Interview with Craig Stott and Ryan Corr

There is a reason why Holding The Man has never been out of print. It's probably the same reason that Tim Conigrave's searing memoir is a Popular Penguin, one of those delightful, orange, bookshelf must-haves. It is because his story transcends time. Fiercely and unapologetically recounting a fifteen year love affair between Conigrave and Melbourne school mate John Caleo, it is more than a time capsule. Their story finished abruptly when Caleo died of AIDS in the early 90's, but the book is more than the horror of those times. Holding The Man endures because above all, it is a love story.
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Conigrave died of AIDS some months after Caleo, only a matter of days after finishing his book. Seen through to publication by friend Nick Enright, it became an instant classic and a much-loved text that still resonates loudly today. It won the 1995 UN Human Rights Award for Non-Fiction and sits in the Australian Society of Author's Top 100. Tommy Murphy turned the text into an extraordinarily successful stage play a little under a decade ago, picking up awards and plaudits along the way. Now he and acclaimed director Neil Armfield have reworked it for the screen with hot property Ryan Corr as Tim, and newcomer Craig Stott as John. If the film's reception at the Sydney Film Festival was anything to go by, this version of Holding The Man is another instant classic.

So how did it feel to reduce nearly 2000 people to tears? “Great!” laughed Stott. Corr cheerfully agreed. “It's a weird dynamic though when people come up to you 'I loved your film'. But you have to take it as a compliment if they've been moved by the grand power of these boy's love and their sad, very sad ending, you know?” For Holding The Man is one of those stories that has it all: laughter, tears, great highs, deep lows and the ultimate, tragic ending which, despite the odds, manages to be both inspiring and uplifting. Yet this film version would be all for nothing if not for an unquestionable chemistry between the undeniably charismatic Corr and Stott. Their onscreen romance was clearly built on a solid offscreen bromance. If you could bottle it, you'd make a fortune.
Yet Holding The Man is more than its leads. More than the top shelf support of Anthony LaPaglia, Kerry Fox and Guy Pearce. More than the first class direction of Armfield, or Murphy's poignant script. Said Corr, “What makes this story unique, and this process so special, is that a lot of people knew the boys.” Along with family members, they gave the pair precious insight into Tim and John's life which was folded back into their performances. And like family members who'd been approached by grateful readers of Tim's book, the pair now find themselves being thanked by many people who've seen the film. “That's something you don't get in any other experience.” Stott agreed: “It's a rare gift for an actor to have that.”

Holding The Man is a snapshot of Australia caught by Tim's unique perspective. It tells a story of teenage love, of acting school, of AFL, of parents who fear homosexuality and parents who support their son, of Tim the activist, of a fight for equality and acceptance, of John's illness, Tim's unwavering support, of death, loss and renewal. Although the book was unknown to both Corr and Stott prior to filming, it soon caught their attention. “I got an audition for a gay love story,” said Stott. “Set in Melbourne 1976 and I thought 'this is rare to come out of Australia'. I want to be a part of it.” Corr was at drama school when the play was setting Sydney's Griffin Theatre alight. “Everyone was speaking about its power,” he said, “I then used the book as a bible.” By now, they had realised the cultural weight of Tim's story; a daunting prospect you might think. “We get asked that question a lot, but it's different to daunting”. Stott chimed in. “We knew it was well loved, and there was a responsibility to do them justice”. Corr: “Responsibility to represent the boys individually and more importantly the love they had for each other.”
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Daunting came with the sudden realisation that they were co-leads in a feature film. While Corr has worked alongside household names like Ryan Kwanten and Russell Crowe, this is his first lead role. Stott was still feeling his way up the ladder when destiny came knocking. How was that? They giggled like school kids. “Extremely nerve-wracking!” gushed Stott. “We had pre-filming drinks and we were walking down Chapel Street and we were like: “What the?! What are we about to do? WHAT THE F-- have we done! I don't know how to play football, I don't know what I'm doing!? Ryan just slapped me.” “There was no slapping,” interjected Corr. Stott jumped back in. “Ryan assured me that Neil had cast us for a reason, that we had a chemistry, that he saw John and Tim in us already. But yeah, my first big film with, like, Guy Pearce in support?! You know what I mean?! It was very – strange...” he said. “Yeah, but it was also a shared lead,” said Corr, “so we could share the responsibility. If I was packing it and getting neurotic, Craig would take me aside, and he'd be very John you know. He'd be very practical and help me with the process. And I'd like to think I could do the same for him”. “Absolutely,” said an enthusiastic Stott. “The performance you see is Craig and Ryan as Tim and John. Before the scene where we came out to our friends - it was a most beautiful moment - Ryan just grabbed me, as Tim, gave me a kiss and gave me a look like, 'ok, off we go'. That's what you see up there.”

