In conversation with Miranda Tapsell and Gwilym Lee

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In conversation with Miranda Tapsell and Gwilym Lee

Miranda Tapsell is excited about what she’s managed to achieve with Top End Wedding. “I’m really glad we got to show a more in-depth view of what the Territory is, it’s more than just 4X, mosquitos, and bing tang singlets.”

As the star and co-writer of the rom-com set in the Northern Territory, she’s got a lot to be excited about; it’s a smart, funny film with real heart to it, a rare example of an Australian big-screen romance that finds comedy in a real drama – in this case, the mother of Miranda’s character goes missing just as she and Ned (Gwilym Lee) are about to get married. There’s only one way to track her down: road trip.

Miranda’s best known for her work in The Sapphires (which was directed by Top End Wedding director Wayne Blair) and Love Child. This was her first screenplay – but not her first stab at writing.

“I had been writing before, because I realised like, acting is my only trade, and I haven’t figured out a backup plan at all. But I often gave up on myself – I was often very judgemental of my own writing. That’s why I was so grateful to meet [co-writer] Josh Tyler, because he assured me that, because I knew the Territory, and because I knew rom-coms, and because I’d been acting for so long, that I knew how to write this story.”

As a rom-com fan, she had a lot of films in mind when it came time to write her own

“All the classics! Four Weddings and a Funeral, My Big Fat Greek Wedding – basically, all the films with Wedding in it. I think the thing that was tricky though was that the films that I watch, the people in them don’t look like me. That was the biggest challenge for me – I was trying to translate how I’d live my life up in the Territory and how I believe the world to be and put that on the page. That was the biggest challenge I think, how to make my gaze make sense to an audience that might not have been up to the Territory before or have met that community.”

A big part of that process was showing the Territory she knew to her co-writer.

“Josh had been to the Territory before, but he said ‘I want to be there with you, I want to hear what you have to say about it. So I was basically his tour guide, I took him to all the places I grew up in in Kakadu, and I also got to really understand my family tree on the Tiwi Islands – I knew I had relatives over there, but I really got to break down who were aunties, who were my cousins and so on. So, we really did get to go on this journey together.”

For Gwilym (most recently seen as Brian May in Bohemian Rhapsody), the script couldn’t have arrived at a better time. “I read it at the end of 2017 in the cold dark London winter and just reading about these scenes set in the warm sunshine of the Australian outback really got me excited,” he says with a laugh.

The chance to do a rom-com with a twist was also a definite plus. “There’s something comforting about knowing the format, knowing the kind of template of the rom-com, and there’s a lot of fun to be had playing around with those tropes, which this film does. But seeing this rom-com told through this sort of Aboriginal lens, and seeing this landscape described in the script, that was something that really excited me.”

It wasn’t until he had the chance to meet Miranda that he realised just how important this project was. “She was travelling around Europe at the time and she very kindly agreed to meet up with me in London and there seemed to be a spark between us, there was this kind of fun and playfulness which was great. But I also recognised this was such a personal project for her and there was so much of her passion driving the project, I just wanted to be a part of it.”

While filming Top End Wedding wasn’t his first visit to Australia, it was his first visit where he went beyond the usual tourist locations. “You definitely get a deeper sense of a place when people invite you into their lives”. But that fish out of water element was a big help when it came to playing Ned. “You allow life to inform the art. You get the cameras rolling when you see the landscape for the first time and there’s no acting required really.”

It’s the landscape, and the culture of the people living there, that’s at the centre of this film – and that, in a lot of ways, gives the film its soul. “I think it was important for this film to tell non-Indigenous audiences that being pro-aboriginal doesn’t exclude anyone who came to Australia, but it is something that’s inherent to Australia,” say Miranda. “You can’t speak about Australia without speaking about Indigenous knowledge.”

Top End Wedding opens in cinemas May 2

Written by Anthony Morris
Photo by John Platt Photography