The dark centre of Marta Dusseldorp
Showing her versatility, Marta Dusseldorp now spearheads not one but two Australian dramas.
With the success of Seven’s A Place to Call Home, ABC is hoping a broader audience will embrace its latest drama, Janet King.
But the reboot of Crownies was actually put in motion before she was cast by Seven. Dusseldorp recalls getting the call to return to the character of the Crown Prosecutor.
“I thought ‘Hell yeah!’” she said.
“I really enjoyed playing her but she’s very different in this one.
“There’s no procedural element or case of the week, it’s just a slow-burn, or sometimes a fast-burn over the whole 8 hours. It was pitched to me as an 8 hour movie that will be fast, hard, chaotic and intense and turns her world upside-down.
“So I was immediately thrilled, and quite scared because I’d never had that responsibility before. The idea was flagged before A Place to Call Home. So I hadn’t stepped into big shoes yet.”
In a rare move, ABC revisited the series with producers Screentime by jettisoning some of the lighter, ‘soapie’ style threads and hooking the series around its heroine, rather than the broader ensemble.
“It helps focus the story, but if it wasn’t for everyone else it just wouldn’t work. They are wonderful, dynamic players to play against. And we have other people who are joining us to bring new energy to it,” she explains.
“For me it resonated with The Killing. That was 22 episodes but eventually when I pushed through I was rewarded. But this is much shorter.”
The series opens after King has completed 12 months maternity leave and returns to her legal work.
“What I like about it she doesn’t know if that’s actually what she wants to do. So there is a reticence, and because of that her ego gets involved and she makes mistakes. She creates compromise and there isn’t this perfect saber-like prosecutor anymore. It’s jagged and a little blinded by the love that she has for her children.
“I think there’s a dark centre to the caramel we’re offering this time. It’s insidious and a social problem that exists today.”
The ‘problem’ Dusseldorp is referring to is the subject of mercy killing. Actor John Howard portrays an Assistant Commissioner of Police who assists the death of his terminally-ill wife. It forms the plot of Janet King‘s key case and opens up plenty of moral questions.
“Assisted suicide is not part of the law and we know that, but we’re saying wouldn’t it be good if there was this ‘out’ so it’s not manslaughter or murder?” she asks.
“It’s a massive arc and Janet unwittingly gets involved. She’s got a sharp sense of right and wrong and she follows that until it explodes in her face, basically.
“She loses everything she loves and she has to fight dirty, to get it all back.
“And like any political thriller there is a huge climax and a bitter twist.”
There’s also a personal side to King’s character, depicted through her same-sex parented family with actress Ashleigh Larsson.
“I found the stuff with Ash and the kids very satisfying and a way to show another side to Janet that we had never seen,” she says.
“The love that Ash and I have is very true, and I love that it’s not in turmoil. There are issues but essentially they are a functioning, loving couple.”
Screening on Thursday nights, Janet King will screen away from the Aussie drama battle at the top of the week, and the dark, evolving nature of the series will lend itself well to catch-up viewing.
“I believe there is binge watching these days,”Dusseldorp says.
“That’s not to say we don’t need the numbers on the ABC because it’s a numbers game. So hopefully people do tune in because that signals that they like it.”
Janet King airs 8:30pm Thursdays on ABC1.