A story of great triumph from tragedy, and an unlikely source of inspiration.
Audi Magazine Australia caught up with Naomi Watts and Bruna Papandrea ahead of the premiere of Penguin Bloom at this year’s Westpac OpenAir cinema.
19 January, 2021
Confined to a wheelchair and struggling to come to terms with what the future would hold, Sam Bloom and her family found inspiration and an unlikely ally in an injured magpie
In 2013, in a simple, freak accident that could have happened to anyone, Sam Bloom’s life was changed forever. The nurse, mother and adventurer was so badly injured in a fall from a balcony that it was a miracle in itself that she survived at all. But while the fall while on holiday with her husband Cameron (played by Andrew Lincoln) and three sons wasn’t fatal, the injuries she suffered altered the course of her life and forced her to draw on reserves of strength, both physical and mental, that she didn’t know she possessed.
Confined to a wheelchair and struggling to come to terms with what the future would hold, Bloom and her family found inspiration and an unlikely ally in an injured magpie they helped nurse back to health.
Sam Bloom’s inspirational story, Penguin Bloom, written by New York Times bestselling author Bradley Trevor Greive and Cameron Bloom, tells the inspirational story of Sam’s return from the brink, helped in no small part by the little Magpie named Penguin.
Now a major film making its Australian premiere at this year’s Westpac OpenAir in Sydney, Audi Magazine Australia spoke with Naomi Watts and producer Bruna Papandrea about the film and its inspirational message.
The role represents another new direction for Naomi Watts who has continuously challenged herself throughout her career and refuses to be type cast or remain caught in any particular genre.
“The challenge of a new character is what keeps me in the inventive stage, a state of growth personally and artistically,” says Watts, “but as its said, art reflects the world and the world is never stagnant, so it’s a constant search for new roles and personas to play. I’ve always found beautiful lessons in each of the characters I’ve played.”
“When I read Bradley’s book I was immediately captivated by Sam’s journey,” she says.
“We never know who we are in these kinds of situations, we can only imagine, and the ‘what if it were me’ is what drew me in immediately. Sam’s courage is She earned her power, that’s inspiring and I wanted to be a part of bringing that story to screen.”
For producer, Bruna Papandrea, who selects one in 100 potential film projects, the powerful story likewise struck a chord:
“As with everything we do, it’s always about the uniqueness of the story and I’d never heard anything quite like it,” Papandrea says.
“I fell in love with Sam Bloom and her perseverance immediately.”
That it was an Australian story also resonated with both Papandrea and Watts:
“The setting always helps form part of a decision,” says Papandrea, “but the fact that it was the northern beaches, a place I felt hadn’t been shown on film much, was also a big draw.”
For Watts too, not just the location but the very essence of the country and how Sam Bloom is a product of the Australian spirit were integral to her decision to take the role.
“I fell in love with Sam Bloom and her perseverance immediately” - Naomi Watts
“There’s obviously a lot of work that goes into playing any role, maybe more work when you’re playing a real person, because you have a responsibility to capture their lives with accuracy and purpose" - Naomi Watts
“Australia is such an important part of who I am, I can’t say it was a coincidence,” says Watts.
“I think that the spirit of Australia is so evident in who Sam is too, so yes, it plays a strong part.”
In her preparation for the role, Naomi Watts worked closely with Sam Bloom and her family in order to faithfully play her and also capture the emotion that underpins the entire film.
“The Blooms were incredibly generous, and the film is filled with idiosyncrasies of their lives,” she says.
“We were so lucky to have Sam on set with us – we shot the film in their actual home and so when Sam showed me her morning routine for example, it was the actual path from the bed to the bathroom.
“There’s obviously a lot of work that goes into playing any role, maybe more work when you’re playing a real person, because you have a responsibility to capture their lives with accuracy and purpose. We knew that the story we were telling had to be treated with immense respect and care. Sam opened the book on her life to us, that was the beginning of all of the emotional work.”
Physically too, the story presented challenges that Watts had to come to terms with, physically immobilising half of her body and and the mental input to keep it restrained.
“All the misconceptions of using a wheelchair are made immediately apparent when you’re actually using one. It requires a lot of upper body strength and there are nuances to getting around that seem intuitive, but they’re not, Sam’s guidance was invaluable. And so were the conversations I had with her friends.”
But while practical considerations were integral to the role, Watts had to draw on a well of personal experiences and emotions as well when it came to the times of greatest despair and seeming hopeless as Sam Bloom fought to find a new life in her recovery from the accident.
“It’s a combination of some of the darkest, saddest thoughts that Sam shared with me and of course, some of my own, and in that way the character of Sam is created,” Watts says.
“They’re not one and the same, Sam the person and Sam the character, but the hope is that Sam the character captures as best as possible, the spirit of who she is, who is a someone of vast bravery and such a deep heart.”
“What can be challenging is getting in and out of that character’s state of being, depending on how dire it is … The better I understand and know a character, the easier it is to immerse myself in their world."
The result is both stunning and moving, with Watts demonstrating her extraordinary versatility in her portrayal of Sam Bloom. It’s a performance that can’t help but move and inspire audiences, but the whole experience is also one that has had a profound effect on Watts herself.
“Isn’t that the point, to put things in perspective and give that opportunity to audiences?” Watts says of any role that makes you consider your own condition and life.
“I know how I was moved by Sam’s story and couldn’t imagine that others wouldn’t be moved in the same way.”
Screenings of Penguin Bloom start tonight at Westpac OpenAir and run through until January 26th. Audi Australia is a major sponsor of the OpenAir cinema series – visit myaudi.com.au for more information. Penguin Bloom will be in all cinemas nationally from January 21st, 2021.
"The hope is that Sam the character captures as best as possible, the spirit of who she is ... someone of vast bravery and such a deep heart” – Naomi Watts
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