Friday, June 9

‘I didn’t know he was my dad’: Simon Baker shares his remarkable family story | australian television

The makers of SBS’s family history show, Who Do You Think You Are?, don’t reveal the final cut of the show to participants, so Simon Baker is taking it on my word that his episode is an excellent and very moving piece of television .

The 52-year-old actor had been approached a couple of times to do the show, but always said no, “despite my mum, sister and kids saying ‘you should do it’.” Eventually he capitulated: “I thought, I’ll just see what kind of adventure it is and where it will all take me.”

In his episode, the first of the hugely popular SBS show’s 13th season, historians unpick Baker’s Dutch-Australian heritage – with a focus on what unfolded in Australia. (Filming during international border closures meant doing anything outside the country would have been difficult, anyway.)

The actor and director had recently returned to Australia after spending decades of his career in California, where he had lead roles in the hit television series The Mentalist and The Guardian. Since returning home, he has directed an adaptation of Tim Winton’s novel Breath, and more recently appeared in artist Del Kathryn Barton’s debut feature film, Blaze.

The show’s latest invitation came at the right time for Baker. “I’ve seen the show before, and people have a really focused idea of ​​what they wanted to get out of it,” he says. “I didn’t really have that, but it came at a certain point in my life recently where there were a lot of shifts and changes, so it was a good time to take stock.”

Also Read  Dave Chappelle attacked onstage, suspect arrested for assault

The trailer for the 13th season of Who Do You Think You Are?

Baker was born in Launceston in 1969. His father, Barry Baker, was a mechanic and school caretaker, and his mother, Elizabeth, was a high school English teacher. She was just 19 when Baker was born, the second of the Bakers’ two children.

“And soon after, my parents moved to the highlands of New Guinea, with two children, to a remote area,” he says. In the show he summarizes the family’s brief time there: “They went on this incredible adventure – and they didn’t come back together.”

His mother went on to remarry. Baker had contact with his father, but as he reveals on the show, “I did not know he was my dad. He was a family friend, Uncle Barry. I’ve struggled with that.”

A reunion would take place when Baker was 18 years old, but in the meantime, the family moved to the northern NSW beach community of Lennox Head, where Baker became an avid surfer.

“It was a small community and back then it was an idyllic place to live,” Baker says. “I felt a really strong sense of belonging in that place and still do. It was a phenomenal childhood in that regard – but the personal family life was difficult.”

‘I looked back at my immediate family as this sort of mess. But the truth is, families have many different forms ‘… Baker and his mother, Elizabeth. Photograph: SBS

Before he went on Who Do You Think You Are?, Baker “looked back at my immediate family as this sort of mess,” he says. “But the truth is, families have many different forms and I think if you can look at your own past and the past of your ancestors with compassion, you can carry that forward with you with a little bit more wisdom.”

Also Read  Television director and producer Tomás Summers dies at 76

Revealing the story of his parents was “challenging”, he says. “I’m pretty shy… But there is a kind of psychological reason in why I became an actor. The initial desire when I was young was about connecting with people, the idea of ​​seeing someone in a story on a screen that you could identify with, and it could help you understand feelings inside you that you didn’t necessarily know how to articulate. When I watched certain episodes of Who Do You Think You Are?, I felt a connection to that person – and with that, you don’t feel as alone.”

Baker delves into both sides of his family tree and each branch yields amazing stories. There’s the three times great-grandfather, an orphan with a connection to Oscar Wilde who eventually opened Melbourne’s first eye and ear hospital (now the Royal Victoria). There are the ancestors who walked for weeks from the Adelaide Hills to just outside Ballarat, in search of gold with their six children in tow. And his paternal grandmother of him, a particularly resilient woman who overcame poverty and raised her children alone after the second world war.

“Doing the show really does shine a light on your own insignificance,” Baker says. “All these ancestors have these stories, and some of them are so remarkable and powerful. I still constantly think about the ancestor who walked to Ballarat.”

How would Baker have fared, in the circumstances of his ancestors? “I would have gone OK. All of the harshness of the circumstances were relative to the time. The luxuries that we now enjoy shape our perspective. What people did in the past, like walking to Ballarat, can seem outrageous to us now. But back then, if you’re going to go to the goldfields, the only way to get there is to walk.”

Each side of his family tree experienced both wealth and poverty, and their stories illustrate exactly how money can shape destiny.

“I understood my father’s side of the family, because I grew up in a blue collar environment,” he says. “But at the same time, my life has provided me with enough money to be financially stable. Sometimes, with privilege, you can get to a place where you assume everyone is in a place where they have a choice. Sometimes, it’s hard for privileged people to get their head around that the vast majority of people have times of struggle.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *