Russell Baillie writes about movies for the Herald

How John Clarke slipped Fred Dagg gags into Aussie film

John Clarke talks to Russell Baillie about getting a bit of Fred Dagg into his latest film.

There's a scene in A Month of Sundays in which John Clarke, playing a real estate agent, is explaining being a real estate agent.

"Basically the function of the real estate agent is to add to the price of the article without producing anything," he says.

It's not a particularly pivotal scene and Clarke isn't quite the star of the movie.

But anyone who remembers Clarke's early years as our very own Fred Dagg may think, they've heard that line before.

John Clarke as Fred Dagg, Kiwi cultural ambassador extraordinaire.
John Clarke as Fred Dagg, Kiwi cultural ambassador extraordinaire.

That's because it's from an old monologue entitled Real Estate, which also translates the language of house sale advertising: "A panoramic, breathtaking, or magnificent view is an indication that the house has windows, and if the view is unique, there's probably only one window".

Clarke chuckles down the phone line when TimeOut tells him of the comedy deja vu.

"That's possibly because there was no script for that bit. There are certain things there that were extemporised. I think in that case they wanted a shot that showed you the size of the city in the background.

"So [director Matthew Saville] said 'just say things'. So Anthony and I go for a walk and say stuff."

Anthony is veteran Aussie actor Anthony LaPaglia, who plays estate agent Frank Mollard, working for Clarke's Phillip Lang.

The movie largely follows Frank's mid-life crisis involving his ex-wife, his teenage son, his dissatisfaction with his job and his accidental friendship with an elderly woman named Sarah.

It's set in the leafy suburbs of Adelaide and written directed by Saville, an Australian television veteran, whose credits include shows by Chris Lilley and episodes of the Secret Life of Us.

He roped in Clarke to play LaPaglia's chief comic foil on the 18-day shoot.

Although some in Adelaide may think the film took longer - especially as a giant billboard of Clarke's smiling face advertising Phillip Lang real estate was erected above the faux real estate office in the city for the minimum contractual period.

John Clarke and Anthony LaPaglia star in the movie A Month of Sundays.
John Clarke and Anthony LaPaglia star in the movie A Month of Sundays.

"So there was a huge big hoarding of me up there for six months. When we took over that office, we actually had a few people coming in who saw the pictures in the window. Most of which were bogus."

But although the film has some fun - as Clarke did all those years ago - with the real estate idiom, it's not just to send up the profession.

It's more about how blokes, even ones like the confident, wisecracking Phillip Lang, find it hard to cope with what life tosses their way, especially when it comes to the middle-aged dealing with their own ageing parents - or the loss of them. Clarke's own mother died last year. His website, mrjohnclarke.com, has lovely essays devoted to his mum and dad.

In the movie, Lang has an elderly father, suffering a form of dementia, who he visits in his rest home but who he doesn't know how to deal with.

"In a way, he is slightly bored and slightly confused and slightly embarrassed and awkward in the company of his own father."


It makes for affecting scenes that show Clarke isn't just playing this for laughs.

"I just had to put a suit on and pretend to be an adult for a while," he says of the demands of the role.

A Month of Sundays largely follows Frank Mollard's mid-life crisis involving his ex-wife, his teenage son
A Month of Sundays largely follows Frank Mollard's mid-life crisis involving his ex-wife, his teenage son

The movie reminds him of the work of late Australian director Paul Cox, who died recently and whose 1982 early feature, Lonely Hearts, Clarke co-wrote.

"Very often I am asked to be in something. It's a kindness to be asked but I don't actually think I am very good at it. So I do them a favour and don't do it and they go and get a proper actor.

"There are certain things I know I can do and other things, where I would be terribly awkward, that wouldn't work at all and in this case Matthew had a certain thing in mind and I said I'll do that."

LaPaglia and Clarke hadn't met before but they make great verbal sparring partners in the film..

As far as his old stamping ground goes, there is the forthcoming series New Zealand: A User's Guide, based on his late 2014 essay about the place that is in the works for TV3. But until then, A Month of Sundays delivers a decent fix of Clarke in possibly his best big-screen partnership since he teamed up with Sam Neill in 1990's Death in Brunswick.

Low down

Who: John Clarke
What: A Month of Sundays
When: Opens at cinemas today.

- TimeOut

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