Saturday 15 February 2014

Interview with Ned Manning

Ned Manning is a writer, actor, script consultant and teacher. His plays have been performed around Australia and internationally, on professional and school stages. These include Alice Dreaming, Women of Troy, Gods of War, The Bridge is Down, Milo, Close to the Bone, Luck of the Draw, Last One Standing, and Us or Them.
    Ned was nominated for an AWGIE for writing for Young Audiences in 2011. He has written ten plays for Bell Shakespeare’s Actors at Work program.

    His first work of non-fiction, Playground Duty, a celebration of the highs and lows of a teaching career, was published in 2012 by NewSouth Books. He has also contributed to the textbook, Drama Reloaded, published by Cambridge, and adapted Women of Troy for ABC Radio.
     Ned has taught at Newtown High School of the Performing Arts and was a Senior Examiner in HSC Drama. He is also a former holder of a NSW Premiers Teachers Scholarship.
     As an actor, Ned has appeared in some of Australia's most loved film, television and theatre productions including Looking for Alibrandi, Offspring, The Farm, The Shiralee, Aftershocks, and Prisoner. He starred in the cult classic, Dead End Drive-In (one of Quentin Tarantino's favorite movies), and recently appeared in David Parker's new film The Menkoff Method.

Where were you born, and where did you grow up?

I was born in Coonabarabran in North Western NSW. I spent my early years there on our (sheep/wheat/pig) farm.

What kind of a family did you grow up with?

I was the youngest of three boys. I think I might have been a mistake. My father was a farmer and socialist who stood for the ALP in a safe Country Party electorate. My mother was an artist and bon vivante.

When did you first take an interest in public performance?

The moment someone took notice of me! My first stage role was playing a Pig. I followed this up by playing Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz.

Where did you go to school?

I went to boarding school at The King’s School in Parramatta.

Who was the teacher who had the biggest influence on you?

Eric Sowerby Drake. He taught me English and performed the whole of Julius Caesar standing on his desk with academic gown flowing.

What was your first paying job (in any field)?

Growing gherkins!
John Allen, John Hargreaves and Ned Manning in The Odd Angry Shot (1979)

What was your first paying job in the film business?

I had a tiny role in The Odd Angry Shot (1979).

Noni Hazlehurst, Ned Manning and Bryan Brown, in The Shiralee (1987).

You were a teacher for thirty years, yet managed to appear in some twenty-eight films and/or TV shows at the same time. How does a fulltime teacher moonlight as a movie star?

I wasn’t a full time teacher for all that time. I taught for five years and then worked as an actor for the next fifteen years. I returned to teaching part time so was still acting/writing. I somehow juggled all three for about ten years when I taught at Newtown High School of the Performing Arts. That was tricky, as I outline in my book Playground Duty.
Ned Manning and Natalie McCurry in Dead End Drive-In (1986)

Were you ever tempted to move to Hollywood and try your luck there?

I did have a chance to go to Hollywood but I had a very young son at the time and saw my future in the Australian Film Industry. That’s the way it was for most of my generation of actors. There was also a lot more work here in those days compared to today.

One of your early films was Dead End Drive-In (1986). Did you have any sense at the time that it would end up as one of the iconic Australian films of the period?

The history of Dead End Drive-In is quite extraordinary. It was a big hit at Cannes with a big sale to New World Pictures. They were going to release it on 1200 screens around the USA. They then wanted to dub our voices with American accents. We refused. It got an Art House release and surprisingly good reviews. The Australian release was very low key. The reviews were good but there was no publicity. I expected it to never see the light of day again so I am amazed that it continues to have a life. It was recently re-released on DVD in the US and the UK. Who’d 'a' thought?

What was it like working with Brian Trenchard-Smith?

Interesting. He’s quite a character. He never forgave me for fibbing about my age. I was ten years older than I said I was!

Pia Miranda, Kick Gurry and Ned Manning in Looking for Alibrandi (2000)

You appeared in Looking For Alibrandi (2000). It has been claimed many times that the novel of the same name, on which the film was based, is the book most often stolen from Australian high school libraries. As a teacher, why do think that is?

I think it’s a wonderful story about identity and the dramas of teenage life. It struck a chord with thousands of non-Anglo Aussie kids. I love the film.

Do you prefer acting for film or TV? What are the major differences?

I like both. The essential difference is time. Much more time is given to a scene in film. I was very lucky to be around during the mini series boom and there were some wonderful stories told in TV in that era. TV is bouncing back again with Pay TV and the ABC doing great work.

You’ve written so many plays (I couldn’t find a definitive list, but there must be two dozen of them). What drove you to playwriting, given you had other expressive outlets as an actor and teacher?

I love writing and I love theatre so I guess it was a natural progression to write plays. I love the rigour and challenge of playwriting. There is nothing like seeing your words come alive in front of a live audience.

If you had to suggest just one screenwriting book to a newbie writer in Adelaide, which one would it be?

William Goldman, Adventures in the Screen Trade.

What are your ten favourite movies of all time?

In no particular order:
Spartacus (1960)
Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
The Godfather (1972)
Breaker Morant (1980)
Wake in Fright (1971)
The Graduate (1967)
Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975)
Apocalypse Now (1979)
The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith (1978)
A Clockwork Orange (1971)

What’s next for Ned Manning?

I have just finished writing a new play. I’m playing “Chairman of the Board” in David Parker’s new film, The Menkoff Method (2014). I’m working on a screen adaptation of Playground Duty and I’ve got a new book in the pipleline.


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Unknown said...

What a talented man Ned Manning is. Currently a playwright, actor, screenwriter and author, he has also taught and is a parent. Here he confesses that he wrote his first play because he wanted a part to play. Which led into acting... The man has chutzpah.

I was touched by his enthusiasm for writing plays to teach students about Shakespeare's plays. One can see his method working in the classroom. Only someone with his broad knowledge and theatrical experience and passion for drama could do it.

Mr Manning's promotion of drama as an important course in schools is the best I've heard. He says kids like to perform, they find it a means of expression, to let go of themselves. Drama is part of our creative soul and what kids get out of the arts is extraordinary. Not only is drama a valid and worthwhile subject, it can be life-changing.

I was disappointed to see someone who so strongly advocates drama to be expositing his views in a 'talking heads' interview.

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