Somewhere between a final film screening and heading off to a sound check to sing the anthem at the Bledisloe Cup rugby match, Peter Cousens found the chance to have a quick chat about his debut into film-making, a period piece spanning two centuries called Freedom.
The broad range of specialties that took up this particular Saturday morning, reflect Peter Cousens’s frenetic life. A hugely successful career on the stage acting, singing and directing, which included being the only Aussie to ever play The Phantom in London’s West End, has for the last two and a half years been put on the back-burner for this film.
The push to move onto the big screen came from a desire for Cousens ‘to have a larger voice in the community around the issue of social justice’, a desire shared by a good friend of his who would become his main investor for the film.
He firmly believes that ‘film is the great medium of the 20th and 21st century and is the perfect medium for expressing ideas and encouraging change’.
In terms of what this change has meant for Cousens and his varied and impressive skillset, he asserts that both new and previously dormant skills have had to be developed in order take advantage of this opportunity: ‘It’s all about making hay whilst the sun shines’.
Cuba Gooding Junior signed on to play Samuel, one of two main protagonists, early on in the film’s production process, a move that Cousens admits was quite serendipitous. He’s quick to point out that Gooding Junior’s insights into how to handle the politics around a film whose focus is the oppression of one race by another were an incredible contribution to the film’s development.
Freedom delves into the theme of slavery and The Underground Railroad in a script with two stories set a century apart.
According to Cousens, the films dual story-lines were challenging from the beginning and that ‘it was only after shooting and in the editing suite that [he] found a way to create a stronger connection between the two stories, set 100 years apart’.
Evident throughout the movie is the director’s love of music and musical theatre, which is not to say that Freedom is a musical but rather a film that uses music according to Cousens ‘as a metaphor for freedom and creative imagination’.
Samuel (Cuba Gooding Junior), one of Cousens’s main characters, originally considers music useless, only to eventually realise that through singing he can unshackle himself from his desperate surroundings.
Unsurprisingly, considering his background, Cousens ensured that the film has a strong focus on the score and soundtrack, readily acknowledging that ‘the music is fundamental to the soul of the film’. For him, music and storytelling are the very best of creative partners.
Add the fact that Freedom allowed Cousens to return to the big screen as an actor in a cameo with his daughter, actor Daisy Cousens, who has performed alongside her father at concerts for years, and you have the recipe for a stellar film debut.
Freedom premiers in Australia on August 21 and includes a host of well-known names both on screen and behind the camera, including legendary cinematographer Dean Cundley of Back to the Future and Jurassic Park fame.