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As a boy growing up in the Goldfields of Western Australia, Trevor Jamieson dreamed of playing Fingerbone Bill and following in the footsteps of his idol, David Gulpilil. Jamieson got the chance not once, but twice, portraying Mike ‘Storm Boy’ Kingley’s mentor in both the Barking Gecko stage play and director Shawn Seet’s modern reimagining. We caught up with Jamieson to discuss the iconic character, his memories of the original Storm Boy and the animals from his childhood.
“I’m an actor, but I’m also a blackfella at the same time and we always follow protocol. I represent the Ngarrindjeri people with this movie and it’s great to show the nation and the rest of the world their land.”
Interview by Matthew Eeles
What’s your earliest memory of Storm Boy?
I know it was filmed about 40 years ago but I first saw it in the mid eighties. I loved that movie so much, and I loved Blue Fin which came out not long after it. Seeing those stories and watching people like Greg Rowe bring them to life was amazing. It opened my eyes to the style of film they were making back then and the era of that much simpler time. Our version throws a bit of a modern twist onto the story. When I was a kid and I first saw that film it made me realise that that’s what I wanted to do and those were the kind of stories I wanted to tell – about people running around in the bush. Running around in the bush was my lifestyle and I wanted to tell stories like my elders used to tell us. A lot of people will be able to reconnect with themselves and their childhoods by watching this film.
The bond between Mr. Percival and Michael is an extraordinary one. Do you remember having a bond like that with an animal at any time during your life?
Mum would bring home so many animals. [Laughs]. We had a zoo in the back of our yard. [Laughs]. My totem is the wedgetail eagle and I identify with my totem. The interesting thing about David Gulpilil is that his totem animal is the pelican. Can you believe that? I went to go and visit his house and ask him to be a part of this film. I walked into his lounge room and he’s got all these ornaments and photos of him with all these pelicans. I thought he was obsessed. [Laughs]. He told me that the pelican was his totem. As far as animals go in general though, I’m a dog lover. My dog’s name is Kelly and she’s a little chiwawa.
David Gulpilil is arguably one of Australia’s most famous actors with a career spanning almost five decades. What was it like stepping into his shoes as Fingerbone Bill?
I always wanted to be Fingerbone Bill ever since I was a kid. After seeing the movie with David Gulpilil I was blown away. He was my idol back then. I modelled myself to try and be like him. He has a beautiful flare. He’s electric and he has a charisma which commands the camera. He’s a highly skilled person who knows what he’s doing. You walk into a room and David’s in there you know that this man has a lot of power. You feel so much magic coming from his pheromones that you can ride the magic. [Laughs].
I’ve always wanted to play Fingerbone Bill and now I’ve got the opportunity and I feel blessed. Me following in the footsteps of an iconic national treasure like David Gulpilil is another blessing on top of that.
This version of the character is different from the first film because you can’t take that away from David. I’m here to honour and portray the character which Colin Thiele had written. We had a terrific team around us from the director to the writer to the cast and crew. There was a lot of love being thrown about because there was a great feeling that we wanted to do justice to this great story of a boy and his pelican.
It’s not the first time you’ve played Fingerbone having portrayed the character on stage. Is this version of the character different to the stage play?
I think no matter what version of the story you’re telling, it’s timeless. People will connect with it. With the play we had puppets which made up the pelicans and we had performers and dancers which would move with these puppets. On stage you have to be very expressive. You have to perform every expresion the same way every night and you have to be amplified. With film you can be quite subtle. The camera picks up everything you do. I guess that’s the only difference. I was excited to play Fingerbone in the stage play and I believe I conjured up this opportunity by never not believing. This was my goal and I achieved it.
You’re an inspiration to a lot of people.
That’s so great to hear. That’s what I’m here for. That’s what David was to me in my eyes when I was younger. To be able to follow in his footsteps means I’m kicking goals.
You spoke recently about the film being shot on Ngarrindjeri country and working with Ngarrindjeri elder Uncle Moogy Sumner. Can you tell us about the process you went through to accurately portray the cultural practices of the Ngarrindjeri people?
First I spoke to one of the ladies down there who taught me the language of Ngarrindjeri. Especially in the context that it was being used in this script. Moogy came in and taught me how to do the dance properly and to sing the songs properly. The whole protocol of getting it right was very important. I’m an actor, but I’m also a blackfella at the same time and we always follow protocol. We’re picking up Colin Thiele’s piece and we wanted to do it justice and we had to honour the characters who make up that story. I represent the Ngarrindjeri people with this movie and most of them who came down to Victor Harbour for the premiere were very impressed. It gave them empowerment. It’s there country we filmed on and it’s great to show the nation and the rest of the world their land. I feel very proud and they feel proud that they had a part in it.
I’m really keen to learn about your next film. What can you tell us about A Small Punch in a Little Town?
Not much, I’m sorry. [Laughs]. I haven’t been told much. As soon as I finish with Storm Boy I’m heading down there to shoot it. I love walking into a story where I’m working with a blank canvas. Whatever creative energy I have down there around me I’ll use it to work with.
Do you have any grooming tips for growing and maintaining such a phenomenal beared? It puts any hipster’s beard to shame.
Have a lot of testosterone. [Laughs].
Storm Boy is in cinemas from January 17.