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Back home: Ben Farry says he comes back to Queenstown to decompress

Queenstowners of a certain age will recall the late Pat Farry’s career as a pioneering rural GP.  But, as PHILIP CHANDLER discovers, his son Ben’s also forged an amazing career — in the world of drama. He explains why he’s moved from acting into screenwriting and recalls his first attempts at filmmaking

Thank goodness for a mid-life crisis.

After a long career as an actor, born-and-bred Queenstowner Ben Farry — who’s largely been based in London since ‘97 — is discovering even more success as a screenwriter.

The 47-year-old — back home for a short while with his talented composer-wife, Anne Kulonen — is currently tweaking his script for a movie, Walk With Me, due to start shooting in May in Scotland.

His original script was bought in 2019 by major production company, Silver Reel (The Wife, Under the Skin).

The director, Giuseppe Capotondi (The Burnt Orange Heresy), has since been attached to it.

Farry says they had ‘‘a very strange Covid meeting where we walked around [London’s] Highbury Fields at two metres apart for several hours during lockdown’’.

‘‘The film’s about two teenage girls so I always felt slightly awkward, as a 47-year-old man, writing about adolescent girls, but [the lead actress] said it was the first time she’s come across a script that really felt what it means to be that age.’’

Farry’s interest in drama was first piqued by principal Sister Mary Eugene at his Queenstown primary school, St Joseph’s.

He recalls his dad, prominent local GP, Pat, who died in 2009, bought a video camera in Hong Kong ‘‘when they were still illegal in New Zealand, saying he was going to use it for medical education’’.

Ben says he’d convince his mates to come to his family’s Bob’s Cove property at weekends, and, using that camera, make ‘‘plot-less, very violent horror films with lots of tomato ketchup’’.

After school, mainly at Wakatipu High, Ben studied theatre, literature and philosophy at Otago University, then went, in turn, to drama school in Wellington and the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London.

He then spent 15 years as ‘‘a jobbing actor’’ in film, TV and especially theatre.

Credits included films Pearl Harbor and Bride Flight and locally-shot TV series, Top of the Lake.

A life-changing break came when he and three other Kiwis wrote a huge immersive show,
in the horror genre, The Generation of Z.

After a sell-out season at Edinburgh Fringe Festival — ‘‘it went haywire’’ — it ran in London for seven months and also in Auckland and Christchurch.

He was involved in about 400 performances, but towards the end, ‘‘as we were warming up, I’d just plunge into this deep anxiety about, ‘can I do this again?’’’

He then applied for and got into Britain’s prestigious National Film and Television School where he did a masters in screenwriting.

‘‘I was slightly reticent, just thinking, ‘am I too old to do this and is this just ‘cos you’re fed up with acting?’

‘‘But then, as I got there, it just felt it was right.’’

Kulonen also recalls a chat with Ben’s dad about two years before he died.

Red carpet: Ben Farry and his wife, Anne Kulonen, at last year’s Producers Guild of America awardsP

‘‘Pat was saying to me, ‘look, I think writing is really where Ben’s going to make his mark’, and I just said, ‘I agree’.’’

After graduating, Ben replied to a recruitment ad and unexpectedly ended up writing the script for an immersive virtual reality creation, Cosmos Within Us — ‘‘it was this sort of mad journey’’.

It won an award at London’s Raindance Film Festival, was selected for the Venice Film Festival and was nominated for the Producers Guild of America awards.

‘‘Virtual reality is the future and it’s coming very fast, but I don’t know if it will ever totally replace narrative film.’’

In addition to his script for Walk With Me, Ben’s also got a couple of other scripts attracting interest.

Looking back, he’s certain his NZ upbringing contributed to his career.

‘‘Because of where we grew up, NZers have been forced to constantly think outside the box a little bit.

‘‘I think back to early Queenstown, growing up here, it was sort of like the Wild West.’’

scoop@scene.co.nz