Blueback’s Mia Wasikowska and Eric Bana Open Up About Their Heartwarming New Film
Mar 1, 2023
Blueback, the new film from director/writer Robert Connolly (The Dry, The Slap, Paper Planes), delivers a big message about ocean wildlife that’s perfectly woven into a heartwarming tale about an unlikely friendship. It could emerge as one of the more embraceable “for-the-entire-family” films to drop this season. Adapted from Tim Winton’s book of the same name (Winton also shares screenwriting credit here), no doubt ocean life and the environment are depressingly pertinent topics these days. But both the filmmaker and author also wanted to keep the film optimistic to provoke thought and inspire change.
Starring Mia Wasikowska (Alice in Wonderland, Crimson Peak), Eric Bana (The Dry, Dirty John), Radha Mitchell (London Has Fallen, Pitch Black), Liz Alexander (The Secret She Keeps), and newcomers Ariel Donoghue, Ilsa Fogg, and Albert Mwangi, Blueback is a coming-of-age story, through and through.
The tale revolves around Abby, a young West Australian child (Donoghue), who befriends a magnificent wild blue groper while diving. When she realizes that the fish is under threat, she takes inspiration from her activist mum, Dora (played by Mitchell), and vigilantly takes on poachers to save her “friend.” All of it sparks her life-long journey to save the world’s coral reefs.
“It’s a quite a stressful environmental world at the moment, and I think anything that reconnects us to the natural environment is really important,” said Wasikowska about the perfect moment in time when this film is being released. “I hope Blueback inspires people to contribute positively to our world. That’s really important. I also hope that, especially for young girls, the film really inspires them, because a lot of women really are kind of leading the climate movement at the moment.
“In Blueback, Abby takes her passion and makes a career out of it,” she added. “That’s incredible. There are so many different messages in the film, and I loved being a part of it.”
Filming Blueback on Location
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Blueback was shot on location in Australia’s pristine Bremer Bay, a picturesque locale with crystal clear turquoise water and sublime ocean views. Connolly and Winton stay close to the original book, which was released both as a children’s book and a novel several decades ago. Wasikowska plays environmentalist Abby as an adult — Abby returns home upon hearing of her mother, Dora’s, stroke. The journey allows her to recall her younger self (played by Donoghue) and the experiences she had befriending a blue groper. Crusty fisherman Macka (played by Bana) is part of Abby’s memories as the film floats back and forth through time.
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“The film has a natural rhythm and energy to it,” shared Bana. “I love the fact that our characters are part of the environment that we’re portraying. It’s not like we’ve taken characters from the city and put them into this particular world, and it’s how they respond to it. And the messaging is very subtle, very organic. I think Greg Archer Tim Winton has a theory that if you ‘show,’ and make people care about the world, they’re more likely to want to take care of it.
“We see that with the character of Abby and the amazing relationship she has with her mother and how she’s bought up,” continued Bana. “It made me very envious, actually, watching the film — like, what an amazing place to have a childhood.”
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Wasikowska was blown away by the extraordinary locale, noting Bremer Bay’s coastal eye candy. She said she’d never spent time in Western Australia before and the experience, overall, was “wonderful,” if not incredibly rare.
“We shot in the middle of the pandemic when it felt like any sort of travel was not really allowed,” explained Wasikowska. “So, to be in this beautiful natural environment felt soothing. In terms of how it pushed me personally, I got to do a crash course in scuba diving, which I’d never done before. And I probably would have been sort of nervous to scuba dive if I wasn’t pushed to because of this film.”
She went on to say how “surreal” it felt to be underwater for 20 to 30 minutes, likening it to going into outer space. “I’ve never really had that experience before. Actually, I experienced a bit of anxiety, a bit of a panic attack. At minute 25 [underwater], I had to go up because I realized I’ve never been out of my element for so long. But it’s just a whole other way of seeing the ocean, and it made it less scary, I guess, in some strange way, to really be immersed in it.”
Creating the Blue Groper
Some Blueback fodder that should pique audience interest: Creating “Blueback,” the hero of the film, was an undertaking. Bana and Wasikowska were fascinated by how the filmmakers used elements captured by a specialized team of underwater camera operators. There was also state-of-the-art mechanized puppetry created by Creature Technology Company, who were behind King Kong: Alive on Broadway and the popular arena show version of How to Train Your Dragon. Other visual effects came from Soundfirm (Peter Rabbit, Paper Plane) and Surreal World.
Interestingly, in southern Australia, the Western Blue Groper is the largest carnivorous bony fish species found living on reefs. It reaches a length of up to 1.7 meters and can weigh 40 kilograms. It can live up to 70 years.
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Bana and Wasikowska hadn’t seen a Blue Groper prior to filming, in fact. “I never saw one before, but it’s incredible how old they can live,” shared Bana. “Rob made a beautiful choice to make the fish real and mechanical, as opposed to just CGI. Only the fish’s eyes were CGI. Overall, you get a sense of how ‘real’ it all felt when you watch the film and particularly for the cast who had to interact with the fish. It’s a beautiful piece of ‘old school’ craft. You know, this is an actual life-size mechanical, human-operated thing. It’s pretty special, and it was a great choice on Rob’s part.”
“I just saw a blue groper 10 minutes down from where I live in the bay there, so they’re around,” Wasikowska pointed out. “They’re really unflappable. You expect a fish to sort of run away, but the groper is like a dog fish. For them, it’s like, ‘whatever, you’re there.’ I love it. The puppet they made for this was just amazing.”
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The heart of the film, however, is about relationships — of all kinds. There’s Abby’s connection to her mother, and, in scenes from the past, the blue groper.
“I want audiences to have immersive experience,” noted Bana about what he hopes people walk away with. “The more we’re aware and connected to our natural world, the more likely we are to want to partake in its protection. So yeah, I hope people feel educated and inspired, and they want the natural world to be a bigger part of their life.”
“I’d love audiences to feel what I felt when I read the script, which was that sense of being really inspired and appreciating the connection we have to the environment,” added Wasikowska. “It takes that emotional element to propel people into changing behaviors.”
Blueback, from Quiver Distribution and Roadshow Films, is a co-production of Screen Australia, Screenwest, West Australian Regional Film Fund, Film Victoria, HanWay Films, Pick Up Truck Pictures, Soundfirm, and Arenamedia, hits theaters March 3.
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