Daniel Henshall revels in cheeky tale of Australian Christmas

CHEEKY: Snowtown star Daniel Henshall plays the lovable criminal Daryl in new Australian comedy A Sunburnt Christmas.
CHEEKY: Snowtown star Daniel Henshall plays the lovable criminal Daryl in new Australian comedy A Sunburnt Christmas.

EVERY December we switch on our televisions to be bombarded with Christmas movies.

A northern hemisphere vision of snow, sleigh bells and winter coats dominates. But nobody in Australia is roasting chest nuts on an open fire or sipping mugs of hot eggnog.

The Australian version of Christmas has been relatively absent from the silver screen, though the cult classic Crackers brought it hilariously to life in 1998.

New comedy A Sunburnt Christmas, starring Daniel Henshall (Snowtown, Acute Misfortune), portrays the Aussie festive season in all its blistering and sweaty glory.

Directed by Christiaan Van Vuuren (Bondi Hipsters), A Sunburnt Christmas follows a single mum and her children who are struggling to make ends meet on their outback farm when they discover a criminal Daryl (Henshall) on the run in their shed dressed as Santa.

"It's a very Australian landscape and very Australian themes, and the characters are very Australian," Henshall said.

"There are stereotypes, but they're not the old tropes. It's very much a contemporary representation of Australia. When I read the script I thought it sounded great because of how funny it was and fresh and real."

Van Vuuren and writers Elliott and Gretel Vella and Timothy Walker worked at a cracking pace. The idea was only pitched in May and by August pre-production had started.

BREAK: Filming A Sunburnt Christmas gave Daniel Henshall a chance to escape Melbourne lockdown.

BREAK: Filming A Sunburnt Christmas gave Daniel Henshall a chance to escape Melbourne lockdown.

Shooting was done in September before editing and post-production was completed in October and November. It's been such as tight schedule that when we spoke to Henshall last Friday he hadn't even seen the final cut.

"It's the quickest turnaround for anything I've ever worked on," Henshall said. "But I think it really set the style and type of the film.

"We weren't hamstrung by it. The energy helped everyone refocus because we were all grateful to be working on such a great piece."

Henshall is known for his chilling portrayal of serial killer John Bunting in Snowtown. The film dominated the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts Awards in 2011, winning best film and Henshall best actor.

While slightly shady, Daryl, allowed Henshall to display his charm and comedic talents.

"He's shit-talker, for sure," he said. "He's constantly getting himself in trouble and talking his way out of it. I don't think he means any harm to anybody. He's very optimistic and has a big heart, which is what makes him very lovable."

A Sunburnt Christmas also presented the Melbourne-based Henshall with the opportunity to escape Victoria's harsh COVID lockdown for the relative freedom of Adelaide for seven weeks.

The first fortnight was spent in hotel quarantine before Henshall had five weeks working on the film, which was shot near Murray Bridge.

"It was night and day compared to Melbourne," he said. "It was great. No masks, relative normal life. Still restrictive in some areas, but people were at pubs and cafes and out and about."

It was actually Henshall's second stint in hotel quarantine. Just prior to the coronavirus outbreak Henshall had been working in Melbourne on yet-to-be-released Netflix series Clickbait.

He and his costume designer wife Stacey O'Connor returned to their US home in Brooklyn, but due to the worsening situation in New York flew back to Melbourne after 10 days and did their two weeks of hotel quarantine.

A Sunburnt Christmas is streaming on Stan.