(Courtesy photo of Samuel Goldwyn Films)

The drama Altitude with Jacob Junior Nayinggul and Simon Baker appears on May 14th on streaming and video on demand. The film focuses on the massacre of the Australian Aborigines and the violence that followed. Baker plays an ex-sniper named Travis who returns to the area years later to track down a wanted criminal with the help of Gutjuk (played by Nayinggul). However, Travis’ past and role in the tragedy are revealed.

Check out our Simon Baker interview below to see the actor’s thoughts on working with talented Indigenous actors, the importance of learning empathy, and having a memorable movie experience.

Tyler Treese: Your character is really fascinating to me because he shows real remorse for what he did and you see how he struggles with that guilt, but his actions were still complicit and he is a very complex character . Can you discuss how you see him? Because he is certainly not a prototypical hero as he has a lot of blood on his hands.

Simon Baker: During World War I, soldiers who were coming back, and he was obviously a sniper in World War I, came back to Australia. They all suffered from PTSD long before the diagnosis. Basically, they were stationed on horseback in these incredibly remote, tough parts of Australia. So they fight with their own demons. First of all, I think he’s pretty damaged goods, and I think that after the massacre and his involvement in it, he’s pretty much a guy trying to disappear and escape the world, his past, and yourself.

He’s getting back into this somehow. I’ve always thought it could have been very easy to play him as a more heroic character, but I think that was a trap because I liked the idea that he is someone who has a role in history in the greatest Dealing with standards, but also struggling with it and also trying to find a way out of the kind of guilt and torment he has exposed himself through his actions. I’d say he’s probably really morally ambiguous. I think his intentions are probably pretty good. He has a kind of empathy. There’s this great scene where Jack Thompson says to him, “Why did you think you could change who you are?” This is an interesting idea for me and is particularly reflected in the time we are in right now.

This film is set at such an interesting time. Was this a period that you were already pretty well informed about, or did you have to do a lot of research prior to this role?

What is interesting is that the Australian story we were taught in school, much like America, began pretty much from the captain [James] Cook arrives on our shores after colonization. It didn’t go by much, deeper than that. One thing this nation has within itself is this incredibly rich culture of indigenous culture that has been around for 60,000 years. That’s 60,000 years. You can really struggle to get an idea of ​​how long this will take. You know, think of the Greeks, eh? 3,000 years ago, 4,000 years ago? This culture has existed for 60,000 years and it is an oral story. Nothing is written. It’s through stories and through songs and through works of art.

They existed peacefully until about 230 years ago. The English came and things changed. So I didn’t have a lot of knowledge about it, however, and that may sound a bit naive and ridiculous from a white man like me, but as soon as you get to this country, this country, and you are invited into that culture, this area … To stand with Jacob Junior and with Witiyana Marika (Jacob Junior plays Gutjuk and Witiyana plays his grandfather), to stand with these people, these traditional administrators of the first nations of this country, you will feel the knowledge. Knowledge is passed through the land, the soil you stand on and the trees and history that exists in the stones around you. You can’t help but feel this energy. I mean, that’s pretty overwhelming. When you are up there you feel like an absolute outsider in this world, and you feel so insignificant compared to the power of that environment. That played a big role for me in the preparation of this camp.

(Courtesy photo of Samuel Goldwyn Films)

You know, there are so many emotional scenes and it is so difficult as a viewer to watch the massacre scene. Can you just discuss what it was like doing these reenactments and what the emotions were on set because there was quite a lot to see?

I think for a lot of the local actors who talked about these things it was like a catharsis to them in some kind of real processing of understanding because many of their ancestors like you know were involved in massacres, many family members lost. Then I heard stories of horrific atrocities that I think were passed on. So there was a kind of nice gentleness in the construction of these scenes and the way they were executed.

Many of those days have been incredibly hot. We had many ceremonies in places, and the location of that particular massacre in the movie, we had a grand ceremony that welcomed us to the area. Then we had a long and beautiful song that sang us out of that realm, a traditional song that sang us out, and left the pain and sadness there as we went forward. So it was very different from any other film I have ever worked on because of the power of the culture I have dealt with. It was very, very much alive. And I think it’s nice to see the indigenous language represented on the screen. I mean, there are many different indigenous dialects in Australia. Many of them have disappeared, but the two different dialects that we mainly used in the film, the indigenous dialects, still exist.

Jacob Junior Nayinggul does an incredible job in film. There is a connection that develops between your two characters. Did that translate off-screen?

He is a traditional owner. He’s part of the family who are the traditional owners of the land we shot in. In a way, he’s in line to be the boss of this area. Who you can tell, among our kind of employees, is like a prince right now. Two days before he started on this set, he was a ranger taking care of this land. He did that. So he went through so many ceremonies. He is very respected in his community. He has a lot of knowledge and tradition in him.

So he just wore it. This is a culture that we need to understand. It’s an oral story. So it’s all about stories, their culture is history and to whom the stories are passed, how they are told and who they are not told and who they are told to. It’s all very, very important. He had a story that just lived and existed on his face. You put the camera on him and you can see history and history without him doing anything. You know, here I am, fluttering around as an actor, trying to play a part when it is him. The only advice I ever gave him, and it was very brief and very early on, was, “You know exactly what to do in your heart, and you don’t have to do anything other than that.” He could do that, because he is.

If anything, it was about me joining the truth and story in it and going on this ride. We are close We’re close friends now. I spoke to him two days ago. He still lives in this country. He’s a beautiful, beautiful person. He’s been incredibly generous and very kind to me, and I’ve worked with a lot of great actors, but it was really fantastic to work, face the real thing, you know, the absolutely real thing. I am very proud of his achievement. I’m really proud of the courage to just stand up and do that and represent your people and your voice in the film.

(Courtesy photo of Samuel Goldwyn Films)

One of the saddest things about the film, how it shows that violence is a real cycle. The massacre happens, then there are all of these subsequent deaths that result from it. Everyone feels justified in their actions. There is no pinned happy ending here. Can you talk about what it means to be involved in a movie that really doesn’t pull a punch? It speaks the truth of the matter, and I think that’s really important.

Yes. I think it’s very difficult to make a film that fits over both poles in the middle. So there is the gray area, the gray area, the ambiguous areas are represented. I think it’s probably a lot easier to make a film that sits on the extremes. I think what this film does very well is that it covers a lot of that gray area. I think my character’s death was in some ways fate to begin with. I think it’s part of what this cycle is. I am very proud of the film. It wasn’t an easy film to physically make. It was a very nice emotional experience for my heart to be in this place. It was incredibly uncomfortable, mostly at times, but one thing I’ve learned is that it’s nice to sit in uncomfortable places. It’s actually not a bad thing at all. It is very good for you. It is very good for growth and it is very good for tolerance, understanding and learning how to be tolerant.

Yeah, that’s amazing. Do you feel that when you take on these types of roles, it is important for someone of your stature to point out some serious issues? If you accept something like this, you won’t break any box office records, but it’s more important than that, isn’t it?

I think there is still room for entertainment, for cinema, and I think there is still room on television to challenge ourselves as humans and grow and develop. It doesn’t always have to be a direct history lesson. It can be entertaining, it can be convincing, and I’m not afraid of doing things that get a little more challenging. I don’t know that much about my stature. I’m just a working actor. At the moment of my career, I have the choice of being able to choose things that are more important to me. But this is only this moment, life is long and we go through different kinds of phases and phases.

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