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Cannes: Cate Blanchett and Warwick Thornton talk big questions in 'New Boy'

Warwick Thornton’s seventh narrative feature The New Boy traces its origins back to the start of the Australian fictional filmmaking career . Thornton drafted the first script for The New Boy – a story of innocence and survival about a lonely Aboriginal boy who finds himself in the of a Christian monasterys Australia — 10 years Before, long before he won the Cannes Film Festival ‘ Camera d’Or Award 2009 debut novel, Samson & Delilah. The New Boy has always been a very personal project for Thornton, who was sent by his mother to a remote boarding school run by Spanish monks as a child.

“I was having trouble at home in Alice Springs [a small city in the Northern Territory of Australia] and she thought it was something I needed to fix,” Thornton said. “ I had never been to a church before. The first time I walked into a church I was horrified to see this man crucified on a large wooden cross.”

Thornton Years The script has been revisited and rewritten numerous times since, with the assistance of his longtime producer and collaborator Kath Shelper, the project received development funding from the Department of Indigenous Australia (formerly the Australian Film Commission), as early as 1940.

“It’s just one of those scripts that we all really relate to,” Shelper said. “Sometimes you develop things and then you lose enthusiasm for them—they fall by the wayside, or sit in the bottom drawer for a while. But this script is one of those that neither of us can afford to let go.”

In its completed form, The New Boy is set in a saga led by the rebellious nun Sister Irene( Cate Blanchett ) in Remote Missions for Indigenous Children. A new charge (Aswan Reed) is delivered in the dead of night – a boy who seems to have special powers. The new boy encounters Jesus for the first time and is stunned when the monastery takes possession of a precious relic – a gigantic carving of Christ on the cross. But the boy’s Aboriginal spiritual life doesn’t integrate with the mission’s Christianity, and his mystical powers become a threat.

Years of colonization,” Thornton said. “Your lore, your culture and everything has been completely erased to extinction in a strange way. You have to adapt to this new world like a plague, like a virus that has completely taken over your life and shut down everything you believed in. ”

The key moment to finally create The New Boy , after so long in the making, Thornton in 250 from Blanchett. “Life is too short—I really want to do a movie with you,” the double Oscar winner told him.

Despite countless friends and co-collaborators in the industry, the two Australians had not until earlier that year, in Berlin International film festival where they actually met Thornton joined actor Wayne Blair in the second season of Mystery Road, It was an Australian TV series he directed (Blair would go on to play George in a supporting role in The New Boy), and Blanchett was at the festival for the Stateless series premiere and is backed by her production banner, Dirty Films. Blanchett, already a big fan of Thornton’s work, said she jumped at the chance to get in touch with him.

have worked,” Blanchett said. “He is a unique, mercurial filmmaker, but the stories he chooses to tell are fascinatingly universal. In short, he is one of Australia’s greatest personalities.”

During the ensuing long months of pandemic lockdown, there were countless phone calls and Zoom calls between actors and directors, during which each of them, according to Thornton, was “committed to ideas, Books and all sorts of weird things like photography and architecture blah blah blah.” Eventually Thornton mentioned that he had a script he’d been cultivating for years, which at the time was called Father and Son .

The original plot centered on Aboriginal children headed by a Benedictine monk who land in a remote Australian monastery. Blanchett said she was immediately captivated by the premise, but as the creative conversation developed, they began to consider what it would mean for the film if the monks weren’t nuns. Thornton then did the final rewrite of the nearly 20-year-old script, and Father and Son became The New Boy, co-starring with Blanchett as Sister Erin.

The final high hurdle for the project was finding a young Aboriginal actor for the titular role of the new boy. Led by casting director Anousha Zarkesh, the filmmakers prepare for an exhaustive search in Australia. It turns out, however, that their star — debutant child star Aswan Reed — was on the very first tape they reviewed. The team continued to meet with the rest of the cast for a while, mostly out of a sense of duty, but Thornton said they knew they had him from day one.

Proud of Aswan,” Thornton said. “He’s the new boy. As a kid, he was a survivalist in his own right and a very special person. “

A few days before the opening of the Cannes Film Festival, The Hollywood Reporter reached out to Thornton and Blanchett via Zoom about )The creation of The New Boy.

