Meet The Sporting Icons of T Australia

From AFL legend Lance “Buddy” Franklin to Australian tennis golden girl Ajla Tomljanović, T Australia journalists take you inside the mind of the country’s greatest sporting icons.

Article by T Australia

Ajla Tomljanović

“No matter who retires, tennis goes on… And that’s almost the cruellest part of the sport.”

Article by Victoria Pearson for T Australia’s eleventh edition

Daniel Ricciardo

“Part of me still pinches myself. How did I end up here? How did Perth and Formula 1 meet?”

Article by Emma Pegrum for T Australia’s fourth edition

Kalyee McKeown

“In the pool, I’m trying to better myself every session leading into competition. Each achievement is a moment in time that I can look back on and be proud of.”

Article by Victoria Pearson for

Lance “Buddy” Franklin

“To kick a thousand goals and have my closest family and friends there to witness it. That was something that I’ll cherish forever.”

Article by Luke Benedictus for T Australia’s tenth edition

Adam Scott

Sometimes the worst thing you can do is go over a million scenarios that aren’t even really happening. I know myself pretty well and generally manage that fairly well.”

Article by Anthony Ham for T Australia’s thirteenth issue

Read our current issue cover interview with the pioneering hip-hop star, actress and producer Queen Latifah that appears in print in our sixteenth edition, Page 64 of T Australia.

Meet The Icons of T Australia

From Idris Elba to Billie Eilish, Buddy Franklin and Margot Robbie, we’ve brought the biggest names featured in T Australia to one place.

Article by T Australia

Idris Elba

“Tomorrow’s not really promised, so do what you want,” says Elba. “You don’t know what’s going to happen so just go for it.”

Article by Joe Brennan for T Australia’s fifth edition

Billie Eilish

“I’m essentially using my name for clout. Part of me is like, ‘I only got where I got just so I could make a perfume one day. That’s the only reason I’m here.’ ”

Article by Victoria Pearson for T Australia’s tenth edition

Kylie Minogue

“I’ve made mistakes, of course, trusting people and assuming their judgement was better than mine, but my team and I try to be as considered as we can.”

Article by Katarina Kroslakova for T Australia’s first edition

Lance “Buddy” Franklin

“To kick a thousand goals and have my closest family and friends there to witness it. That was something that I’ll cherish forever.”

Article by Luke Benedictus for T Australia’s tenth edition

Daniel Ricciardo

“I don’t like the feeling of leaving a racetrack with regrets… I wasn’t doing myself justice if I didn’t put it all out there.”

Article by Emma Pegrum for T Australia’s fourth edition

Margot Robbie

“I much prefer to scream and cry and shout. Someone did something bad to you and you feel mad about it — I can get there a lot quicker.”

Article by Bill Wyman for T Australia’s third edition

Selena Gomez

“I saw from my own personal experience how these impossible beauty standards were having such an effect on my mental health.”

Article by Victoria Pearson for

Nick Cave

“I have always drawn my songs… because they are primarily highly visual, disconnected, emotional images and lend themselves to that sort of thing,”

Article by Tom Lazarus for T Australia’s fifth edition

Read our current issue cover interview with the mode Ajak Deng that appears in print in our fifteeth edition, Page 64 of T Australia with the headline: “Higher Purpose”

Elsa in Excelsis

Whether embodying Edenic domesticity or duelling with villains on set, Elsa Pataky brings a singular energy to everything she touches. Now, having completed her most gruelling film to date, she’s finding her flow in Byron Bay — canteen duty and all.

Article by Helen Hawkes

Elsa PatakyGucci jacket and pants, Emporio Armani blouse, and Kenneth Jay Lane earrings (vintage). Photography by Pierre Toussaint.

There’s a pivotal moment in the thrill-packed film “Interceptor” (now on Netflix) when the script demands that the actor Elsa Pataky demonstrate heroic pluck of “Die Hard” proportions. Resplendent in fitted combat pants and kick-arse boots, her triceps glistening and singlet soaked in blood and sweat, she hurls herself between the rusty rungs of a missile interceptor in the ocean. It’s classic action film territory: one jaded lone wolf — in this case, the tactical military hand Captain JJ Collins — risks everything to defeat the bad guys and save the world from imminent nuclear destruction.

