Hoa Xuande Talks A Stitch in Time, Learning About Fabric, and Working With Maggie Blinco in This Interview

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Sasha Hadden’s film, A Stitch in Time, tells the story of a former dressmaker, Liebe (played with grace by Maggie Blinco), who rediscovers her passion for fabric, textiles, and dressmaking when she meets Hamish (Hoa Xuande) at a local market. Seeing an opportunity to grab onto a second chance in her life and move away from her abusive partner, Duncan (Glenn Shorrock), Liebe embarks on a journey of rediscovery with Hamish, the fashion designer.

In this interview, Hoa talks about finding the connection with characters in scripts, working alongside Maggie Blinco, seeking out the light and the shade of a narrative, and more. Hoa delivers a great performance in A Stitch in Time, building on his already impressive catalogue of work in Hungry Ghosts, Cowboy Bebop, Top of the Lake, and Top Knot Detective. As an emerging actor, Hoa is immediately someone I cannot wait to see more of in the future. Casting directors take note, you’re going to want Hoa in your production.

A Stitch in Time is in Austrailan cinemas from February 17th 2022.

I thought this was a beautiful film. Congratulations. I was surprised by it in the capacity that it was more dramatic than I expected it to be, which was really nice. What was your experience having when you first read the script?

It’s funny, because obviously, when you read the script, you’ve got an idea of how it’s going to play, and you’ve got an idea of how it’s going to go and everything like that. And, when you’re involved in your scenes, you’re only involved in the bits that you’re doing, and you don’t really know how the other actors are carrying out their moments. And to be honest, when I first saw the film, my reaction is probably as genuine as everybody else who probably first saw the film because I had no idea what Maggie and Glenn’s on-screen relationship would look like even though I’d read it on the page.

And so it was actually quite an experience. I thought they completely nailed that relationship in terms of the abuse in that relationship, I thought it was very visceral. And so, when I did my bit, I had no idea that Maggie had already done all that sort of stuff. And I’m just doing me being my character to Maggie’s character Liebe. And so I had fun doing my little bits, with an idea of what I thought they were going through. And then when you’re seeing it for real, it’s just like, ‘oh, that’s what you’ve been doing’.

It’s intense. In those sequences where it is a little bit darker than your sequences, it makes the scenes where you’re there with the clothing just feel so much lighter. And it feels like the vibrance is there that has been missing throughout her life. I really enjoyed that.

It’s almost like light in the shade of Liebe’s hopes and dreams, so to speak, in terms of she’s with Glenn (Shorrock)’s character Duncan, and that’s the dream that’s gone awry. And then interacting with my character, it’s the dream that’s fueled her hopes again. I think a lot of that, for me, especially, – I guess I’m gonna always speak in terms of Maggie’s character, because it’s ultimately about her journey – my character steps in to help her along the way even though he’s got his own little journey. Every character, but especially Maggie’s character, it’s all about second chances. And here comes this character, who’s allowing her to live her dreams that she’d hoped for when she married Duncan.

Not to delve into spoilers too much, of course, but there is something that Hamish does near the end where it’s not just Liebe who he lifts up. But it’s a whole house full of students, which I thought was really, really sweet. What was it like reading those sequences in the script? We don’t really get to see student housing all that much on screen.

Oh, to be honest, I was wondering how Sasha would make that scene, where we’d get a bunch of actors just to be Chinese students in the Chinese household. All those guys were great because you like that they’re not just people that we brought off the street, they knew how to act. And so they just had decided to have fun of it, and that worked with getting along with each other, and just to have fun along the day of filming, it was like, ‘let’s just be students’. And so that really helped.

It felt organic, it felt natural. What were the discussions that you had with Sasha about finding that lightness and the darkness here?

It’s funny, because I think we never really spoken terms of light and shade. I think if you’re able to play the script, well, hopefully, that’ll come across. And that’s what you’ll be able to interpret and proceed. But I think, in working with Sasha, in terms of the character I really worked on… this is an interesting thing that I said at the Q&A in Melbourne, that I think I was attracted to the script because of what I was going through in my own personal life with my mum, and I was sort of endowing Liebe with with that.

And so for me to step into a role, using Hamish as a vessel to be able to portray this character, I was sort of pouring myself into it. And in that way, in terms of light and shade, I was drawn to the dark bits that I could see Liebe going through without it being explained to me, because Hamish as a character isn’t completely in the know with the whole story, but I can see some of that darkness. And in portraying the character, I was playing my own version of trying to help this woman through whatever darkness she was going through and bring her into the light. Through the words that were given to me through what I was going through, and through playing around with the scenes and having fun, I naturally came to that wanting to help and bring her out.

It’s funny, you don’t really explore those things, because it’s up to the audience to interpret that. You really just concentrate on how you’re trying to affect that person and how that person is reacting to you. And in that way, those shifts and changes will hopefully bring out the bigger picture of the full relationship.

