Taylor John Smith is the name on the lips of many as the film adaptation of Where The Crawdads Sing premieres in cinemas across the globe. Cast as the charming, empathetic character of Tate Walker, the actor embodies his characteristics on an off screen, his nature shining through when we spoke with him in early June.
Smith is affable to speak with, a warmth radiating through our pan-pacific call at 7am AEST. From sunny Los Angeles, he tells us he recently spent some time in Melbourne filming Blacklight with Liam Neeson and developed an affinity for the country.
“I love Australia,” he says. “They're such welcoming, kind people and very fun.”
Smith was on his way home from the Victorian capital when he immersed himself in Owens’ book, first as an audio book listened to at “one and a half times speed” and then read on the plane home, where he found himself so overcome with emotion a stewardess checked on him to make sure he was ok. What is clear from speaking with Smith is his genuine pride and admiration for the film and being part of its cinematic adaptation.
“I’m very, very proud of this film and honoured to be part of this amazing group of women that made it happen,” he says, of a troop including Reese Witherspoon, Elizabeth Gabler and of course its star, Daisy Edgar-Jones.
Here, we speak with Smith about immersing himself in the role of Tate Walker and what he hopes the audience takes from Where The Crawdads Sing.
How was your experience of filming Where The Crawdads Sing? There was obviously a lot of boat scenes, fishing, harvesting muscles – did you have to learn this?
We had about a month or two to prep for it, and so Daisy [Edgar-Jones] – who plays Kya – and I spent a lot of time together. We got to go fishing, we got to go on swamp tours and nature walks and really got to get a good feel for the marsh as a whole, which kind of plays its own character in the book, and especially in the movie.
What did you know of the story going into filming? Had you been familiar with it, or was it all completely fresh?
I had heard of the book, but I was in Australia in Melbourne making a movie and I had to prepare before we started shooting. I couldn't find the book in stores because a lot of things were shut down due to COVID, so I bought the audio book, and made the mistake of trying to cram it all in in two days [laughs].
I played it on one and a half times speed, trying to get through it, but only made it about halfway through the book. I kept rewinding because [it was] so beautifully written and I was taking notes. Then, when I finished finished filming Blacklight that I was doing in Australia, on the flight home I read it cover to cover and at the end of it, I was very emotional. Right before we landed, a sweet air stewardess came up and checked on me and asked if I was okay. I showed her I was just reading the book and she she laughed, like she knows exactly what I was going through! I think she was a fan of the book as well.
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And how did you find Australia? Did you enjoy your time here?
I absolutely loved it. I actually would walk up and down the [Yarra] River for those two days listening to the audio book. I absolutely loved Melbourne. I didn't get a chance to go up to Sydney. I know there's kind of a rivalry between between the two, but I have to come back and fully taken the country. I love Australia. They're such welcoming, kind people and very fun.
There’s an inherent tenderness to Tate in the book, which of course is seen in your portrayal. How did you ensure that came across in filming and onto screens?
I mean, that's just who Tate is. I definitely see a lot of myself in him. I tried to be as kind as I can to the people I've come across – I think one of the best qualities in a person is their kindness – and I really resonated with that in Tate. You have to remember, he's also not a perfect person and nor is anybody. You saw that when he was supposed to come back on July 4, and didn’t. He spent the rest of the film trying to make it up and he would always feel guilty.
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What do you hope audiences take away from the film?
Reese [Witherspoon] did such an amazing job and made sure the film was a loyal adaptation of the book. I know when I read a book, and probably everybody else reading a book, they create a picture of it in their head as the reading. It's scary, taking such a beloved story and trying to transfer that into a movie but Reese and [producer] Elizabeth Gabler, they did such an incredible job making sure the core and the soul of the book got put perfectly into the film. I just want people to be able to enjoy the two-hour escapism. It's got something for everybody – it's a perfect date night film, it’s murder mystery, coming-of-age drama. There is a beautiful, beautiful love story sprinkled all throughout and I think people are going to really enjoy it.
Where The Crawdads Sing is in Australian cinemas from July 21.