Surreal role for 'muse' Baird

Vanessa Williams
Jenni Baird. Picture: Getty Images

It's not often an opportunity arises to work alongside a Hollywood movie star, let alone invite them in to your dining room for a home-cooked meal.

But for WA Academy of Performing Arts- trained actress Jenni Baird, sitting down for dinner with Adrien Brody in the comfort of her family home proved to be the best way to break the ice ahead of working with the Oscar-winning actor.

Baird stars alongside Brody and Aussie acting great Sam Neill in her writer-director husband Michael Petroni's NSW-shot thriller Backtrack.

"I think it was a really great thing to have him come to our house for dinner, because it was very normal and more personable than going to a fancy restaurant," Baird tells AAA. "It was good, we got to break the ice and we also had a couple of other Aussies around, which worked well for him because it's an Aussie film so he was immersing himself in the Australian accent."

The film is still in production but so far Baird says working with Brody has been a "surreal" experience.

"It's been amazing - there's something slightly magical about Adrien," she beams. "You never know what it's going to be like and I was slightly nervous to meet him. But he's incredibly approachable."

"All my scenes are with Adrien. I did have one scene with Sam but I was asleep, so I didn't get to act with him, though I got to meet him.

Petroni, whose film credits include the 2002 drama Till Human Voices Wake Us and the recent big-screen adaptation of Markus Zusak's bestseller The Book Thief, envisaged Baird for the role of Brody's on-screen wife, Carol.

"It's funny, I think a writer always writes their partner into everything," Baird says.

"There's definitely something poetic about being the muse . . . I guess I just kind of tried to be close to myself when I was playing Carol, and we used the movie Seven as one of our biggest references. The role that *Gwyneth Paltrow *plays is one of the strongest references for my character."

Although renowned for her role as Paula Morgan on Seven's medical drama All Saints, Baird has also experienced her fair share of life as an actress in Hollywood.

Following her stint on the Aussie show, Baird moved to Los Angles with Petroni for eight years, during which she landed a part on US sci-fi series The 4400, and later in the American comedy- horror Alien Trespass.

When the series was not renewed for another season, the couple decided it was time to try for a family.

The following year, the couple welcomed a daughter.

"The writer's strike in Hollywood was also happening at that time, so we kind of call her (daughter) the 'strike baby'," Baird laughs. "So I kind of took time out, because pregnancy takes a while, and then when I was pregnant with my son we came back to Australia and had him here."

"Then I thought 'Well, I'll throw my hat in the ring and if work comes, then great."

Baird began to pick up Aussie roles, including a recent stint on Seven's period drama A Place to Call Home as cold-hearted Regina, the sister-in-law of George Bligh (Brett Climo).

"That was amazing but what's most interesting for me is that people found me absolutely unrecognisable," Baird says. "My whole life I've had blonde hair, so they dyed my hair (brown) for the role and when I've been speaking to people at parties for ages and they've told me that they watched the episodes I was in but didn't recognise me."

Although Petroni and Baird have spent most of their working lives in the TV and film industry, teaming up for Backtrack was the first time they've worked together in a professional capacity.

"I was quite nervous about that as well," Baird says.

"But it was surprising in many ways, because I've worked with lots of directors over my career and I didn't know what the husband- and-wife dynamic would be like but he was incredibly calm and incredibly warm with me on set."

Production on Backtrack wraps this month, with plans to launch the film at the European Film Market in Berlin.