WHEN Benedict Andrews offered Ben Mendelsohn the role of lead paedophile in his psychological thriller, Una, the 47-year-old actor didn’t miss a beat.
“I essentially have no more qualms about it than I do about building the Death Star and destroying the world,” he says.
Mendelsohn’s enthusiasm for the acclaimed theatre director’s film debut, premiering at the Sydney Film Festival on Friday night, was driven largely by the screenplay.
“I’ve never said yes quicker. It was an exhilarating read. I just had to be a part of that.”
Mendelsohn, who won an Emmy last year for his performance in the Netflix series Bloodline, has played killers, drug addicts, and even a man haunted by an incestuous relationship with his twin sister (Beautiful Kate).
But embarking upon a sexual relationship with one’s 13-year-old neighbour is about as thematically confronting as a drama gets.
“I don’t have a problem playing difficult characters, in terms of, I don’t think it’s about me,” says Mendelsohn.
“It’s fiction. But I get that as a viewing experience, it’s very intense.”
Adding to the consciously disturbing nature of the film, Mendelsohn portrays his character in a sympathetic light.
“My reading of it anyway, is that the whole thing falls over unless you have someone in there that’s able to be convincing in what he’s putting forward,” says the actor.
Rooney Mara plays the adult Una in the film, based on David Harrower’s acclaimed play, Blackbird.
The troubled victim confronts Ray at this workplace after stumbling upon a photograph of him in a trade magazine.
Ruby Stokes plays the character as a 13-year-old.
She and Mendelsohn got to know each other prior to filming.
“I went and spent time with her and her family because of the nature of the project,” says Mendelsohn, who has two daughters himself, Sophia, 14, and Carolina, 3.
“I wanted everyone to meet everyone because it’s not easy work — perhaps even more so for Ruby’s family than Ruby herself.”
Also showing at the Sydney Film Festival is the Australian coming-of-age classic The Year Voice Broke, which Mendelsohn shot when he was just 17.
The 30th anniversary restoration screens at Event Cinemas on Saturday evening.
“It remains one of the greatest films I have made,’’ says Mendelsohn, who has worked with Noah Taylor on a number of other projects since. Their co-star, Loene Carmen, switched her focus to music.
“We are all tied together by that film. That was the beginning of it all in a lot of ways.”
Una screens at the State Theatre at 7pm on Friday night and again at 11.50am on Saturday as part of the Sydney Film Festival. The 30th anniversary restoration of The Year My Voice Broke screens at Event Cinemas at 5.40pm on Saturday.
Originally published as Aussie star’s new dark role