Director Ben Chessell finishes principal photography on Sucker, his debut feature, in Melbourne today, full of praise for the chemistry between his young lead, YouTube star John Luc, and veteran English actor Timothy Spall.
Luc plays Lawrence, an 18-year-old Chinese Australian who cheats in his high school final year exams and fails to get into medicine. Banished to stay with his uncle for the summer, Lawrence meets Spall’s the Professor, a colourful, ageing conman.
Lawrence begins a road trip with the Professor and his daughter Sarah (Lily Sullivan) as the Professor teaches him the art of swindling and cheating, while from Sarah he learns a hard lesson in unrequited love.
“John, Tim and Lily showed a real chemistry and camaraderie which comes across in their scenes," said Chessell, who was one of 10 directors on the 2007 comedy Little Deaths and has since directed episodes of Offspring, Rush, Rescue Special Ops and Camp, the NBC summer series produced by Matchbox Pictures.
Spall rang Chessell before he accepted the part. “He just wanted to know we saw the same film,” said Ben, who has been based in the UK for five years but often returns home to work.
“We wanted an actor who could play the custodian of a dying art, the art of the con. When he rang me from his houseboat in the Netherlands, Tim described him as ‘shabby chic.’”
Sucker is the first feature for 17-year-old Luc, who has written, directed and performed in 200 short films, often playing himself, his sister and mother.
“John is used to working on a small set where he does everything,” Chessell said. “It’s been a joy to watch him grow every day as a dramatic actor. He likes to watch the rushes but Tim never wants to watch himself. Lily is unpredictable; she has a wonderful, chaotic energy.”
Chessell co-wrote the screenplay with Lawrence Leung, adapted from Leung's stage show which toured Australia, New Zealand and the UK in the early 2000s.
They did the first draft in 2002. In the intervening years they searched for what they saw as the right combination of producers, actors, distributor and sales agent.
Robyn Kershaw is producing with Jason Byrne. The financiers are Screen Australia, Jake Film Finance, Film Victoria and DDP Studios. Madman Entertainment will distribute in Australia and New Zealand and Tine Klint’s Level K is handling international sales. Jake’s Joan Peters is the executive producer.
Chessell now looks forward to months in the editing suite. “There are three films,” he says, “the one you write, the one you shoot and the one you edit.”