ROOM TO BREATHE

PRE­PAR­ING FOR AN­OTHER GLIT­TER­ING PRE­MIERE, SI­MON BAKER IS HOL­LY­WOOD HOT PROP­ERTY, BUT THE BALLINA BOY’S SOUL STILL SINGS TO HIS SALTWATER UP­BRING­ING

The Gold Coast Bulletin - Gold Coast Eye - - FEATURE - WORDS: ANN WA­SON MOORE

Stars, they’re just like us. Si­mon Baker, the guy they call Smi­ley, the Men­tal­ist, calls my house on a Satur­day morn­ing from his mo­bile, no PR, no min­ders … but also no time.

“I’m so sorry,” he says. “Some­thing’s just come up. If you’re not busy in a cou­ple of hours, can I call you then for our in­ter­view?”

Of course, I con­cur. I have been stood up by far lesser than Mr Baker. When we talk again, he ad­mits the rea­son he had to run was ac­tu­ally be­cause he had to surf … with his son.

“I could see that look in his eye, the con­di­tions were good and he wanted to get out.

“The al­ter­na­tive was he’d pick up a de­vice and start play­ing games,” says the 48-year-old fa­ther of three. “I had to in­ter­vene and get him away from tech­nol­ogy.” Stars’ kids … they’re just like mine. We’re used to see­ing Si­mon on screen — from E

Street in the early 90s to his first Amer­i­can film, the ac­claimed LA Con­fi­den­tial, to star­ring roles in The

Guardian and The Men­tal­ist — all trade­mark golden curls and crinkly eyes.

But as much as he’s ev­ery bit the lead­ing man, there’s some­thing so fa­mil­iar about him. Deep in­side there’s still that Aussie boy next door.

In fact, there’s ev­ery chance that if you grew up on the Gold Coast, he was the boy next door.

Born and bred in North­ern New South Wales, he at­tended Ballina High and still owns a prop­erty in nearby Nashua.

In fact, he and wife ac­tor Re­becca Rigg do­nated to the Rise Above the Flood ap­peal just last year to help their neigh­bours hit by the nat­u­ral dis­as­ter.

But in be­tween Ballina and Hol­ly­wood, Si­mon did a solid stint in Surfers Par­adise.

“When I left home I did a year in Syd­ney, but then I came up to the Goldie,” he says.

“A bunch of mates and I moved in to this old fi­bro shack on Garfield Ter­race. It was just af­ter the bend in the road. It had a huge pine tree in the back and then just beach.

“It was the last house left in that stretch. We were evicted be­cause they sold the land to build an­other high-rise. I’ll have to drive past it one day. They were some fun times. We all worked in hos­pi­tal­ity and just surfed. I worked at the Hy­att Sanc­tu­ary Cove at that big beach pool.”

Yep, for those of us of a cer­tain age, Si­mon Baker was our pool boy. In fact, he may well take that trip down mem­ory lane this week­end. He’s on the Coast not just to at­tend the clos­ing cer­e­mony of the Com­mon­wealth Games, but to launch a project that’s not just dear to his heart but his surfer’s soul.

Breath is Baker’s fea­ture film di­rec­to­rial de­but, adapted from the 2008 novel by cel­e­brated Aus­tralian au­thor Tim Winton, and will have its Queens­land pre­miere at the Gold Coast Film Fes­ti­val this Thurs­day.

The clas­sic com­ing of age tale fol­lows Pikelet and Loonie, two teenage boys grow­ing up in a small coastal town in West­ern Aus­tralia in the 1970s.

Their love of surf­ing and ad­ven­ture sees their paths cross with older, lo­cal surfer Bill “Sando” San­der­son, played by Baker, who de­scribes the char­ac­ter as “a men­tor, but pa­thetic in his own way”.

Hav­ing grown up surf­ing in Ballina, and with teenage sons of his own, Harry, 16, and Claude, 19, plus 24-year-old daugh­ter Stella, Baker says he felt in­stantly con­nected to the char­ac­ters and themes in Winton’s novel be­fore adapt­ing the sto­ry­line for screen.

“To me it’s all about iden­tity. It’s about the boys, Pikelet and Loonie, try­ing to fig­ure out who they are in this com­ing-of-age time of their lives,” he says.

“It’s about Sando and his sort of stunted iden­tity. As much as he’s this men­tor to them, he’s not a Yoda char­ac­ter. He’s more pa­thetic than wise. He’s stuck in the past and never learned to take re­spon­si­bil­ity. But it’s also about the iden­tity of Aus­tralia.

“Our iden­tity is tied to the sea, to the coast­line, but our iden­tity is also con­stantly shift­ing. We drift with the tide be­tween our UK her­itage, our ties with Amer­ica and our indige­nous his­tory.”

Baker says the film helped shift his own def­i­ni­tion of iden­tity, from ac­tor to di­rec­tor and film­maker. Sando may be a fa­ther-fig­ure of sorts to the boys, but the film was Baker’s own lovechild.

“We got the book op­tion about eight years ago and the past three or four years have been re­ally in­tense,” he says.

“It doesn’t mat­ter who you are, get­ting a film made is a long, hard process. It’s a labour of love.

