Simon Baker virtually grew up in front of the camera, with his first starring role at the age of 9 in the feature "Once in a Blue Moon"; he followed that with 3 seasons of the hit TV series, "North of Sixty". Some career highlights include a leading role in the Stephen Spielberg produced mini-series, "Into the West", the lead in the Disney Channel feature "Buffalo Dreams", working 4 months opposite Tommy Lee Jones and Cate Blanchett in Ron Howard's "The Missing", the lead in the Independent Film "Buckaroo" and his compelling role of Randy in the award-winning festival hit "On the Corner" which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival.
His other projects include the MOW's "Journey to the Center of the Earth", "Dream keeper", the two North of Sixty MOW's "Dream Storm" and "Distant Drumming" plus the mini series "Big Bear". His work in feature films includes Chris Eyre's "Smoke Signals" which earned Simon a First Americans in the Arts nomination for Best Supporting Actor.
Simon Baker is from the Squamish Nation with ancestral roots of Korean and Haida. He currently lives in Langley, British Columbia his new passions deal with the environment and a television show the past seven years titled, Native Planet. He has been blessed to travel the world and see environmental and cultural issues.
He initially got into acting as an extra on the television show, White Fang 2, which was being filmed on the Squamish Nation. He stayed in Whistler Village to work on the show for six weeks and the director went up to Sam’s mother and said, “You know, this boy has been in almost every scene, and I've seen him almost in every scene that he's been in, and I believe this kid should be in acting or modeling of some sort."
Baker’s mother took him to acting classes at John Casablanca’s and modeling at Vancouver Film School. He was considered the youngest person to be in the acting class at only ten years old and discovered he loved acting while also developing a passion to becoming an entertainer. Baker reminisces, “My dad had this picture of me, always carried around with me, and I was up in Haida Gwaii in one of the ceremonies up there, and I was wearing a mask, and I was dancing with... wearing diapers, and all the chinis and nonis were looking at me and, just so proud of me because I was just this two-year-old wearing diapers, dancing and mimicking the other dancers. So, I think I have always had that little step towards being an entertainer.”
Baker’s outlook is that the greatest aspect of acting is, “if you're forcing acting, then you understand that it's fake. But to be in front of a camera and play something, depict something that makes it real, and then the audience becomes more a part of that character. So, I've always tried to bring that authenticity to all my characters.”
As he grew up, he developed role models to aspire to, but his mother and father were the biggest role models in his life. His father was always a part of the culture with participating in ceremonies and potlatches. With his mother being dedicated to him and showing what path to be successful, Baker believes both of his parents are always going to be his biggest role models in his life. He also believes that Indigenous people are role models to him, “Anybody that gets up and learns their culture and learns their ways and makes a day out of that, then that's being a role model.” Says Baker.
Throughout his life, he has been in 27 television shows and movies and the most recognizable role would be Smoke Signals, with Chris Eyre and Sherman Alexie who produced and directed the film, it made a significant impact in the beginning of his acting career.
Initially, he auditioned for the role of young Victor but the writer, Sherman Alexie motivated him to read for Thomas, which Baker battled the ideation of it because he wanted to be ‘the cool kid’, and it resulted to be one of the highlights of his career. He believes it was a great career choice because everybody knows Thomas including the internet world and popularized memes.
The many great talents from the movie Smoke Signals were a big learning lesson to watch for Baker. He explains that Tantoo Cardinal helped him be more comedic on film, it was a great deal for him to be able to take a character and build around it to see how it goes. From that experience he did not stop his acting career but ignited the start of it.
Currently, Baker has been working on a show for seven years called Native Planet and travelling the world with seeing the environment in cultural issues. He discovers the world and unique relationships that first peoples have with the environment and their impact to preserve the climate and way of life.
He wanted to learn more and make a change, in which he turned to a friend that owned a company that tests air emissions and air pollution around British Columbia and Alberta. He has a passion for acting but realized he had to find another way to provide a steady income for his family. He tests air pollutions for the government with what is being emitted, write reports to see what is getting emitted.
It is environmental sciences and chemistry which Simon states, “Obviously I don't have either of those, but you can learn. And as long as you have a knowledge of what's happening and what you're doing, it's live and learn, right? That's, what's great about it. So, it's a hard job, but it pays off too.”
Indigenous people are self-taught to their passions and goals, Simon explains they are constantly trying to live and learn because of the constant need for change and having to adapt to what is next. But for Baker, it was not always smooth sailing, when he turned nineteen, he acted in a show called Buffalo Dreams for Disney, then did a Steven Spielberg show called Into the West. It was a learning curve for Baker because he realized he needed to take a step back and a break. Throughout his high school and elementary years, he did not go to school that much, he was homeschooled but mostly taught on sets and always in front of the camera. He started to feel like he missed out on a lot in life and was starting to feel exhausted, he explains, “I could only learn so much different dialects and turn my characters in different things. And so, I sort of just took a break and sort of stepped back to reflect on everything I've done and have some bro time. And be able go play some lacrosse games and go hang out with my bros and have a little bit of a life.”
For four years he decided not to audition and not be a part of any films or acting. After two and a half years, he went back to school, moved to Toronto, and went to the Canadian Film Centre for acting. He has not stopped learning about his craft and never wanted to, he just needed to have a break and figure out his life and what the next chapter will bring.
Baker notes that it is important to step back and reflect, “I think everybody does. Everybody has that boiling point of, "Well, work sucks. I got to do this," and it's about change. It's about understanding what change is. You can't, all of a sudden, throw your books down and forget about work and not do your assignments or anything like that, but you've got to change. You've got to change something to make life different.”
To give advice to his younger self is to take more time into seeing what is in front of you, he took a lot for granted. He got to learn on sets and so many people he got to meet; he would just rather take his time at it. He explains, “Every actor that you can talk to, "Did you like that role?" Most of my shows, I don't like. I haven't watched them before because I'm so critical of myself and want to go rewrite that whole script and go redo that whole scene again. And when in retrospect you did a great job, you did what you could and let it go. But I'm one of those guys that holds on and trying to manipulate everything in my mind to what was already good enough.”
His advice for anyone who wants to leave their community to go venture off and try something new is, “My advice would be go do it. Don't let anything hold you back because next thing you're going to be is middle-age and figuring out what you have to do. Go and live your young life and develop as many friends and many experiences as you can, because life is fast. We get tired at five o'clock these days.” Baker further explains, “Go travel. Go have fun and experience, and then come back and tell your community about your stories and what your adventures can bring, and what you can bring back to the community, and what you can develop with your experiences.”
The pandemic has put a toll on Baker’s acting roles, he was supposed to start two new shows and about a week before it happened, he created another show with FortisBC, and it was with Indigenous communications. He was about to start filming, and suddenly, the pandemic happened, including a cameo that he was going to be a part of, but it was put on hold to which affected everybody. He does not know what the next steps are will be or how being on set will be the same again which will be a drastic change and learning curve.
Simon notes that he was in the film Dream Keepers, he mentions that there are so many great stories involved with Indigenous voices. He envisions for West Coast stories to develop the ‘Dream Keepers of West Coast’ and he hopes to depict that in the next few years.
Thanks to Carly Brascoupé for writing this story.
Future Pathways Fireside Chats are a project of TakingITGlobal's Connected North Program.
Funding is generously provided by the RBC Foundation in support of RBC Future Launch, and the Government of Canada's Supports for Student Learning program.