Kena (16) spoke with Miles Szanto about his role (Miklos Varga) in Teenage Kicks, films that shaped him during his teenage years and living and working in LA.
Hi! How was your day?
Pretty good so far, how about yours?
Not too bad – it’s about 5:30 pm here (LA) and it’s been a big busy day. I got a couple of jobs coming up, I had an interview this morning and an audition… I’ve been out of town for the past month so I’ve had to catch up on all the stuff I’ve missed. I think my brain is a whole lot kinder to me when I’m busy with stuff.
Yeah, I agree. I loved the film (Teenage Kicks) by the way, I thought it was amazing!
Thank you so much! Some people haven’t liked the film – I’ve got some amazing hate from serious homophobes on Twitter – it really makes my day!
Oh no, seriously!?
Yeah, I mean that’s just the kind of territory when you tell stories like this, it really makes me feel like what we’re doing is disruptive (which I quite like). It feels like we’re serving a purpose if people are getting pissed about it.
Absolutely, it means you’re getting the message around. What are you doing in America at the moment?
A lot of stuff – I’ve been based here for the last six years. I came over here to drama school after I finished doing a kids TV series… I went to drama school for two years (which was amazing) and then I got a job in LA on a film and I thought I’d stay for that and then come back to Australia, but I ended up just loving it here after that so I’ve been here ever since.
But you came back for Teenage Kicks…
Yeah! I was over there for seven weeks to make that film and I came down for two days for the premiere but other than that this is kind of home to me now – it’s really strange.
Do you like it better here or over there?
In Australia there’s a real sense that if you’re an artist then it’s a burden. For example, you ask somebody in Sydney “what do you do?” and they say “I’m a filmmaker and there’s no money, it’s really difficult…” which is all true, but over here at the same time no one’s got money to make films but there’s a real deep sense of hope and excitement about it, which is nice.
Was Teenage Kicks your first lead role in a feature film?
No, I’ve done two films right before, one called Bruno and Earlene go to Vegas which is an LGBTQI road movie. I played an intersex character in that and there was a beautiful trans actress in there… it was a gorgeous melting point of humans and different gender identities and stuff. That was probably my first lead, I did a Western after that but I think Teenage Kicks was the first project that I wasn’t just a hired gun! On those two films I came in about a week before, did my role and then it was over. I’ve been a part of Teenage Kicks for about five years – since it’s very first incarnation as Drowning and then again when Craigy (Craig Boreham) was writing the script for Teenage Kicks. I’ve been a part of this thing up until the editing – I’ve been a part of the process the entire way through and that’s been really lovely.
When you act in a lead role is it different to when you act as a secondary character?
I think it’s essentially the same stuff. I remember that I’m just a vessel for a story. I think the tendency to get wrapped up in myself and my process tends to dilute the most important part of the film, which is that I’m just telling a story. I think that’s pretty universal when it comes to it – if you’re a supporting character you help a lead in getting from A to B. The major question I asked myself in each scene was “what is the purpose”, “how does this help the story”. When you play a supporting role it’s important to get one character from here to there, whereas when you’re playing a lead it’s often the other people that are doing that for you, and you’re seeking to do something broader. I think that the technicalities are kind of the same but the mission will be a little different.
How would you describe your character Miklos Varga, having quite in-depth insider info?
Miklos Varga is someone who is is carrying a lot. When we meet Mik in the film, he’s right on the precipice of stepping into adulthood and he’s really experiencing the terror a lot of us feel when going through adolescence and becoming adults. It’s really quite a scary moment but I think in his heart Mik is a good person who cares about other people but is just scared at what’s to come next. He’s never really felt that he fitted in anywhere necessarily, and I think he’s just trying to figure out where he stands in the world and who he is going to be.
In Teenage Kicks, which was your favourite scene to shoot?
Anything with Anni Finsterer – who played my mum in the film – was like being in a masterclass! Her performance in that film is just so masterful. The depth of her truth in every single moment is so exciting to me. Not to mention (‘insider info’ here!) that she’s actually my aunt and it’s been my dream to work with her for a lifetime! I got to be on set with her and connect with her as a co-worker which was really, really beautiful. She’s so incredibly generous – after every take even when she’s doing some really heavy stuff… It’s tricky coming into a story like that and only being on-set for a few days when we’ve been working for seven weeks. But between every take she would say “How are you? Is this working for you? What can I do for you?” and it’s so rare to have an actor who is so generous and checking on how you’re doing as opposed to asking if you can stand more over there so that their face looks prettier on camera.
Did you become really good friends with any fellow actors and do you still keep in touch with them?
Daniel Webber and I experienced a lot of heavy stuff on that shoot you know, and we became fast friends. We only met maybe two weeks before on Skype – because I was over here in America and he’s in Australia, so we met on Skype and I think immediately – when you know what you’re going to be have to do together on-screen – a sense of camaraderie blooms. We became each other’s best friends on set because we needed someone to get through this. Not to mention how cold it was, some of the things we were dealing with were quite heavy, so it was nice to know there was always someone there for us to lean on. It was really nice and we do keep in touch.
If you had to pick three films that shaped you during the teenage years what would they be and why?
That’s a good question… I love Pasolini’s films Accattone and Mama Roma – I used to watch them obsessively. He was an Italian director most famous for making a film called Salo which was banned in Australia for a long time. His other films were important for me to bring out the importance of storytelling and how things can be heightened but also universal. I was pretty obsessed with Eternal Sunshine – I’ve probably seen that film fifty times. I think the way that film was constructed was so genius, you can go back and watch that film fifty times and still discover new bits and pieces… its high concept really gets to the heart of what it feels like to be in love and get your heart broken. I love Kids, I mean I think that film is a really beautiful portrait of youth. It was a great inspiration for Craigie and me. You gotta mention I’m obsessed with Van Sant! My Own Private Idaho… River Phoenix in that film! Basically, anytime Gus Van Sant isn’t doing one of the big Hollywood films and he’s exploring really interesting stuff is just mind blowing!
Argh, so many! This is a hard question… only three? I love Gregg Araki’s films! But I’ll leave it there otherwise I’ll chew your ear off for the next four days!