In 1984, a film buff who was working at a video store in Manhattan Beach, California wrote a script with a friend. Three years later, that same video store employee would turn that script into a film. The budget was a miniscule $5,000 but that film (My Best Friend’s Birthday) and the screenplay would become the basis for the film True Romance. Quentin Tarantino and his story have inspired legions of filmmakers and their work; filmmakers like Angus Bell Young. This Director/Writer/Producer and his award-winning film Mule are exactly the kind of gritty black drama/comedy that Tarantino is so fond of in his productions. There is something sad and funny about the foibles of humanity and their shortcomings. You can choose to cry or laugh and these filmmakers want to laugh. These filmmakers need a particular type of actor for their productions; someone whom audiences can both admire and hate. Very often they embody the anti-hero. Quentin’s films have given actors like Harvey Keitel, Steve Buscemi, and Michael Madsen the opportunity to play previously unexplored areas of their abilities and given light to the depth of their range. In Young’s Mule, he provided the same opportunity to Australian actor Caleb Chernysh. Mule won the Certificate of Excellence at the Dada Saheb Phalke Film Festival. It’s highly unusual for a foreign film to be recognized with the Certificate of Excellence at this festival; it’s an achievement which is a testament to Chernysh and the entire production.
Caleb plays Martin in Mule. Martin is not the kind of man who is destined for success or even making the most of his opportunities. In fact, he’s not even the kind of guy that Caleb would want to hang around with or befriend in real life even though the actor feels sorry for him. Martin is a “Fryboy” at a local takeaway, not that there is anything wrong with that…it’s an honest living. What is not so honest or endearing is the fact that Martin only does this job as a way of allowing him to eek by some type of earnings and focus on his heroin addiction. Sadly, this situation is the way in which many addicts struggle for as long as they can hold their lives together with some sense of normalcy. To inspire him for the role, Chernysh turned to the performance of one of today’s most celebrated actors and an early role of his. Caleb confirms, “I watched Leonardo DiCaprio in the Basketball Diaries. It’s one of my favorite movies from Leo. I emulated his character’s drug addiction traits, and used it in my performance. His character in the movie has so much potential and yet he is throwing it all away. It’s the kind of story and performance that makes you upset because you can see how everything is controlling him.” This 1995 movie, based on the book of the same title from the 1960’s and published in the 1970’s displays how this story is timeless…being found just as relevant in the mid 2010’s.
Chernysh (known for his film roles in Fractured, The Gap, Life Lesson, and TV shows like Quite Frankly) is proud of Mule’s recognition and his part in it. Caleb’s performance as Martin is frustrating, depressing, angering, and comical. That’s quite a range for one film and one actor. Martin is a lonely man, working as a burger chef. Because of his heroin addiction, he has a debt to his dealer “Frenchy.” Typically, Martin dodges Frenchy because he owes her money but after shooting up, he loses his inhibitions and finds her at her trading location…which is when things start to go wrong. Caleb describes Martin stating, “He’s a loner who has basically lost hope for life and only lives for heroin. I don’t do drugs or associate with people who do, so I couldn’t really use that knowledge to help me understand Martin. One thing everyone has experienced is pain. Heroin is really just a way to avoid that pain, whether it be a bad experience, a sense of loss, or even physical pain. It’s an overwhelming loss of hope that things will improve. Channeling that feeling helps you to feel what motivates a drug addict.”
The experience of making Mule was unusual for Chernysh in just about every way, including the casting audition. He recalls, “Angus posted an audition notice on Starnow. I applied for the role of Martin and he sent me a script. We had an initial meeting in a coffee shop, which, at first, I found unusual as I’m used to an audition room. After talking to each other about the script, I was given the part on the spot. Angus is an amazing guy to work for and I can’t wait to work with him again. He is very edgy and also very funny. When I read the script the first time, I was certain that the writer was influenced by Quentin Tarantino. We all know with Quentin’s movies ..its mainly crime/comedy. I saw the dark humor that Angus was trying to portray, and that’s why I was cast…because I understood the script. I think that is one of the things that people don’t always consider. Filmmakers want a great performance but they really need someone who understands the way in which they are trying to communicate the story. That perspective or reference point is so important.” Mule’s director/writer/editor Angus Bell Young agrees with Caleb commenting, “Caleb’s resume came to me whilst I was casting for Mule and I noticed he studied at the Actor’s Centre, which is the same school that Hugh Jackman attended. That impressed me, along with his credits, and I decided to meet him. I met him at a café and had a chat about the character and gave him the part straight away. I wanted the character Martin to also be a comic relief in this project, which meant I needed an actor who understood the character and their place in the story arc. During the shoot he went above and beyond. I added some scenes on the spot and some new directions throughout the shoot, and Caleb had no trouble keeping up and delivering the exact type of performance I needed.”
Technology and the public’s support of Indie films has made productions like this award-winning film possible with smaller production teams. The art of storytelling and the means by which high quality presentation meets intriguing and compelling storylines has become much more commonplace than ever before, resulting in great films and entertainment for the viewing public. Caleb Chernysh agrees, noting, “You get to know each crew member during breaks when it’s a small production. Sometimes in larger production, you don’t get to have the same personal relationships as you do with the smaller ones. With independent productions, you are part of a family and the film is everyone’s baby.”