For the Madrid-born Pataky, who has played the trophy wife, the mistress and the siren, it is a welcome opportunity to show that her skills extend beyond being an object of desire: that she can also be a take-no-prisoners hero. “You planned for every possible outcome,” she spits at her opponent, played by the Australian actor Luke Bracey, “but you couldn’t plan for me.”

“When my daughter [India, 10] says her dad [the actor Chris Hemsworth] is a superhero, I want her to be able to say, ‘My mum is, too,’ ” Pataky tells me, clearly delighted to be playing the lead in an action film — a career first. “I was always a bit of a tomboy, competing with boys to be as strong as them,” she confides, though her delicate bone structure, perfect waves and heavily lashed green eyes make it difficult to imagine. When she says “strong” — strength being one of her favourite themes — she pronounces it with an apicalalveolar trill (the rolled “r” used in Spanish), giving the word its own charming strength. (Pataky also speaks Italian, Romanian, Portuguese and French, and, no doubt, executes a sexy r-roll in all four. The Australian author Matthew Reilly, who co-wrote and directed “Interceptor”, says: “People may not realise that English is not Elsa’s first language — in the months before we filmed, she did an enormous amount of dialect training.”)

So, is Pataky a feminist? She hesitates for a second as she chews over the f-word. “I have boys [twins Tristan and Sasha, eight] and a girl, so I have to be equal and careful in what I say,” she says. “I do make sure my daughter feels she is capable to do whatever she wants to do.” Pataky does feel that women are achieving equality, though “little by little and, like a lot of things, we have to fight for it.

“But I still believe in a strong man,” she continues, “and I still want to watch movies where the man saves the woman, and I don’t want men to be afraid to express their feelings with a woman.”

Pataky wears Zimmerman coat, Dior shirt and tie, Bulgari earrings, Gucci gloves and Roger Vivier boots. Photography by Pierre Toussaint.
Pataky wears Zimmerman coat, Dior shirt and tie, Bulgari earrings, Gucci gloves and Roger Vivier boots. Photography by Pierre Toussaint.
Pataky wears Zimmerman coat, Dior shirt and tie, Bulgari earrings, Gucci gloves and Roger Vivier boots. Photography by Pierre Toussaint.
Pataky wears Zimmerman coat, Dior shirt and tie, Bulgari earrings, Gucci gloves and Roger Vivier boots. Photography by Pierre Toussaint.

A fan of action movies as a child, Pataky admits she once dreamed of being Indiana Jones. She recalls watching the films with her father, the Spanish biochemist José Francisco Lafuente, who shared her interest but wanted her to have a stable career — not necessarily to follow in the footsteps of Harrison Ford. But when he sees her latest cinematic outing, Pataky says, “He will feel very proud his daughter is the lead in an action film.”

At almost 46, Pataky has a flawless complexion, the only mark an old-Hollywood-style beauty spot above her lip. She’s grateful Reilly wanted “a mature woman” for the “Interceptor” role, but she tempers this by saying, “there are so many more amazing roles now for women, not based around age”.

Reilly tells T Australia: “We did consider several actresses, Elsa included, for the part initially. But we kept coming back to her. I can’t imagine any other actress in the role.

“The way she got into physical shape for the part,” he continues. “The way she imbued JJ with certain mannerisms, a singular inner strength and character …” He’s clearly a fan.

Reilly says that Elsa, like her character, possesses “a deep well of gritty determination”. He elaborates: “First, just taking the role was a brave thing to do. This is a tough role: a full-fledged female action lead who is in almost every single shot. Whoever played JJ would be carrying the whole movie.” Secondly, he says, Pataky is “physically very strong, very fit and very, very athletic. When, in the movie, you see JJ leap across a wide gap using only one arm, that’s Elsa doing it. Fights, leaps, jumps, punches and rolls, Elsa did them all.”

