“I lived on the Gold Coast for a year, and I lived in Perth for a year,” says Jason Isaacs when we catch up with him on the phone in London. His first Australian shoot was PJ Hogan’s 2003 Peter Pan on the Gold Coast, and then more recently, Kriv Stenders’ Western Australian shot Red Dog: True Blue in 2016.
“I’m a total sucker for sun and I do like looking at oceans. When I lived on the Gold Coast, I looked out at the ocean every day and there’s something incredibly calming and humbling about looking at the scale of a planet covered in water and remember that I’m nothing; my problems mean nothing.”
Isaacs’ love of Australia wasn’t the reason he agreed to join the ensemble cast of Anthony Maras’ Hotel Mumbai, which was shot in Adelaide and India.
“I wasn’t looking to work,” he tells us about receiving a script and an offer to play the character Vasili. “It was summer, and I have kids. I’m aware that I have a limited number of summer holidays with them before they leave the nest. We had planned this big family holiday. I had been away a lot shooting for years, I was aware that I’d been missing from home a lot so I blocked out the time and we were going to go to Peru, Machu Picchu trail and have this fabulous memorable family holiday.
“And this script arrived, and I read it, turned to my wife and kids and said ‘I’m really sorry, I’ve got to go make a film. And they didn’t quite understand what language I was speaking. I said ‘I can’t not do it, I’m sorry, I just can’t. This matters too much, it’s too good a story, and it’s too well told and it’s too timely.”
Lucky for Isaacs, his family forgave him. “Two years later when my kids came to the screening, they got it; they all thought it was the best film they’d ever seen, and they understood why I had to make it.”
And it was then that Jason Isaacs understood why he needed to take the project in the first place.
“There had been so many mass shootings and so many terrorist incidents since then, and they’ll likely be so many more coming, of course; it’s not like the world is becoming a less violent place in terms of incidents like this. But what wasn’t a constant when I made the film and I understand now is that there are people with the most powerful voices in the world, who are driving wedges between us and are telling us that we should hate or fear other people because of their colour, because of their religion, because of their nationality.
“All of the organisations and institutions that have held us together and have kept us at peace are being attacked from all sides. And Hotel Mumbai is a grotesque version of the human laboratory; what we’re like behind closed doors in the worst situation that anyone can imagine. But what we’re actually like, is generous and kind and loving. There was every religion hotel, and there was every level of socioeconomic prosperity. The poorest saved the richest. Over the course of 68 hours, there were a million small acts of selflessness. The heroes were the ones without guns. This isn’t a Hollywood story. This is a real-life story. In the political context we find ourselves, toxic hatred and division that’s spewing out from every mouthpiece, it just feels like a story that is not only completely griping, but it has value, which is a very rare thing for a story.”
Hotel Mumbai is available now on Digital, DVD & Blu-ray