On location with Wanted

EXCLUSIVE: Rebecca Gibney is standing in a roundabout in the Chinatown district of Bangkok about to film a crucial scene for the second series of Wanted.

Co-star Geraldine Hakewill overlooks the streetscape from a nearby rooftop. Across the road is another actor as ‘gunman.’ Actor Charles Cottier and a local ‘thug’ are in an SVU in a street Thai police have cordoned off, pigeons are gathered near Gibney ready to scatter on cue.

With the sound of a gunshot the pigeons fly upward, the SVU takes off and Gibney runs through the street, as a mother in anguish for her hostage son, emoting with such conviction the director is happy with a single take.

“The Thai crew here is world class”

Gibney’s commitment to Wanted extends beyond her role as Lola Buckley; she is co-creator and executive producer. Season Two ups the ante filming in Australia, New Zealand and Thailand, where local unit Lime Productions works with Matchbox Pictures and Gibney’s-own R&R Productions.

“The shooting conditions here are amazing. We wanted something Asian, and so many productions are brought to Thailand so it was logical for us to utilise an environment that is very film-friendly,” she explains.

“The Thai crew here is world class. We were concerned with the traffic we would not be able to get anywhere but we’ve been able go to everywhere so quickly and set-up straight away. You ask for whatever you want and it’s there in seconds.”

This is no case of Aussie Chinatowns doubling for Thailand. You can’t replicate the traffic frenzy, the backdrop or the humidity soaked through clothing. It is ideal for Gibney’s international chase.

“The Thai police stop traffic for us, it’s amazing! You go to cross the street and you have 3 policeman stopping traffic in the middle of thousands of cars!

“We had a 4 police motorcycles around our tuk-tuk as we were weaving in and out of traffic.”

Filming just months after the death of Thailand’s revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej also means Wanted needed to be mindful of the nation’s mourning period.

“Our Line Producer has been very aware of protocol, and said in certain areas not to photograph any sacred sites; wear long sleeves and cover up.

“Everyone is very respectful of the culture. Luckily it hasn’t been an issue because we are filming in the back streets of Bangkok.”

These are long days for Gibney who, when she isn’t acting before cameras, is across production schedules and casting, organising massages for weary crew, and viewing each day’s footage.

“I finish a day on this then I go back to the hotel, watch rushes, see what’s working, do we need more close-ups… it’s intense,” she acknowledges.

“This time around I am more tired than I was on Season 1 because it’s been relentless.

“But at my age it’s about reinvention and creating other opportunities that I can keep going. Otherwise I will stagnate.”

Wanted grew as an idea after Seven’s Head of Drama Julie McGauran suggested Gibney play a ‘rougher’ character than those audiences had come to love.

“Julie said ‘I’d love to see you play someone with a bit more edge.’ I think she meant tracksuit pants and potentially even ugg boots!” she laughs.

“So I got off the phone and it just poured out of me. I wrote a concept about two completely characters: Lola Buckley, a check-out chick, middle –aged woman, solo mother, reality TV addict.

“On the flipside Chelsea (Hakewill) is an uptight accountant, OCD and her life is perfect but lonely. They are two lonely women who have shared the same bus stop every day for the past 18 months, who have never spoken a word.”

“I’d been reading a lot of books about creating your own destiny”

Her agent linked her to producer Tony Ayres and Timothy Hobart at Matchbox Pictures where it was developed for Seven who took to it instantly. For Gibney, who had enjoyed a long run with Packed to the Rafters, Wanted represents having creative control.

“I’d been reading a lot of books about creating your own destiny, and I thought, ‘Why can’t I?’ We’d been working up treatments for years, and I thought ‘Bugger it, I’m just going to do it!’” she insists.

“I’m 52, so if I don’t create my own the roles are few and far between. So I had to get out there and do it otherwise I would still be doing Julie Rafter –which is great, I love Julie Rafter.

“But my goal is to keep doing it, maybe take a step back and create roles for other people.”

Season Two follows on from the Season One cliffhanger in which Lola’s son David (Cottier) is taken hostage by Morrison (Anthony Phelan), holding him as ransom until Lola & Chelsea hand over a mysterious key.

“Season Two starts off with ‘How far will a mother go to get her son back?’ But we sort of end up turning the tables, so the hunted become the hunters,” Gibney explains.

“There’s an element of thriller with an air of mystery. Season Two is about unravelling the mystery of what that key opens and what it leads to.

“Lola is a country girl from Australia with wide open spaces and she likes being alone. And to a certain extent I’m a bit like that.

“She’s lost her son, and come to a foreign country where she has no control over anything.

“And that makes Chelsea step up.”

“This series is a bit edgier and darker”

Part road-movie, part action series, Wanted quickly found a following as a new drama led by strong female characters. But Gibney says parallels to Thelma & Louise was a double-edge sword.

“Everyone loves Thelma & Louise, but no-one can re-create that,” she urges.

“We actually started referencing Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and Felix and Oscar from The Odd Couple.

“This is about 2 women who have nothing in common and actually dislike each other on sight but are forced into a car and go on the run together to survive.

“This series is a bit edgier and darker by the very nature of the fact that my ‘son’ has gone missing.”

Scenes in Queenstown and Dunedin will also capture breathtaking landscapes, that Gibney says hasn’t been seen in TV drama.

“We’re showcasing New Zealand in a whole new light. We’ve seen it in feature films and maybe commercials and Top of the Lake, but I don’t think Australian audiences have seen it in the way that we’re presenting,” she says.

800 Words is beautiful with the beach and rolling green hills, but Wanted is more rugged, more mountainous.

“It’s exciting. You pinch yourself and think, ‘I am so blessed to be doing this job!’”

Wanted returns with a double episode tonight at 8:40pm on Seven.

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