Pataky, a yoga devotee and the author of “Strong: How to Eat, Move and Live With Strength and Vitality” (2019), has always subscribed to peak fitness. She and Hemsworth have their own healthy lifestyle app, Centr, and her taut 1.61-metre frame has graced magazine covers from GQ to Cosmopolitan. For “Interceptor”, she began training with the extreme adventurer Ross Edgley six months out from shooting, upping her regular workouts to a daily strength training program that saw her trading pain relief creams with her stunt double. “I had to learn 800 different moves for the fight scenes,” she says. “It was really double the work of a normal movie.”

In one scene, Pataky’s character — cable-tied to a chair, at the mercy of the villains and almost certainly going to die — gives one of the miscreants a speech about respecting women. Reilly recalls: “Elsa did the lines then called me over and said, ‘Matt, I think JJ should do something at the end of this speech to really cap it off. I think she should headbutt him.’ So there I am, with the whole cast and crew watching, thinking about this suggestion. It was a good one, so I said, ‘Yep, let’s do it.’ We did it. It was awesome.”

“Captain Collins is a woman who has been through all of life and it has made her strong,” Pataky says of her onscreen persona. “That’s what life does to you — it makes you stronger. You have been through so many things and nothing can destroy you, in a way.” It’s a theme she returns to often during our interview, dismissing the suggestion that her life, from the outside, appears to be almost perfect — or at least without challenges.

“It is totally not true that I don’t have the same obstacles,” she says. “I have my moments of overwhelm, or having a hard time. It is not human not to have that. One of the most difficult times was when I first moved to Los Angeles from Spain. I was by myself and knew very little English and I felt so lonely. I was also in back-to-back auditions, which was very challenging having to do in broken English.

“Being in the film industry really is the ultimate test of resilience,” she adds. “You need to believe in yourself, your ability and never give up, as you’ll get so many knockbacks before that one door opens.”

Elsa Pataky
Sportmax jacket, blouse and skirt, Ahlem sunglasses, and Bulgari watch. Ring, Pataky's own. Photography by Pierre Toussaint.
Elsa Pataky
Alex Perry blazer, and Louise Olsen for Dinosaur Designs earrings. Photography by Pierre Toussaint.

Born Elsa Lafuente Medianu, Pataky adopted the surname she goes by today as a way to honour her maternal grandmother. Her parents divorced when she was young, something that had a profound effect on her. “They didn’t have a good relationship, which was hard to witness and experience as a child,” she says. Pataky recently told Jones magazine that staying positive — perhaps overly so — was her coping strategy. “You can either be sad about it and get stuck in it, like, ‘Why did it happen to me?’, or you can try to make the best of it,” she said. “And I decided in life that I just wanted to get the best of it.”

In part to please her father, Pataky studied journalism at CEU San Pablo University in Madrid, but she also took acting classes, relying on her grandmother to tell her if she had a future in the industry. “My grandfather was a theatre actor and my grandmother was always supporting him,” she recalls. “She would watch him and then tell him, ‘Hmmmm, I did not like this.’ I invited her to my first theatre play [Pataky was a member of Ángel Gutiérrez’s company, Teatro de Cámara Chéjov] and I thought, ‘OK, if my grandmother says I have talent, I will keep going.’ She came and she told me, ‘You have a lot to learn, but you have talent.’” Pataky pauses at the memory of her grandmother, who is now gone. “I thought, ‘That’s all I need. I’m going for it.’”

And go for it she has. In the “Fast & Furious” film franchise, which has grossed more than $8.4 billion worldwide at the box office, Pataky played a Brazilian patrol officer and Diplomatic Security Service agent recruited by Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) to track down wanted criminals. The action films introduced her to a mainstream audience, but Pataky was already a major movie star in Europe — long before Hemsworth’s own meteoric rise to fame — having appeared in more than 10 Spanish films, among them “Di Di Hollywood” (2010) directed by Bigas Luna. Other credits include “Snakes on a Plane” (2006), the Italian horror film “Giallo” (2009) and the Russell Mulcahy-directed “Malone” (2009). Small-screen projects include “Queen of Swords”, a Canadian action-adventure series of the early aughts, and the 2018 Australian crime/fantasy Netflix series “Tidelands”.