It was pretty clear – raging bromance and actorly excitement aside – that here was a relationship forged in fire. One that has travelled all the way to the screen and out the other side. It's ruined Stott. “The benchmark has been set far too high with anything I do in future. How do you find actors like Ryan? It's such a gift, I've been so spoilt.” Corr shifted, pleased if slightly uncomfortably, in his seat. “It's a pretty profound experience.”

Profound was a word that came up frequently. Although the horror of HIV/AIDS as experienced by Tim and John's generation has become a thing of the past, reliving those final years was something that left a mark on both actors. Clearly there was no leaving either Tim nor John in the studio at the end of a days filming. “Impossible,” said Stott. “I was constantly thinking about how John would react, particularly in the last two weeks when I was dying. There's no way you can leave that at work.” He had gone method, gone Matthew McConaughey to become John, loosing weight and condition with considerable physical and psychological effect. “I'd be in the car with my Dad and just burst into tears. It took me about two or three months to come back from John. I had this big collage of him on my wall and I couldn't take it down, it just felt wrong. As an actor you know that this is a role and this chapter's closing and on to the next thing. But as a human, you feel like you've betrayed them by having left them. You have to make peace with the fact that it's come to a close and now you're sharing it with the world.”
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Like an old married couple, Stott and Corr were now tumbling over each other to speak and finish one another's sentences. “The power of the story, their experiences, is what you take home,” said Corr, “especially leading into the death stuff. One of the scenes that didn't make it to the film was John's final wash.” Stott: “Yes!” Corr: “Craigie comes in, that many kilos underweight, walking slowly, as John, with his respirator and... It was a beautiful, sharing (long pause) out of body experience.” Stott: “You can't leave that at work. When you play something of substance, two people who lived, who were dying together, how could you?” Corr “It's not like we became them, replying to Tim at a cafe, but their essence stays with you.” Stott “I look back at John, and I have nothing but love in my heart for him. If you have someone in your life like John, or Tim, hang on to them.” Corr, laughing “Put a bloody ring on them! Stott “It's love, it's rare.”

As they took a breath, I laughingly noted that in that outpouring they'd finished off all my questions. What it was about Holding The Man that transcends time? Stott had summed it up. “It's one word. Love.”

Our time was up and while Corr ran to the loo, Stott took the opportunity for a sneaky ciggie break. Sitting outside the ACON building on bustling Elizabeth Street, the conversation quickly turned to political events of the night before (Tony Abbott had 'branch-stacked' the party room to ensure same-sex marriage wouldn't get a conscience vote within the Coalition). Perhaps the press junket had brought back the heart-wrenching experience of being John, of living with Tim, but Stott was beside himself with anger. Hands trembled as he emotionally denounced the government for requiring its people to explain themselves all over again. “Why should we?,” he asked passionately, and rather colourfully. “Why the fuck should we?!”

Tim the activist would have liked that.


Ryan Corr
Craig Stott
Anthony LaPaglia
Guy Pearce

Neil Armfield

Tommy Murphy



130 minutes

August 27, 2015
Holding the Man (2015) on IMDb
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