The Aussie helmer of crime caper "Two Hands" and acerbic black comedy "Buffalo Soldiers" tackles a legend in "Ned Kelly".
He tells BBCi Films about Heath Ledger, movie stars and why some people think the film's "bull****".
How difficult was it to cram the life of this legendary Australian hero into two hours?
It was really, really hard. I mean, when you're dealing with a work of fiction, if something's not working you just change it. But there's only so much artistic licence you can take with a story like "Ned Kelly", because in Australia the story is really well known. If you start taking too much artistic licence with it then you'll really have hell to pay. It's a bit like telling the story of Jesus Christ, or something like that, everyone knows the story. You have to be careful.
And also, in Australia there was such a huge expectation. A lot of people have made the movie in their head. The biggest problem we had was the budgetary constraints, because really we were doing an 1870s road movie, but we had to shoot it within an hour's drive of Melbourne. It wasn't like it was low-budget, but it wasn't a big-budget movie, and trying to give it a real feeling of authenticity was very difficult.
You worked with Heath Ledger on "Two Hands". Do you feel a particular affinity with him?
After "Two Hands" Heath and I became really, really good friends and I've sort of stayed friends with him over the years. We were always looking for something to do together again. This film "Ned Kelly" came along and really, for me, Heath was the only one that I'd even consider. If he didn't want to do it, I wasn't going to do it.
I didn't think there was anyone else who could play the role, because he had to be the right age, he had to be the right physical size, he had to have enough star power to command the budget, but also he had to be an Australian. So, you know, when you put all that criteria together, it's only Heath.
How did Orlando Bloom get involved?
I'd seen "Lord of the Rings", but to be honest he didn't really register that much to me. That was partly because I couldn't even recognise him. It was just part of the casting process. People were saying, "You should check out this guy, Orlando Bloom," and he actually just came in and auditioned.
It was a weird thing because he did his audition and straight away we went, "Oh my God, this guy's a serious movie star!" We took the tape in and showed it to [executive producer] Tim Bevan and he went, "Quick! Cast him!" It was like, "Cast him right now!" So I guess we were sort of lucky. He's going to be huge.
What was the reaction like to the movie back home?
It was great, but it was a bit of a storm, because people are divided in what they think of the actual Ned Kelly. To working class people he's a hero, but to people in the legal fraternity or the police force, he's a thug or a criminal. The fact that the film took the former approach meant that there were some people out there who just thought it was bull****. People in Australia can't really look at this movie as a movie. It's an interpretation of a very, very famous story.