The latter, in which Pataky plays the mystical seductress Adrielle Cuthbert, marked her re-entry into the acting world, having taken a hiatus to raise her three children. She and Hemsworth met in 2010, married the same year and moved from Los Angeles to Byron Bay in 2014. Pataky has previously admitted that dealing with global fame and a young family in the first few years of their relationship wasn’t easy. “We did everything very quickly — I don’t know how we survived as a couple,” she told Vogue Australia in 2018. “We were married and then, a year after, we had kids. It puts a lot of pressure on a marriage, but we came out good because there is a lot of love between us and we are very strong personalities but love each other so much.” On the subject of her relationship, she tells me: “Marriage always has ups and downs. You learn so much and have to put so much work into it.”

Now that their children are older, Pataky says she’s excited about having more time for her career. “Women who manage to combine work and family are my heroes,” she says. “But I never wanted to miss big moments and I was lucky I had the choice. I take the kids to school every day — I didn’t have my parents do that and I really missed them. I want to hear how their day was, give them a kiss. I just decided I wanted to be that annoying mum.”

Implausibly, she’s also a canteen mum, rostered fortnightly at her children’s school, and is apparently treated like any other mother by Byron locals, who are used to seeing Zac Efron at the coffee shop and Matt Damon on Main Beach. “It is quite private here and I love that,” says Pataky. “I can go on with a normal life with no pressure.”

Elsa Pataky
Christopher Esber jacket and pants, Gucci shirt, Prada tie, and Sener Besim earrings. Photography by Pierre Toussaint.
Elsa Pataky
Beare Parke coat, Hermes jumpsuit, Kenneth Jay Lane necklace (vintage) and Roger Vivier boots. Photography by Pierre Toussaint.

After a lifetime in cities, Pataky says she can no longer live in one. The realisation came to her while the family was temporarily staying in Sydney; she was shooting Reilly’s blockbuster and Hemsworth was on “Thor: Love and Thunder”. “I don’t feel in my place there; I don’t feel at home,” says Pataky. “One of my dreams [when I was younger] was that I wanted horses; I wanted to ride.” Today, her family’s idyllic property in Broken Head, about 10 kilometres south of Byron, is home to no less than eight horses, and all of the children ride, her daughter competitively. Recently photographed with the family’s pet bearded dragon on her shoulder, Pataky tells me that the Hemsworth-Pataky sanctuary also counts rabbits, birds, chickens, guinea pigs, a cat and two dogs among its residents. “It’s becoming like a little zoo,” she says. And, yes, you can find her outside mucking out guinea pig cages or even helping with the birth of a foal — something she did recently, sharing a video of the event with her 4.9 million Instagram followers — as well as sorting the recycling.

“We are very conscious about sustainability day to day,” Pataky says. “The droughts, the fires and [recent Northern Rivers] floods are something the children talk about. We can make little changes, but we have to pressure the government for big change for the next generation.” She and Hemsworth have been working with WildArk on a project that aims to boost Tasmanian devil numbers, and they’ve also collaborated with the nonprofit Oceana on marine conservation campaigns. This interest in sustainability, plus a fascination with local botanicals like finger lime and Davidson plum, has also fuelled a new venture: the dewy-skinned actor recently became a co-founder and shareholder in the skincare company Purely Byron. The brand’s natural range leans into science and delivers what Pataky describes as an “experience” — a piece of Byron — rather than just a routine. Actives in the collection include a phytoretinol designed to boost collagen, the vitamin C-rich Superox-C to improve luminosity, the kangaroo paw-fuelled Skinectra to reduce the appearance of wrinkles and Wildberry Harvest to stimulate the skin’s natural production of hyaluronic acid.

While the brand’s promotional material features Pataky looking glowy and gorgeous, her role is much more than spokesmodel, it emerges. She has been involved in product development and branding, as well as creative and marketing initiatives, alongside Purely Byron’s general manager, Jacqueline Rosen Weisz, who previously worked for Jurlique, and the company’s brand and product director, Kate Norbiato. “I had strong ideas about how it should be 100 per cent natural, recyclable and sustainable, as well as have the spirit and radiant energy of Byron in the products,” says Pataky. The brand supports the local community with economic and employment opportunities, a mission close to Pataky’s heart. (Initially, all products will be sold online.)

