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Simon Baker Talks About "Something New"

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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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