Don Hany says his new film Healing is more like a bromance than your typical prison movie.
Best known for his TV work in East West 101 and Offspring, Hany stars alongside Hugo Weaving in the new Aussie film as Viktor Khadem, an Iranian man serving an 18-year prison sentence for murder.
Inspired by true events, Viktor is moved to a minimum-security prison called Won Wron for the final 12 months of his sentence, to help prepare him for life on the outside.
It’s there that Senior Officer Matt Perry (Weaving) puts Viktor in charge of a unique bird program.
Along with two other inmates (played by Xavier Samuel and Mark Winter), Viktor is responsible for the rehabilitation of injured owls, falcons and one fearsome wedge-tailed eagle, Yasmin.
From day one, Hany began working with the three wedge-tailed eagles who would star as Yasmin, learning to hold them, feed them and allow the birds to accept him as part of the furniture.
Hany says although he learnt the birds are “as cuddly as goldfish”, the eagles were a big part of what attracted him to the part.
“I knew the pressure was off as an actor, `cause when you’re in a scene with one of those, no one’s looking at you,” he said, laughing.
“(Also) it’s impossible to take your attention off them, so it’s like you’re forced into a behaviour that makes you look very comfortable with what you’re doing, but you’re actually defecating inside.”
Weaving says watching Hany work with the eagles was incredible, particularly on the last day of the shoot.
In fading light, Hany had to call down one of the birds, which lined him up from 75 metres out, before swooping in to land on his arm.
“It’s an absolutely fantastic piece of work from Don, who really worked a lot with them. I just pretended I knew all about them,” he says, adding he just dealt with the eagles’ smaller cousins.
“I got the fluffy, little chirpy, little Boobook owls – the ones I could handle.”
While the birds play a big part in Healing, writer and director Craig Monahan also shows how the prisoners and Weaving’s character Matt form an offbeat surrogate family at Won Wron Correctional Centre.
Hany says their relationships are a vehicle to explore the pain men experience expressing feelings like love and loss.
“So thematically, despite the fact it’s set in a jail and it’s blokes and it’s about loyalty and brotherhood and there’s a strong father-son theme, it’s actually like a bromance,” he says.
“In the landscape of films and genres, I think this one fits into warm, runny, feel-good chick flick, which runs at odds to the way it’s been marketed as a prison film, with the expectation you’re going to see some mano-a-mano, hard and fast violence.”
It’s not the only way Healing isn’t your average prison movie.
You’re more likely to see vegetable gardens or cooking classes at Won Wron than watch towers and barbed wire.
Weaving says unlike a classic prison film this doesn’t take place in maximum security.
“This is a really very different world,” he says.
“There are no boundary fences. If they want to run away they can, but they’ll be picked up and put back into medium-security so they don’t.”
He says low-security jails try and get prisoners to take responsibility for themselves.
It was one of the reasons Healing caught his attention.
“(And) the whole thing comes from a true story and that really interested me,” he says.
“The sense of healing, of getting wounded inmates to heal wounded raptors and release them before they’re being released themselves.”
* Healing releases in Australian cinemas on May 8