Elsa Pataky
Fendi jacket, skirt and bag, and Bulgari earrings, rings and watch. Ring on ring finger, Pataky's own. Photography by Pierre Toussaint.
Elsa Pataky
Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello jacket, pants, belt and boots, Louise Olsen for Dinosaur Designs earrings. Photography by Pierre Toussaint.

As for the big screen, the multitasking mum is set to appear as a poker dealer and confidante to Russell Crowe’s character in the thriller “Poker Face”, which features Chris’s brother Liam Hemsworth and the American rapper, record producer, actor and filmmaker RZA. “I met Russell through Chris, but when he called and wanted to talk to me about the role, I was like, ‘Whoa,’” recalls Pataky. “He said, ‘The dealer needs to be very dexterous and I want a video to see how you are with the cards.’

“At the time, I was at a [riding] competition with my daughter, but I asked a friend to buy a pack of cards from the local petrol station for me,” says Pataky. “I sat on a fence, shuffling and dealing — I had a few tricks I had learned when I was in Spain — and [I was also] taking a video of it at the same time as I watched India compete. When Russell watched the video, he was very impressed and I got the part.”

Crowe has always been one of her favourite actors (“The movie ‘Gladiator’ was very big in Spain,” she notes) and Pataky was determined to win over the star. “Every night I had to practise with the cards,” she says. “It was really fun working with him and I learned so much just watching.”

It seems the admiration is mutual, with the Australian actor and director telling T Australia: “Elsa’s focus is exemplary and she can riffle and deal cards like a casino pro.” Plus, Crowe adds, “Elsa is good company. She brings a lot of energy to the set and a great sense of humour.”

Despite her growing list of accomplishments, Pataky says she has never had an overly ambitious game plan. “I always say, ‘Make little goals and make them happen, and that will give you the strength to keep going,’” she says. “I never dreamed of being a huge star; I wanted to be an actor.”

But with her star once again on the rise, Pataky declares: “Success is what feels right for you — makes you feel confident. For me, my family is also success.”

This is an extract from an article that appears in print in our seventh edition, Page 52 of T Australia with the headline: “Elsa In Excelsis”

Simon Baker on the Changing Face of the Film Industry

“The Mentalist” actor and T Australia cover star has his sights firmly set on the home front.

Article by Bill Wyman

Prada blazer, $4,400, sweater, $1,370, pants, $1,710, and shoes, $1,650; and Longines watch, $3,750. Photography by Jake Terrey. Styling by Brad Homes.

Today, he’s internationally famous, best known as the star of the long-running TV series “The Mentalist”. But in the early 1990s, when Simon Baker was in his 20s, he was a sturdy regular on Australian soap operas, notably “E Street” and “Home and Away”. Wanting more, he auditioned for a role in what was to become a major Australian film, “Muriel’s Wedding”. He did not get the part — and yet he was still in the movie.

In Australia at the time, a TV actor was hardly considered an actor at all. “Film actors would drive a taxi when they were not working,” Baker says. “But they would not deign to do TV.” In turn, those who did do TV were regarded with disdain by their big brothers and sisters in the film world. Perhaps because of that hardly sporting bias, Baker was not chosen for the film. But here’s where the complex social dynamic of the time comes into play. Written and directed by a young PJ Hogan, whose gimlet eye makes for a darkly comic yet refreshingly relatable tale, it’s the story of a young woman from a somewhat grimy background on the North Coast of New South Wales who travels to Sydney to realise her long-standing dream: to find herself a husband. She leaves behind a dreadful family, including a dishevelled, barely sentient sister, Joanie, who symbolises all that ensnares Muriel and, conveniently, serves as a metaphor for our story right here.

On the walls of Joanie’s room are photos of her own fantasies; among them, if you look closely, a pin-up of a handsome young Australian TV actor known for his work in popular soap operas — one Simon Baker. Muriel’s sister knew talent when she saw it. The city and the suburbs. Australia and the world. Film and TV. Art and trash. A brilliant young filmmaker and an ambitious young actor. Mass appeal and the desires of the self-made artist. All of these dualities are at play in that one fleeting second of screen time, and they remain today, mutatis mutandis, in an industry that struggles to give local artists a voice, even as big- budget productions from around the world flock to our shores.

