He is perhaps best known for starring in international productions of Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables, but for Peter Cousens, the newest challenge has been directing an Academy Award winning actor in his first feature film.
Tamworth born and educated at The Armidale School, Peter Cousens latest venture is the big budget slavery film Freedom, which will have its Australian release on 21 August.
“It was really thrilling directing a feature film. Coming from another discipline in the performing arts, primarily from music, acting and producing, I was lucky because I was surrounded by some really wonderful people,” he said.
These “wonderful people” included Oscar-nominee cinematographer Dean Cundey (Jurassic Park, Who Framed Roger Rabbit) and Oscar winner, Cuba Gooding Jnr.
“I was challenged by the notion, the experience of directing Cuba Gooding Junior,” Cousens said.
“Here I am on the set where I’ve actually got to say to him, ‘I’d like you to do something different’ – and it did run through my mind, ‘hell’s bells, here I am, a boy from Tamworth, directing an Academy Award winning actor.”
Born into a creative Tamworth family, Cousens’ passion for performing arts was nurtured during his six years boarding at TAS, where he performed in everything from Gilbert & Sullivan operettas to serious drama.
“I shall always be grateful to TAS, not only for the opportunities and encouragement it gave me in music and drama, but also for the values it inculcated in preparation for a rewarding life,” he said.
Cousens –who is also executive producer and has a cameo in Freedom, which also stars his daughter Daisy – said he was inspired by the subject matter, which tells the story of two men separated by 100 years who are united in their search for freedom.
In 1856 a slave, Samuel Woodward (Cuba Gooding Jr.) and his family, escape from the Monroe Plantation near Richmond, Virginia. A secret network of ordinary people known as the Underground Railroad guide the family on their journey north to Canada. They are relentlessly pursued by the notorious slave hunter Plimpton (William Sadler). Hunted like a dog and haunted by the unthinkable suffering he and his forbears have endured, Samuel is forced to decide between revenge or freedom.
One hundred years earlier in 1748, John Newton the Captain of a slave trader sails from Africa with a cargo of slaves, bound for America. On board is Samuel’s great grandfather whose survival is tied to the fate of Captain Newton. The voyage changes Newton’s life forever and he creates a legacy that will inspire Samuel and the lives of millions for generations to come.
“I wanted to infiltrate American filmmaking and try and make films that change people’s lives, by reaching a whole lot of people in a very powerful way.”
Freedom opens in Australia on 21 August, with screenings in his hometown of Tamworth. Armidale audiences will be treated to the film screening at the Belgrave Cinema 22-23 August.
Please click on the image below to view the trailer.