Interview – ‘True Spirit’ Pink Carpet premiere with Jessica Watson, Teagan Croft, Sarah Spillane and Todd Lasance

When the tenacious young sailor Jessica Watson (Teagan Croft, DCs Titans) sets out to be the youngest person to sail solo, non-stop and unassisted around the world, many expect her to fail. With the support of her sailing coach and mentor Ben Bryant (Cliff Curtis, Avatar: The Way of Water) and her parents, Jessica is determined to accomplish what was thought to be impossible, navigating some of the world’s most challenging stretches of ocean over the course of 210 days.

True Spirit will be available worldwide on Netflix from February 3, but to celebrate its release, the world premiere was held in Brisbane in January, not far away from its shooting location on the Gold Coast. With Jessica Watson herself in attendance, alongside Tegan Croft, director Sarah Spillane, and star Todd Lasance, I was lucky enough to jump on the Pink Carpet to chat with the team behind True Spirit to discuss Jessica’s legacy and how her story was brought to life on the big screen.

Jessica, I’d love to know what your experience was like almost reliving this moment in your life again? And what was one moment you found that Sarah [Spillane, director] and Teagan [Croft, actor] really got right on screen about your journey?

Jessica Watson: It was really the essence of it. They really got why I wanted to do this. There are just these moments where you’re watching it and it feels so real, like, with how tough it all really was. But, also capturing that the world also beautiful, and that resonates with me so much.

And given that you are an inspiration to so many people, is there someone in your lives that you looked to as an inspiration?

Jessica Watson: All the people who came before me and set similar records, definitely. All the amazing sailors. But I was also very inspired by my parents. Also, Sarah, the director!

Teagan Croft: Well, I was heavily inspired by Jess! Having grown up and seeing her complete this. Not just going through it as the youngest solo sailor, but for following that dream and having the guts, the self-confidence,  taking the risk and knowing it’ll pay off!

Sarah Spillane has been working on this script for over 10 years! When did you first hear about it?

Jessica Watson: I’ve known it’s taken that long; it’s been in the works for a while. But it hasn’t felt real until recently!

Tegan Croft: I only found about it a couple of months before shooting, but I found about Sarah working on it for years before that. It’s been a long time in the making.

I think one of the hardest things an actor can do is perform in isolation. Obviously, there is communication with other people throughout the film, but for a lot of it, you’re talking to a camera or yourself! What’s the process of getting in the headspace like for you as an actor?

Tegan Croft:  It is really hard! I had readers with me on the boat—you know, all the other actors flew away and left me [laughs]! It was just me and my little boat. I guess for me, I was able to put in place the voices of my family, and really picture them saying so much of that stuff to me. I was having similar conversations with my family during COVID. I hadn’t seen them in months, and I was struggling with wanting to live my dream, too, while living in that isolation. So, it was really easy to draw from that feeling.

Sarah, it’s been over 10 years since your last feature film. How have you evolved as a filmmaker in that time, and how has filmmaking itself changed in that time for you?

Sarah Spillane: That’s a really interesting question. When I made Around The Block, it was heading to the end of the traditional cinema era. We were one of the last films to have a traditional, limited theatrical release, but also one of the first to embrace the new streaming model.

I’ve been working in TV since then, and now having the opportunity to do this film with Netflix, who have really revolutionised the industry, to create a global release that hits 190 countries at the same time, is something that never could have happened with Around The Block. I’m thrilled to be working with Netflix on this, and I hope everyone enjoys it.

How much did you integrate yourself into Jessica’s life? Did you spend much time with her family to get everything feeling accurate and authentic?

Sarah Spillane: I definitely spent a lot of time with Jessica. I split my time between LA and Sydney, so I came out a couple of times, not only to spend time with Jessica, but to travel to the Sunshine Coast and met her family and spend time with them. Then I would bounce back to LA to write the script, then came back and filmed in on the Gold Coast!

Was Netflix always the company you had producing this film?

Sarah Spillane: Netflix is really the biggest studio in the world right now, especially in streaming. So it was a bit of surprise when Netflix came on board. We had tried the traditional models of funding, which like I was saying, the industry has changed so much and the model of theatrical pre-sales doesn’t really exist anymore.

So, it was almost by luck that I was talking to Netflix about a completely different project, and one of the executives has seen online that I was attached to True Spirit. She asked me about it. I was completely unprepared, but I pitched in the room. And there was the incredible synchronicity between the Netflix executives, myself and one of our producers, Deborah Martin Chase. I was just really excited that everyone in that room could see how special a story this was.

When you’re directing quite an isolated performance like the one Teagan gives, how do you get that feeling of isolation across on screen? What was it like working with Teagan to get that performance out of her?

Sarah Spillane: Funnily enough, when I wrote the draft of the script that Netflix ended up acquiring, I wanted to experience a similar type of that isolation. I didn’t trust myself captaining a boat! So, instead I rented this shack in the Californian desert, and I spent weeks alone. I didn’t see a soul, just rattle snakes! And that’s how I wrote that draft. I really felt like experiencing that loneliness. That isolation really allowed me to dig deep into some themes about family and nature.

Todd, was there anyone in particular you based your character of Craig Atherton on?

Todd Lasance: I’m playing the antithesis representation of the ‘media’ itself. He represents the public opinion, the media opinion. There was a lot of backlash, a lot of pushback and resistance to Jessica going on this journey. I represent the opinion of: “This is a dangerous thing to do! She could die!” Question the family, all that stuff.

We’ve seen in the last couple of years that film production itself is moving more and more into Queensland, whereas in the past, the hubs for this sort of filmmaking have been Melbourne and Sydney. Is it exciting for you as an actor that there is this wonderful filmmaking hub being created right here on our doorstep?

Todd Lasance: I have a double excitement for it! I’ve just moved to the Gold Coast with family and I’ve managed to do three or four projects, back to back, on the Gold Coast. No matter where you travel around the world, you’re always sort of up-rooted in this job. You’re always leave family, leaving friends. It’s literally the only negative!

So, to work in a city where you live—it’s like the unicorn! You never get to experience that! The fact that more projects are coming here… honestly, low key, I’d be happy to shoot here for the rest of my life! And then go overseas for a holiday!

Jessica Watson is an inspiration to so many people! But, who is your inspiration – whether it’s acting, or life in general?

Todd Lasance: Acting has always been DiCaprio and Matt Damon in that Good Will Hunting era. They were inspirations for me career wise. But, it’s difficult because you want to forge your own path, and I feel like I’ve had such diverse roles, so I’m lucky!

As far as Jessica is concerned, one of the things I’m so happy about is that so many people around that world will see her story on Netflix. We all know what Jessica did – circumnavigated the world at 16, solo. Incredible! But we have no idea what she actually endured. To see the elements she went through and what she endured psychologically, emotionally, physically, spiritually – it blew my mind! I get goosebumps just thinking about it! So the fact that everyone gets to experience that kind of story or resilience, on a global scale, I’m excited for it!

Thank you to Netflix, Brisbane International Film Festival, Brisbane Powerhouse, PJ Habner and Made4Media for putting on a fantastic event, and giving me that chance to chat with the cast and crew of True Spirit!

True Spirit is in select cinemas from January 26, and is streaming worldwide on Netflix from February 3.

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Nick L'Barrow
Nick L'Barrow
Nick is a Brisbane-based film/TV reviewer. He gained his following starting with his 60 second video reviews of all the latest releases on Instagram (@nicksflicksfix), before launching a monthly podcast with Peter Gray called Monthly Movie Marathon. Nick contributes to Novastream with interviews and reviews for the latest blockbusters.

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