Chris Haywood dons his producing hat for ‘The Crossing’

Kaarin Fairfax and Chris Haywood in ‘Skewwhiff.’

Chris Haywood is so committed to making a thriller based on the Australian novel The Crossing he has agreed to produce as well as star in the feature film.

First-time feature director James Khehtie sent the novel by B. Michael Radburn to the actor, who loved the premise: Taylor Bridges flees from Victoria to an isolated Tasmanian town to work as a park ranger after his daughter disappeared, triggering the breakdown of his marriage.

When a young girl who was the same age as his daughter vanishes, Bridges, a chronic sleepwalker, begins to wonder what happens when he sleepwalks.

“I did not want to produce but James insisted,” Haywood tells IF, recalling that he has served as a producer only once before, on writer-director Peter Watkins’ 1991 feature doc The Media Project, which critiqued Australian media coverage of the first Gulf war.

Radburn has written the screenplay and private investors have funded the development. Khehtie directed The Telegram Man, an AACTA-nominated short which screened on SBS On Demand on ANZAC Day. Starring Jack Thompson, Gary Sweet and Sigrid Thornton, the film explored the impact of World War II on a close-knit Australian farming community.

“The novel is a terrific thriller which has already spawned two sequels and a publishing deal in France,” says Haywood, who aims to raise the finance later this year after another recce in Tasmania.

The English-born actor has logged 191 screen credits, according to IMDB. After making his feature debut in Peter Weir’s The Cars That Ate Paris in 1974 he has been a fixture in dozens of movies including Phillip Noyce’s Newsfront and Heatwave, Bill Bennett’s A Street to Die, Kiss or Kill and The Nugget, and Richard Lowenstein’s Strikebound and Dogs in Space.

A favourite of the late Paul Cox, he appeared in 16 Cox films including Lonely Hearts, Man of Flowers, Innocence and Salvation.

George Miller offered him the role of Jim Goose in the first Mad Max at the same time as Noyce asked him to play the young assistant cameraman Chris Hewitt in Newsfront. The actor decided to accept whichever film was the first to go into production – Newsfront – so Steve Bisley played Goose.

His recent TV credits include Rake, Harrow and Secret City, and he’s just as happy to work in short films.

He won the best male actor prize at the South Australian Screen Awards playing a recently widowed pensioner who discovers he can travel into the world of his old Super 8mm home movies in Marcus McKenzie’s The Projectionist.

In Robin Summons’ Skewwhiff he played an elderly guy who insists on granting his wife’s wish of taking their car through a drive-through car wash, opposite Kaarin Fairfax. For that he was named best screen performance at the ReelGood Film Festival.

The first production from short film streaming platform Exile Shorts, produced by Alexandros Ouzas and Ruby Thomas, it will screen at international festivals before being released worldwide on Exile Shorts in late 2019.

“It’s not easy to make short films, especially for first-time directors,” he says. “It’s hard work but using experienced talent and crew can ensure the film is delivered on schedule.”

His latest feature is Gregor Jordan’s Dirt Music, adapted from the Tim Winton novel. He plays the father of Georgie (Kelly Macdonald), a sometime sailor, diver and nurse who is stranded in a remote fishing town with Jim (David Wenham), a man she doesn’t love, and his young sons whose dead mother she can never replace.

A reckless moment leads Georgie to an intense, sexually charged affair with Lu Fox (Garrett Hedlund), an enigmatic loner, musician and poacher who is traumatised by a tragic accident from his past.

It was a small role and Haywood did not try to “bond” with Macdonald or other actors. He explains: “When I go on a film set I try to be the other person, to absorb that character. I don’t let my relationship with other actors interfere with that.”