“I’d like to di­rect again though. I feel at home di­rect­ing. I feel like I can con­trib­ute more when I’m in that role. It’s not easy but it’s im­mensely sat­is­fy­ing.”

The fact that the sub­ject mat­ter dealt with one of Baker’s other great loves, surf­ing, is ob­vi­ous when watch­ing the film. The po­etry of mo­tion writes a love let­ter to a time and place that, while changed, is not en­tirely gone. The boys who grew up in the ’70s and ’80s, like Pikelet, Loonie and Baker him­self, are the fa­thers of to­day, guid­ing their own chil­dren through ever-choppy con­di­tions.

“That era of the 70s is still so fa­mil­iar to us — I loved putting up the pic­tures from Cop­per­art in the houses. Who didn’t have that in their home?” he says.

“I think I was a boy who was some­where be­tween those two ado­les­cent char­ac­ters, the sort of dreamy in­di­vid­ual that is Pikelet and the wild, lost boy that is Loonie. But ul­ti­mately, I’m more Pikelet. Oth­er­wise I never would have got this movie made.

“But the thing we all have in com­mon is this love for surf­ing. I can’t re­ally say what it is to me. It’s all dif­fer­ent sorts of things and it changes ev­ery time I go to the wa­ter. Th­ese days it’s a great way to com­mune with na­ture and to catch up with old friends.

“It’s a break and a re­lief to be some­where that no one can con­tact you, your phone doesn’t ring. Phys­i­cally, it’s still ex­hil­a­rat­ing and med­i­ta­tive.”

For Baker, it’s an ex­er­cise that is still uniquely Aus­tralian. With his chil­dren hav­ing grown up both here and in the US, he says the surf­ing com­mu­nity in their Syd­ney sub­urb is an ex­tended fam­ily of sorts.

“When we walked through the park on the way back from surf­ing to­day, I said to my son, ‘Do you see all the dif­fer­ent groups hang­ing out? Do you see the dif­fer­ent gen­er­a­tions pass­ing through?’ He thought it was so cool to see those lit­tle groms com­ing of age and hang­ing out with friends at the next level. It’s a rite of pas­sage in some ways.

“Bec and I have al­ways had such close ties to our coun­try, to Aus­tralia, no mat­ter where we have been liv­ing, and the kids feel that.

“There is some­thing to say for be­ing here and hav­ing a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive — or just hav­ing per­spec­tive — on what’s hap­pen­ing in the world.”

Baker’s not the only in­ter­na­tional star who still calls Aus­tralia home, with north­ern NSW neigh­bour Chris Hemsworth reg­u­larly spot­ted on our own shores — in­clud­ing at the Com­mon­wealth Games. “Is he there?” Baker asks. “I re­ally don’t keep up. “I’m not just say­ing that, I’m tragic in know­ing who’s where and do­ing what. I am in­ter­ested in the Games though. I’m re­ally look­ing for­ward to see­ing the clos­ing cer­e­mony. In fact, the kids are all quiet right now. I might just turn on the TV and watch a bit of the ac­tion. Maybe have a lit­tle nap.”

Dads … they’re all the same.

THE SHOW GOES ON

The Games may al­most be over, but it’s time for the show to be­gin.

The Gold Coast Film Fes­ti­val comes hot on the heels of our great­est sport­ing spec­ta­cle — and it’s not about to play a mi­nor role.

The city’s flag­ship film event will screen 40 fea­ture films in­clud­ing one world pre­miere, seven Aus­tralian pre­mieres and seven Queens­land pre­mieres, plus a host of short films, events, film­maker Q&As, and an in­cred­i­ble Vir­tual Re­al­ity film ex­pe­ri­ence.

The 16th an­nual GCFF will run for 13 days from Tues­day to April 29.

A high­light of the pro­gram is the Queens­land pre­miere of Si­mon Baker’s Breath this Thurs­day. Baker and fel­low ac­tors Sam­son Coul­ter (Pikelet) and Ben Spence (Loonie) will be at­tend­ing the screen­ing at Pa­cific Fair, fol­lowed by a Q&A.

“I’m thrilled to have our Queens­land pre­miere at the Gold Coast Film Fes­ti­val. The Gold Coast has long been a mecca for those that share a deep fas­ci­na­tion and re­spect for the ocean, and the mag­nif­i­cent im­pact it can have in shap­ing who you are,” Baker says.

Gold Coast Film Fes­ti­val di­rec­tor Lucy Fisher says the fes­ti­val has also se­cured the Aus­tralian pre­miere of black com­edy Broth­ers’ Nest to screen at the clos­ing night on April 29, with broth­ers Shane Ja­cob­son and Clayton Ja­cob­son (Kenny), at­tend­ing the event and Q&A.

“At its core, the Gold Coast Film Fes­ti­val cel­e­brates film and film­mak­ing,” Lucy says.

“The Film Fes­ti­val will be the Gold Coast’s first ma­jor event fol­low­ing the Com­mon­wealth Games and will con­tinue to en­rich the city through the dozens of spe­cial film events be­ing held at 11 venues across the Gold Coast.”

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