How do you approach a character when you receive a script? What kind of what kind of process do you go through to immerse yourself into that world? Did you start making clothes?

Yeah, pulling out a tape measure… (laughs) To be to be fair, I’m such a lay person in terms of fashion, and materials. I’m a novice when it comes to that sort of stuff. There’s a lot of words in there that are material related, fashion related, like a chiffon, a silk chiffon and stuff like that. And I’m literally at my computer, Googling these things, and then looking at what kind of materials they are and what they look like.

We spent a day walking through like a fabric warehouse, just Sasha and Maggie, going through the different materials and the different textures, and then I’d go on Google and look up different dresses and different styles and what couture culture is. And so that forms part of my research in terms of I need to dabble in someone who has a very keen interest in that world, I need to really immerse myself in what all these things are. So that when I say them, and it rolls off the tongue, I know exactly what I’m talking about. And they’re not just words because they mean something to somebody.

In general, when I approach a character I always try to see what similarities there are from me to a character, and then I see what the differences are. And then I try to put myself in the character’s shoes and bring the similarities closer to me. And the differences are something that I’ve discovered along the way. And in that way, that’s how you bring truth and authenticity to a character.

The sequences with you and Maggie are just so charming. There is a real bond and affection for one another that is tangible on screen, it plays across really well. I thought was beautiful.

This is also a continuation of a migrant story, which we’ve seen in Australian cinema and TV quite a bit, with Liebe’s history and Hamish’s history as well. That’s all about new beginnings. What do you bring to the idea of new beginnings and new starts? What have you taken away from this film as a new beginning for you?

When I read the script, it was a script that I really just wanted to pour myself into, because if you’re attracted to a character, and you want to play a character, you naturally go, ‘yes, give me this’. But through doing it, just watching everyone’s dedication, but especially Sasha’s dedication to the script, and this filmmaking process, I realised that a lot of the times we sort of wait for something to happen, we’re waiting for that thing to happen, that’ll hopefully launch us into this other place that we thought we were supposed to be in. We’re waiting for that chance to come along.

But in doing something like this, it’s already happening. That new lease on life, or that second chance is already happened happening in the act of doing something, you don’t have to wait for it. And so for me, while I was doing this, I didn’t really realise that I was actually doing something quite profound. But now I’m watching it back, and I was given a chance to do so that was actually quite profound and amazing. And I didn’t realise that at the time.

I think that’s it’s that second chances aren’t some big door opening that you walk through, they happen while you’re doing something and you sometimes you don’t realise it until you look back at it.

When did you have that realisation? Was it watching the finished film?

I think when Sasha announced that it was going to have a release date and screenings across Australia. I realised that like, doing it was fun and great, and obviously we’re all hoping to see it’s finished product, but we didn’t realise that people would be so intrigued to want to watch it across Australia.

It’s going to be opening across a bunch of cinemas across Australia, and so that’s probably when I realised that this is really big. (It’s) the chance for something amazing for this film that initially I thought was just going to be an intimate story between a couple of people for an independent sort of audience, but it’s actually grown into something quite (big). Hopefully, it’ll be a bit of an Australian classic.

The thing that I found was it is clear that this narrative is not just older audiences, but audiences of all ages. What I’m really hopeful for is that older audiences will appreciate this, and younger audiences will appreciate this. And I think that it comes down to Sasha’s script that is so honest and open, there is no polishing or buffing of things in the sense. There is a lot of swearing in this film, which was a bit unexpected, but I liked it. I thought that was great.

John Gregg’s character, Justin, I think he just completely nailed that Aussie humor that no one else can play. It’s that brash mate humour that is just between Glenn and John. It’s really hard to play that but they just did so like perfectly and I think that will really resonate with people.

Very much so and I think that that is what is is the charm of the film. It’s a complex film with a lot of things going on in it, which I think that audiences will resonate with. And I think there’s a lot to be proud of. And I’m excited to see where you go from here as an actor, because with this and Hungry Ghosts, you’re building up quite an impressive catalogue of work. Congratulations.

Thanks. I’m hoping that this year, something comes along the way.

I love getting to talk to emerging actors and emerging filmmakers, it’s great to see where Australian cinema is going from here. I can’t wait to see more of you.

I appreciate that. And, just on an ending note, I think it’s important to make Australian film and to be supporting the industry because, obviously, there’s a lot of cinema and work out there. But not all of it is Australian. And too often we just turn on Netflix and watch this readily available content, when there’s a lot of great stuff happening that people are making here.

Andrew F Peirce

Andrew is passionate about Australian film and culture. He is the co-chair of the Australian Film Critics Association, a Golden Globes voter, and the author of two books on Australian film, The Australian Film Yearbook - 2021 Edition, and Lonely Spirits and the King. You can find him online trying to enlist people into the cult of Mac and Me.

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