Luke McKenzie flips character in ‘The Flip Side’

Vanessa Guide and Luke McKenzie in ‘The Flip Side.’

After playing a guy suffering from PTSD in Home and Away and an inmate who impregnated Shareena Clanton’s Doreen in Wentworth, Luke McKenzie relished the chance to play a more nuanced character in The Flip Side.

McKenzie plays Jeff, the good-hearted boyfriend of Ronnie (Emily Taheny), a struggling Adelaide restaurateur in writer-director Marion Pilowsky’s romantic comedy which opens in Australian cinemas on August 30 via 20th Century Fox.

Five years earlier Ronnie had an affair with visiting British movie star Henry (Eddie Izzard) and had her heart broken. When Eddie and his French girlfriend Sophie (Vanessa Guide) arrive in Adelaide on a promotional tour Jeff excitedly agrees to meet up, unwittingly creating the perfect opportunity for Henry to seduce Ronnie again.

“Jeff is not one-dimensional, the affable, good-natured, goofy trope,” McKenzie, a graduate of Impro Australia and the UCB Theatre in Los Angeles, tells IF. “He has a deep reserve of strength and dynamism, although he is naïve and maybe a little bit complacent in his relationship.”

McKenzie is full of praise for Izzard (“a genius and a force of nature”) and Taheny, who improvised on the set each day, playing different characters between takes.

The actor had worked with Pilowsky on a couple of short films and marvelled at her ability to make the leap to her first feature, observing: “She is a natural leader.”

With a passion for writing, he was 21 when he wrote and produced his first film, a 45-minute adaptation of Midsummer Night’s Dream, and has since written five short films including A Little Bit Behind, which screened in Cannes.

While studying for a post-graduate degree in TV screenwriting at AFTRS he met Seven Network script executive Louise Bowes at a pitching session. That led to him writing an episode of Home and Away six months ago, with another to follow, he hopes.

In 2012 he produced and starred in The McNeil Project – two plays by former inmate Jim McNeil, both set within the confines of a shared prison cell – in Melbourne’s fortyfivedownstairs theatre. During that time he learned that his own father Paul McKenzie, who spent seven or eight years in jail several decades ago, knew McNeil.

That inspired him to write The Resurgents, the screenplay for a movie based on the true story of a parole officer who brought together a group of ex-crims and coached them to win the national debating championships.

“It’s a redemptive story about damaged men growing up,” says McKenzie, who is polishing the fourth draft which he intends to take to the market in a few weeks. He is attracted to the idea of hiring a female director.