Dirt Music” casts Kelly Macdonald as Georgie opposite Garrett Hedlund as Lu, in an Australia-set story of love, grief and, ultimately, hope. Macdonald is living with legendary local fisherman Jim Buckridge (David Wenham) and his kids in a small fishing town. Unfulfilled and lost, she meets Lu, an outsider, poacher and onetime musician who is wearing the scars of a terrible family tragedy. The film has its world premiere at the Toronto Film Festival.

It seems that what initially feels like it could be a straightforward romantic drama becomes something more involved and nuanced as the film unfolds.

I felt it is somewhat of three films in one. The first act is witnessing this small-town Australian coastal life among these commercial fisherman. And then you are introduced to Lu, who is essentially living as this kind of ghost, and who is traumatically scarred by an accident that happened to him and his family. That sparks your intrigue and interest in who this man is. That also reveals Kelly Macdonald’s character’s story a little better and the situation she is coming from and headed towards.

Then to the third act. It seems like a whole other sort of film with this into-the-wild castaway sense of escapism and Lu trying to find solace and peace through isolation.

You say Lu is living as a ghost, and we also see his ghosts in the movie. Do you think that’s an interesting way for the audience to connect with his past?

The question for Gregor was ‘is this too radical for an audience, is it going to get too trippy and is there a fine balance and way to show this side?’ which was wonderfully executed in the script?’ It’s beautifully sad with the remembrance and reminders and visions, and shows you a deeper into the side of Lu who cannot let go of his past.

How did you feel upon seeing the finished movie?

I’ve been able to see it a couple of times. When Georgie is searching for Lu and screams out, “Where are you – I want to help you,” it triggers me. It’s the apex of the emotion for me, to have this female character being driven so powerfully to help find and help and rescue somebody she has found such love and companionship with.

The film only works if the chemistry between Lu and Georgie is right. What did you and Kelly Macdonald do by way of prep?

We really just waited until the day. We didn’t rehearse any of the scenes. She is wonderfully instinctual, and that’s what I feel as well. There was a respect for what we knew about each other personally as artists that allowed us to speak honestly to each other as characters.

Lu’s journey is wrought with emotion. Is it draining to go to those places?

It’s the opposite of draining – depending on what and who you are thinking about, it is reinvigorating. You get to re-invite [people you have lost] back into your life for a moment and share an honest moment of the impression that they left on you, and have them with you in that moment.

Did you feel that, while the film examines love and life and death, it has a message of hope running through it?

It’s filled with hope in one way or another. The characters are all dealing with something quite emotionally difficult – an emotional tug-of-war of what has been and what is to come. But you are hopeful Lu will find love again and something that contrasts with what he has been through, hopeful that Georgie will find love and a gratifying future.

When Jim reveals his flaws, you empathize with his loss and get that maybe he is not just greedy… and you are hopeful there is something that will rest his heart as well.

“Dirt Music” is produced by Wildgaze Films and Aquarius Films and backed by Film4, Screen Australia, Screen West, and Ingenious. Cornerstone Films and 30West are handling sales.