Baykali Ganambarr is known in the world of dance, after all, that’s his background. However, when he heard about Jennifer Kent’s casting call for an Indigenous actor with no acting experience, he sought the role out. Jennifer Kent’s The Nightingale is a thriller looking at seeking revenge and the price of it, in the face of violence.
It’s a superb story about the realities of colonization. In the film, Kent shoots in three langauges, Irish, Palawa Kani and English, and that is what drew Ganambarr to the role. The authenticity with which Kent strived to tell her story. The representation of a dialect we’ve never seen before.
I caught up with Ganambarr in his feature film debut to talk about the experience of playing the role of Billy.
How did it happen for you?
I was dancing and traveling around. I saw an opportunity in this role, and they said they needed an Indigenous actor with no acting experience. I decided to give it a try.
It’s a powerful watch and so many conversations that can be had when watching it. What was your impression when you saw the script and read it.
I thought I needed to be in the film, and I have to get this role. It’s such an important story to tell – the true history of Australia. The history depicted in The Nightingale only scratches the surface. This is the first and definitely not the last.
What was your own research in order for you to play Billy?
It was easy, but it wasn’t. I’m doing a character that has pretty much dealt with so much trauma in his life. I’m familiar with our history and learned it growing up. For me, just being in the role was so important. Back in the 1820s it was pretty brutal.
As this is your first role, what was it like being on set and shooting the film?
As a kid from a small remote location in Australia with no film or acting experience, and getting my first lead role in a feature, it was hard. I was just so honored to be around Jennifer, Sam and Aisling. They were always there supporting me and encouraging me. I was really honored for them to step in and support me throughout the journey. It’s so nerve-wracking, but I was so motivated.
I looked you up to see what you had done and you were so good in this. I didn’t realize it until after.
Well, the Venice film festival was wicked. I wasn’t expecting that award. I was so stoked. I couldn’t believe it.
What was it like to be in the conditions?
We were out there, in the wild. The weather is pretty cold. I’m from Northern Territory. It’s always warm. For me, it got down to 5 degrees, and it was so cold. I’d push myself. The places we traveled to with the crew, it was so hard for them to go up and down with the equipment, so it was hard for all of us, but we were so determined to do this.
Was there a scene that was challenging for you to work through?
Learning languages. Learning Palawa Kani which is being used for the first time on the big screen. The Palawa Kani culture is regaining their culture and language. It’s the first time it’s been spoken. It’s pretty similar to my language. It was challenging to learn that.
You saw it at Venice for the first time.
It was weird to see myself on the big screen. Other than that, it was great. It felt like I was watching a whole other person. It’s not the person I know. It’s someone else.
The Nightingale is released on August 2.