• Interviews

“Limbo” – Getting Down and Dirty with Simon Baker

You might want to consider bringing a bottle of water with you when you catch the new film Limbo. Set deep in the Australian outback, in the opal mining town of Coober Pedy, this gritty ‘noirish’ crime drama can practically make you taste the dust that seems to encase this rural, underprivileged community. 

Shot in black and white, Indigenous director Ivan Sen effectively uses the grime and soil of the land to create the effective mood that first introduces us to Detective Travis Hurley (Simon Baker), who arrives in the small town on an assignment to solve the 20-year-old disappearance of an Aboriginal girl named Charlotte Hayes.

The local native community is less than forthcoming to the inquiries from the stranger who is armed with only one piece of evidence, a series of tape recordings of a perceived suspect. But standing in his way are a series of secrets, not only from the victim’s fractured family but a few of his own as well.


After the premiere of the film at the 73rd Berlin Film Festival, the HFPA had a chance to chat with Baker about Limbo during the festival’s official press conference.

There is this unique parallel to John Ford’s The Searchers about a torn hero looking for a lost girl. Was that a reference for you?

I’ve watched a lot of Westerns. I’ve watched a lot of films. Character-wise, for me, none of those things are really references. I think maybe over time and the experience of watching films, reading books, meeting people, living, all of those things become organic references in some way, to some aspect of any kind of character. There was a fair bit of time from when Ivan first sent me the script to when we started shooting, and there was evolution that happened through that process.

What kinds of insights did he give you?

There was a point where Ivan sent me a bunch of photographs of the landscape which were pretty much frames from the film before we shot the film. As an actor, you relax because this guy knows what he’s doing. A lot of times, you’re in a film and no one knows which way’s up or down, and you’re kind of lost in it. But that gives you confidence to be able to explore what that world is.

Did you see Travis as a classic hero type?

It’s hard for me to see that guy as a hero, but I know what you mean when you say that. The landscape is there, it’s one thing. The extension of that character grows out of something internal, first and foremost, for me. And it develops in the process of that with Ivan. Because as an actor, when you feel safe and that you feel that you’re in very capable hands, the organic evolution of that is exciting.

But one could argue that Travis is a man in need of redemption.

Yeah, we’ve talked about this a lot, Ivan, and I. But I think it’s also subjective, isn’t it? I think for me, the character itself was a guy on a search that had this empty cavity within him, that he was obviously using his heroin addiction as a band-aid for that to be able to exist and continue on. But he’s detached from the whole world, and in a lot of ways what he experienced, [he finds] that broken family was a reflection of himself in a way. And the sense of the family that’s dealing with that kind of trauma and that intergenerational trauma put his worldview into perspective in a way. And who knows if the guy’s going to be able to sort his own life out, but they kind of helped him at least see something and be able to project himself into that. So, it’s kind of narcissistic sounding, really, but I think he is kind of a narcissist.

Obviously, when you shot the film, you saw color. But when you see the film onscreen, it’s black and white. Does that give a different feel?

The choice for Ivan to shoot it in black and white, to me, I just got excited because I know that that enhances the drama that exists and takes place onscreen. There’s an aspect of your brain that’s taken up when you’re looking at color, but when it’s black and white, you look at more detail. It’s why a lot of people find black and white photographs more interesting because they’re looking for something, there’s a reason in there that they’re looking for. And that is something that you can lean into as an actor. I love the idea of doing a whole film where there’s not a word spoken, that would just be heaven for me, unreal. And I reckon he’s probably going to want to do something like that. [Laughs.]

I want to ask you about the film’s title. It references the name of the hotel he stays in but it also seems to qualify all these people. They seem to be stuck.

I think the title Limbo, there is this kind of idea that there’s a stuckness to everyone in that story. People are capable of doing things for others and yet denying their own life or their own family that. So, I don’t necessarily know whether Travis goes home and calls up his son. I don’t think it’s that simple. But I think it’s a movement out of that stuckness to at least do the action that takes place there. Right? And that’s a shift and that he owes to the experience that he has in that town, which is separate because the actual case itself, it’s unresolved.