Simon Baker Talks About "Something New"

Simon Baker stars in
Simon Baker stars in "Something New.". © Focus Features
"Something New" - The Story: Simon Baker and Sanaa Lathan star in "Something New," an effective, intelligent romantic comedy which addresses interracial dating and overcoming stereotypes.

Simon Baker on Preparing to Take on “Something New:” “I did a little gardening stuff. I underwent a couple of projects around my house just to be outside. Funnily enough as well, what I had to do was get really tan, which is hilarious, and it was for a completely technical reason.

We had hair and makeup tests, right? And I’m a white guy. In a movie with all black people, when you use a camera, they’re going to expose to all the black people. Black absorbs light, white reflects light. So if they expose the film to Sanaa [Lathan] and we’re in the frame together, they expose it to her, her skin’s darker than mine. I literally look like a flashlight going off. So that we could both hold the frame and I wasn’t over-exposed and just burning like sort of a ghost, they had to darken me up.

They sent me to the tanning booth and then we did another camera test - and I was still too white. Beverly, my makeup artist, got this stuff called Jan Tanna and she would put it on me and I looked, literally, I looked like George Hamilton in real life. But then on camera, because everything is so pushed a couple of stops, it looked fine. But people would come to visit me at the set and they’d be like, ‘My god, man, what’s going on?’

Simon Baker Explains the Appeal of “Something New:” Baker said he’s very proud of being a part of “Something New.” “Well, it just opened up for me, growing up in Australia, so I’m not that knowledgeable about African American culture. The only influences I’d had was through music. I watched ‘Roots’ growing up as a kid.

There’s African American characters on a few TV shows and stuff, but that was it. So I had no preconceived ideas either way about it.

I was very open with everyone at the beginning saying, “Okay, I don’t want to offend anyone. I don’t want to say the wrong thing about anything. Everything’s cool with me. Just sort of fill me in. If I step on someone’s toes, if I say the wrong thing, just school me and say, ‘You didn’t really mean to say that.’ But other than that it’s cool.’ And going into it, I’m like [feeling] heavy female energy on the set. …The producers, the director, the writer - all women, so there’s very strong, and the 42.4 % thing, the statistic is staggering [42.4% is reportedly the percentage of black women who have never been married]. The more you think about it you go, ‘Wow, that’s a lot.’ So I felt a little pressure as far as what I put on myself about the responsibility to African-American women to represent it in that way.

Personally, the movie’s about this: She’s in her head and she’s outside and she’s making judgments. A lot of us are always making judgments. We live in a time where the President of the United States likes to make judgments and call people evil. They’re these people [who] just categorize things all the time.

And it’s like, ‘Hey, we’re just individuals and it’s you and me when it’s you and me. And it’s you and me and we’re just talking and we’re in that moment together.’ The first day of the hair and makeup test, I was in the makeup chair. R. Kelly’s coming out of the makeup trailer and it’s all black women in there and they all know each other and they’d all worked together. I’m thinking, ‘F**k.’ Suddenly I go out, here I’m going, ‘I’m the one honky going in there.’ I’m like, ‘Am I going to be accepted?’ And I have to retain the integrity of who I am. I can’t start playing like, ‘Hey, I’m down, I’m down.’ I’ve gotta be who I am because I think that’s equally pathetic. So I was really kind of a little nervous about that.

I was shy but by the fifth day or something, I’m dancing with everyone else and joining in, just completely relaxed and [felt] completely un-self-conscious because you get past that thing, this idea that you have in your head which is generally about fear.

If I hadn’t overcome that fear… I think that fear is an important thing with a lot of people that don’t know enough about African American culture or haven’t been immersed in it in any way. They have a fear of going there not because they’re racist but because they’re afraid culturally, sometimes, to offend people. Afraid that they may overstep some boundary that they’re not completely aware of. Thus [they’re] sort of pulling back and not having the experience.

When I got to the end of the movie, I was really pretty emotional about the opportunity that I had that I got to experience firsthand. That I got to spend that much time with that many women and to hear their stories, and for them to talk to me and for them to put me… Like Alfre [Woodard] just grabbed me in the hallway right after coffee and she said, ‘This is opening conversations. This is really, really powerful stuff.’ That’s a high for me. That’s gravity. So I feel like that’s one of the best parts about being able to do something like this.”

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Simon Baker Never Doubted His Decision to Play the Romantic Lead in “Something New:” “No, there was only self-doubt that I had in the sense of when I read it, I had a pretty clear idea of how I wanted to play the character. I wanted to play the character in a way where he was just literally like…I loved his honesty with her, his straightforwardness...and I wanted to make that just real, just straight up.

Like, ‘What’s the story? What is with all the beige?’ And he’s questioning and challenging and wanting to know and interested. I wanted to make that just very cool and casual, and not like any sort of agenda like he’s trying to wind her up in any way.

My fear, I think, going into it when I first started rehearsals, because I didn’t really know Sanaa [Lathan], I don’t really know [director] Sanaa Hamri, I’ve met with them and auditioned but what do you gauge from that? I felt comfortable with Sanaa and that sort of helped us work together and develop chemistry on the screen. But I was nervous because I was thinking, ‘I just hope they don’t make this too broad. I don’t want to be a cliché.’ And I don’t want it to be cliché and I don’t want this to become too much like ghetto kind of or suddenly everyone becomes a cliché, because if there’s an honesty and truth to it, then it has the potential to break through into an area that, like Alfre said to me, opens up conversation.”

Simon Baker on What He Learned From Starring in “Something New:” “…I think I understand where racism stems from individually within people. I think there are some people that it’s just there, but I think a lot of it comes from pride as a sin, and lack of self-confidence in a lot of ways, which forces you to judge and be afraid.

You understand what I mean? It’s like I believe that pride in yourself is very important. I think pride in your race is very important. But then there’s got to be something more and that is tolerance.

I think we live in a time, and I want to take this outside of African American culture, Caucasian culture. I’m talking about in our world now, because we’re going through so many issues related to, ‘Oh, they do things very differently to us. They have this and we judge that and they judge us.’ It’s like there’s a point where it all has to give and we all have to just open up a little bit and be a bit more accepting of each other and look at what the benefits of multi-culturalism are.

I just went back to Australia and I really do see Australia is a very multi-cultural society. We have the indigenous culture is there and there’s still that. I have friends, Aboriginals, one of them, [David], he’s a full blood Aboriginal, still lives in the bush. And he comes in and he acts and he travels all around in the dance troupe and is still very traditional. Then there’s a lot of Aboriginals that are integrated into our society, very well educated, et cetera. We have a lot of Italian immigrants that came over from the Second World War and the influence of that on our society is amazing.

There’s coffee shops and the food and the restaurants and stuff all over the place.

…I get excited about learning about someone else’s culture. I spent Passover at a Jewish friend’s house, gefilte fish and all these rituals. I’m like, ‘This is cool because I’ve never been through it. I’ve never experienced it.’ That sort of attitude is going to help us a lot. My daughter’s obsessed with learning about different religions and different cultures. I’m not a religious person at all. I was raised a Catholic but I’m not a practicing Catholic, but my daughter has a thirst to understand different things and see different things. Hopefully future generations will be more like that, more accepting of that.”