Matt Simmons (Dan Ewing) in Occupation. Photo copyright of Saban Films.
As Dillon/Black Wolf RPM Ranger in the 2009 TV series Power Rangers R.P.M., Dan Ewing journeyed into the not-too-distant future and risked his life to help his character’s fellow Power Rangers battle a mechanized army intent on conquering what remained of the human race in its quest for world domination. Almost a decade later, the handsome, talented and affable Australian actor is once again putting his genre-based fighting experience to good use in the Sci-Fi feature film Occupation. This time around, though, the threat to humankind is an extraterrestrial one, and his character of Matt Simmons is not quite the clean-cut costumed Power Ranger, which Ewing totally embraced in his performance.
“The cool thing for me with Occupation is that the aliens are the least of Matt’s problems,” says the actor. “I think in the early draft of the script, he was straightaway a bit more Captain America-ish and a bit more of a natural leader. At the time, I was filming a rugby movie, and our advisors were ex-rugby players. Some of these guys were struggling with or had mates who were struggling with alcoholic addiction, substance abuse, antidepressant issues, etc. I thought that would be interesting to sort of explore with Matt, and Luke Sparke [Occupation executive producer, director and co-writer] allowed me to do just that with my character.
“When people watch the film, I think that’s going to help them relate to Matt. This is someone who’s imperfectly perfect, if you know what I mean. If he was a hero right off the bat, you might not respond to him as much. Acting-wise, it’s not easy when you’re in that headspace. At the end of the day you just want to switch off, go home, and have a stiff drink, but it’s a challenge that makes the work all the more fulfilling.”
In Occupation, an alien race that has been watching Earth for centuries launches an unprovoked attack on our planet. With their spaceships hovering in the skies above, these invaders deploy ground troops whose mission is to subdue humanity and take over the world. Unfortunately for them, Matt Simmons and his fellow townspeople are not about to surrender, and, albeit reluctantly, he becomes the head of their resistance force.
“As I mentioned, Matt has a lot of inner demons to deal with, whether it’s substances, alcohol or medication, and in this instance, he doesn’t have time to run to the nearest drugstore,” says Ewing. “This guy is the local football hero who these people, including his fiancée, are relying on to lead them, so Matt has to pull himself together and just get on with it. He tries his best to convince them, no, I’m not who you want as a leader, but in their eyes, Matt is exactly who they need.”
Is there a scene in the film that the actor felt was especially challenging for him? “There’s a scene between Matt and his fiancée Amelia, played by the beautiful Stephany Jacobsen, where the two of them are on walkie-talkies and it could very well be their last goodbye,” he says. “When you read these types of scenes on the page, they can come across as a little bit melodramatic; it’s hard not to. On top of that, I had 12 aliens behind me, squibs going off, two cameras in my face, and all the while I’m trying to make the moment come across as real as possible without Steph being there. It’s supposed to be a final farewell, and the first assistant director was standing there reading Steph’s lines to me,” notes Ewing with a chuckle.
(L-R): Arnold (Charles Mesure), Matt Simmons (Dan Ewing) and Amelia Chambers (Stephany Jacobsen). Photo copyright of Saban Films.
“That’s a challenge, but as far as I’m concerned, hey, let’s rock. I love that sort of stuff; it’s what this [acting] is all about. A lot has to do with being in the moment, reacting and being a good listener, but with this kind of emotional scene, there’s a certain level of acting that needs to come into it. I’m very pleased with how it turned out, and believe me, I don’t say that lightly, because I’m my own worst critic.”
When asked about working with his Occupation castmates, Ewing could not be more complimentary. “”What an amazing cast to have assembled,” he praises. “We’re a small market down here compared to the States, so it was quite a feat to find a script as well as pull together a budget and a project with high enough production values to attract actors like Charles Mesure, who’s in the U.S. working on Once Upon a Time and The Magicians, as well as Temuera Morrison, who was doing Aquaman at the same time, and, of course, Stephany Jacobson. The supporting cast was equally as incredible, including, I have to mention, my beautiful girlfriend, Kat Risteska, who plays Chloe, a tortured little soul who turns up in the middle of the cane fields.
“You can’t have a weak link in an ensemble cast. If you do, it takes the audience right out of the picture. We need them be invested in this town and the survival of these people. There are so many dimensions to this movie, and everyone involved, cast and crew, gave it their all in order to show you those dimensions.”
Matt (Dan Ewing) and Amelia (Stephany Jacobsen). Photo copyright of Saban Films.
Born in Manly, New South Wales, Ewing was comfortable from a young age performing in front of people, but in his late teens considered pursuing a totally different line of work. “I fell into this profession 100% backwards,” admits the actor. “I’d always loved drama and public speaking at school, but when I was 18, I came to the state of Washington and British Columbia, Canada, with my high school basketball team. We were playing against U.S. and Canadian schools, and at one point I was leaning towards that sport as a career. However, when I got home after that tour, one of my cousins was doing extra work on movies. It’s quite good money, you get fed, and they treat you really well.
“So I did that for a while, and one of the films I worked on was Superman Returns starring Brandon Routh, which was shot down here in Australia. One day they pulled me and a couple of other guys aside and asked us all to say this one line, which we did. Long story short, they ended up picking me to do a scene where I push a girl away from some rubble. From there, it all kind of snowballed and here I am today. Of course, in the middle of all that there were some other roles along with drama school. My very first job, though, was working for my dad, who was a butcher. When I was old enough, I’d get up at 3:30 in the morning, go with him to work and, among other things, lift carcasses, make sausages, and clean floor traps. Now that was hard work.
“The great Wayne Dyer said, ‘There is no way to happiness; happiness is the way,’ and I truly believe that. You have to love what you do for a living. This is the only job I’ve had that doesn’t feel like a job. I love telling stories and affecting people. At times it’s also good therapy. More than once in my career I’ve been going through something in my life, and then a month or so later I’ll be playing a character who’s going through a pretty tough time of it, too. I can use that character as a conduit in order to purge all the emotion and other stuff that I might have been holding onto.”
Dan Ewing as Heath Braxton in Home and Away. Photo copyright of Seven Productions.
In addition to Power Rangers R.P.M., the actor’s other TV credits include Rescue Special Ops, Spirited, Harrow and the hugely popular and long-running Australian daytime drama Home and Away in which Ewing played the regular role of Heath Braxton. He recently finished work on the pilot for a Sci-Fi TV series called Interface along with the upcoming feature films 1 and Beast No More.
“1 is also in the Sci-Fi genre, but it’s very different from Occupation in the sense that, yes, there’s aliens, but I play the last man on Earth,” explains Ewing. “Imagine Bear Grylls having to travel across the country but without having any woodsman skills. It’s about a young man who is forced to shed his armor, if you will, with no mobile phone, car, etc., and is the last man on Earth after a sort of cataclysmic event. We filmed it almost documentary style with a crew of 10 following me around. The story has a lot of heart, and I think people are going to love it for a number of different reasons.
“Interface is this quirky little pilot that we shot down here and is a bit of an homage to [the 1984 movie] The Last Starfighter. It’s about this highly intelligent young man who’s very skilled at technology and is recruited by the government as a computer hacker. It’s a great little piece, and the studio that’s distributing it loves it, so I’m sure you’re going to see much more out of that. The one to keep a lookout for is Beast No More, a dark psychological thriller that I think will appeal to Sci-Fi as well as horror fans.”
Occupation opens in theaters and become available on VOD as well as Digital HD on July 20th, 2018. As noted above, all Occupation photos copyright of Saban Films and Home and Away photo copyright of Seven Productions, so please no unauthorized copying or duplicating of any kind. Thanks!