Simon Baker directs, and stars in 'Breath', which hits Australian screens over the weekend and next week.
The following excerpts are taken from a full interview with Simon Baker, which appears in the current issue of Tracks, Issue 565
Simon Baker on his approach to making the movie:
…"I just wanted to shoot it simply and I just wanted to exploit those moments that we see and we enjoy every day and we take for granted, that organic nature of your visibility and your senses being shifted and I wanted to try and integrate all that into the sound design as well. I wanted to take the audience from land into the water so that you never felt like it was two different movies … there's something that we experience as surfers … the process of walking down the sand and paddling out. It's this sacred transition from walking to being water creatures, letting down of all those abilities associated with being able to put your feet on the ground. I wanted to exploit that shift and that transition."
Casting two surfers without acting experience, in the lead roles
Samson Coulter (Pikelet in the film) and Ben Spence (Loonie) do almost all their own surfing, which involves everything from big drops on heavy bombies to barrel riding and classic single-fin trimming. From a surfer's point of view, the action is engaging and beautifully shot. Given the reliance on stunt doubles in so many other surf films it's probably the best representation of surfing on the 'big screen' you've ever seen. From an acting perspective, both first-time performers are impressive, particularly given the fact neither of them had any experience. As Loonie, Ben Spence captures the essence of the quintessential, zany grommet while Samson has a nuanced interpretation of Pikelet's role, which involves a number of challenging scenes.
Asked about his decision to cast two non-actors, Baker is forthright about his decision. "I had to do it. I can see someone pick up a board and know that they can surf or not. You can't teach that stuff." He explains that often the hardest part was persuading the two young surfers to tone it down so that their whole demeanour in and out of the water was consistent with both the era in which the film is set and their evolution from learners to accomplished surfers in the movie. Baker chuckles as he explains one wave Samson caught on set. "He's caught this great wave and just killed it all the way on this shitty old pin-tail single fin. I said, 'Come here'. And he watches it back on the screen and goes 'that's a good wave'. And I said 'Do you think that looks like 1972?' And he goes 'Ohhh. no'."
Simon Baker's own surfing background
Simon Baker, now a youthful 48, has a strong romantic attachment to his surfing youth, which placed him at the nexus of a heady, late-70s Lennox scene, where the influence of surfing luminaries collided with the siren call of the nascent competitive scene.
"Before the family moved from St Mary's in western Sydney to Lennox Head when I was age 9, I'd only seen surfing on TV. I remember thinking, I don't know what that it is but I want to do it and then I was plonked into this town and it was late 70s, early 80s … I lived across the road from Bob McTavish."
At Lennox, the daily duels of surf-obsessed grommets were complemented by the sage-like utterings of the likes of McTavish, Chris Brock, Jeff Cerf, Tony Hessian, Rusty Miller, Gunther Rohn and the roll-call of influential surfers who drifted through Lennox.
Simon counted future pro surfers Jeremy Byles, Brendan Margeison and Craig Cornish as adolescent sparring partners. He remembers the free-spirited camaraderie, their efforts to out-perform each other and their unified quest to steal a little of the limelight from the more celebrated junior tribe on the Gold Coast, who already seemed on a fast-track to surfing fame. "We use to go up to the Queensland titles. We were the south of the border rag-tag bunch. All the Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast guys like Munga, John Shortis and Sammy Watts were sponsored by Billabong and Mango… They were all killing it."
Baker puts it succinctly when explaining just how immersed in surfing he was. "It was the rack in which I hung my identity on."
Asked if he ever dreamt of pursuing surfing professionally, he gives the kind of candid answer you rarely get from a successful actor: "Well I guess I kind of did, but then I discovered sex and my priorities shifted."
On interpreting the work of Tim Winton
As Simon and I chat at a café table, someone stops to tell him how much they loved the book. Simon admits that there is no escaping the pressure. "I'd like a dollar for every time someone said, 'It's my favourite book, don't fuck it up'."
Earning Winton's support ultimately proved crucial.
"Tim was good. Tim's salty, he gets it. It was always going to take time for him to know where I was coming from. We had a couple of dinners and a couple of chats and then he got it. He understood where I was from and what I wanted to do with it. From him I just needed to know that he was okay with me committing to that and making it my own … I think that once I felt there was trust there he was like, yeah you go for it."