If you had told me prior to the start of the Toronto International Film Festival that Simon Baker would direct one of the best films that I’d see at this year’s Festival, I would have never believed you. After all, he’s never directed a feature, and only been behind the camera on a few episodes of his hit TV series The Mentalist and an episode of The Guardian back in 2003. But with his debut feature, Breath, Baker shows real talent helming the coming-of-age drama, and it’s the type of confident feature that makes me hope this is the beginning of a new career for the busy actor.
If you haven’t yet heard of the film, Breath is set in Australia in the 1970s and is based on the acclaimed novel by Australian author Tim Winton. Without giving too much away, it’s about two teenage best friends (Samson Coulter and Ben Spence) that form an unlikely friendship with an enigmatic older surfer and adventurer (played by Baker), who pushes them to take risks that will have a profound impact on both their lives. Elizabeth Debicki plays Baker’s wife in a pivotal role.
Unlike some movies that explain everything, or feel like a Hollywood version of growing up, Baker uses minimal dialogue and exposition in telling the story, and relies on the audience’s intelligence to follow along. In addition, Breath has some breathtaking cinematography that showcases fantastic surf scenes and quiet moments between friends. It’s an all-around great movie that, like I said, showcases a new talent behind the camera. I’m very sincere when I say Baker knocks this out of the park, and I hope this is the beginning of him making more movies.
Shortly after seeing the film I sat down with Simon Baker for an extended video interview. During the wide-ranging conversation he talked about how he’s always wanted to make a movie, that if he didn’t make it as an actor he thought he would go to film school and study cinematography, how the source material for the film hit close to home, if he was nervous to cast two non-professional actors as the leads in the film, how that casting process worked, how his first cut was compared to the finished film, if it was tough getting financing, what cameras he used and why, and so much more.
Check out what he had to say in the player above and below is exactly what we talked about.