Aussie filmmaker Warwick Thornton joked that Cate Blanchett “elbowed” her way into his crafty sixth feature, The New Boy, as he introduced the pic at Deadline’s Cannes Studio shortly before its festival premiere.
In the pic, which debuted this week at Cannes, Blanchett plays Sister Eileen, a mysterious nun who runs an orphanage for lost boys; however, the role was originally written as a priest, to be played by a male actor, until the two-time Oscar winner came along.
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“The character of sister Eileen wasn’t in the script at that time, but Cate coming along actually made it beautiful,” Thornton said.
Blanchett told Deadline that she initially reached out to Thornton during the pandemic and the pair began a virtual workshop to discuss opportunities they could create to work together.
“Like a lot of people during the pandemic, I thought well look, who do I really want to be a dialogue with?” she said. “So we just started to Zoom. And then it evolved from there.”
Blanchett and Thornton were joined in the Deadline studio by co-stars Wayne Blair and Deborah Mailman. Set in 1940s Australia, The New Boy is the story of a nine-year-old Aboriginal orphan boy (Reid) who arrives in the dead of night at a remote monastery, run by a renegade nun (Blanchett), where his presence disturbs the delicately balanced world in this story of spiritual struggle and the cost of survival.
The New Boy played Un Certain Regard and is Thornton’s second appearance in Cannes, following 2009’s Samson & Delilah, for which he won the Caméra d’Or Award for first-time directors. Alongside Samson & Delilah, Thornton is best known for Sweet Country, for which he won the Special Jury Prize at the Venice Film Festival and the Platform Prize at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2017. Both films won the AACTA Award for Best Film from the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts.
Cate Blanchett’s Dirty Films and Scarlett Pictures partnered to co-produce, with Roadshow Films distributing for Australia and New Zealand, CAA Media Finance and UTA handling sales for North America, and The Veterans on board to manage sales for the remainder of the globe. Discussing the genesis of the project, Thornton said he spent many years developing and shaping the focus of his script.
“I wrote it when I was much younger, and a lot more naive about cinema and storytelling. It came from a place of anger,” he said. “That was probably the wrong place to actually write from. So me maturing got it to a beautiful place.”
The New Boy was filmed in South Australia, with production funding from Screen Australia’s First Nations Department, which focuses on the lives of the country’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
Production companies are Fremantle and Longbridge Nominees. The film is produced by Kath Shelper for Scarlett Pictures, Cate Blanchett, Andrew Upton and co-producer Georgie Pym for Dirty Films, and Lorenzo De Maio (of De Maio Entertainment), with Coco Francini serving as executive producer for Dirty Films alongside Packer for Longbridge Nominees.
Check out the full studio interview above and follow Deadline’s complete coverage of the deals and doings on the Croisette here.
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