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The Kelly Gang Premiere (US), December 2002
by Mark Salisbury
scans and text from Stephanie

Starring Heath Ledger, Orlando Bloom, Naomi Watts, and Geoffrey Rush; Directed by Gregor Jordan (Universal)

Edward "Ned" Kelly was an infamous outlaw in the 1870s who championed the poor, downtrodden immigrant population of Australia.  Today, he remains "a national hero," says director Jordan (the forthcoming Buffalo Soldiers), who is bringing Kelly's story to the screen.  "To understand that, you have to understand Australian culture.  It's a penal colony, a nation built on underdogs and losers, and someone who fought back against unfair treatment and oppression was seen as a hero."       

Kelly's story has been filmed several times before, the last "serious" attempt being a 1970 version with Mick Jagger in the lead, a piece of casting that didn't exactly go down well Down Under.  "Australians were pretty pissed off," Jordan explains.  "Ned was a big guy, a boxing champion, and no one saw Mick Jagger as a good choice."  Jordan had only one actor in mind for his Ned: Ledger (The Four Feathers), whom he'd directed in his debut feature Two Hands, and who he makes sure to note is "an actual Australian."  Ledger, for his part, says he admired Kelly's "dignity, his ethic, his way of being, and his sense of humor--that's why Australia is Australia."     

Joining Ledger are fellow Aussies Watts, who plays the wife of an English landowner and Kelly's love interest; Rush, who plays a policeman pursuing him across the Outback; and Rachel Griffiths, who plays a bankteller's wife.  Bloom (the Lord of the Rings trilogy) appears as Kelly's sidekick Joe Byrne, whom he describes as "kind of a thinker," and "the most educated of the Kelly Gang."

The group's crime spree (bank holdups a specialty) ended with a legendary showdown outside the Glenrowan Inn, where the Kelly Gang, decked out in homemade armor, faced off against over 100 armed policemen.  "It was a dark and misty night, and the cops didn't even realize they were wearing armor, and the bullets were bouncing off them," Jordan explains.  Real metal pellets were fired at the actors to create sparks, and "it felt like we were there," Ledger says.