How John Cleese ended up in Aussie rom-com ‘The Naked Wanderer’

John Cleese on the set of ‘The Naked Wanderer’

When Callan Durlik wrote the character of a media mogul in romantic comedy The Naked Wanderer, he thought of John Cleese but doubted the Fawlty Towers star would be gettable.

With the enthusiasm of a first-time feature writer-producer, Durlik sent a synopsis to Cleese, who then asked to see the script.

Two days later Cleese was in. The Perth-based writer subsequently spent two days with the Englishman in his London office, workshopping lines and bouncing ideas.

He filmed all his scenes in London, playing Brian King, the uncle of Cameron King (Durlik), whose best mate Jake (Angus McLaren) decides to walk 4,000 km up the coast of Western Australia, clad only in a loin cloth.

Jake’s purpose ostensibly is to raise money for charity but his ulterior motive is to win back his former girlfriend Jasmine (Megan Hajjar), who jilted him.

Cleese’s character offers to sponsor the trip, not for altruistic reasons but to counter some bad press he had been getting in the UK. According to Durlik, he based his performance on Rupert Murdoch, whom he has derided on Twitter as a “monster.”

Alan Lindsay directed the movie, his first narrative feature after the miniseries Air Australia and numerous documentaries. Lindsay’s Vue DC produced with Callan and his Rookies Ambush business partner Josh Horneman as associate producers.

BAFTA winner Sophie Kennedy Clark (Philomena) plays Angel, Brian King’s assistant, with Natasha Liu Bordizzo (The Greatest Showman, Detective Chinatown 2) as Valerie, a backpacker.

The writer got the idea initially of a comedy about someone who does something crazy for charity. On a road trip up the coast to Coral Bay, he injected the love story element. He took two years to write the script, slaving away at night while he worked in real estate, after getting tips from the book How to Write a Screenplay That Sells by Michael Hauge.

Callan Durlik (l) and Angus McLaren (Photo credit: David Dare Parker)

In 2015 Annie Murtagh-Monks, then director of skills and engagement at the Film & Television Institute WA (FTI), arranged a reading of the script by WAAPA students and later that year there was another reading at CinefestOZ, where Lindsay discovered the project.

“Alan and I had the same vision,” says Durlik. Lindsay sent the script to Bedlam Productions’ Simon Egan, one of the producers of The King’s Speech, who agreed to serve as executive producer.

McLaren was among the WAAPA students who took part in the CinefestOZ reading. Since graduating he has logged credits in Hotel Mumbai, The Merger, Bloom, Home & Away and Doctor Doctor.

The producers raised the budget from private investors, the WA government’s Royalties for Regions program and an advance from the international sales agent, the London-based GFM Films. Umbrella Entertainment pre-bought the Australian rights.

GFM has pre-sold the film widely including to China’s Smart Cinema, which plans a theatrical release as well as enabling views to see the film on their mobile phones. Natasha Liu Bordizzo has a big fan base in China thanks to Detective Chinatown 2.

The key crew include DOP Mick McDermott, art director Elizabeth Warren and costume designer Nicole Ferraro. The Australian release date and the other major territory deals will be announced soon.

Durlik is confident the rom-com will connect with audiences, observing, “It’s a feel good film which will make you happy as you leave the cinema.”

Next, he plans to write and make his directing debut on It Only Takes a Night, a comedy about four female friends who are drifting apart, set on one night.