Blueback Interview: Mia Wasikowska & Eric Bana
Coral reefs, blue waters, and the special relationship between a brilliant marine biologist and a wild blue groper, Blueback features all this and more. Australian director Robert Connolly’s latest work underlines the importance of preserving the ocean and its biodiversity through the story of Abby. Ahead of the movie’s theatrical release, ComingSoon spoke with Mia Wasikowska and Eric Bana, who portray adult Abby and a fisher called “Mad” Macka, respectively. The respected actors discussed the challenges they had to overcome in shooting this movie in Australia during the pandemic and indulged in some recollections of their careers, among many other things. Blueback hits theaters on Friday, March 3.
“After receiving news of her mother’s stroke, marine biologist Abby (Mia Wasikowska) leaves her scientific research vessel and returns to the coastal town of her childhood. At home for the first time in many years, memories of her childhood and her mother’s passion for the environment come flooding back. Abby remembers the life lessons that inspired her to become a marine biologist and her quest to protect the ocean and its creatures. In an effort to awaken her now elderly mother, Dora (Liz Alexander), from her catatonic state – Abby reminds her of their shared past and efforts together to save the bay.
“When Abby was young (Ariel Donoghue/Ilsa Fogg), Dora (Radha Mitchell) taught her all about the ocean. She built her knowledge and love of its creatures through firsthand encounters. When on her first deep dive she meets a magnificent wild blue groper, it starts a friendship with the fish she calls Blueback, a friendship that will endure for decades.”
Tudor Leonte: Blueback opens with these amazing views of coral reefs. How is your relationship with the ocean?
Mia Wasikowska: I love the ocean, that’s the huge reason why I wanted to do this film. Rob always described it to me as a love poem to the ocean. I thought that was great, anything that reminds us of how important, how special, and how beautiful it is. It is really great.
What about you, Eric? Do you like fishing as much as your character, Macka, does?
Eric Bana: No, I did a little bit of fishing as a kid, but I love the character of Macka. I love the way it was written. I love how kind of mysterious and mischievous he’s, and what that represents to young Abby. Kids are always drawn to those kind of characters. I had a lot of fun… The two young actors who played young Abby, who I got to do some scenes with, it was wonderful. Young Ilsa [Fogg], it was her first film. It was great to be a part of that.
Have you ever gone snorkeling?
Bana: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I mean, it’s where? In Sydney?
Wasikowska: We went last week.
Bana: Did you?
Wasikowska: Yeah. And I saw a blue groper, a few blue gropers actually. So, yeah, I have been and I love it.
What about scuba diving? I’m not very familiar with water activities, but I know they’re very different. Right?
Wasikowska: Yes. I hadn’t done scuba diving before this film. I did do a sort of crash course and it was great. I had a very surreal moment when I was under the water, and I’d been there for about 20 minutes and I realized I’d never been out of my element for so long. It was surreal, but yeah, it was great.
You looked like a natural. I guess you enjoy it, right?
Wasikowska: I do, yes. Thanks.
Were you familiar with Tim Winton’s novel before you landed the role?
Wasikowska: I was familiar with it, but I hadn’t read it. It is a big part of our school curriculum here in Australia. I think it’s a lot of young people are really familiar with it, and it’s a really important novel.
Eric, you described your character as mischievous. Why is he called “Mad” Macka?
Bana: He’s a real loner and gets up to a little bit of trouble. I always love it when a name says something about a character we never really fully explore. We just know there’s something a bit dark and a bit mysterious about him. I think that’s what young Abby finds kind of interesting about him. Then obviously something happens during the film, which I won’t give away, but ends up having a big impact on young Abby.
Abby, young Abby, and, in general, Abby of all ages, has a very special friend under the sea, a wild blue groper. What can you tell us about her relationship with that fish, Mia?
Wasikowska: I think it’s very symbolic of her relationship with the ocean and also how it connects to her relationship with her mom. Growing up with a mother who’s an activist and whose whole sort of life has been devoted to caring for this area of the coast that they grew up in. Dora is the one who introduces Abby to Blueback and really sort of sparks this deep sort of care and connection to everything under the water. I think that’s sort of the beginning of something for Abby that sort of propels her on her journey.
It’s interesting that you two don’t interact with each other in the movie as only the younger version of Abby gets to meet Macka. Did you see each other on the set at all?
Wasikowska: No, we didn’t. Because we shot in the pandemic, we were both in isolation for two weeks, and I think we missed each other by a week. I had just gotten out of isolation as I think Erica had just gone into isolation. We’d heard a lot about each other for a few years through Robert, the director and then only met at the premiere.
Bana: Yeah. Today’s the first time we’ve been on camera together.
That’s a huge honor then, thank you very much! Eric this is not the first time you work with Robert Connolly as you two already work on The Dry, among other things. How is it to join forces again?
Bana: It’s always great to collaborate and we’re onto our fourth or fifth project together. I love working with Rob. He has a really wonderful, positive infectious energy, and we were able to assemble really great people on our projects and the very like-minded people who love working on this size of film, which we all kind of cut our teeth on. It feels really special to be making films at this level. They’re very difficult to make, but they’re really important to the ecosystem of film.
