In conversation with Luke Baines
Interview by Marie-Pauline Cesari
Australian actor, writer and producer Luke Baines has starred in some of the world’s most watched TV series and feature films. Most recently he portrayed a German soldier in the WWI thriller ‘Bunker’. Luke’s dedication to his craft is complemented by his philanthropic endeavors. He actively supports Oxfam America’s mission to fight inequality and bring an end to poverty and injustice.
Where did your passion for cinema come from and when did you know you would make a career out of it?
As soon as I figure out if I can make a career out of it, I’ll let you know. As for passion, I think it came from wanting to escape and wanting to provide an escape for other people. I remember watching ‘E.T.’ when I was 5 and even though I knew it wasn’t real, the magic of it filled me with the possibility that it could be. I remember so vividly being transported, at a time when my parents were going through a difficult divorce. It was the kind of escapism that left an indelible mark.
How did your classical training in music and drama at The McDonald College of Performing Arts influence your career?
In a lot of ways it was one of the best things to ever happen to me. It got me out of an all boys catholic school, but at the same time almost prevented me entirely from being an actor. When the bitter realities of the industry are thrust upon you at 15, the sparkle of the dream can fade very quickly. On our first day we were told that statistically only one of us in our grade would have a career in the entertainment industry. I started off hopeful and finished school believing that it wasn’t a possibility for me.
Can you tell us how you were discovered by the famous West End casting director, Pippa Ailion?
After the McDonald College, I went to university to study business. From there, I got a job in London, working in corporate communications and crisis management, where for some reason I kept getting promoted when all I wanted to do was be fired. It had been about five years since I’d let even myself think about performing, when my friend invited me to the opening night of a West End musical. At the after party, I met Pippa and she told me about a show she was casting, called ‘Spring Awakening’. I ended up auditioning and after months of recalls and workshops, another actor got the role, but Pippa and her team got me an agent.
How did you develop an interest in the horror genre as an actor, and what attracts you to these films?
I love the fast-paced excitement of horror and the electricity that comes from being scared, but in a controlled environment. I remember watching ‘Scream’ when I was a kid. I was absolutely terrified, but not wanting it to end. Kevin Williamson’s dialogue was so captivating and Wes Craven’s ability to draw humor out of every scene made the scares that much more surprising.
How would you describe your approach to playing dark and disturbing characters?
Honestly, sometimes it’s really hard. You can be having a great morning and then have to pretend to kill someone, which really kills the caffeine buzz. I usually use music to help drop into character and no matter what sort of person I’m playing, I always try to find some sort of common ground. Without that, it doesn’t feel possible for me to base anything in reality.
In 2020, you co-wrote, produced and starred in the comedy-horror film “Untitled Horror Movie’. Can you tell us about this experience and the reception of the film? Did you enjoy being so involved in the making of a film and is this something you would like to explore further?
Well, according to Rotten Tomatoes, it’s the highest rated movie I’ve been in, so I guess we did something right. All I know is, it was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. I felt so grateful to be creating while the whole world was shutdown and to do it with friends was even more special. I met Nick Simon, who co-wrote the script and directed the movie, when he hired me as an actor on ‘The Girl in the Photographs’. He was mentored by Wes Craven, who produced the movie, so our taste in horror is exactly the same. We’ve been working on a new script, which should be ready to make soon.
What advice would you give to young actors aspiring to build a career in the film industry?
I would first say to ask themselves very seriously why they want to be a filmmaker. If it’s to be rich or famous, then there are far better opportunities out there that will help them achieve their goal much quicker, and less painfully. But if it’s in their heart to create and tell stories, then I’d suggest watching as many films as they possibly can. Print off the list of AFI’s top 100 films and work through them one by one. When that’s done, think about the stories they want to tell and then start making them themselves.
How do you balance your career in cinema with your philanthropic commitments, such as your support for Oxfam America?
Entertainment and philanthropy are so closely linked for me. I view both of them as ways where I’m able to make people’s lives a little better, and a way I can leave the world a little better than the way I found it. While a movie may not put food in someone’s belly, it can have a lasting impact on someone’s life, like ‘E.T.’ had on mine.
Oxfam is incredible though, because they are actually able to feed people and they do so all over the world. Not only that, but they work on an international policy level to affect change where it can have the biggest impact. I’ve seen their work firsthand, in countries like El Salvador and Honduras, where climate change and gender based violence are pushing people from their homes. I also recently traveled with them to Washington D.C., where we spoke to various politicians about the ongoing crisis in Yemen. Every interaction or involvement I’ve had with the organization has left me even more impressed with their work and even more eager to help.
What projects are you working on at the moment and do you have any exciting news to share with us?
Annoyingly, I can’t talk yet about what I’ve been working on, but it’s something I’m very excited about. It’s taken me years to put together and it’s essentially a love letter to the people who have supported me in my career thus far.
Photographer KEENAN BETTANY @keenanbshots
Stylist RITCHY DA SILVA @ritchydasilvaa
Photography assistant JAMES OMARI @jamesomar.i
Location THE LANGHAM HOTEL LONDON @langham_london
Interview MARIE-PAULINE CESARI @itsjustmp
Editor TIMI LETONJA @timiletonja