In the offbeat comedy drama Introducing the Dwights, the trials and tribulations of an unconventional family take center stage. Young adults Tim (Khan Chittenden) and Mark Dwight (Richard Wilson) are brothers living with their mother Jean (Brenda Blethyn), an aging comedienne who performs a somewhat risque stand-up routine in local clubs. While their lives don't mirror that of a typical household, the boys and their strong-willed matriarch enjoy a stable, well-balanced routine that works for them--until, that is, Tim falls for Jill (Emma Booth). Jean perceives the blossoming relationship as a threat to her close-knit unit, and the situation drudges up the shortcomings of her life-long career and her own failed marriage.
Introducing the Dwights hails from Australia, where it is known by its original title Clubland. Director Cherie Nowlan and her cast point out how a name change was necessary for a transition to the States, since the "clubs" of the movie refer to RSL clubs--recreational facilities maintained by the Returned and Services League of Australia for the benefit of current and veteran servicemen of the Australian Defence Force. They feature gambling, stage shows, and special commemoration ceremonies, and are frequently associated with local sporting events. For these reasons, they are more akin to the hotel/casinos of Las Vegas than the singles bar scene that is evoked for most Americans who hear the title Clubland.
In fact, the opening sequence of Introducing the Dwights features the reborn title plastered on the iconic "Welcome to Las Vegas" sign that visitors see upon driving into Sin City. It sets a specific tone for the film, which was Nowlan's intention. "We felt that there was this cultural difference," she says. "Here, you don't have clubs like we have clubs, do you? But it did remind me of the Las Vegas world, the casino world. So our titles designer sort of took that as an idea."
The cast spent a lot of time in Western Sydney's RSL clubs as part of their indoctrination into the film. Brenda Blethyn was originally refused admittance on one occasion when she forgot to bring her ID, but managed to work her way in, not with celebrity recognition, but by endearing herself to the doorman by being a fellow fan of his favorite football team. And even after the completion of the movie, Emma Booth has found herself hitting this particular club scene. "I still hang out at the RSLs and drink beer," she laughs. "They're really funny."
Everyone involved had their own reasons for why the film appealed to them. Nowlan recalls writer Keith Thompson and the producers sending her the screenplay. "I really loved it. I loved the coming of age story of the boy and his mother. I thought it was unusual. I thought it was very honest. And it made me blush and made me laugh and made me cry. I thought if a script can do that, then maybe there's a good chance the film could do the same." The fact that Thompson had penned the script with Blethyn in mind for the lead role was a bonus for Nowlan, who says, "She's my favorite actress. I've been obsessed with her since Secrets and Lies."
Blethyn originally didn't know that the character of Jean had been written for her, but was taken with the script nonetheless. "I loved the freshness and the honesty of it," she says. And it seemed to me this had to come from a real place, because it was so acutely observed. And this boy being embarrassed by his parents, who are entertainers, I thought was funny."
But the project was not without its challenges, even for the veteran. Blethyn considers herself a stage actress before a movie actress, and says that it was a bit odd to perform on stage within the framework of a feature film. While her character was acting out a stand-up routine, she was concerning herself with the technical details involved in shooting a movie--issues that obviously don't come into play in live theatre.
For Emma Booth, the most difficult scenes were of a less technical nature. "The sex scenes," she quickly answers, when asked about her most awkward moments on set. Referring to herself and co-star Khan Chittenden, she says, "We both had partners, and we're like brother and sister...The costume situation was hilarious." Booth says that Chittenden had a "g-string with a little sock" to wear, while she was given a small piece of cloth with double-sided tape. "I've been modeling for 10 years. I was used to, I guess, exposing my body. But it was pretending to have sex, and pretending to have orgasms, [that] was embarrassing." All of the intimate scenes were filmed on the last day of shooting, and she jokes, "So you can imagine how much fun we had at the wrap party after that."
Richard Wilson faced the challenge of playing younger brother Mark, who has cerebral palsy. Recalling the audition process, Wilson says, "I just kind of winged it, and just went with my gut instinct about who I thought the character was and where I think he is in his life."
Wilson enjoyed Mark's consistently positive outlook on life, and the fact that the character was a source for much of the movie's humor. After landing the role, researching the lives of people with cerebral palsy was important to him. "I really wanted to portray it truthfully, because it's career suicide, really, if you don't. Let's be honest, you don't want to be a hack in this. So I did a lot of research in a factory in Sydney where a lot of people with disabilities work. And no one knew that I wasn't handicapped there, so I could get real reactions from the people that were working."
When asked about the extent to which he related to his character Tim, Khan Chittenden says, "I've been in situations where I've had awkward conversations with my mother about who I'm seeing, and what that's like, and the how and the where and the why. And that's been weird enough." He also laughs at how Tim is his mother's chauffeur of sorts, constantly shuttling her around in a large van. "Before we did the film, I didn't actually have a license." He jokes, "I nearly killed a couple cameramen." Emma Booth confirms his vehicular misadventures, adding, "It was scary...I was praying. I had my rosary beads."