News, Culture & Society

Are Hollywood A-listers flocking to Australia to get out of lockdown?

With coronavirus cases soaring in the US and lockdown still in place in the UK, Australia has become a welcome escape for British and American celebrities wanting to flee restrictions for a life of relative freedom.

The cast of Thor: Love and Thunder have all touched down in Sydney, led by A-listers Natalie Portman, Matt Damon, Chris Pratt and Christian Bale. Leading man Chris Hemsworth already lives in Byron Bay, New South Wales – an area with so many celebrities (Zac Efron is also living there) that it has been dubbed ‘Aussiewood’. 

Hollywood star Nicole Kidman and her husband Keith Urban are living at their sprawling Australian home, while Isla Fisher and Sacha Baron Cohen have moved their three children from Los Angeles to the Sydney suburbs.

Elsewhere Normal People’s Paul Mescal is busy filming with a big screen adaptation of Carmen (directed by Portman’s husband Benjamin Millepied) while The Pembrokeshire Murders’ actor Luke Evans is taking in the sights after choosing to stay on in Australia rather than return to the UK when his latest project wrapped. 

Hollywood producers have been enticed to Australia by government grants, skilled crew and low Covid rates. There have been fewer than 29,000 cases of Covid-19 in Australia, compared to the 25 million seen in the US. California has had 3.21million cases and 37,495 deaths.

There is also a significant difference in restrictions. In New South Wales, where the majority of stars are based, restaurants and cafes are open, outdoor gatherings of up to 30 people are permitted and services such as beauty salons and hairdressers are also operating. 

In contrast, California’s stay-at-home order only lifted yesterday. Salons and malls are now open in Los Angeles and outdoor dining will be resumed on Friday. 

MOVED WITH HER FAMILY: Natalie Portman is among the stars who seems to be stretching out her time in Australia to make the most of the lifestyle. The actress, 39, moved to Byron Bay, in New South Wales, with her husband and two children in October, three months before filming on Thor: Love and Thunder started. Pictured, Natalie and her husband out in Sydney

RELOCATED: Sacha Baron Cohen and wife Isla Fisher, who was raised in Perth from the age of six, have even gone so far as to enroll their children in school, suggesting the move from Los Angeles will be permanent. Pictured, Isla Fisher running errands in Sydney

RELOCATED: Sacha Baron Cohen and wife Isla Fisher, who was raised in Perth from the age of six, have even gone so far as to enroll their children in school, suggesting the move from Los Angeles will be permanent. Pictured, Isla Fisher running errands in Sydney

Sailing with the stars! Sacha Baron Cohen joined Natalie Portman and her family for a cruise on Sydney Harbour on Sunday. Pictured with Natalie's children, Aleph, nine, and Amalia, three

Sailing with the stars! Sacha Baron Cohen joined Natalie Portman and her family for a cruise on Sydney Harbour on Sunday. Pictured with Natalie’s children, Aleph, nine, and Amalia, three

Pals: Paul Mescal (right) sat next to his Carmen co-star Melissa Barrera (left) on the lower deck

Pals: Paul Mescal (right) sat next to his Carmen co-star Melissa Barrera (left) on the lower deck 

Hollywood vs Australia: How the Covid-19 restrictions compare 

Rules vary between states and regions in both the US and Australia. New South Wales (including Sydney) and Los Angeles County (including Hollywood and surrounding areas) are where the majority of stars are based.

SOCIALISING AT HOME 

New South Wales: Residences in greater Sydney, Central Coast and Wollongong are allowed a maximum of 5 visitors. In the rest of the state, people are allowed a maximum of 50 visitors.

Los Angeles County: Groups of up to 15 people from three households are allowed to meet, but only outdoors. 

RESTAURANTS, CAFES AND BARS

New South Wales: All open. Patrons must observe the 4 sq metre per person rule up to a cap of 300 for each separate area at any time. All diners must provide name and contact details for contact tracing. Nightclubs are closed.

Los Angeles County: Outdoor dining will reopen from Friday. Indoor dining remains prohibited.  

SALONS, SPAS AND BEAUTY SERVICES

New South Wales: All open although there are density limits in place. This is based on the size of the business. 

Los Angeles County: Now allowed to operate at 25 per cent capacity.

MUSEUMS, GALLERIES, ZOOS AND AQUARIUMS

New South Wales: Open. Visitors must observe the 4sq metre social distancing rule. 

Los Angeles County: Outdoor operations allowed to reopen. 

PLACES OF WORSHIP

New South Wales: The number of people in a public place of worship must not exceed 100, and the 4 sq metre rule must be observed. 

Los Angeles County: Recommended to resume outdoors only. 

