When Deborah Mailman was asked to appear in Nine’s new drama series Bite Club she was pretty chuffed.
Not only would it become her first Nine series, but it was also her first crime procedural. Mailman, acclaimed for a string of raw and dramatic performances, is actually a closet fan of the genre.
“Please don’t judge me!” she laughs. “I’ve loved Law and Order: SVU for so many years. It’s just a staple on my watching list and I don’t care if I’ve watched the episode 20 times before -I’ll still watch it again.
“I love (SVU‘s) Benson & Stabler or Chicago PD, they’re a bit brainless which I really enjoy. But also the high-end dramas like Broadchurch, and crime docos on the Crime + Investigation channel.
“I loved Killing Eve. It was brilliant from go to woah. Those two female characters, oh my god! They were just delicious.”
Nine’s 8 part drama centres around a two young detectives who are victims of a shark attack off Manly Beach, but whose trajectory as partners is forever changed. Whilst one moves on with their life, the other struggles with his fate until signs of a serial killer force them to work together.
Mailman is joined by Todd Lasance, Ash Ricardo, Damian Walshe-Howling, Robert Mammone, Pia Miller and UK actor Dominic Monaghan.
“I had an absolute ball filming this,” Mailman insists.
“The cast is fantastic. I hadn’t work with many of them other than Ash Ricardo in Offspring, but we had a ball. It was seriously a lot of fun.
“Dominic was just a sweetheart. He really fitted in and had a great time being here in Australia. I think he really enjoyed the role that was given to him and he was really part of the team.”
Mailman plays Superintendent Anna Morton who heads up the local police unit.
“It’s quite a procedural role, keeping the team together, making sure that they are doing the job,” she explains.
“But she’s also in a position and fought really hard for it, and she’s understanding that people probably don’t like her in that position. She’s very aware of what people are thinking.
“She has great trust but with the people higher up she feels like she’s continually watched and that she can’t put a step wrong.”
“I found it quite tricky to play such a role”
She concedes some of the jargon surrounding the policing work was also a bit of a challenge.
“I found it quite tricky to play such a role because some of the dialogue is quite a bit different to your everyday language. Trying to get my chops around some of the technical terms, I’m not very good at!
“It was the same for Cherie in Offspring. It took me ages to say ‘obstetrics!’” she laughs.
Yet the point is also not lost on her that having an Indigenous woman leading a policing unit on commercial television, is still a relatively rare casting concept.
“I was quite chuffed to get this role because they could have given it to anyone,” she continues. “For me being an Indigenous woman, I thought ‘Wow that’s fantastic to be on Channel Nine and in this position.’ I was really excited by that.
“From a producers’ point of view, they didn’t really think that was part of the reason why I got the role. Hopefully I was able to offer something as a character.
“But I’m sure it plays a part in the decision-making as well.”
“There’s still a bloody way to go”
Mailman has frequently been a spokesperson on Indigenous performing. Whilst she is happy to continue addressing representation and visibility, she also looks forward to the day when casting an Indigenous woman in such roles is, in itself, not considered a talking point.
“When you look at representation on screen -particularly Channel Nine, TEN & Seven, it’s not the best picture in the world. There’s still a bloody way to go, so from my perspective I look forward to the day when it’s no big deal. But for now I think it still needs to be pushed for commercial networks to open up and imagination and casting a little bit more,” she notes.
“It’s great that it’s not just landing on my shoulders any more”
“I think it’s important to keep having the conversation. This year we’re celebrating 25 years of the Indigenous Unit at Screen Australia which is really significant. Looking back on what has been achieved in that time, has been remarkable, in regards to Indigenous actors and stories on our screens.
“I don’t mind talking about it but it’s great that it’s not just landing on my shoulders any more. There are other people out there who can talk to that strength as well.”
For now the focus is on NITV & ABC Kids animation Little J & Big Cuz and Bite Club. And while her crime genre appetite is met by playing detective, Mailman reveals a casting wish yet to be realised: to go against type and play a killer.
“God yeah!” she exclaims.
“I know where my strengths are, but I have never really had the opportunity to play something in that way. That would be a great challenge for me, I think, to do something completely out of the box.
“I was hoping I’d get a gun on set, but I didn’t even get that!”
Bite Club airs 8:40pm Wednesday on Nine.