19-year-old Lucas Pittaway enjoyed an unlikely introduction to screen acting. As a full time door-to-door leaflet postman, Pittaway, who bears an uncanny resemblance to the late Heath Ledger, was scouted at his local shopping mall near Adelaide, Australia. After playing the lead in Warp X’s Snowtown, where he stars as real-life murderer Jamie Vlasskias, Pittaway has pocketed an award, praise at this year’s Cannes and attention from a clutch of influential new filmmakers. Wonderland caught up with the humble, softly-spoken young talent ahead of the film’s UK release next week.

Considering its murderous subject matter, how was Snowtown received in Australia? Are you excited about its UK premiere?

We knew we were treading on risky ground and there was a lot of controversy about it at the time. People were asking: “Should this film have been made? What will the rest of the world make of it?” Audiences were reacting to its subject matter because the murders [which took place in Pittaway’s hometown in the 1990s] were just so horrific. It was all a bit too close-to-home for many, I think.

How did your family react?

Well, half of them haven’t even seen it yet! As it stands, I have four older brothers, a younger sister, a younger brother and a mum and a dad. My mum sarcastically called it a “fun Christmas film”. At heart, she’s proud of what I’ve done. My older brother Paul was incredibly enthusiastic, too. I took my two best friends to the premiere, but they didn’t like it all [laughs]. As mates, they’re allowed to be honest about these things.

Tell us the shopping mall scouting story…

Yeah, it was there I got asked to audition for the part. I go to the mall every couple of days or so – it’s pretty much the closest shopping centre to where the incident happened. My brother was approached by a woman who said she was interviewing people in the area about what it’s like to live there. I was then interviewed by her in front of a camera and introduced to the director, who asked me whether I wanted to audition for a film they were making. I wasn’t told the title of the movie beforehand, and wasn’t offered a script or told to read any lines: I just had to stand in front of a camera and talk. They wanted to see to see how natural I could be in front of it, I think.

What intrigued you about the role? What made you decide to accept it?

First off, when you’re offered a lead in a film at a young age, it’s hard to say no. It’s like nothing I’ve done in the past – a new challenge – so I immediately accepted. It was filmed in the area I grew up in – I thought that if anyone was going to represent it well, it really should be me. Before it, I didn’t have a career. It was a case of: this is an opportunity I want to take up. If I’m any good at it, then I’ll keep going.

I read you made a living delivering leaflets before being offered the part…

I was working for a charity – going from letterbox to letterbox leafleting and was scouted on one of my days off. Taking on a role so complex and challenging is a life-changing thing. Beforehand, I was planning on joining the army – but I soon lost my license, so that wasn’t going to happen. I was biding my time until I could apply for it again, basically.

You went on to win the Audience Award at the Adelaide Film Festival – how has this affected your career?

Well, at that point it hadn’t really started. I went to Tropfest, which is the first short film festival of the season in Australia. It was a week after the film’s release, and I had a lot of positive attention from people there. Then it premiered at the Adelaide Festival – at that point I didn’t have an agent and scripts weren’t being thrown my way. But by the time people had had a chance to watch it in Australia, I started attracting much more interest. Anthony LaPaglia, a famous Australian actor, approached me at Cannes with lots of praise. At the time, I had no idea who he was, though!

You’ve a big nuclear family – themes reflected in the film. Is this what partially attracted you to the role? Were you able to draw on your own experiences for it?

Yeah, exactly. It was a role I could slip so easily into. I could really understand and adopt that ‘local community’ type character. It’s already engrained into me.

What other projects have you been working since Snowtown? I know you worked with Vogue photographer Max Doyle for the short film ARC. What was that like?

It was great – it was beautifully shot. I got to wear Prada creepers, three-quarter length pants, vintage retro 80s jackets and things like that. I learnt how to shoot a bow and arrow as well, which was so much fun. Max was great – he’s a perfectionist and puts so much effort into every shot. Snowtown was captured in a much less rigid way; the makers were open to suggestion. A couple of months ago, I worked on another short film where I played a quadriplegic [Sophie Miller’s Talking to Strangers]. I had to get into the part quite heavily, and spent a couple of days in a wheelchair before shooting. My love interest in the film is played by my older brother’s ex-girlfriend [laughs]. We were already good friends, so it made everything easier.

Finally, and inevitably – the Heath Ledger comparison. Is it getting annoying?

No, not at all. It’s my nickname where I’m working now. It’s always a huge complement – to be compared to someone like Heath.

Snowtown opens on the 18th.

Snow Town Trailer from Adam Arkapaw on Vimeo.

Words: Jack Mills