Bassike jacket, $795, T-shirt, $95, and pants, $520,; Simon Baker’s own socks (worn throughout); Louis Vuitton shoes, $1,680,; and Longines watch, $3,625. Photography by Jake Terrey. Styling by Brad Homes.

Nearly 30 years on, Baker has turned his dream into two decades of stardom and the sort of wealth one accrues from starring in two successful US TV series (in 2010, Baker extended his “The Mentalist” contract in a deal reported to be worth $US30 million [$AU38.8 million]). It helps, of course, that his is the sort of camera-ready face that invites endorsement deals from major brands, including Givenchy and ANZ. For almost a decade, he’s also been an Ambassador of Elegance for Longines, joining the likes of Kate Winslet and tennis stars Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf.

All the while, he has maintained his connection to Australia, returning to direct his first film, 2017’s “Breath”, a coming-of- age surf story adapted from the classic Tim Winton novel of the same name. Having moved back to Australia in 2015, Baker is a local among the many Hollywood stars who’ve descended on Australia in a wave of post-pandemic filmmaking, including Julia Roberts, Viggo Mortensen and Colin Farrell.

He’s working on an Australian project: “Blaze”, the first feature film by the Archibald-winning artist Del Kathryn Barton. “She approached me and we talked about the project and really got on really well. I liked her intentions with the film,” Baker says. “The intention is a curious way I approach work. I have to see the director’s intention. There’s entertainment — there’s Marvel movies, which are entertaining. I like to see an intention, whether that is to disregard certain aspects of society or to shine a light on certain aspects of society. That is the focus for me.”

A local production with a modest budget, “Blaze” is the sort of film that could not be made without government funding or the help of marquee names such as Baker’s. And while the flood of international movies currently filming in Australia is a phenomenon that’s good for almost everyone involved, it has made it even more difficult for local productions like “Blaze” to get off the ground.

Baker, who freely admits he’s a worrier, is concerned about the impact Hollywood will have on the local industry, as are others in the community. “We have a finite number of crew members in Australia,” he says. “There’s a lot of scaling up in opportunity in the film business right now, for local craftsmen and craftswomen and technicians, which is great. But is it at the expense of local content?”

Gucci blazer, $3,450, shirt, $850, and pants, $1,900, 1300 442 878; and Longines watch, $3,625. Photography by Jake Terrey. Styling by Brad Homes.

Despite Australia’a good reputation as a filming locale and the many productions made here, those in the business of attracting foreign film crews have struggled in the past, thanks to outdated government incentives. Simply put, landing a Hollywood film depends on coming up with creative ways to subsidise it. It’s a tough system: countries are in competition over productions, allowing the major studios to drive hard bargains and pit nations (and, in America, states) against one another.

It’s a game that must be played and, at a certain point, it was apparent Australia wasn’t playing it well. “Our tax offset program was not competitive globally,” says Kate Marks, the chief executive of Ausfilm, which assists foreign productions with sourcing Australian talent, infrastructure and funding. “We were at 16.5 per cent, versus 20–25 per cent elsewhere. Ours was one of the lowest.” In 2018, the Federal Government introduced a Location Incentive grant that could be combined with the 16.5 per cent tax offset, available to foreign films that spent $15 million or more on Australian production. Grants totalling $140 million were scooped up by new productions and the industry advocated for more.

Then the pandemic hit. Australia’s relatively competent handling of the coronavirus presented an opportunity for the industry: the country was open for business while other locations were not — including the American states outside of California that are generally favoured by Hollywood, but whose response to the pandemic has been disastrous. Meanwhile, the boom in streaming services had produced a seemingly endless need for content, particularly bingeable TV series. Despite the strict Covid-19 safety protocols for workers and the two-week quarantine period for international arrivals, Australia was in a unique position.

But Hollywood being Hollywood, government incentives were still an issue. Ausfilm made the case that film production could play a role in the country’s economic recovery. “In part, it’s the nature of how productions work,” Marks says. “They can ramp up quickly and get so many people back to work faster than most industries.” In mid-2020, another $400 million was allocated to Location Incentive grants, available until June 2027.

