Warwick Thornton on Cate Blanchett and Finding the Perfect Young Star for His Drama ‘New Boy’

Australian helmer-screenwriter-cinematographer Warwick Thornton won Cannes’ Camera d’Or with “Samson and Delilah” in 2009. Now he’s back with his third feature, “The New Boy,” competing in Un Certain Regard. The film turns on the story of an Aboriginal child, who arrives at a remote monastery run by a renegade nun. The new boy’s presence disturbs a delicately balanced world in this story of spiritual struggle and the cost of survival. The film stars Cate Blanchett, Deborah Mailman and Wayne Blair, and is produced by Kath Shelper, Andrew Upton, Blanchett and Lorenzo de Maio. Veterans is selling in Cannes. 

How did the Cannes Golden Camera influence your career?

It was a big moment in my journey through storytelling and filmmaking. Ironically, cinema can be a lonely place and it can be a lonely world — but that validation empowered me to have the confidence to keep going.

I hear that “The New Boy” is a very personal film.

When I write films, I can only draw on what I have personally felt. If I don’t have a personal understanding then I feel like I start to emulate someone else’s story. I mostly tell stories from instinct — and my instinct is what I know, what I’ve experienced and what drives me. There is a whole lot of me in “The New Boy” child. There’s a lot of me in “Samson” as well!

How did Cate Blanchett and her husband Andrew Upton come to be involved with “The New Boy?”

It started with a very interesting phone call from Cate, where she said, “Warwick, life’s too short, we should make a movie together.” And I thought, shit, shit, shit!

What about Wayne Blair and Deborah Mailman?

I’ve worked with both of them over the years and I’ve been empowered by them. I’ve shot films for Wayne, and Deb was in “The Sapphires,” which Wayne directed and I shot. They’re beautiful, old friends of mine.

 The film score is by your fellow Australians Warren Ellis and Nick Cave. What did you tell them you wanted?  

I told them I wanted a very small, nurturing score — almost no music. And by the end of the picture assembly [two weeks later], I changed my mind and told them I wanted the biggest score possible. And that’s what they gave me! They have done the most phenomenal job — they are at the peak of their creativity right now and we have been lucky enough to be on the receiving end of their genius.

 Please talk about “The New Boy” actor Aswan Reid.

I was terrified about finding this kid. Who was going to hold this movie for me? The heart and soul of the film. When we found Aswan — which was a miracle — I wrote a note to our investors to describe my excitement: “Oh my God, shut the gate. We’ve found a sprite, a sparkle, a golden light, in the dark room we remember as cinema. We’re very excited to introduce Aswan Reid, who undoubtedly is going to become a star in the new golden age of Australia cinema. He’s incredibly bright, intelligent and talented. Not that he lives the life of the New Boy, but he is the New Boy. Life imitating art. Or is it art imitating life Our blood pressure has gone down after finding Aswan.”

Your mother, Freda Glynn, was a media pioneer, and you have children that are also in the film industry.

My mother taught me that all you need in the dark is your voice. Your voice will light up a room. This knowledge my mother taught me, I’ve passed on to my children.

What’s next for you?

I’ve just finished writing a new script. I’m not sure if it’s any good. It needs some time to age like a good wine. 

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