“There were days when I was worried about coming to set, with a real heaviness in my heart. Because the set has been me and Craig for 6 years,” admits Nadine Garner.
“But with the pace of the show and the way we are shooting, I haven’t had time, which has been really good.
“The grief that we have about losing (The Doctor Blake Mysteries) has been woven into this new story, because the character is grieving too. So we get to play that.
“Art imitating life….”
Garner is talking in between filming scenes of The Blake Mysteries, Seven’s phoenix-like attempt to continue the world of The Doctor Blake Mysteries following the absence of star Craig McLachlan.
Seven announced its plans for 4 telemovies in late 2017, but a lot has changed since then. Now it is only committed for 1 telemovie as it waits to see how audiences warm to the idea of Jean Blake, housekeeper-turned-wife, catapulted into the lead role. It is a move in circumstances nobody has welcomed, but seen as a progression to continue the show.
“We have reframed the show completely,” she concedes. “With the Jean character stepping up as protagonist it’s a different show. It has a slightly different style, slightly different tone, and even though Seven bought into the Blake brand they’ve had to rejig their expectations a little bit, which is very admirable of them, to jump on board something where they don’t really know what they’re getting.”
“It was very devastating, to be honest.”
Garner speaks frankly about the weeks and months of limbo as Seven and producers December Media addressed their dilemma.
“It was very devastating, to be honest. As a community of people there was a lot sadness, shock and anxiety about one’s own livelihood. Suddenly 100+ people were out of work. I had a signed contract, with my year planned around it,” she continues.
“It was devastating personally and financially. Not to mention being concerned for Craig’s well-being in the midst of it all.”
“I believed in the greatest good for the greatest number of people”
At the time of our interview, Garner had not spoken to McLachlan but did reach out prior to the start of filming.
“I wrote to him when we were about to go into production on this saying it was a strange situation for us to be in but I believed in the greatest good for the greatest number of people,” she explains.
“I felt very proud we were able to take the show forward and that it was done with love and concern for him and we hoped we had his blessing. But it’s difficult.”
Seven picking up the series was a big win for fans who had campaigned hardly following the end of the series on the ABC. Garner is candid about how the show fared with the public broadcaster, whilst acknowledging that even having successful ratings is no guarantee of a renewal.
“It doesn’t seem to matter whether you rate well, just like with A Place to Call Home. Seven ducked out of that,” she notes.
“There doesn’t seem to be rhyme nor reason. It goes on in board rooms with a few people and what happens nobody is privy to.
“I thought we did really well to get to 3 seasons and then 4 and 5. We felt very blessed to get as far as we did.
“We never felt particularly loved by the ABC.”
“But we never felt particularly loved by the ABC. They certainly never communicated it to us. Not once.
“They sort of ‘put up’ with us.
“So in a way it was a strange culture to make a show without network support. So when they finally did drop us, it was a bit like the truth had finally come out.”
Does she feel ABC wanted dramas that attracted younger viewers, and Doctor Blake skewed too old?
“Yes. Certainly under Guthrie it was a much more transparent agenda. But even before her it was an unspoken agenda.
“I never felt they were spiritually on board with the show.”
The Blake Mysteries, which sees the return of Joel Tobeck as Chief Superintendent Matthew Lawson and Belinda McClory as Police Surgeon Dr. Alice Harvey introduces new cast members Tom Wren, Emma Annand and Joshua Orpin. True to its genre there are three murders to be solved in the 90 minute telemovie, all with its hallmark period costumes, props, Ballarat locations and necessary red herrings.
For Garner’s character, the move into the ’60s (2 yrs and 8 months after her marriage to Lucien Blake), is also a moment of liberation.
“She has gone on a long, long journey to become an independent woman,” she reflects.
“She was ‘inherited’ by Lucien with the house, when his father passed. She came with the house!
“She’s spent her life looking after men. But now they have all gone for various reasons.
“She’s come into her own at the right time in history.”
“This is the first time in her life she’s actually alone, but liberated. It’s 1963, she has a career and the world has meant that women can step out. She’s come into her own at the right time in history.
“She’s no good unless she’s helping people. She’s a big part of the community. So for me it was always very clear that we could take Jean into the protagonist role. I felt intuitively how to do it, but it’s a very different thing to dramaturg it. And they had to do it very quickly.”
“I loved the character deeply.”
Yet while she -and the network- await the audience verdict to see if it leads to more adventures, the ever-loyal Garner still finds time for her colleague, facing his own very public challenges.
“I hope for Craig’s sake there are a few people who say, ‘You can’t have the show without Lucien!’ He is a loved character. I loved the character deeply. I can’t bear the idea we’re never going to see that character again. It was a beautifully crafted character he created and that shouldn’t go unremembered,” she insists.
“It’s really important we acknowledge that beautiful work.
“It’s the work I follow behind and it was pretty great stuff.”
The Blake Mysteries airs 8:30pm Friday on Seven.