For many stars, the stay in Australia been made all the more comfortable by an easing of quarantine restrictions. 

Some, including Matt Damon, have been allowed to swap the two-week hotel stay required of all new arrivals for a fortnight in a luxury private residence. 

His immigration lawyer Rebekah O’Sullivan said last week the Good Will Hunting actor, 50, had ‘privately arranged and funded’ his two-week isolation with his wife and children so as not to create ‘any burden to the Australian taxpayer whatsoever’. 

Ms O’Sullivan added that Matt’s entry into the country has not impacted or reduced ‘the number of spaces for Australians overseas waiting to return home’.

Matt will live in Australia during the film’s production alongside his wife, Luciana Barroso, and their daughters, Isabella, 14, Gia, 12, and Stella, 10. 

Meanwhile Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban were allowed to spend the two weeks isolation period at their $6.5million mansion in New South Wales, while Mark Wahlberg rented a Byron Bay property that’s listed for $2,500 a night.  

The relaxed measures have no doubt made Australia more appealing to stars who might once have been put off by the inconvenience of filming so far away from family and the traditional celebrity hubs of New York, Los Angeles and London. 

BACK HOME: Another returning Aussie with no apparent plans to return to the US is Nicole Kidman, who set up home at her sprawling New South Wales ranch last year while filming TV series Nine Perfect Strangers. Pictured, Nicole and husband Keith Urban in Australia

BACK HOME: Another returning Aussie with no apparent plans to return to the US is Nicole Kidman, who set up home at her sprawling New South Wales ranch last year while filming TV series Nine Perfect Strangers. Pictured, Nicole and husband Keith Urban in Australia

ISOLATING IN LUXURY: Nicole, 53, and Keith, 52, who flew from Tennessee to Sydney via private jet, were allowed to head straight to their $6.5m mansion in New South Wales , above

ISOLATING IN LUXURY: Nicole, 53, and Keith, 52, who flew from Tennessee to Sydney via private jet, were allowed to head straight to their $6.5m mansion in New South Wales , above

STAYING BEHIND: Luke Evans explained he was not ready to give up the good life he enjoyed while filming Nine Perfect Strangers and is now taking in the sights Down Under. Pictured, Evans soaks up the sun in Australia in a snap shared on Instagram

STAYING BEHIND: Luke Evans explained he was not ready to give up the good life he enjoyed while filming Nine Perfect Strangers and is now taking in the sights Down Under. Pictured, Evans soaks up the sun in Australia in a snap shared on Instagram

He's back! Chris Pratt, 41, landed in Australia with his co-stars as they prepare to film the new Thor movie alongside Byron Bay local Chris Hemsworth

He’s back! Chris Pratt, 41, landed in Australia with his co-stars as they prepare to film the new Thor movie alongside Byron Bay local Chris Hemsworth

Natalie Portman is among the stars who seems to be stretching out her time in Australia to make the most of the relatively relaxed lifestyle.

The actress, 39, moved to Byron Bay, in New South Wales, with her husband and two children in October, three months before filming on Thor: Love and Thunder started this month.

Local powers allow exemptions for stars 

While the majority of arrivals have to spend two weeks in state-monitored hotel quarantine, the likes of Mark Wahlberg, Nicole Kidman, Keith Urban, and Matt Damon have been given permission to isolate at luxury private residences.

Quarantine exemptions are a matter for states and territories, meaning local leaders can decide who is granted one. 

Certain professions are exempt from mandatory hotel quarantine, such as pilots and diplomats. 

However, exemptions can also be made at the discretion of authorities — either the state government or police, depending on the jurisdiction.

There have been calls for greater clarity around this process after a string of stars were given exemptions.

Critics argue it’s ‘one rule for the rich and another for the poor’. 

The family are in no shortage of celebrity pals to spend the weekend with. Indeed the upmarket town is so popular with stars that it has been dubbed ‘Aussiewood’. 

Portman’s Thor co-star Chris Hemsworth and his brothers Liam and Luke all live in properties in the area and regularly invite their Hollywood pals to visit.

Natalie and husband Benjamin Millepied were recently spotted on a yacht trip with Isla Fisher and Sacha Baron Cohen, who relocated from Los Angeles to the Sydney suburbs with their three children last year. 

Sacha and Isla, who was raised in Perth from the age of six, have even gone so far as to enroll their children in school, suggesting the move will be permanent. 

Another returning Aussie with no apparent plans to return to the US is Nicole Kidman, who set up home at her sprawling New South Wales ranch last year while filming TV series Nine Perfect Strangers. 

Kidman and husband Keith Urban have been spotted out and about with daughters Faith and Sunday, and have yet to return to Tennessee, where they usually live. 

British stars have also chosen stay behind in Australia rather than return to lockdown.

