Sundance Interview: Actor Aaron Glenane On ‘Killing Ground’, Its Non-Linear Narrative & Becoming Chook

Killing Ground/Sundance

A visually stunning thriller with the lush Australian Outback as the backdrop, director Damien Power makes his feature film debut with Killing Ground, a modern campfire story about fear, violence, heroism and the limits of courage. The film tells the story of Ian (Ian Meadows), and Samantha (Harriet Dyer), who arrive at an isolated campsite to find an SUV and a tent As night falls and the campers fail to return, Ian and Sam grow increasingly uneasy. The discovery of a distressed child wandering in the woods unleashes a terrifying chain of events that will test them to their breaking point. Ahead of its Sundance premiere, chatted with Aaron Glenane who plays Chook, whose outward calm hides a frightening cruelty.

Aramide Tinubu: Hi Aaron how are you?

Aaron Glenane: Hey I’m good! How are you doing?

AT: I’m fantastic thank you! I wanted to say thank you so much for speaking to me about Killing Ground. It was quite a fantastic ride watching this film.

AG: Oh wow! Thanks! That’s really nice of you to say. It’s a pretty intense journey, isn’t it?

AT: Oh for sure! I wanted to ask you, what drew you to the character of Chook? He’s so diabolical but in a way that is very different from German’s character. What drew you to this script in the first place and did you emulate the character off of anyone in particular?

AG: It was the script that drew me in. It was also Chook and the split timeline in the script that really fascinated me because I hadn’t seen it done with this genre so much and I hadn’t seen it in an Outback thriller. As I was reading, I just didn’t know where I was in the story, and I was piecing it along as I went along, and I was just hooked. It just totally got me in. And then, the character of Chook, I just found incredibly fascinating, and I thought it would be a huge challenge to try and justify and figure out and understand where this guy was coming from in order to do these heinous acts. I just really wanted to create a human being up there instead of just playing a villain.

AT: What shocked you the most about the narrative? Was there a moment during the film that really startled you?

AG; Yes! There are two big scenes in there. As you read the script, it’s the feeling about going somewhere, and it changes how you feel about something. I just keeping thinking, “No, Chook isn’t gonna take it down this road.”

AT: But he goes there!

AG: (Laughing) He goes there, and you end up thinking, “Oh My God!” But as I was reading it, I was having visceral reactions to the script, and I think that’s a pretty good indication that you’ve got a great story on your hands. The things about Damien [Power] that I find is that he doesn’t hold back with anything. Everyone is at risk in this story, and it’s really intelligent writing and not gratuitous writing, but, at the same time, he doesn’t hold back with anyone.

AT: For sure! But speaking about Damien, I know that this is his first feature length film which is amazing.  Did you speak to him about where he got this idea from and how he saw the film playing out? What was your relationship like as actor/director?

AG: Damien and I just really clicked from the get-go, and I think I’ve watched all of his previous short films which are fantastic. There is one called Peekaboo; it’s one of my favorites. It’s a really great short film, and so I audition for this film, and he was shooting another little sort of short film called Hitchhiker, and he asked if I wanted to be a part of that, so we shot it in five days.

AT: Wow!

AG: Yes, it almost works as a sort of companion piece to Killing Ground and I didn’t hear about this feature film for a couple of months and then it came through a few months later. I had a short amount of time to prepare for it, and we just got in there and started filming. But I guess the things we really talked about were films like Straw Dogs and Deliverance. The tone oft those films just feel so similar to me. Deliverance is a masterpiece. We talked about those films, and then we really discussed Chook’s previous life and how he’d gotten to this point, the things that he may have been through and the relationship with German and how he sort of steps in to be Chook’s surrogate father. He’s probably the only real person who gives him any sort of reassurance. In the film, he faces a lot of rejection. You can see that earlier on in the film that rejection is part of his life. So Damien and I just had a real dialogue.

