Movies

Simon Baker talks returning to Australia for his new film Breath: "You have to be a bit crazy!"

It was an emotional ride for the Aussie superstar.

By Jenny Cooney Carrillo

For years, he's called Hollywood home. Now, Aussie actor Simon Baker has returned to Oz to direct his first film, Breath. And it's a movie about surfing – how Aussie is that?

Set in the '70s, Breath is a coming-of-age tale based on the novel of the same name by Australian author Tim Winton.

Simon stars as surfer dude Sando, who mentors young grommets Bruce "Pikelet" Pike (Samson Coulter) and Ivan "Loonie" Loon (Ben Spence).

The film, which also features Richard Roxburgh, Rachael Blake and The Kettering Incident's Elizabeth Debicki, has been a labour of love for Simon.

The project had been in the works for years, but the actor wanted to wait until he'd finished filming TV series The Mentalist before he tackled Breath.

Here, Simon, 48, chats to TV WEEK about directing – and reveals Breath almost didn't get made at all.

Simon feels right at home in the ocean.
Simon feels right at home in the ocean.

When did you realise you wanted to direct?

The first time I directed was on [US TV series] The Guardian, which was some time ago. And I knew then that it was the right thing for me.

I loved the feeling of being on set, but then to be on set and be the director, it's completely engaging. I like feeling that alive.

This is a bold thing to do for your first film. Why Breath?

I think you have to be a little bit crazy to make any film. But sure, on paper, it sort of looks like I'm a lunatic.

There are two kids, there's the ocean, the dogs, and there are all these different elements to it that are going to be hard.

You have to be flexible, and we had a pretty simple plan. And Mother Nature was kind to us.

Elizabeth Debicki as Sando's American wife, Ava.
Elizabeth Debicki as Sando's American wife, Ava.

Speaking of Mother Nature, was it always your vision to have everybody feel like they're in the water?

Growing up surfing all my life, that element of our environment in Australia is something that's just in my blood; it's in my DNA. So it was very important for me to try to integrate the stuff we take for granted.

I've always been intrigued by the idea of cracking that nut of trying to make a really good narrative film that integrates the world of the ocean, because it's hard to do.

At a screening of the film at the Toronto Film Festival, you thanked your wife, Rebecca Rigg, for pushing you to do the movie. Why?

I put a lot of pressure on myself. So she encouraged me at a point when I was thinking, "I don't think it's going to be possible and I don't think I'm going to be able to achieve what I want to achieve."

I also had a couple of mates who I went on holiday with in Sumatra [Indonesia]. They asked me about it over beers one night. They were like, "You've got to make it."

So I think sometimes when people say, "Just do it" and [you] don't put that much pressure on yourself, it helps a lot.

Loonie and Pikelet are keen to master the waves.
Loonie and Pikelet are keen to master the waves.

Has it whet your appetite for directing another film?

If you'd asked me while I was in the middle of shooting it, I probably would have said no.

But as you get further away from it, you miss that feeling; the excitement of being that stimulated.

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