So, Warwick, we’re talking about Cannes premiere of The New Boy, not much is known about the film at the moment. Can you tell us more about the film’s premise and your intentions for the production?

Warwick Thornton: This is the first interview we’re doing, so I’m still trying to figure this out. (Laughs.) You know, you create these things, and then you try to figure out what the hell you’re doing. For me, the film is about exploring an Aboriginal child who is rescued from the desert and sent to an orphanage, which is Aboriginal Australian Part of the law of affairs – to catch children and rehabilitate them in a world that colonizes their existence. There is tragedy and irony in there, but the film is more about the real reality of children having to survive in that situation What would they do, what would they need to do to actually be alive in these new environments? So this movie is about surviving. There are multiple characters at different stages in life who choose to walk through new doors, or get dragged As they walk through them, they find themselves confronted with the very essence of survival.

Cate Blanchett: Yeah, it’s really hard to be sure, isn’t it? I think when you’re When it comes to a magical world — there’s a sentimentality to that word, but what we’re dealing with here is more subtle — the closer you get to finishing the story, the more it continues to ask questions. In a way, I think This movie is looking for that ephemeral thing. But all we have is the language to describe it, so you end up feeling like you can’t quite touch or name the energy at the heart of the movie.

Thornton: Yeah, it’s really weird trying to reach for it. You know, you want your film to ask questions, and you want the audience to come up with their own answers based on their own life journey. You don’t want to end up defining right and wrong; you Don’t want your film to turn into some sort of speech. You want two friends who have been best friends since kindergarten to go to the cinema together to see your film and offer slightly different perspectives on what actually happened. That’s for me Saying is the most beautiful thing about storytelling.

Kate, backing up a little bit, what was this project that made you want to be one in the first place Producer, but what is it about the role of Sister Erin that attracts you to become an actress?

Bu Lanchette: Well, that’s usually the conversation that starts for me. As an actor, I’m very focused on directing, both on stage and on screen. I mean, this work came out of those early conversations. When you’re dealing with someone like Warwick, who writes, directs, and does all the cinematography for his films, the script is like a template for the idea, right? Warwick is someone I’ve admired for a while, so we only started talking during the pandemic, and that character was actually secondary to the conversation. We explored themes together and became more and more eager to work together. Warwick had been brewing in this world for a long time, and when he showed me the script from his sock drawer, the archetypes, inner struggles, and frameworks were all there. But touching this thing means that the original priest character is going to become a nun, which has interesting consequences. As a producer, I know what it takes to make a movie as powerful and complex as this one, and I thought Dirty Films could work with Warwick and maybe help this movie find the right audience.

Thornton: This movie needs you, Kate. It was really a special time, wasn’t it? when we started? The original origin of this film was my desire to learn more about religion. I am very careful when talking about religions because I don’t understand them. But I like the idea that the more knowledge you have, the better conversations and conversations you can have. So the beginning of the film, even before Kate came along, was me exploring and trying to understand why certain religions had to take over other religions and people of other beliefs.

Blanchett: Why are some religions like Pac-Man? Pac-Man’s version of religion.

Thornton: Yes, of course. Many religions see Aboriginal people as savages whose souls need to be saved – it’s really funny. Why are they doing this? What do they think they know, and what don’t they know? So, for me, part of making this film came from anger, and the energy that comes from anger. You know, before the rise of Britain, before colonization, we had multiple religions in Australia that were very beautiful. This process happens on a global scale. Why does no one admit that there is already a religion here? Something really good is happening in Australia 90, 11 years, but not even a moment’s recognition – just an immediate designation as a “savage”. So I had all these ideas, but when it came time to put all of that aside and look at a single character, some parts of the story became really easy. A new boy’s experience being dragged into another world is clearly about survival. His first priority is to eat, right? Food comes first – because before you decide whether your plan is to fight or flee, you need food to refuel. So all these survival strategies come into play. There are some very simple conversations happening in the film, as well as some very big conversations about religion.

