Forget Russell Crowe, Naomi Watts and Nicole Kidman. Australia’s new cinematic hero is Kenny Smyth, the lovable overall-wearing worker at a portable toilet company, created by Shane and Clayton Jacobson, actor and director respectively of the biggest Australian box-office draw in three years.
Did you know from the start that you wanted to make a quasi-documentary?
Clayton: “Yeah. Because of Splashdown [the portable toilet company], we got amazing access to all these real events and could plant Shane in with the actual Splashdown crew over a period of two years. There was this structure, plus the opportunity to ‘go with the flow’ if something exciting happened.”
The mock doc format reminds me a bit of Borat. Are any of your subjects suing your ass?
Clayton: “We were upfront with everyone. They knew how they were going to be represented.”
Shane: “Those who are compromised or in semi-embarrassing situations are actors. Everyone else is celebrated.”
Shane, do you show up as Kenny at events?
Shane: “Sometimes, but we don’t want to wear him out. Every now and then Kenny says he needs to go spend some time in the bush with his son. And he doesn’t always answer his mobile.”
Clayton: “Lots of people think Kenny is a real person. The other day, somebody handed a resumé to Shane when he was playing Kenny.”
Were you concerned that Kenny was too Australian?
Clayton: “There’s a feeling back home that in order for an Australian film to do well it has to be homogenized and become in a weird way ‘less Australian.’ We’re hoping that Kenny can be embraced in other places to work against that notion.”
Clayton: “People keep asking for Kenny: Number Two. But I think you can kill the charm of the original. We do have an idea for a TV show in which Kenny does a toilet tour of the world.”
On the film's success:
On their dad's appearance in the film:
KENNY (Clayton Jacobson) Rating: NNNN
Kenny is a modest Australian charmer that puts a new spin on the phrase “Down Under.” Melbourne everyman Kenny Smyth (Shane Jacobson) works at a rent-a-loo company called Splashdown Portaloos, where he cleans out the crap in the toilets and confronts worse from the people around him, who judge him by his job.
Jacobson and his director/co-writer Clayton flesh out Kenny’s personal life with nicely observed details about his bitchy ex-wife, misfit son and judgmental father (played by Jacobson’s real-life dad). Filmed faux-documentary-style and shot during real events like the Melbourne Cup and the too-odd-to-be-made-up International Cleaner and Pumper Expo, the film delivers laughs and sentiment in equal measure.
Much of its success – it broke box office records in Australia, where Kenny is a national hero – comes thanks to Jacobson, whose open, uncondescending performance makes him an underdog worth rooting for. GS