When viewers last saw Janet King in 2014 it was a high-risk gamble as a spin-off from the unsuccessful Crownies.
Focussed on the work and domestic life of crown prosecutor Janet King (Marta Dusseldorp), and aided by a darker tone, the show succeeded for the ABC.
2 years later the series returns, with King now heading up a Royal Commission into gun crime but with partner Ash (Aimee Pedersen) no longer part of her home life.
Yet while Janet remains one of the few gay females in a central drama role, there are still issues to address beyond the procedural elements, that remain important to its marquee star.
“She’s in a very different place but she’s not a victim of crime,” Dusseldorp explains. “She’s survived that, in her mind, and she is a warrior stepping forward into her next challenge which is to run this very important Royal Commission. But this of course is a challenge from the Attorney General which has personal elements involved which play out right to the end.
“There is a fantastic side story which I won’t reveal because it’s so complicated, but it has to do with Ash’s sister. It was one of my favourite strands to play.
“It’s unexplored territory and it has to do with same-sex marriages, and how they are seen in the law, especially when one of the partners is deceased. It becomes a very muddy area and has a lot of pain for Janet. It’s not right and we all know that. This has to be smoothed out in our own legal system in Australia.
“I’m hoping it’s satisfying and frustrating for people, because it should be. All of this should be put in law.”
With Janet now a single mother, does it open the story to new romantic possibilities?
“I think it might, which is a beautiful thing for lots of different reasons. We were in a 9 year relationship with 9 month year old twins. So you see the true side of any relationship, same-sex or not, when you’re dealing with that amount of chaos and change in the family home.”
Dusseldorp is regarded as one of the busiest actors on our screens, with lead roles in two other dramas, Jack Irish and A Place to Call Home, as well as narrating Hatch, Match & Dispatch.
“For me, Janet is my only real lead show. A Place to Call Home is an intertwining web of different men and women who have their own stories. Mine is a part of that tapestry. Maybe in the beginning it came through her eyes because she had to bring them all together but it’s morphed into a complicated puzzle,” she suggests.
“In Janet the responsibility is to know your stuff, really. I try to lead by example –coming prepared but being open to suggestion and spontaneity. That’s how really great drama is made –when you don’t know what’s going to happen when you’re shooting.
“The three shows that keep popping back up for me I have been doing for a long time. I’ve been lucky enough to work with people like Andrew Knight, Ian Collie, Greg Haddrick, Screentime, David Ogilvy, Bevan Lee, Channel Seven and Foxtel. They are really strong motorers of Australian drama.”
Dusseldorp also notes the other creatives on Janet King including ABC’s Carole Sklan, producers Lisa Scott & Karl Zwicky, directors Peter Andrikidis, Ian Watson & Grant Brown, and DoP Joe Pickering.
The series also sees Dusseldorp as an Associate Producer.
“I was part of the plotting from the beginning, as part of the Associate Producer role. I was allowed into the writer’s room from the moment the seed was pushed into the earth. There’s a wonderful collaboration between me and Greg Haddrick,” she explains.
“He was the total driving force (of the story). I put my hand up occasionally.
“We all knew each other very well and there was a feeling of full collaboration and co-operation. It was very helpful to have such a wonderful support structure. We bolted out of the gates rather than having to warm up to each other.
“We were able to just get on with the show which was good because we didn’t have a lot of time to shoot it.”
As her star rises in the industry, Dusseldorp joins an elite club of actresses producing and performing in TV. All the hard work may yet open doors to her own projects.
“Ultimately that is the long aim because as we get older we learn so much and we want to share that information. But we also want to keep learning, so your appetite gets bigger the further in you go. It’s so fabulous to be in from the ground up, I can’t tell you,” she insists.
“But it’s also a lot riskier. I sat down to watch the finished product and my heart was in my mouth.
“I’m still chipping away at my own projects and talking to the people that I love and trust to try and develop other things.”
Returning for Season Two are Damian Walshe-Howling, Andrea Demetriades, Hamish Michael, Christopher Morris and Peter Kowitz joined by Leah Purcell, Anita Hegh, Sarah Armanious and Rahel Romahn.
Dusseldorp describes working with the ensemble as playing with the best.
“I went to the opening of the Sydney Dance Company and I was watching them all negotiate the space together, moving in and out of time creating an amazing visual feast. And it struck me: that’s what it was like on Janet King. You’re playing with the best on this fabulous field, passing the ball and it only works that way.
“I think a woman in a lead role is still rare and we need to keep developing these stories. Women love to watch them, and so do men. The numbers are proving that on a consolidated basis.”
Spoken like a true Associate Producer. This kid could go far.
“You have to stay honest, work hard and keep learning all the time. You need to remain humble and understand that everyone is trying to do the same thing you are.”
Janet King returns 8:30pm Thursday March 24 on ABC.