Aussie actor Simon Baker [formerly Simon Baker Denny] has come a long way since appearing in local TV soaps from his debut back in 1989, winning Australia’s Logie Award for Best Newcomer in 1992. His return to primetime television, here in the US, is in the form of The Guardian, which is the biggest hit of the new TV season.
Add to that a new movie opposite Oscar winner Hilary Swank, and Simon Baker, father of three, is on his way. Upon relocating to Los Angeles with his family, the 32-year old Baker was immediately cast in the Academy Award winning film L.A. Confidential. He has since appeared in such films as Restaurant, Judas Kiss, Love from Ground Zero, Ride with the Devil, and Red Planet, which was shot in Sydney. Now a major star in TV’s hugely popular The Guardian, Baker, who is married to Aussie actress Rebecca Rigg, returns to the big screen opposite Hilary Swank in the period drama The Affair of the Necklace, set during the turbulent French Revolution. Paul Fischer recently caught up with Baker, who talked swords, fatherhood and TV fame.
Question: You and Rebecca were just had another baby, yes? Boy or girl?
Answer: I’ve got 2 boys now and an 8-year-old girl, 2-½ year old son and an 8-week-old son.
Question: What’s his name?
Answer: Harry Friday Baker
Question: So, how surprised are you that things have taken off so amazingly for you. I mean The Guardian sort of came out of nowhere and has taken off now as one of the most popular new shows of the season.
Answer: You know you go into everything hoping that every job you do will find an audience and a lot of them don’t even find video shelf. So, I’m sort of surprised. When I set myself up to do The Guardian, I thought my initial reaction when I first read the script was that people are either going to love this character or they’re going to hate him. And I got this feeling that people are ready for a character like this, because he’s flawed imperfect and sort of internally struggling to accept and understand and live with HIMSELF in this world.
Question: How reticent were you to take on series television, because I know Rebecca had bad experiences with television.
Answer: HUGELY reticent; I was not very keen to jump into television.
Question: And what changed your mind?
Answer: I came back from doing Affair of the Necklace for 5 months in Prague and Paris with the kids and it was great because I shot through the summer break here but you know, you come back, you do a movie, and you don’t know how that movie is going to go. It comes and it goes and potentially it comes and it goes well. Then for me, who’s not the sort of guy who can command travel for the whole family and all that sort of support, I just got to hit the pavements again and go out and find another job – you know and audition. So I just said my wife is pregnant with our third child and I’ve been doing this for 10 years with kids. You know my eldest is 8 so it’s about making a living; it’s been about making a living for me as well as trying to do quality work. It’s very difficult. Very difficult and hard and I just got to the point you know I feel like taking a little control of my destiny, so I asked my agents to find out what’s going on on TV but not sell me to TV people yet. I don’t know if I’m interested, I just want to look at some of the material that they are making, because I had this sense that television was on the verge of changing. Different shows sort of changed the face of a lot of television. On the networks they had reality shows which were changing things around a little bit and I felt people are so obsessed with reality; what ever happened with shows like Hill Street Blues which was sort of STEEPED in reality. So I thought audiences were fed up with the voyeuristic nature of reality TV and want to get involved in dramas that are reality based, not sensationalized, where you’ve got, you know, tits and ass getting flashed on certain networks where they call that sort of edgy. Edgy to me is something that is real, and I was sick of seeing this sort of butter would melt in your mouth sort of earnestness, earnestness on American television; these fuckin’ knights in shining armour. And I kept thinking about Hill Street Blues and when I watched that as a kid and what a bunch of misfits as human beings those characters were but how much you loved them, and how interested you were in watching them and I just thought that this show has an essence of that sort of reality. First of all the lead character is a bloody drug addict, you know? He’s this guy has a lot of problems that are REAL problems and the nature of that was intriguing. He was in fact, this guy with a conscience, a moral conscience, and he’s just socially inept and he was a little detached from the world. And I was very interested in seeing where this guy was going to go and what kind of a struggle that was going to take place and it felt very real.
Question: So now that you’re in the weekly TV thing, how do you like it?
Answer: Oh, I love it. It’s funny because I’m probably my worst critic and I’m really proud of the show.
