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Interview: The Real Saroo and Sue Brierley on Their Favorite Moments in 'Lion'

By Jose Solís.

David Wenham with the real Saroo and Sue Brierley whose story is told in "Lion"

If I didn’t already know Nicole Kidman is a genius, I would’ve been convinced after meeting Sue Brierley, the real life woman who inspired the character she plays in Lion. As I sat down to speak with Mrs. Brierley and her son Saroo (played by Dev Patel in the film), I was first struck by how Nicole perfectly captured her cadence, her soft voice and her piercing look, but then I was completely disarmed by her warmth. Watching her sit next to her son, and look at him with tenderness - she caressed his back, held his hand, and smiled constantly - perfectly encapsulates why the film is so successful. Their story simply needed to be told.

JOSE: Was it surreal to see your story on the big screen?

SAROO BRIERLEY: Yeah definitely, from writing a book, to seeing it turned into a movie, you want to be cautious when it’s a personal story. We’re humbled and touched by the reaction so far.

Read the rest of the interview after the jump...

JOSE: It’s appropriate, although that’s not the right term, that the film is arriving at a time when the US government is telling us people from certain parts of the world are undesirable. What do you think the film has to say about this moment in time?

SUE BRIERLEY: When the film was in production no one knew what would happen in 2017, but really we were hoping the story would provoke deep thoughts about issues like adoption, and as far as refugees go things have changed quite dramatically. There’s so much war going on, people need places to live safely, for me it provokes questions about why there are millions of orphaned, abandoned children sitting in camps in war torn zones. Why aren’t we talking more about them? They’re only considered refugees when they’re accompanied by adults, but there’s millions of children who have no one. They are the ultimate refugee, they need more assistance. I hope the film will provoke a feeling in people to consider parenting another person’s child. As human beings we should educate ourselves to be good parents for children who come from horrific situations.

JOSE: My personal favorite scene in the film is where Nicole Kidman playing you, gives the speech about a vision you had where you realized you wanted to adopt brown children. I spoke to screenwriter Luke Davies about this scene, and I’d love to hear your take on it, because this scene is one of those moments so intimate that it was probably impossible to imagine it ever being seen by millions of audience members.

SUE BRIERLEY: It was pretty tough, we talked about issues like that as a family, I spoke to Saroo when he wrote his book that I always wanted him and his brother to know us adopting them was a conscious decision. We wanted the film to be authentic so we were happy this got written into the script.

In the film we see you obsessed with the jalebis (Indian sweets), but once you moved to Tasmania what new foods did you grow fond of?

SAROO BRIERLEY: There were Indian sweets, also just general sort of Indian cooking that tasted better than Australian food.

SUE BRIERLEY: He got pretty sick when he arrived.

SAROO BRIERLEY: There was also something nostalgic about the food. It sent me back to the past, things like food encapsulate so much, they can put you in sad situations.

The screenwriter said that the film Saroo is more of an introvert and you’re more of an extrovert. So what traits would you like to have from the movie versions of yourselves?

SUE BRIERLEY: I think the portrayal of my character is pretty accurate, the film focused on times in our life which by chance were tough and sad, so that showed a sad part of my life. I guess there were parts that showed the fun we had, which balances out the other. The sad moments were very accurate though, the film is based on fact and I’m happy about that actually. I know it’s tough, but I appreciated Nicole going into that place of despair to play some of the scenes, and then she has those tender moments, which are some of the most intimate a woman can have, like when she speaks to her child when she’s bathing him. She speaks to him like he was a little baby because he didn’t understand her language, so I remember I would tell myself my plans out loud and what I’d do when Saroo could understand me. They show in some ways language isn’t that important in a relationship, infants can know love and comfort without a single word. I wanted to give that to Saroo and I think it paid off (she touches his face).

What’s your favorite scene in the film?

SAROO BRIERLEY: I think mine is when Dev’s talking to Nicole about why they adopted the children. It was so powerful, it’s like a major crescendo in the movie. It grabs you and makes everyone in the audience just listen. You don’t know what the words will be, but everything being said is so powerful.

SUE BRIERLEY: That’s a tough one, but I love the bath scene. I did that to Saroo every night and spoke to him about all my wishes, plans and dreams. It was personal validation and I think Nicole really nailed it.

