper Giants have entered Aussie television folklore, how did it feel to be working on these shows at the time?
KA: Funnily enough you never think a show will become Aussie TV folklore at the time but I am very happy to have been a part of all of them. Just like I never expected Wyrmwood to reach the heights it has. I particularly loved working on Paper Giants as it was a truly ensemble cast as was the brilliant ABC series I did way back called Phoenix (2nd series). There has also been a plethora of theatre over the years and quite a bit of Shakespeare, which I dearly love. Bet you didn’t expect that.
FF: Now that you’re a huge zombie film megastar, have the offers come flooding in, or are you still a lowly acting pleb like the rest of us? 😉
KA: Still waiting for the flood of offers but it has certainly helped with my profile. Early days yet. I have been a jobbing actor on stage & screen for more than 28 years so I am philosophical about fame however would love to have a late blooming career in film. Bring it on!
FF: Is there anything you can tell us about any upcoming projects, or where and what we can see you in these days, away from Wyrmwood?
KA: I just finished a stage production of Macbeth here in Sydney and will be starting work later in the year on the next Roach-Turner film. I get to see the second draft of the screenplay soon so over the moon about that! Can’t wait to see what madness is planned for me. It will be a Steampunk R-rated Ghostbusters, Lovecraft-ian, Stephen King-ish kind of horror film mashup. Very excited. In the meantime I’ll be waiting for those offers…