Martin Dingle Wall on shooting in Moscow and being directed by Mel Gibson’s son

Aussie actor Martin Dingle Wall has a long list of local credits, having appeared in 'Home and Away', 'All Saints', 'Satisfaction', 'Underbelly', 'Rescue Special Ops' and 2015 feature 'Strangerland'.

Dingle Wall has returned to Oz from LA, where he's lived for the past four years, to promote 'All That Jam', a rom-com shot in Moscow for which the actor had to learn Russian  only days before the shoot began. The feature screened in Sydney last week as part of The Russian Resurrection Film Festival.

Next year Dingle Wall stars with Olga Kurylenko and Antonio Banderas in 'Salty', which has been drumming up interest at AFM. He also plays the lead role in indie horror feature 'Happy Hunting', co-directed by Louie Gibson, son of Mel.

How did All That Jam come to you?

It's really the quintessential Hollywood left-field scenario. To this day I have no idea what the circumstances were. All I know is that my manager at the time got an email saying, 'We're after Martin Dingle Wall for this role'. It was an outright offer. They sent through a script written in English, and I read the script and it was a beautiful story; a mix between Pretty Woman and Notting Hill. Just a really beautiful read. I signed on and they sent me one or two mp3 files with the Russian lingo. I thought oh, there are going to be a couple of comedy moments based in lost in translation and fumbling with this language. When I arrived in Moscow, my script, sure enough, was in Russian. I said, okay, I need the English one. They're like: there are no English ones. That's when I worked out it wasn't a US co-production with Russia (laughs).

Were you the only actor who didn't speak Russian?

There was actually an American actor, Chris Owen, and he's quite well known in Russia for playing the character of Sherminator in the American Pie franchise. He's globally known, and he was cast to play the personal assistant of my character, a movie star. So Chris and I had five or six scenes, and of course they were all in English and they were all really well written, they were great comedy. All these elements led to [us thinking] it's obviously a co-pro. When we realised, it was, right: we're in Moscow, we start filming in four days. This has got to be done. Let's learn Chekhovian Russian, and we start in twenty minutes. And so began the journey of shooting All That Jam

Is your character a Russian, or an American who speaks Russian?

Michael Barclay, who I play, is a global celebrity. In order to challenge himself because he's at that status, he decides he's going to go to Russia and he's gonna do the Chekhov play The Cherry Orchard, and he's gonna do it in Chekhovian Russian. He decides that he's going to go there a few weeks early, because he actually has a diploma in gourmet cooking and his real passion is being a foodie, and he's researched this land and there is a famous family recipe for a jam, the gooseberry jam [from that region]. So that's his full focus. He lands in Russia, he takes a local flight into the hinterlands of Russia, and it's in these hinterlands that the story unfolds. I know that the director wrote the role for somebody like Keanu Reeves. The reason they didn't go with a Russian actor  and this is really credit to the director, because a lot of lesser directors would have gone the easier path  but it was his conviction that Russians recognise a Russian, and no matter how Americanized this Russian is the audience will know if this is a Russian playing an American playing a Russian. 

Presumably the bad Russian is part of the joke, right?

The language is certainly a component of it, but you realise that this is actually part of the particular skill set this movie star has. Somewhere along the line he's learnt Russian, and he's come to Russia to challenge himself further and go deeper into a more ancient version of it.

What was your reaction when you saw the finished film?

I could not believe what the director did. I saw this beautiful, cohesive film. I don't think you're allowed to make an ugly movie in Russia. There's such a standard of excellence for everything. We see it in the Olympics  when a Russian takes the stand, they are the ones who go neck and neck with America. Because there's just that stauncher level of cultural commitment. And this movie, a rom-com, was lit and framed like a Monet painting. It was just breathtakingly beautiful. 

How was it working with the Russian cast?

