Why Jack Thompson took a role in Don't Tell

Classic: Jack Thompson plays a barrister in the new Australian movie, Don't Tell.
Classic: Jack Thompson plays a barrister in the new Australian movie, Don't Tell.

John Hadley Payne, better known as legendary Australian actor Jack Thompson, is a true cinema icon in every sense of the word in array of classics including Man from Snowy River, Breaker MorantThe Club, and Burke & Wills.

Since the 1990s he has in demand on multiple international films, appearing alongside huge Hollywood stars in such films as Broken Arrow (1996), Excess Baggage (1997), Original Sin (2001), and two Star Wars prequels.

In Don’t Tell, based on a true story, Thompson plays Bob Myers, a seriously intense role as a barrister. The story revolves around the courtroom drama in a sexual abuse case in Queensland. The victim was an 11-year-old student at a prestigious private school, whose complaint of abuse at the time was unresolved. She brings the matter to light as a young woman almost a decade later, taking on the church and others involved.

The movie is based on transcripts from the groundbreaking trial.

On face value, Don’t Tell may not appeal to a mass audience due to heavy subject matter, but the story evolves into a exciting courtroom drama told in a far less formulaic manner.

The cast working with debut director Tori Garrett includes Rachel Griffiths, Jacqueline Mackenzie and Aden Young.

A seriously courageous breakout performance from Sara West is emotionally rich, switching moods effortlessly. West is amazingly solid when silently sitting to perfect monologue delivery.

Thompson was sent the script to Don’t Tell and didn’t hesitate to become involved.

“The script was written with great courage through the prose about real life,” Thompson says. “I'm attracted to true stories. You don't have to imagine how it happened –  it happened, so you imagine how you can bring your acting skills to become it.

“This role is a gift. To play the barrister, then working from an original court transcript to win the case, is brilliant. The story is not about villains here, people do wrong no question there.

“Royal commissions have come to understand that it isn't always about villains. It can be a trusted member of the family or a school teacher, as it is in this case.

“Sara West, who plays the victim, Lyndal, has created one of the best pieces of work I have experienced in the last several years on any production I've been involved in. She brings a wonderful fine line of anger, courage and fall apart vulnerability.

Sara West, who plays the victim, Lyndal, has created one of the best pieces of work I have experienced in the last several years on any production I've been involved in.

Jack Thompson

“As a result of this story what came out of this was the Royal Commission as we know it, fighting for justice.”

The film is based on a book by lawyer Stephen Roche, who was involved in the case. 

“It's not a film about child abuse,” Thompson says. “It is a trial dealing with sexual abuse, looking at how it comes to happen, and remaining a story of courage for this young woman, who wins.

“Audiences at screenings come out uplifted after going through various other emotions. People have said it's educational and should be shown in schools. I agree, especially if we can encourage people who are victims to come out to tell their tale.

Don't Tell premiered at Newport Beach Film Festival [in April],  winning the audience award. They didn't love it as a dark tale of abuse, they loved it as a movie. Cinematography, music and brilliant ensemble cast with a vindicated finale.” 

 Thompson is long past having to audition for roles. Nowadays the scripts come to him.

“ My large unmistakable tones of the voice help me get those roles,” he says. “As I approach 80 the body is not the same, but the voice fortunately gets better.”

It doesn’t appear retirement is near.

 “If I see a young independent filmmaker is making a movie I want to contribute, because that's how we make our great Australian film industry happen.”