C*A*U*G*H*T in the act

C*A*U*G*H*T in the act

By Neil Batey
May 28, 2024

The Director’s Chair

Australian actor and director Kick Gurry reveals the backstory to his military satire C*A*U*G*H*T, how Hollywood star Sean Penn joined the project and how it comments on contemporary obsession with fame.

Australian comedy C*A*U*G*H*T is an uproarious military hostage satire series – and making the show sometimes seemed like a war of attrition for creator and director Kick Gurry.

The Melbourne-born actor-turned-filmmaker battled to overcome numerous obstacles to bring his vision to the screen, including a global pandemic, last year’s dual Hollywood strikes and the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war.

The conflict in Gaza prompted streamer ITVX to postpone the launch of C*A*U*G*H*T in the UK, fearing the show’s subject matter might be considered insensitive against the backdrop of events in the Middle East.

Kick Gurry is the creator, writer and director of C*A*U*G*H*T, as well as appearing on screen

However, the series – originally commissioned by Aussie streamer Stan, distributed by Fremantle and produced by Deeper Water Films and Little Bird Films – will finally be available to watch in the UK from June 13.

Created, written and directed by Gurry, who also stars as Dylan Fox, the series follows four Australian soldiers – Rowdy Gaines (Ben O’Toole), Fox, Albhanis Mouawad (Lincoln Younes) and Phil Choi (Alexander England) – who are sent on a secret mission to the war-torn island nation of Behati-Prinsloo (seemingly named after the Victoria’s Secret Angel wife of Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine).

When they are mistaken for Americans and captured by freedom fighters, the Australian authorities cut them loose. But rather than go home, they decide to produce a hostage video that goes viral. When the soldiers reach celebrity status, they realise being caught might be the best thing that could have happened to them.

Matthew Fox, Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn – playing Sean Penn – also star in the series, with the latter also an executive producer.

DQ caught up with Gurry while he promoted his directorial debut at SeriesFest in Denver, Colorado, to hear more about the six-part series.

Last King of the Cross star Lincoln Younes plays Albhanis Mouawad

What made you create this show with your friends and castmates?
Back in 2019 I was sharing a house in LA with actors Lincoln Younes, Alexander England and Ben O’Toole. I was frustrated with auditioning for parts I really wanted and was just missing out on, so I suggested to the boys that we should put our fate in our own hands and tell our own story. That Christmas we all went back to Australia and shot a little 10-minute teaser.

How did Sean Penn become attached as both an actor and executive producer?
Through a series of fortunate events, he saw the teaser we made, got my number, rang me up and said: “This is perfectly inappropriate.” He then said: “I want to give you three options: A: Let me champion C*A*U*G*H*T and help you get it made; B: We can produce this together; or C: You can tell me to go fuck myself.” I chose B!

What feedback did the execs at Stan give you when they greenlit C*A*U*G*H*T?
They told me that getting stars attached to the show would obviously help in getting it financed. I’ve met and worked with a lot of famous actors who always say, ‘If you ever make anything, I’ll be in it.’ You take comments like that with a grain of salt, but miraculously they all showed up – Matthew Fox, Susan Sarandon and Sean. Those guys are usually cast in big dramatic roles, so I think they were attracted to playing comedic characters. As a director, I had this incredible arsenal at my disposal.

Sean Penn (left) exec produces the series and plays himself in it

Is it fair to describe the show as a satire on contemporary fame?
It’s a social commentary on the West’s obsession with fame. My journey in the entertainment industry started in the mid-1990s, when there was a real reverence for artists working in TV, film and music. Then reality stars became almost bigger than actors, and that kind of morphed into the fascination with social media. Now everyone is obsessed with blue checkmark verified badges and being famous among their friendship groups. We always used to say that celebrity and money won’t buy you happiness – but it feels like no one listened.

In these risk-averse times, it’s an achievement to get a show commissioned without IP attached.
It’s rare in the modern world. Existing IP is such a big thing these days, but whenever I sent scripts to Matthew, Sean and Susan, they all told me that it was so much fun to be part of an original show that’s not based on something else.

Was Sean Penn hands-on in his exec producer role during the creative process?
He has an unwillingness to accept something being merely great. Sean would ring me up at 11pm and tell me to go over to his place to watch a few episodes. Then I’d be there until about 5am as he’d press pause on the remote control and suggest changes. It was a real insight for me as to how relentless you have to be to get to where he sits in Hollywood. Irrespective of his involvement in my show, I think Sean is a real genius who is arguably the best to ever do it as an actor.

The debut of C*A*U*G*H*T* on ITVX in the UK was delayed because of the outbreak of the war in Gaza…
The show was originally scheduled to launch on ITVX on October 12 of last year, but the conflict in Gaza broke out just a few days before on October 7. It was a strange moment in time when real-world events started to abstractly reflect what we were talking about in C*A*U*G*H*T*. Some people got understandably nervous and the show was put on the backburner for a while, but now we’re back.

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