Saroo, what was the first movie you became obsessed with or that your parents showed you?

SAROO BRIERLEY: Probably Salaam Bombay...

SUE BRIERLEY: Which was a big mistake because we were told by other friends who had adopted children from India that this was a great movie that showed what it was like in Bombay. We went along with it and in the end we’re sitting in the dark with tears down our face, and I felt terrible we hadn’t researched it more.

SAROO BRIERLEY: Was it Salaam Bombay or Crocodile Dundee?

SUE BRIERLEY: Salaam Bombay, Crocodile Dundee would’ve been much better. At that point Saroo had no language, and the film was shot in Hindi with subtitles. It was a sad, quite traumatic experience.

What’s your favorite performance by the actors who play you in the movie?

SUE BRIERLEY: There’s a few! Nicole is such an incredible actress, I have a soft spot for her in Australia, which you might not have seen, because it was this big Outback epic. I really like Moulin Rouge! because it shows the diversity of her acting, I love the way she can play anything, she feels free as an Australian woman to have a go at any part and that’s why she’s never typecast, which I think is the best thing an actor can have.

SAROO BRIERLEY: I liked Dev in The Man Who Knew Infinity, but I liked him in Skins as well. Dev’s become so recognizable now too, watching him into what he’s become in Lion is great.

SUE BRIERLEY: ...and if he started up one of those Best Marigold Hotels for retired people in India, I’d book it straight away.

(Sue laughs, Saroo blushes)

previous interviews | more from Jose | more on Lion

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Reader Comments (12)

We saw Lion yesterday. I liked it more than my wife did. For me it was too long for what it had to say. As far as performances go ! The little boy stole the movie. As far as Kidman goes her performance was so stilted Her big scene any actress could have performed. Talk about mannered. Dev Patel was adequate, but not close to excellent.

I also am not a huge fan of Michelle Williams role as supporting actress. But I prefer her to Kidman. Viola Davis will win, but it was not supporting. For me Naomie should win for a true supporting role Although I think Greta and Molly should have taken both Kidman and Michelle's place!

February 11, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMax

Max: Nicole was so beautiful and natural in Lion - not stilted at all. I agree with you about Michelle Williams though. Randi is definitely a man's vision of a woman. I found Manchester to be oddly chauvinistic all around. Thoughts?

February 12, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMichael R

Yes. My biggest issue with "Manchester," and it's one I'm surprised more critics haven't taken up, is how thin its female characters are. Not just Williams but all the others, who tend to be pigeonholed into kind of derogatory roles (flirts, nags).

"Lion" is amazing though. And Patel should have been nominated in Lead. He is so good, and sells the reunion scene in the most poignant and cathartic way imaginable. The movie would not be what it is without him, or Kidman.

February 12, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

This is a great interview :)

February 12, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterEz

Truly love this movie. Kidman was so good.

February 12, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMontage

Kidman was so warm without sentimentality,my Winner this year for S/Actress.

February 12, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMARKGORDONUK

My final 5

Nicole Kidman - Lion
Maria Riazza - Christine
Lily Gladstone - Certain Women
Viola Davis - Fences
Tyne Daly - Hello My Name Is Doris.

February 12, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMARKGORDONUK

I love that Sue thinks you mightn't have heard of AUSTRALIA.

February 12, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Dunks

Glenn -- i was just going to say. Clearly she doesn't know the devotion of Kidmaniacs.

February 12, 2017 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

I saw this movie recently. Apart from being moved by the wonderful story there was something else about it that proved truly special. I'm Australian, and to hear Dev Patel's attempt at our accent was astonishing. He's the first foreign actor to get it right, and I'm sure all Australians upon watching the movie are delighted to hear it and are moved by Lion more so than any other nation.

February 13, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterLuke

Saw LION last night. My friends and I were all in tears.

February 13, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterRob

No one in the US is saying people are "undesirable". Why did you insert your own politics in an otherwise good article? Illegal, not undesirable. Who has ever used that word? How biased and rude. All that is happening right now is the law that has been in place for decades is being enforced again. Also India is not even on any list for the USA. I have many Indian friends and they all come here LEGALLY with work visas.

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterLee

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