Jack Irish heads off the page

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You know you have the trust of an author when they allow you to depart from their novels and create new storylines based on your characters.

That’s just what’s happened with the new 6 part series of Jack Irish.

While the first 3 telemovies were adaptations of Peter Temple novels Bad Debts, Black Tide and Dead Point, plans for a fourth telemovie based on White Dog took a detour.

“We had the rights to it and we were going to do it as another telemovie. We did a draft of it and then the ABC said ‘Why don’t we do a series?’” says writer / co-producer Andrew Anastasios.

“We didn’t think there was enough material in that one book to go across the entire series, so it was a great opportunity to expand Jack’s world out of Fitzroy and go to South East Asia.

“Some of the characters come out of White Dog, but essentially it is a completely new scenario. Peter Temple has entrusted his characters to us and we’ve created a new story.”

Temple did not ask to view the scripts of the new series by Essential Media, written by Andrew Knight, Matt Cameron and Anastasios. Actor Guy Pearce, returning in the title role, was also involved in creating new storylines.

“Guy was very active in the development from the outset. He was really keen to do a 6 parter, and he came to the very first brainstorm and helped us develop the storylines,” he says.

“All the way through it we were checking with him if things were credible for Jack as a character and whether he felt he could take Jack where we wanted to go. He was very enthusiastic and instrumental all the way through.”

The 6 episodes take place across an international backdrop, with scenes filmed in Melbourne and Manila. Jack’s on-again off-again lover Linda Hillier (Marta Dusseldorp) lands a job as a foreign correspondent in The Philippines but stumbles onto the trail of something big.

“We’re very careful to maintain the spirit of Jack Irish and maintain the storylines. While we wanted to move beyond the boundaries of Fitzroy, Jack is still very grounded in his world,” Anastasios assures.

Filming in two countries has proven a production challenge, but one he believes is validated by the exotic footage.

“The footage has justified not shooting it in Australia. It looks genuinely like the Philippines. There are things you just can’t fake, especially when you get wide shots.

“We cut back and forth from Melbourne to the Philippines and the story unfolds in both countries but comes to a head in Melbourne.”

The cast is a Who’s Who of esteemed performers including Roy Billing, Shane Jacobson, Aaron Pedersen, Damien Richardson, Kate Atkinson, Damien Garvey, Brooke Satchwell, Richard Cawthorne, Deborah Mailman and Sacha Horler.

“It’s been a scheduling nightmare, but also a scheduling joy to have the sorts of people who have been working on the project. The cast is exceptional and part of the problem of having an exceptional cast is that they are all working and all very busy, so it’s required us to juggle and fit people in where we can.

“Some of the crew had been to the Philippines before, but the great majority hadn’t. As far as I know none of the actors had been there before. But they had a wonderful experience.

“Everywhere they went they were well looked after, crowds swarmed every time a camera pulled out. There were fantastic shots of Marta in villages on the outskirts of Manila, swamped by local kids. Nobody necessarily knew who she was but they gravitated to her.”

Also featuring are Marcus Graham and Claudia Karvan.

“Claudia Karvan plays quite an important character and a potential love interest for Jack. Marcus Graham plays an evangelical pastor,” he continues.

“He’s been riveting on the screen and the dynamic been Claudia and Guy is completely different to the one with Marta.”

With so much rich material to work with audiences are set for a ride, but one faithful to the universe of Peter Temple. Anastasios is confident they can live up to the opportunity, without taking anything for granted.

“He gave us his permission and blessing with these characters,” he says.

“He was really positive about the first 3 (telemovies) and really enjoyed the experience. Audiences really liked the first 3 so he felt like Jack was in good hands.”

Jack Irish returns 8:30pm Thursday on ABC.

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