Blanchett: By changing the gender of my character, we were able to open up all these things, which was really interesting. I’ve been through it so many times that when you change a character’s gender, race, or age, it doesn’t change what you think you have to change for the story to work. Instead, it begins to reveal many new storytelling possibilities and dynamics that you hadn’t anticipated. I think if you have a priest as a character, and I’ve probably seen posters, people start to think they already know what they’re going to see in the cinema—a film about “religion” versus “indigenous” spirituality. ’ People start to instinctively answer questions they think they’re going to be asked. But by changing the gender and making her a nun, you kind of change the environment and everything is somehow easier to catch – like New Boy himself Same. The charming Tivorik is always talking about the new boy, who is kind of an anthropomorphic problem. Interestingly enough, he’s thrown into what is supposed to be a genuinely binary setting – a monastery in remote Australia -He started asking these questions which opened up the questions for all the other characters.By changing the gender you now have a nun presiding over the masses and it makes it a very fragile ecosystem that has hit a kind of precarious balance …and then he messes that up and asks these big questions that everyone is really ready to ask. They just don’t know how to start approaching the dangerous space where they might be answered.

So, I was able to preview the movie about Minutes. I don’t think exposing
the new boy being portrayed with supernatural powers isn’t a drama One of a kind. Warwick, can you share more? Does this mean audiences have access to cinematic representations of Aboriginal beliefs?

Thornton: It’s coming because he’s special. Where I’m from, we have people called ngangkaris. The western version of that would be a “pharmacist”. Some are born, some are acquired “Medicine people” would be more accurate because there are female and male ngangkaris. They are considered children. It’s all about healing. Their role in their tribe and community is to enhance their ability to heal others – Both mentally and physically. So the new boys are one of them. They are really important to us and really strong where I come from. So, Imagine ngangkari meeting Jesus and imagine what their conversation would have been like. That’s the idea here. But the boy hadn’t been taught his powers, like a Jedi apprentice. Since they haven’t been educated about their abilities, they just start using it to survive, like children. They were brought into such a structured world that they knew nothing about it, so the chaos that was revealed when they started using their powers was very exciting to me. Many religions will simply admit that he is the devil because they have no religious knowledge to understand him. The only religion I’m against is one that doesn’t recognize other religions. He has special powers that bring little Peter Pan into the story, which is cinematically exciting.

Kate, this is your first lead role in an Australian film in a while. How does it feel for you to come back and make a feature like this?

blanchett Yes, it’s been a long time. Clearly, the pandemic has prevented anyone not in Australia from returning to work. So it’s a very important journey home. I mean, you never leave Australia, do you, Warwick? Whether you like it or not, it will follow you. It haunts your dreams! (Laughs.) But it was great to get back to work. One of the first things I did out of drama school was a noble but flawed TV show about an Aboriginal man in love with a white Australian woman. I later found out that this was the first black and white kiss on Australian TV [in the early 90 miniseries Heartland ]. Do you believe? In my lifetime? You think you understand the tribulations, flaws and challenges of the country you were born in, and then you hear something like… it’s not just surprising. I have a deep respect for all Aboriginal artists in Australia. So, as a small part of a story, it makes perfect sense to focus on an underdiscussed side of Australia.

Kate, I wanted to ask you a few more questions about your personality and how you relate to her. I’ve only seen a small part of her so far, but she strikes me as a rather vulgar and salty character. This is your first featured character since Tár(​​. After all the poise and grace of Lydia Tár, is there an appeal in playing a rougher character?

Blanchett: I think in a way, subconsciously, the characters or stories that you input usually Will be an antidote or a counterpoint to what you have done before. But the conversation with Warwick started before the conversation with Todd [Field], and even though I was going to have to play the Virgin Mary, I wanted to be a part of the project. I found it really interesting to play this character – as a religious figure, a nun, who is at a pivotal point in her spiritual life, where the harrowing, perhaps necessary, hitherto no longer seem to fit in the way they used to way together. The movie never really explains a series of very complicated situations, but you know some really bad things might have happened in the past. I would venture to guess what a nun who was a Aboriginal child of the stolen generation in rural Australia saw or participated in. There’s a lot of muddy water on all sides under that bridge. I think Sister Irene must have seen something she didn’t want to see, perhaps atonement for those in the convent who had passed away. But I found the relationship between her and the other nun played by Deborah Mailman to be really tender and beautiful. Two nuns are out in the world trying to make sense of religion – in a monastery, in a country, in a gender that has been forgotten. As an actress, I found her absence and presence an interesting dance.

I know you started shooting this movie very late last year. So, I guess you still have fresh memories of the production experience. How was the shoot for each of you?

Thornton: On the first day I had a strong sense that I would only pick eight films that I had never made before child. And they’re not on school break or anything; they’re running away from school for it, so it’s a crazy and exciting time for them. And they just gathered together in an instant, turning into a pack of wolf cubs. It totally freaked me out – like, oh my god, what did I just do? I’ve learned to say, be careful what you write because you might have to make it. So we had a school bus to take them to and from the set, and every morning when a pack of wolf pups jumped off the school bus, my blood would flow. (laughs) But no, these kids are amazing. It was great to work together. We hired a screenwriter for them, which helped a lot because I was also shooting as a DP. And, obviously, I have to deal with Cate every day…horrible!

Blanchett: Always full of questions.

Thornton: And the damn clever question I didn’t think of – I’m supposed to be the goddamn writer for this movie!

Blanchett: (laughs) Thinking about child actors, one of the things I remember is you calling me late at night a few months ago and saying, “What did I do, sister What if I can’t find him? I put all my eggs in one basket, what if I can’t find the right boy, we don’t have this movie.” Because, when you make a movie like this , you know you are walking on a very thin thread that could snap at any moment. Because even if you do find and choose a boy who feels exactly right, the role is so demanding it’s hard to really know how it’s all going to be until you actually make it. The internal drive that the characters have to express without any words in this film means that the child has to be attractive. And then there’s the physical demands of the job — I mean, dawn, and then the need to fit in with school in between everything? Will he naturally be the leader of the other boys in the way he needs to be? There is so much to do. But then you sent me this email saying, “Shut the front door, I’ve got him!” It’s like this huge weight has been lifted off your shoulders. And Aswan had never even appeared on camera before.

Wow. What was it like performing with you and Aswan?

Blanchett: For me, personally, when I look at Aswan, he is The rockstar charisma he possesses is astonishing. His head was full of questions—figuring out what the script executive did; watching the way Warwick interacted with the adult actors, talking to the camera department and the props department. It’s as if he’s developing this filmmaking muscle by the hour. And then his technical proficiency in a week is really high. He’s just this 11 years old and it’s been a blast working with him. He’s just totally present. I feel like I’ve been catching up to him—his energy and his perspective. He’d ask me questions…I’d huddle before shooting, look at my script, and he’d hang around and ask me, “What are you doing?” Sometimes, I’d be like, “Yeah, I’m doing What ? Look at my script? I’m not going to find any answers there now; it’s kind of late.” (laughs) But it’s really him bringing in the scene and asking me to The existence that appears. The kids were the engine room where I shot this project.

Thornton: Art in some ways imitates life, imitates art. Because those kids are survivalists as much as their personalities, you know what I mean? They came to the set with no idea of ​​the world of filmmaking they were about to enter, but I think all of them thought, “I love this! I don’t like the time and the pressure, but I really like the experience — so How do I get through this so I can do it all over again?” Every child goes through this process in a beautiful way.

Blanchett: You can’t even write them that way because they’re so creative and so natural. It is so exquisite. They’ll naturally show these internal group dynamics that develop between them, and that’s really great in the movie. How lucky.

Thornton: I always like to say that there are no bad actors, only bad directors. Because if something doesn’t work, it’s your responsibility. The director should do his homework and choose someone else. Of course, the actors are doing their best. It’s not their fault. Casting is my biggest fear because it’s everything. Some of you are regulars at the festival – part of the “Cannes family”, as Thierry Frémaux likes to say, do you have any thoughts or memories you would like to share?

Blanchett: I’m really glad The New Boy is on One kind of attention, because it’s such a great conversation to be part of. You know, many filmmakers like Claire Danes, Albert Serra, Sofia Coppola and many others have returned to that part of the festival many times. This is the truly exciting, dynamic, adventurous quadrant of Cannes. It’s very important for a filmmaker to be on par with other filmmakers. Going into the festival from the point of view of the jury and talking about it with Thierry, when you watch every single film in the competition, you start to get an objective sense of how all these thematic conversations or the main thread of the film starts between something completely different Intersecting cinematic vision. It’s such an exciting place for me — in the midst of it all. As film lovers and people who work in films, the platform of the Cannes Film Festival and the excitement of great films first reached hungry audiences — and savage critics — and it caused a stir elsewhere. I always like to go. For glamor and brutality – it’s never mediocre.




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