Prada jacket, $2,950, shirt, $1,160, and tie, $350,; and Longines watch, $3,625, Opposite: Kapital T-shirt, $184,; and Longines watch, $3,625. Photography by Jake Terrey. Styling by Brad Homes.

So far, the plan seems to be working. According to Marks, the average value of production expenditure from foreign films in Australia has been, over the last five years, $350 million annually; this year, Ausfilm expects the figure will be double that. International films and TV series that have been recently completed, are currently filming or are slated to start in the coming months, include: “Thirteen Lives”, directed by Ron Howard, starring Viggo Mortensen and Colin Farrell; “Joe Exotic”, about the Exotic/Carole Baskin feud made famous by the Netflix documentary series “Tiger King”; “Pieces of Her”, starring Toni Collette; “Young Rock”, based on the early life of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson; and “Ticket to Paradise”, starring Julia Roberts and George Clooney. Tom Hanks has also been in Australia, for a Baz Luhrmann film about Elvis Presley, but the production is a local one (it became worldwide news when Hanks and his wife, Rita Wilson, tested positive for coronavirus while in Australia early last year).

These, of course, join the much- noted blockbusters made in Australia of late, including the recently released “Godzilla vs. Kong” and the soon-to- wrap “Thor: Love and Thunder”, starring Chris Hemsworth. These films fill studios, employ builders, technicians and supporting actors, and provide steady contracts for visual-effects houses, but they also present challenges for local players.

“These big productions, they’re a little gung-ho,” says Ivan Sen, a writer and director whose credits include “Toomelah” and “Mystery Road”. By way of example, he says a supermarket might say no to a local filmmaker in search of a location, having hosted a major production that took too long or destroyed the place. “We’re sensitive to that, to our locations and who we are,” Sen says, adding that a major studio might pay $10,000 for the use of the location. “They look at our measly $500 and tell us to get lost.”

Even booking a studio can be difficult. For his upcoming film, “Loveland”, Sen says, “We tried to find one on the Gold Coast but just had no chance. Speaking of ‘Godzilla’, that’s what it was! We ended up at a TAFE studio in Queensland.”

Simon Baker was featured on the cover of T Australia's second issue.

Baker might be accustomed to “Godzilla”-size productions now, but the Hollywood life was not preordained. Born in Tasmania, he spent a few years in New Guinea before his parents split up and he moved with his mother to Lennox Head on New South Wales’ North Coast (he has hinted that his relationship with her second husband was not ideal). Baker was immersed in surf culture and was infatuated with film. “I was raised on ’70s Australia cinema,” he says, citing the directors Fred Schepisi, Peter Weir and Gillian Armstrong. “It was a golden age and I grew up seeing all of that.”

He came to acting by happenstance, his big break like something out of a movie. It came when he visited a friend who was auditioning for a commercial — Baker ended up getting the role. At the age of 22, he was cast in “E Street”, then came a Logie Award for Most Popular New Talent and “Home and Away”. Still, film roles were a long time coming — he could not break out of the TV ghetto. “I was auditioning and auditioning for ‘traffic cop number two’ and it was really difficult,” he says. “I came up with a long- range idea: what about going to America and trying to make it there? If I can get some work in the US, maybe I can come back to Australia and work here. It took me 20-something years.”

In the US, Baker landed a small role, playing a vulnerable young actor in 1997’s “L.A. Confidential” (a film that might have won the Academy Award for Best Picture had the blockbuster “Titanic” not been released in the same year). Baker had one memorable line — “You know, when I came out to LA, this isn’t exactly where I saw myself ending up” — before being fed into Hollywood’s thresher.

Prada jacket, $2,950, shirt, $1,160, and tie, $350,; and Longines watch, $3,625, Opposite: Kapital T-shirt, $184,; and Longines watch, $3,625. Photography by Jake Terrey. Styling by Brad Homes.

Steady work but minor roles followed until he was cast in the TV series “The Guardian”. Starting in 2001, it ran for three seasons but didn’t make much of a cultural mark. Exhausted by television, Baker returned to film, with roles in “The Ring Two” and “The Devil Wears Prada” (he even shot a commercial with Martin Scorsese). He also starred in a project that was fairly unusual at the time, 2006’s “Something New”, an interracial romance directed by Sanaa Hamri, the rarest of things in Hollywood — a woman of colour in the director’s seat. It went nowhere. “Everything around that film would be different if it was released now,” Baker says.

