SYDNEY (Reuters) – George Clooney and Julia Roberts are the latest Hollywood stars to feature in a movie shot Down Under, thanks to Australian government funding for big budget films and the country’s enticingly low exposure to the coronavirus pandemic.
The pair’s film, “Ticket to Paradise”, received a Queensland state grant of A$6.4 million ($4.90 million) to shoot in the Whitsunday Islands and elsewhere in the state this year.
Other stars to land in Australia in recent months for film and TV shoots include Matt Damon, Mark Whalberg, Natalie Portman, Zac Efron, Idris Elba, Liam Neeson, Melissa McCarthy and Tom Hanks.
Nicole Kidman and Chris Hemsworth are among Australians to bring big budget productions home, even as the influx of heavy hitters has sparked some criticism amid a government cap on Australian citizen arrivals and reports that some stars avoided hotel quarantine.
Australia’s aggressive response to the coronavirus pandemic, including lockdowns and border closures, has slowed community transmission to a trickle, making it popular in Hollywood for so-called “runaway productions.”
Filmmakers have also cited a A$400 million ($306 million) increase in Australian location grants since 2020 as a reason for choosing the country.
“Because of our strong health response and through the efforts of all Queenslanders in dealing with the global pandemic, we’ve emerged as one of the safest places in the world to film,” said Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk.
In “Ticket to Paradise”, which is being made for Comcast Corp’s Universal Pictures, the Whitsundays will stand in for Bali, Indonesia, as Clooney and Roberts play a divorced couple attending their daughter’s wedding.
Roberts is also due to shoot “Gaslit”, a TV series about the Watergate scandal, in Sydney, with Sean Penn and Australia’s Joel Edgerton, who would also direct, the Sydney Morning Herald reported.
Among the high profile productions, Damon, Wahlberg, Hemsworth and Portman are filming a Thor sequel, local media reported.
Australian-raised Kidman returned home with “Bridesmaids” star McCarthy to shoot “Nine Perfect Strangers”, a series for The Walt Disney Company’s Hulu, based on a book by the author of the novel “Big Little Lies”, who is also Australian.
Hanks filmed an Elvis Presley biopic in 2020 after initial filming was postponed by the pandemic and Hanks’s own COVID-19 diagnosis.
The influx has generated some criticism about a two-tier quarantine system, following reports of visiting celebrites getting permission to skip two-week hotel stints under guard to isolate in more salubrious private homes.
The federal government, meanwhile, has a cap on the number of Australians allowed to return, prompting anger among some citizens seeking to come home.
“If they don’t comply and it’s not done well, we have a problem,” said Mary-Louise McLaws, a professor of epidemiology at University of New South Wales, referring to the visiting stars.
“The public need to know exactly how the authorities are ensuring that they are remaining at home and they’re not going off to the gym or the golf course, or they’re not having the gym instructor come and do a workout with these travellers who are incubating.”
($1 = 1.3048 Australian dollars)
(Reporting by Byron Kaye; editing by Jane Wardell)