My leading lady didn't speak a word of English, and I didn't speak a word of Russian. That was actually one of the saving graces, because we had to find each other in our eyes; we had to fall in love with no words. And that actually really worked. On set, every now and then I'd hear 'cut, we're moving on' and I'd turn around to the director and say 'Sash [director Alexander Andranikian], we do not have that scene'. He'd say [Russian accent]: 'We are good'. I'm like, okaaay. And half a year later I go in for ADR in Hollywood, and there were five scenes that we had to ADR, and that to me was beyond belief. There really should have been 96 scenes we had to ADR. 

The film's currently touring festivals.

It's been to Armenia, it's going to Toronto right now, I think it's going to Seattle, it's been to Australia and New Zealand, so it's moving across the world. When you're shooting a foreign film, a rom-com, you're in Russia and you're like: is it ever really going to leave the Slovaki language community? Probably not. So you just enjoy the experience. And then I get told by Dov Kornits, who runs Filmink  'by the way mate, the biggest Russian film festival outside of Russia is in Australia, so you should get in touch with them'. To be there at Event Cinemas in Sydney last week and to sit down with a roomful of my mates and watch this movie  nothing about this business can be planned, mate, nothing. 

Are you based in LA now?

I've been in LA for the last four years. I'm here full time, I'm green carded, I'm a resident. I popped back in March this year, March, April, May this year, because Wayne [Hope] and Robyn [Butler] invited me to join the series for series three of Upper Middle Bogan. I'm in awe of who they are, [and] the fact that they knew who I am. So I came home and shot that. All the work I do generally is in the States now. Frankly every job I've gotten over there has been one job feeding into the next job. I've never had an agent in Hollywood. I had a manager who petitioned me to come over. 

Tell me about Happy Hunting, which is co-directed by Mel Gibson's son, Louie.

There is a side to Hollywood that is self run  the world of self submissions. It's a bit touch and go. I've turned up for auditions that have been arranged through self submissions and no-one's been there, and that's happened more than once. So there is a sleepy, docile part of Hollywood that just doesn't turn up. But [with] this they said: come along, we'd love to audition you for the part. And I walked in and there's a roomful of actors. I thought great, these guys are serious. I put down a pretty strong first impression, and they called me back and said, 'that's close to what we're looking for, can you come back in and help us read some other actors'? And I said yes, please send me the script. I read the script and it was ready to go. I then asked them for a meeting and we sat down. These guys had nothing on paper as regards to who they were. It was purely an intuition thing. They had nothing to sell me.

When did you work out that it was Gibson Jr.?

That didn't happen until I was about three weeks out on set in the Californian desert. We had a very skeleton crew out there, and our line producer walks past with a reflector board and I'm talking to Louis and the light just hits his eyes and he's got this big beard and dusty hair and there's a desert-scape behind him, and I'm like, dude you look just like Mad Max. And then in my little brain I thought: Louie Gibson. Motherfucker, you're a Gibson! Louie and I never actually spoke about it because I was so focused on the work at hand. I think Louie was pretty intent on keeping that on the downlow; he's not going through Icon [Productions] or using family money. He's really his own guy. But then sure enough the industry finds out. Then it's a question of: does the movie stand on its own? And my god that movie stands on its own. It got picked up by Screamfest, which screens at the Chinese Theatre in the heart of Hollywood. We were given the prime Friday night slot, the only movie shown [that night]. And following that screening they were awarded the best cinematography [award]. It's just had its American Film Market screening about two days ago, and the reviews are coming out and the movie's been well-received. It's getting some nice responses.

What's next for you?

I've just wrapped up on this movie [Salty] in Chile, with Antonio Banderas, and I know that's done huge pre-sales ahead of AFM, so early next year should be a pretty fun ride with that one being released. That's actually the only movie so far that I've played an Australian in. I play an ex-commando who has sexual harassment Tourettes, but he's all heart and he's good at his job. So that was just a hilarious experience. It might be time to think about getting an agent. A few people might see Happy Hunting and want to have a meeting, that'd be great. We'll see how it unfolds.