Then came the role that made him an international celebrity: the lead in a police drama called “The Mentalist”. The show is a little smarter than the title indicates. In it, Baker plays a consultant for the California Bureau of Investigation who once passed himself off as a psychic and now uses the insights of a conman to solve crimes (of course, as is the way with these things, he doesn’t always play by the rules and exasperates his superiors). The unnaturally handsome Baker has a way with quips and he plays the unnaturally insightful investigator with winning charm. For his work on the series, he has been nominated for one Emmy and two Golden Globe awards.

Acting aside, Baker plays the role of TV star with aplomb. A YouTube clip shows him doing a good job of acting surprised when the host of “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” mentions the actor’s Mick Jagger impression, prompting an impression showdown. But there have been challenges along the way, too, like the separation, in 2020, from his wife of 23 years, the actress Rebecca Rigg, whom he met on the set of “E Street”. The pair raised three children in a house in Santa Monica, LA, that they’ve since sold for more than $8 million.

In this time of extraordinary change, Baker is looking forward to pursuing passion projects. “For the large portion of my career, I’m a father of three and I’ve been a provider more than anything — and been an artist as a secondary thing,” he says. “Now my kids are older and I’m older, clearly. And I look more now for what resonates in a story, what I can feel as far as intention from the director, and then I go from there.”

Since “The Mentalist” ended in 2015, Baker has concentrated on Australian films. First up was “Breath”, which he not only directed, but also co-wrote, produced and starred in, playing the enigmatic surfer Sando, who transforms the lives of two boys on the cusp of adulthood. Baker, who directed a few episodes of “The Mentalist” over the years, handles the film’s complex psychological undercurrents seamlessly, as well as the technical demands of the water scenes.

It was the realisation of a long-held dream. “I thought, ‘I’ll come back to Australia and I’ll make this film, that will be for me. This will be my contribution to a profession I really love and Australian cinema, which I grew up watching.’ ” He also starred in “High Ground” (2020), a true story, set in the Northern Territory, about a massacre of Aboriginal people in 1919. Baker plays a former police officer who is forced to come to terms with his role years later. The film is by Maxo Studios, Savage Films and Bunya Productions (the latter being the company through which Sen and the director Warwick Thornton have made some of the best films to come out of Australia in recent years).

Those sort of productions, like ‘Breath’ and other films of that quality, are hard to finance, very hard to get up,” says the film critic David Stratton, who has watched the fortunes of Australian film rise and fall over four decades. “There’s a constant challenge to get that sort of film made.” But like many, Baker believes Australia has important stories to share — beyond blonde hair, surfing and suntans. “You see Nicole or Cate,” he says, nodding to those fixtures of the silver screen Nicole Kidman and Cate Blanchett. “But we also have this incredible culture that existed here long before all the blondies arrived. It’s the oldest continuous culture on the planet. Our indigenous people have an incredible history and incredible stories to tell.”

He’s looking forward to seeing the film adaptation of “The Drover’s Wife”, to be released later this year. Based on Henry Lawson’s short story of the same name, the film was written and directed by the “Wentworth” star Leah Purcell, a Goa-Gunggari-Wakka Wakka Murri woman, who originally staged it as a play. “I’m interested to see what she’s going to do with that,” Baker says. “I enjoyed the play. It lends itself to a classic Australian cinematic experience, with a really good twist in the story.”

Baker acknowledges that the local industry will always have its struggles. “It’s not an affordable medium. You are always, always, juggling between the fiscal investment and the culture and art — and the development of a cultural view of society. It’s always going to be a battle with itself.” But after three decades in the profession, working in film and TV, on both sides of the camera and both sides of a large ocean, Baker says: “I love that battle.”

Photography by Jake Terrey. Styling by Brad Homes.
Hair by Renya Xydis at Saunders & Co. Makeup by Liz Kelsh at 22.

A version of this article appears in print in our second edition, Page 78 of T Australia with the headline:
“Locally Produced”