Trent Dalton’s hugely successful novel, Boy Swallows Universe, has now been adapted into a superb seven-part mini-series; which premieres on Netflix on January 11. Speaking to Mediaweek in his home city of Brisbane, Dalton revealed the story is “50/50” fact and fiction.
“It’s from my real life,” the acclaimed author said before adding that his main character, Eli (Felix Cameron) “does a lot of what I would have [done if I could]. It was all wishful thinking. All the fiction was wishful thinking.”
As the official synopsis reads: “Boy Swallows Universe is an epic coming-of-age story set in 1980s Brisbane that blends the magic and innocence of youth with the brutal reality of the adult world”. And in this instance, “the adult world” refers to the hardest struggles in life, including incarceration and addiction in its many forms.
And without giving too much away, one such character who is delivered blow after blow (no pun intended) is Eli’s mum, Frankie (Phoebe Tonkin), a recovering addict who ends up in prison, just as Dalton’s mum did in real life.
“My mum did time for two years in the late 80s,” he said, revealing that a lot of that time was spent “just missing her.”
And thus, for the award-winning novelist, this is from where his story was built.
“It’s a story about a kid who wants to bust into a women’s prison on Christmas Day to save his mum’s life,” he said. “You know, my mum loved Christmas and she shouldn’t have been spending Christmas inside a prison.”
Recalling that his entire story was a “very powerful place to write a book from”, Dalton admitted it was a “very powerful place” for series writer John Collee to write not only a script but seven hours of captivating television.
“That stuff never leaves you,” he said. “I kept on saying [to Collee], ‘Mate, that’s where it comes from’.”
How Dalton’s father inspired Simon Baker’s character Robert
In addition to his mother’s life, Dalton’s father became the inspiration for Robert (Simon Baker), a lost father struggling with agoraphobia and alcoholism, among a bevvy of deeply flawed characteristics.
“There were times when our old man wasn’t taking us up [to see our mum],” he said. “And for good reason. It was just a s–tty time.”
“But It was a good move from dad,” he added: “He had all sorts of other anxieties and stuff that didn’t get him out of the house much…We saw her a couple of times. But you don’t want to see your mum like that.”
Dalton’s family is brought to life on the silver screen by a stellar cast
The series also focuses on Eli’s mute brother, Gus (Lee Tiger Halley), a heroin dealer for a stepfather, Lyle (Travis Fimmell) and a notorious criminal for a babysitter, Slim Halliday (Bryan Brown). And, during the world premiere held in Brisbane on January 9, Dalton told media and guests that he could see all the characters from his life in the supremely talented cast.
“I see my brother in Lee. I see myself in Felix. I see my mum in this extraordinary actress, Phoebe. I see my dear friend Slim Halliday in the extraordinary national treasure, Bryan frickin Brown…
“And Simon Baker, who made my 16-year-old daughter weep for her dead grandfather and made her understand who that guy really was.”
He continued: “And the boy who lives, Travis Fimmel, he’s playing the guy who first taught us how to throw a football and who first taught us how to stick up for ourselves and first taught us how to love our mum.”
To say this series is exceptional wouldn’t truly do it justice. This captivating and emotionally charged content will resonate and leave audiences desperately yearning for more.
Stream Boy Swallows Universe from January 11 only on Netflix.