Welcome to Phoebe Tonkin Web, your best and largest source for the incredibly talented Australian actress, model, writer, director, and producer, Phoebe Tonkin. Phoebe is best known for her work as Cleo Sertori on the children's fantasy series, H2O: Just Add Water and as Hayley Marshall on the CW's The Originals. Phoebe's latest television project, Boy Swallows Universe, premiered on Netflix to critical acclaim. Her work on BSU led to her eventual casting in the upcoming Aussie crime series The Dark Lake. Our site aims to bring you the latest news on Phoebe and her career along with providing a comprehensive gallery of her work and appearances. We hope you enjoy the site and come back soon! b

ABC: Trent Dalton’s novel goes from page to screen in star-studded Netflix adaptation

Trent Dalton’s bestselling debut novel Boy Swallows Universe gained him a legion of loyal readers and cemented his place in Australia’s literary landscape.

Now, a seven-part Netflix series is about to bring his epic coming-of-age saga to a global audience.

Dalton’s semi-autobiographical tale follows Eli Bell, a young boy growing up in the suburbs of 1980s Brisbane who is coming to terms with the harsh realities of life.

His family consists of a lost father, a mute brother, a recovering addict mum, a heroin dealer for a step-father, and an infamous criminal for a babysitter.

For Dalton, seeing legendary Australian actors embody characters based so heavily on his own family members is “the best thing in the world and so unexpected.”

In the series, actors Phoebe Tonkin and Simon Baker play Eli’s parents Frances and Robert, with Travis Fimmel as step-father Lyle and Bryan Brown as real-life criminal Slim Halliday.

“My daughters watched Simon Baker in The Devil Wears Prada and they love that dude, and don’t get me started on how they feel about Phoebe Tonkin – she’s a hero to them,” Trent Dalton told ABC News.

“My brothers and I are massive fans of [Travis Fimmel] and then I get a phone call that’s like ‘that bloke’s gonna play this guy who raised you.’

“My brothers and I get deeply emotional about that because you’ve gotta go through a lot of stuff; there’s a lot of holes in the wall to get to Travis Fimmel.”

In Boy Swallows Universe, Eli and his older brother, August, are brought up amid the small-time heroin trade in 1980s Brisbane, which leads to their mother’s imprisonment.

As part of her process in playing Frances Bell, Phoebe Tonkin says she found herself coming back to Trent Dalton’s reason for writing the novel in the first place.

“I had read an interview Trent had made where he said he had written this book because he was sitting in the garden with his mother – who Frankie is loosely based on,” Tonkin told ABC News. “His mother turned to Trent and, with his children dancing in the sunshine, said ‘I wouldn’t have changed anything, everything that happened led me to this moment, sitting with my son and my grandchildren in the garden.’ For me that was such an important piece of who Frankie was, who Trent was, who Eli was.”

Tonkin says she immersed herself in podcasts and interviews about people who had faced drug addiction and recovered.

“[People who] had come out of it, had fallen back into it, and the strength it had taken for them to get to a point where they were able to be with their families again, able to be good mothers again, good partners.”

Taking inspiration from real life
Dalton’s novel, which was published in 2018, became Australia’s fastest-selling debut, made the Miles Franklin Literary Award longlist and won a record four awards at the 2019 Australian Book Industry Awards.

In 2021 the novel was adapted for the stage by Queensland Theatre, which – after extending its run twice – said it became the biggest-selling show in its more than 50-year history.

While the story is heavily inspired by Dalton’s childhood, he says the distinction between fact and fiction is evenly split – though his family would disagree.

“I say it’s 50 per cent. My mum says it’s about 45 per cent. I say the extra 5 per cent was the stuff that was in my head that no one knew about, and that stuff is real to me,” he said, adding “all the prison stuff, all the drugs” is true to life.

“Probably the closest character to anyone that John Collee, the screenwriter, wrote was my dear old man who died of bloody smoking durries too much, but he’s just up there smiling going ‘what the hell are you doing sitting here next to Travis Fimmel.'”

Simon Baker plays Robert Bell, Eli’s alcoholic father who has a love of reading and a crippling fear of leaving the house.

“There were key things, little bits and pieces that [Trent Dalton] said that sparked my imagination and gave me something to run with,” Baker tells ABC News.

“One of them which was really interesting – I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t mind me saying this – but he said ‘my father was equally the most terrifying person he’d ever met and the most beautiful person he’d ever met.’

“And that just stuck in my head. I know people that can be like that.”

For Travis Fimmel, playing Eli’s drug-dealing stepfather Lyle was about embodying a man “with a lot of love trying to take care of the people around him.”

“He makes a lot of bad decisions along the way, but his heart is in the right place.”

Iconic Australian actor Bryan Brown plays Arthur “Slim” Halliday, a real-life criminal who spent years in Brisbane’s Boggo Road Gaol and managed to escape three times.

“But you don’t see that man,” Bryan Brown tells ABC News.

“The man you see is the man who is there in some way to try and help this young kid, who could be very damaged, try and have a life in front of him.

“He’s not actually playing a crim, he’s playing a grandfather figure, if you like.”

Brown, whose career on screen has spanned over four decades, says he was “floored” by Felix Cameron’s performance as Eli.

“He’s a very bright young boy and has a natural instinct for the character, as did Lee [Halley, who plays August],” he said.

“They were just absolutely there, grounded in who these characters were. And they’re the story. We’re all the kerfuffle around it, but they’re the story.”

Recreating a nostalgic Brisbane
For Simon Baker, Boy Swallows Universe is “a pretty no-holds-barred story about a kid trying to understand where he fits in the world, what is right and what is wrong, what is love and what is family.”

“Outside of a structured, consistent nuclear family of meat and potatoes sort of stuff, [the series] does a dance around and through all of it, and with this beautiful veneer – or it’s more of a stain because it soaks right in – of optimism and hope and love.

“That’s just Trent’s work, it’s imbued with that. That’s the essence of who he is.”

Similar to the novel, Boy Swallows Universe not only captures quintessential Brisbane, but also transports audiences back in time to the 1980s as Eli and Gus hoon around the suburbs on their bikes.

“There is a colour of light shining through frangipanis that only Brisbane people know at 5pm and anyone who knows that light will know it on this show,” Dalton says.

“Anyone who was here in 1986 will feel seen.

“It’s as Brisbane as I’ve ever seen anything in my life, and I would only have dreamed of seeing a show like this when I was 12.”

Streaming legislation to boost Australian storytelling
Last January, the federal government announced streaming giants – such as Netflix, Disney and Amazon Prime – would be required to invest some of their revenue back into Australian content from mid-2024.

Details of the new policy are still to be negotiated, but the Australian film and television sector has previously argued for 20 per cent of revenue.

These rules would also bring the streaming sector into line with free-to-air networks, which are already subject to local content quotas.

Brown has been vocal about his support of the legislation and spoke about the topic at length during his National Press Club address last July.

“Our stories are as important to the world as anybody else’s stories. We have our own struggles and our own joys, they’re different to anywhere else in the world,” Brown says.

“We’re born storytellers, let’s take our Indigenous people: they’re storytellers, always have been, for thousands of years.

“We love telling stories. It’s our job to do, and the businesses that are around us need to support us, just like Netflix has here on a great Australian story. Let’s just do more of it.”

For Brown, Boy Swallows Universe is a story about hope and “not judging people.”

“People have very difficult lives, sometimes we can take a moral judgement on when we shouldn’t,” he says.

“We should be there going ‘let’s hope you get through this’ and I think this story is a story of hope.”

Published January 9, 2024
by Jessica Riga