AT: That’s wonderful! I also wanted to point out that even though this film is extremely violent. I didn’t feel gratuitous. I feel like a lot of thrillers have blood and gore was that something Damien wanted? There were also moments of sexual violence in the film, but it wasn’t voyeuristic. It was uncomfortable, but it wasn’t just for the audiences’ gaze. Was that something you discussed or was that how Damien’s script was written?

AG: I’m so glad you feel the same way. I just get nauseous watching gore films. I nearly pass out at the sight of blood so taking on a film like this was a little weird, but it was scripted like that. The scenes where you see an image that indicates what previously happened, none of the previous incidents were ever scripted. So, it’s all set up from the point of view where it’s saying, “This is what’s happened, but we don’t need to play that out. Your imaginations are powerful enough.” So, it was scripted that way, and we talked about it. Then, when we had to shoot all of those more intense scenes all of us actor and Damien who was involved with the conversation we thoroughly prepped, and we worked through it bit by bit. We all made sure that each of us felt safe and comfortable and they we were telling the story in a non-gratuitous way.

Killing-Ground-Sundance-012417AT: Let’s talk about the film’s non-linear narrative some more. It’s so interesting because I sort of figured out what was happening about twenty minutes into the film. What was that like shooting in this type of setting? Can we also talk about the lush green scenery that you were shooting in and around?

AG: Like I was saying earlier. That was my favorite part of the script between the character of Chook and then the non-linear timeline. It was my favorite part. The film has a conventional setup, but it’s told in a totally unconventional way, and I loved that when I read that. So I suppose prior to filming there was a lot of mapping out as an actor. I was going, “If this scene is happening, but it happened four days ago, then I have to figure out how I feel.” There was all this sort of mapping out to figure out where I was in this story and as an actor. Also, we didn’t shoot in sequence so constantly asking questions was great.

AT: What about the film’s location?

AG: The location we shot in was this place called McCoy Fields which is in Sydney, maybe out an hour out of the heart of Sydney. It’s an amazing location; it’s an amazing forested landscape where we would walk around filming, and we would get lost. It’s very easy to feel isolated out there, but I think that the landscape was a character in the film as well. Aaron Pedersen who played German and me, we worked out the motivation for our characters from one line in the script which leads us back to the place that we’re standing on. Also, I think it’s so interesting that Damien cast Aaron Pedersen, an indigenous actor in the role of German because it added a totally different element to the story. It could have just two cliche white guys but adding Aaron there it adds a history to Australia’s past and it opens up the story. It touches on where we’ve come from. I think it just adds such a character and sense of place to the land that we’re standing on. So, it was pretty amazing standing out there. Even at one location, I looked over, and there was this rusted old car just hanging out on the sidewalk.

AT: Oh my God!

AG: I know it’s creepy! What happened to the people in there?!

AT: What do you want the audience to take away from Killing Ground?

AG: Well, I think it takes you on an amazing ride. I think it’s raw and visceral and it’s impossible to have some reaction to this film. Every time I watch it, I always end up asking myself, and I think the film asks you “What would you really do in this situation?” In a world of superhero movies, It’s always the superhero within you that would act out a certain way which is amazing because we all think we’d save the day. This film is upfront and honest because it asks if you are in the situation, which choice would you make to survive. I think the characters of Sam and Ian are brilliant and complicated. The decisions Ian makes are such a tough thing for an actor because I think his decision making isn’t cowardice. I think that he’s trying to intelligently think his way through this, but he just might not be making the best decisions at the time.

AT: But he is doing what he think’s he’s best.

AG: Yes! But he’s shocked, and he can’t think straight. I think it’s just a really honest portrayal. If I was dropped in this situation with my capabilities today, how would I react? As audience members, we hope we’re never in that situation in real life. I think films like this puts us emotionally in an interesting situation

AT: That’s for sure. Thanks so much Aaron for chatting with me about Killing Ground! Good luck at Sundance.

Killing Ground premiered at Sundance January 20th. Watch the trailer below.