Mystery Road marks the first Australian TV role Judy Davis has undertaken in nearly 40 years.
The last -and the first- was 1980’s magnificent Water Under the Bridge. In the 38 years since she has done Australian film, US film & television, racking up 12 Emmy nominations and 3 wins and stage in multiple countries.
It has taken ABC’s 6 part drama, a spin-off from Ivan Sen’s 2013 film, to lure her back to the local small screen. And star Aaron Pedersen couldn’t be more happy about that.
“Judy was my Marlon Brando moment! I have such respect. Her spirit is amazing, I love her approach to work. But who would’ve thunk?” he declares.
“They say if you dream it, it happens.
“Her ‘want’ to do it just meant a lot to us. It’s a great starting point for us.
“Have you seen her IMDb list? It’s unbelievable.”
Pedersen reprises his role as Detective Jay Swan, tasked to work with local cop Emma James (Judy Davis) when a disappearance is reported on an outback cattle station.
“I walk into her ‘home’ for want of a better word. “
But the loner detective will discover an easy three day assignment is not so simple, and small town secrets abound.
“She’s a local and her family has been there for over 100 years. So she has the name and history, and she’s the boss of the town when it comes to the police force,” Pedersen explains.
“So I walk into her ‘home’ for want of a better word. But when I get there, she’s the one who knows what’s going on and she has a bit of comfortability. I have to work with her but I don’t have to befriend her. That’s what I like about Jay. He sits in the corner and watches everything unravel.
“In a small country town you can’t be too friendly with people when you have a job to do. You have to let them know that job is ever present. There’s a lot of danger in becoming too ‘matey’ because corruption becomes a problem, whether it be the town or the police force.”
Mystery Road boasts a top flight cast including Deborah Mailman, Colin Friels, Wayne Blair, Anthony Hayes, Ernie Dingo, John Waters, Aaron McGrath, Madeleine Madden, Kris McQuade and Meyne Wyatt. Ivan Sen, who remains an Executive Producer, handed over directing reins to Rachel Perkins.
“Ivan was a big part of it all the way, but he’s just not a big television-making person. He likes films, and that’s where he wants to stay with it all. But it’s obviously his idea and it was his motivation and drive to take it to the next level. That’s where he’s handed it over to us.”
“I love that this character has had more lives than I expected him to”
Filming took place in the East Kimberley region of Western Australia, with Jay moving from Winton, which featured in both Mystery Road and its sequel Goldstone, to the fictional town of Patterson.
“He’s leaving something behind because it was not a very welcoming place. So we were able to move him on and do his job in another town,” Pedersen continues.
“I love that this character has had more lives than I expected him to. Ivan and I have talked about another film and a push for another series too.
“There’s nothing better than immersing myself in something that has been praised by Australian audiences and filmmakers.”
Since his first screen role in 1993, Pedersen has chalked up some classic Television: Wildside, Water Rats, MDA, The Secret Life of Us, East West 101, The Circuit, City Homicide, Jack Irish, A Place to Call Home and more. While Jay Swan marks another police role for Pedersen, he isn’t worried about typecasting.
“Just be grateful that you are working, not going to Centrelink”
“I don’t have a problem with it,” he insists. “If I’m a working actor, I’m a working actor. It’s as simple as that. I’m still doing my craft. It doesn’t matter if I play cops for the rest of my life. You can’t have too many cops. I don’t see it as a negative, because there are so many different forms of coppers in the world and so many different storylines you can approach.
“If you are cast as one kind of character all your life, just be grateful that you are working, not going to Centrelink and being unemployed. There’s no negative in it for me. It’s genuinely more challenging to approach it from a different angle, each time.”
“It’s about being brave filmmakers & producers, and realising you have a brave audience.”
Thankfully casting opportunities for Indigenous actors are improving as the industry takes a bolder approach to ‘blind casting’ where actors are not continuously cast principally for the colour of their skin. It’s an important step as dramas with an Australian perspective look to global audiences.
“Yes it’s heading that way. It’s about being brave filmmakers and producers, and realising you have a brave audience. People are starved of this and they want it. People don’t want the same all the time. They have a hunger for knowledge and taste, texture and language. Variety is the spice of life and diversity is the thing that makes us realise we are no different, even though we are diverse,” Pedersen says.
“Mystery Road is uniquely Australian. Jay is smack bang in the middle of two worlds when he walks into it. If we can get it out there and show what our relationship is like in this country… it’s getting better but we still have a long way to go.”
Mystery Road premieres 8:30pm Sunday June 3 on ABC and iview binge.