A 20-year movie career aside, Simon Baker is perhaps most familiar to American audiences from CBS’s The Mentalist as Patrick Jane, consultant to the California Bureau of Investigation crime-fighting unit. His directing debut, however, takes him back to his roots as a kid in New South Wales. An adaptation of Australian novelist Tim Winton’s 1970s-set 2008 novel of the same name, Breath stars newcomers Samson Coulter and Ben Spence as Pikelet and Loonie, two chalk-and-cheese teenagers who form a surprising bond with reclusive surfing legend Bill “Sando” Sanderson (Baker) and his bohemian wife (Elizabeth Debicki).

Sitting down to talk at the Deadline studio, Baker enthused about having the chance to combine two of his passions: filmmaking and surfing. “Having been someone that has surfed since a very young age,” he said, “and [as] someone that’s worked in the industry from my early 20s, they’re the two things that I’ve done most of my life. So it was a nice melding of the two.” Although the story is mostly Winton’s work, Baker noted that his decision to direct stemmed from his desire to see it treated with respect. “Certain aspects really resonated for me,” he said, “because they were so similar to characters that I had grown up around, in an environment I was familiar with. I was close enough to that sort of material, and that story personally, that I didn’t want to see it handled poorly.”

Mulling over the themes of Winton’s book, Baker noted that the themes he carried over into the film involved issues of identity, while not glossing over the pressures and stresses of masculinity that exist within the surfing world.  “I think this movie is a lot about empathy,” he said.

Baker has more to say in the video above.

Deadline Studio at TIFF 2017 is presented by Calii LoveWatford GroupPhilosophy Canada, and Equinox. Special thanks to Dan Gunam at Calii Love for location and production assistance; and Ontario Camera for equipment assistance. Video producer: Meaghan Gable; lighting and camera: Neil Hansen; design: Dialla Kawar; sound recording: Ida Jokinen.