Luke Evans, who recently appeared in ITV’s The Pembrokeshire Murders, explained he was not ready to give up the good life he enjoyed while filming Nine Perfect Strangers and is now taking in the sights Down Under. 

‘When I had days off [from filming’ I was on the beach, Australia had very few cases of Covid,’ he said in a TV interview earlier this month. ‘I feel very lucky to be here, that’s why I’m still here in January even though I wrapped in December.’ 

However there has been public criticism of the favourable treatment given to stars.  

QUARANTINE EXEMPTION: Mark Wahlberg, pictured on a visit to Australia and New Zealand last year, was allowed to quarantine at a private residence instead of a controlled hotel

QUARANTINE EXEMPTION: Mark Wahlberg, pictured on a visit to Australia and New Zealand last year, was allowed to quarantine at a private residence instead of a controlled hotel

PRIVATE: The sprawling property where Mark Wahlberg quarantined last month

PRIVATE: The sprawling property where Mark Wahlberg quarantined last month 

Quarantine exemptions are a matter for states and territories, meaning local leaders can decide who is granted one.

Certain professions are exempt from mandatory hotel quarantine, such as pilots and diplomats. 

Stars Down Under! 

Some of the celebrities who’ve spent time in Australia over the last year: 

  • Matt Damon
  • Sacha Baron Cohen and Isla Fisher
  • Natalie Portman and Benjamin Millepied
  • Jamie Alexander
  • Paul Mescal
  • Chris Pratt
  • Zac Efron
  • Luke Evans
  • Kate Walsh
  • Melissa McCarthy
  • Idris Elba
  • Liam Neeson

Exemptions can also be made at the discretion of authorities — either the state government or police, depending on the jurisdiction.

There have been calls for greater clarity around this process after the preferable treatment given to stars, particularly as some Australians living overseas are facing a struggle to return home. 

In March last year there was a public outcry when it emerged Tom Hanks, one of the first high-profile people to be diagnosed with Covid-19 in Australia, was granted permission to cross closed state borders. 

Professor Mary-Louise McLaws, epidemiologist and WHO adviser, told ABC news: ‘I can’t understand how the Australian general community, that’s highly egalitarian, will think that this is OK.

‘Particularly if they’ve had any family member that’s had to go through quarantine or they have gone through quarantine themselves. It’s just totally unacceptable from optics, but also from infection control and compliance.’ 

The trend of Hollywood talent being drawn to Australia looks set to continue. 

Once focused on domestic output, Australia’s film and TV industry has shifted towards international productions over the last 12 months.  

MAKING AUSTRALIA HOME: Zac Efron with girlfriend Vanessa Valladares this month

MAKING AUSTRALIA HOME: Zac Efron with girlfriend Vanessa Valladares this month

FILMING DOWN UNDER: Melissa McCarthy lived in Australia while filming Nine Perfect Strangers last year. Above, an Instagram live video filmed at her temporary home

FILMING DOWN UNDER: Melissa McCarthy lived in Australia while filming Nine Perfect Strangers last year. Above, an Instagram live video filmed at her temporary home

Odd choice: Natalie Portman, 39, (pictured) looked like she was preparing to star in a horror movie as she visited a Sydney nail salon wearing a terrifying mask on Sunday

Odd choice: Natalie Portman, 39, (pictured) looked like she was preparing to star in a horror movie as she visited a Sydney nail salon wearing a terrifying mask on Sunday

This is driven partly by the low Covid numbers but also by the new Location Incentive, a $400 million (£225 million) project unveiled last year which provides grants to big budget international productions filming in Australia.

The combination of factors has led to a surge in inquiries from UK and US production houses. 

‘It’s been phenomenal,’ Kate Marks, CEO of Ausfilm, told the Guardian. ‘Since April, when it became clear we were getting on top of the virus, and after the Location Incentive was announced, we’ve had $2.7billion in inquiries from international productions.’

It remains to be seen how many of these inquiries translate to productions filming in Australia but the figures give an indication of the growing interest.  

G'day! In footage obtained by Daily Mail Australia, Christian Bale appeared to be exiting a luxury private jet flanked by awaiting security guards.

G’day! In footage obtained by Daily Mail Australia, Christian Bale appeared to be exiting a luxury private jet flanked by awaiting security guards.

HOLLYWOOD PALS: Chris Hemsworth and wife Elsa Pataky, pictured, are close friends with Isla Fisher and Sacha Baron Cohen and have spent time with the couple in Byron Bay

HOLLYWOOD PALS: Chris Hemsworth and wife Elsa Pataky, pictured, are close friends with Isla Fisher and Sacha Baron Cohen and have spent time with the couple in Byron Bay

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk