From Jennifer Kent, director of the renowned horror film The Babadook, comes The Nightingale.
A drama with a revenge plot and thriller elements, the movie unflinchingly examines life in mid-19th century colonial Tasmania. First-time actor Baykali Ganambarr plays Billy, an Aboriginal man who guides Clare (Aisling Franciosi), an Irish convict caught in the brutality and mayhem of British colonial rule, through the wilderness. We caught up with Baykali to discuss the film.
How did you end up being cast in the movie?
Well, how I ended up being cast is quite a story. It all started when one of my friends on Facebook tagged me in a post that said “Looking for Aboriginal actors with or without acting experience”. The email address was there, so I decided to email the film production, sent through my details and then boom, did my first and second audition. Two weeks later I found out I got the role. I couldn’t believe it that I got it; I was really excited, happy and nervous.
You have a background in dance. Can you talk about this, and how it informs your character in the film?
I grew up in a small island in Australia, called Galiwinku, and dancing is one of the most important things in my culture. Growing up watching my uncles, brothers and cousins dance in the traditional way inspired me to become a dancer too, but I wanted to be more. So I decided to learn hip hop, pop and locking, a bit of breakdancing. I just wanted to mix it up a bit. I’m with a group called Djuki Mala: we dance traditional and contemporary, and mix our dance with western styles, make it a bit comedic. Djuki Mala is mostly about comedy and clowning. The company’s been going for almost 13 years now, and I’ve been in the group for six years. Being a dancer definitely helped me portray Billy in the movie, because he dances his traditional dance – the Mangana bird, the black bird. I liked learning the dance with the amazing Aboriginal Tasmanian dancer Craig Everett.
The film’s depiction of the colonial times in Tasmania is an exceptionally brutal one. How did this make you feel, seeing the finished film?
When I first saw the finished film, which was at the Venice Film Festival, I was so sad, emotional, happy – just all sorts of emotions. Sad and emotional because I can’t believe this happened to my people, and happy because our story is finally being told and shared with the rest of the world. It’s finally recognised and known that we Aboriginal people of Australia are still here. The brutality depicted in the movie is only just scratching the surface. The racism depicted in the film is intrinsic to the message of it, and how this relates to what we are seeing now.
What do you think, how do colonial times compare to the embedded racism nowadays?
Sadly racism still exists today, and no one can hide it or lie about it because it’s still here even in 2019. And it’s almost 2020. I’ve experienced racism in my life so many times, and it just hurts me to see this happen. I just hope movies like this can bring hope to humanity and empathy for one another, that’s what Billy is in the The Nightingale. He gives hope.
One scene in the film is very powerful; one where you break down.
Can you talk about how you approached the scene from an acting and personal standpoint? This is my first lead role in a feature film. I haven’t been to film school, and have no acting experience. It was challenging to force myself into an emotional state like that scene at the table. Jennifer is a trained and experienced actor and director; she knew how to get me into that emotional state. She wanted me to show emotion with real tears. So then I got into it without hesitation. I thought about my life and what I’ve been through. Facing racism, our ancestors fighting for our home and dying, the passing of my mother when I was at a young age, just all these thoughts rushing all in one. It was hard for me to tap into that state, but I got through it and am really proud and happy that I did.
What’s your next project?
There’s a lot of big things, big opportunities coming my way, and I just can’t wait to share it! Hopefully I’ll be offered more big roles.
The Nightingale is released on 29th November, in cinemas and on digital.