John Howard visits Orange when The Merger premieres at Odeon 5

TOWN TROUBLES: John Howard as Bull Barlow and Damian Callinan as Troy Carrington in The Merger.
TOWN TROUBLES: John Howard as Bull Barlow and Damian Callinan as Troy Carrington in The Merger.

The first thing actor John Howard asks when he answers the phone this week is whether Orange received any rain over the weekend.

Once a country man himself, the star of Packed To The Rafters and Always Greener says he’s been shocked by what he’s seen while traveling the state to promote his new film, The Merger.

Shot in Wagga Wagga, The Merger is a comedy based around a country AFL team, which addresses issues of adversity to change and the refugee crises.

In country areas in Australia a lot of towns and cities have turned around because of refugees in the last ten years,

John Howard

In the same way the weather often dominates discourse in the country, Mr Howard said he knows how pertinent the issue of migration can be.

“In country areas in Australia a lot of towns and cities have turned around because of refugees in the last ten years,” said Mr Howard.

Pointing to Nhill, in Victoria’s Wimmera region, Mr Howard said the migration of Karen refugees to the area brought the community together – kind of in the same way football does.

“The centre of the social life of the town,” is the way he describes it “especially when a town is going backwards.”

VIDEO: WATCH THE MERGER TRAILER – MOVIE PREMIERES AT ODEON 5 ON THURSDAY

Premiering in Orange on Thursday, The Merger tells the tale of a former star footballer who returns to his hometown to find his political views aren’t welcome.

When he is persuaded to take over coaching the struggling local footy team, his idea to recruit refugees to make up the numbers forces the community to examine its values.

Bull Barlow, played by Howard, undergoes one of the most prominent transformations as while addressing his xenophobia he is forced to face his personal sadness.

“We’ve taken on pretty big things, but there’s hope, rather than leaving you down in the dumps,” Mr Howard said.

On returning to Orange, Mr Howard said there’s one stand out that makes returning to “the success story for a regional city” exciting to him.

“The wine around Orange is bloody fantastic,” he said.

The Merger will premiere at Odeon 5 Cinemas on Thursday August 30 with a live Q&A with Mr Howard and actor Stephen Hunter, as well as producer Anne Robinson.

To win one of three double passes drop in to the Central Western Daily Lord's Place office and tell the receptionist who won the Orange Emus verse Bathurst Bulldogs rugby match in the 2018 Blowes Clothing Cup grand final on Saturday.

The night will commence with complimentary wine at 5.45pm followed by the film at 6.30pm – the public is invited to attend.

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