Question: Are you surprised at how much you like it?
Answer: I am. As far as experience goes for me it’s like I’m there and involved very heavily.
Question: What about to the extent that it can restrict you from doing other things. Is that a concern?
Answer: Yeah, it can be, but I don’t know. I think that the quality of the show is good enough that I mean it can restrict me from doing other things, but I still have a three month hiatus every year, so potentially I can do a film.
Question: Being Australian, does playing an American character over and over again, present a difficulty for you at all?
Answer: Yes. It’s another little thing that you’ve got to kind of keep on top of. It’s very challenging. It’s an ongoing quest to try to keep it right on because I’m not one of those actors that drop it pretty much as soon as they say .cut’.
Question: But also getting an American consciousness of just growing up in a different culture. Is that anything or is it fairly the same?
Answer: It’s different. But I’m living here now and the majority of the people that I come in contact with are Americans. So I’m sort of in the middle of it.
Question: How long have you been here?
Answer: Five years.
Question: Simon when was the toughest time in your life?
Answer: Oh Jesus, probably like 14, 15 16.
Answer: Just a bad time.
Question: Were you a wild teenager?
Answer: The environment that I was in wasn’t exactly great; It was a little unstable.
Question: You’re a Sydney boy?
Answer: No, I was born in Tasmania, then New Guinea then the western suburbs of Sydney and then the north coast of New South Wales.
Question: Did you get in trouble? Did you get in trouble at that age? A lot of boys do.
Answer: I think every guy gets in trouble; there are just degrees of that trouble, you know?
Question: What about the role in Affair of the Necklace. I mean you get to do a little bit of Errol Flynn don’t you? He’s another Tasmanian lad?
Answer: Same town actually. He was born in.
Question: Again, looking at this role. You play the gigolo and you wear all this fancy clothing and other paraphernalia. Is that again a bit of a scary thing for you or what?
Answer: It wasn’t scary, it was fun, a lot of fun. In fact, you know they actually cut out a whole sequence, a whole sword fight on horseback. involving a horse chase and a sword fight on horses. That was fun.
Question: Does doing a movie like this fulfil the ideal fantasy and escape, as an actor, wearing the clothes, etc?
Answer: Yeah, absolutely. The interesting thing is people sort of ask you the difference between TV and movies and working every single days, because on the show I work every bloody day, but with this movie, I’m reminded why I wanted to become an actor. You know, I LOVE it. You have a scene and you have a particular moment and you just go whoa that’s why I became an actor because of just that little split second and whether that makes it on to the screen or not or how it translates.
Question: Why did you move so often as a kid?
Answer: You have to ask my parents that. I have no bloody clue; I was just a tag along.
Question: I mean did your dad have a job whereby he had to travel?
Answer: My mother and my natural father went to the Highlands of New Guinea and they went in ’71 or 72. Then up there she met another bloke and she came back with him and he was from the Western suburbs of Sydney, which is very, very working class and that’s kind of my upbringing and he was a butcher. My real father’s a mechanic and then they escaped to the North coast of N.S.W which at that time was an incredibly physically beautiful area, just a little south of Byron Bay. Land was very cheap and I was in the third grade or something when we moved there and that’s where the majority of my upbringing took place and then I moved to Sydney.
Question: Where did the actor in you come from then?
Answer: I think it was kind of in my family; it was sort of the role that I took on as a kid. I was the one that was sociable and sort of the entertainment oriented figure.
Question: As a father, what do you do on your off time with your family now that you have three children?
Answer: I don’t sleep. That’s the first thing that I DON’T do. You know I just try to keep the free time as unstructured as possible, the time that I have off. We’re moving house this week.
Question: Oh really?
Answer: Yeah. To a place that has a little more land and a little more space so the kids can have a bit more. But you know I like to do really just give over to them and something shows up, running them around to different places and doing certain stuff that is just time to just be able to sit down and read books to them, take them to see a movie or just kick a football around in the backyard and roll around with them is fine. As long as I’m able to maintain that sort of contact with them.
Question: In real life, what are you really good at and what are you just terrible at?
Answer: I’m terrible at doing more than 2 things at once. What am I good at? Lying. I’m an actor! [laughter].