The past twelve months may have been called the Year Of The Father for Australian actor Richard Roxburgh. From playing a father-like figure in Go-Kart drama Go! through to playing a father placed in a terrible predicament in Angel Of Mine. Now comes H Is For Happiness which once again sees Roxburgh play fatherly duties, this time he plays a damaged father whose family is being ripped apart by the trauma of losing a child. Meanwhile he is also in a bitter feud with his brother and it seems like the only person who wants to help the family is his very own daughter.
“I play a character called Jim Phee,” explains Roxburgh when he sits down to talk to me about the film. “He is married to Emma Booth’s character and we are the parents of a twelve-year-old girl played by Daisy Axon and we have had a terrible incident in our life where one of our daughters, the younger sister to Daisy, has died. It does sound quite gloomy but it is incredibly funny and it is a beautiful big-hearted film and it is told pretty much through the eyes of Daisy’s character who is a kind of crazy optimist.”
As Roxburgh talks about the events that happen in the film we start to talk about the fact that while this is a film about a very dark period in the family’s life there is also an incredible light that shines through with the film as well. “Yeah, I think that is the point that it shows that kids kind of deal with grief, difficulty and adverseness in life in a very different way to we do,” he explains. “And I think that the film essentially brings that to life and shows this girl desperately trying to solve this puzzle of the sadness of her parents through the way that she sees the world – which is this incredibly vibrant and dynamic place which is full of larger than life characters.”
While the discussion goes on we begin to talk about the father roles that Roxburgh has played over the last twelve months and how he prepares himself to play fathers going through such traumatic experiences. “I guess it is not so much about research for a role like that,” he says after thinking about for a few seconds. “I am the father of three children myself so for a very large part of it I try to draw on my own experience and your own terrain – especially your emotional terrain as a parent and a father. You try to imagine what that would be like – having said that though there are always significantly different personalities so there is always that kind of work to do but that is the work that you do every time you do an individual new piece.”
Of course one of the major themes of H Is For Happiness is family and Roxburgh says the cast did get a little bit of time to bond to help out the younger actors as they prepared for the film. “We did get a little bit of time together,” he says. “It was a thirty day shoot so we didn’t get a lot of time but these kids were so, so great, they were such fabulous kids and they were so great to be around. I love working with kids because I just love their energy, so we had a short time to bond but I guess really it was just goofing off and having fun and making sure that they are okay with stuff.”
With some of the deep themes and emotional scenes in this film I asked Roxburgh how important it is for more experienced actors like himself to make sure that the young cast are dealing with it all. “It is always something to be reckoned with when you are working with kids,” he says after a deep breath. “You always want to them to be drawing on the thing that is really natural to them so that for them it doesn’t feel like they are acting because they are really drawing on the close version that they have of themselves, but in a really emotional scene, and in a scene that really counts you don’t really know as the director or one of the other actors that is in the scene how exactly it is going to go. But John Sheedy was a really wonderful director and he was great with the kids – he managed to really guide them through that stuff with great care.”H Is For Happiness is one of those film that will make you laugh and it will make you cry but at the end of the day this is one of the most powerful movies you will see in 2020.