Getting to watch Robert work on this movie was amazing. It’s incredibly physical and very difficult for a director to make a film like this. He just took it in his stride. The crew, they were absolutely incredible. It was very wild and rugged where we shot this film in Western Australia, a place called Bremer Bay. It’s very beautiful, but yeah, it’s really difficult shooting on the water, so to see that firsthand was wonderful.
Yeah, it looks very beautiful indeed. I can guess that it was pretty difficult to shoot there. What was your biggest challenge in general in this movie?
Wasikowska: Well, I think the boats. It’s not hard to get a little bit queasy when you’re out on the water for many hours and you’re just slowly sort of rocking. Also, just coordinating the boat that the camera’s on and the boat that we’re on, and the conditions change in 10 minutes. There were quite a few days where it was just wild. Not too crazy, but filmmaking’s hard anyway, and then you just put it on a surface that’s uncontrollable and goes to the next level of complex.
What about you, Eric?
Bana: I just had to give myself enough time to grow that hair and beard.
I really loved that scene where you came up at the party. In fact, you were actually the party since you brought the fireworks and everyone start enjoying it after you showed up.
Wasikowska: It’s a great scene. I love that.
Bana: Rob actually wrote that when it was very late in the piece. We realized that there wasn’t quite enough of Macka and he wanted to work out a way of injecting Macka into the community because he’s quite mysterious in the fact that he’s always on his own on the boat. Rob wrote that scene to just kind of inject a bit of energy and show a sense of community at nighttime. It was a lot of fun. We only had, I think, the one night to get all that shot and some fireworks and so forth. It adds to the mystery of “Mad” Macka. I love that he’s a bit of a loner and it sort of comes across. He just kind of appears out of the dark with his bag full of fireworks to kind of entertain and be a bit mischievous.
You both worked on different national and international projects. I would like to ask you in general, how has the Australian movie scene changed and grown in these decades working within it?
Wasikowska: What do you reckon?
Bana: I feel really proud that we’re still able to make movies of this size. They’re movies that Mia and I both kind of started our career on, and they’re very difficult to make. It’s hard to make these films anywhere in the world, particularly in a country like Australia. These films serve a really important function in the ecosystem of movies both for actors and crew, but also for viewers. It feels very special, and I never take it for granted to get these kind of films made. It always feels really special and feels like you’re pulling off some kind of minor miracle.
Blueback shares an important environmental message about preserving the species of fish in oceans, but in general, preserving oceans and our environment. What should we do as a society to preserve nature?
Wasikowska: There’s so many different ways of contributing and being a positive part of a community and of the global community. I always come back to this idea that a really easy way that kind of everybody can contribute is to do something that increases the biodiversity of your local area, which is sort of what this film is about. Dora, Abby’s mother, is really putting her life into sort of protecting the bay that she kind of grew up in. Even that’s quite a big thing. Yeah, some small way in which you can increase your own biodiversity in your area. I think that’s one thing.
Eric, forgive me, but I have to ask you this. You starred in some of my childhood movies, you portrayed The Hulk and then Hector in Troy. How is it to fight with Brad Pitt?
Bana: It was a lot of fun. That movie was very, very physical and a massive challenge, but I look back on it very, very fondly. I love it when I run into people who were really young when the film came out and it became something they studied at school or it made them aware of the Iliad and classic literature. To get a chance to play a character like that once in a lifetime, I’ve never taken it for granted. I always get a thrill when someone says they saw it as a young person, and it was a big film for them. It feels great.
I know that you have been already asked this question on different occasions, but is there any hope at all to see your Hulk back now that the multiverse is a thing?
Bana: Nah, look, I think my body of work since then speaks to the kind of films that I like to do. I can’t see that happening.
Yeah, that’s fair enough, that’s the answer that I was expecting to be honest, but I had to ask it. Mia, you have an upcoming project in Club Zero. Can you tell us anything about your work there?
Wasikowska: The director, Jessica Hausner, I really admire. I really liked the story. I mean, it’s completely different to this, but in the same way kind of looks at the anxiety that young people are feeling due to our changing climate and the world that they’re inheriting, and the sort of vulnerability that’s opening up because of that anxiety. I love that project. I love the script, so we’ll see how it comes together.
Eric, you too, have an upcoming movie in Berlin Nobody, right?
Bana: Yes, I made that last year with Jordan Scott, who was wonderful to work with on a wonderful adaptation of the book by Nicholas Hogg, Tokyo. It was great to get back to Berlin and work there again. I absolutely loved it, so I’m looking forward to seeing it.
Mia, if you could pick a special trait of Abby, what is it that really impressed you about her?
Wasikowska: I think her drive and her kind of heart, her ability to really care and wanna make a difference and be a positive force in the world.
Have you ever had a special relationship with an animal the same way Abby has with Blueback?
Wasikowska: I guess with my dog. I absolutely love my dog. He was like my first sort of significant pet. I feel like since I have that relationship, I sort of see him in every animal. I realize that when I sort of just see him in all these animals. I guess I have to say my dog.
What’s his name?
June, a very good choice. I finish my questions but before I let you go, do you have any last messages you would like to share with us today?
Bana: I just really hope you enjoy the film. It’s a lot of fun to watch and has a beautiful energy to it. I would encourage your audience to go and see it. It’s a great, great family film.
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