Joel Jackson may be playing Detective James Steed in Ms. Fisher’s Modern Murder Mysteries but he has no qualms in “stealing” in order to bring the character to life.
A little classic movie star here…. a bit of TV there.
In playing a character rooted in the 1960s, Jackson draws upon a phrase by Pablo Picasso.
“He said, ‘Good artists copy. but great artists steal!’
“I think we’re all doing that -especially as actors, seeing moments that we love. This a ’60s drama so the sensibility of the man is very different to the sensibilities of a man now. So you steal from guys like Cary Grant and Steve McQueen.
“The affability and boisterousness that is Cary Grant is beautiful to see. And the size of that man when he walks in a suit. But then you’ve got the coolness and chic of Steve McQueen, how he carries himself in action sequences and the brashness of a man back then,” Jackson suggests.
“There’s certain tweaks and things that you do that are just a little bit of period, a bit of fun. But then very much stay within the Don Draper model where people can still relate to it.”
It’s a philosophy he adopts in life as well as on screen. Jackson has a podcast on iTunes called The Good Thief.
“I chat to writers, directors, actors, athletes, artists, academics. People that inspire me or have done something that makes me ask ‘What is that and where did you get that idea from?’
“It’s a good way for me to stay involved and inspired.”
“A lot of the characters I’ve played have been so big.”
Jackson’s own star has been on a fast trajectory, appearing in Foxtel’s Deadline: Gallipoli miniseries, then Peter Allen: Not the Boy Next Door and Safe Harbour. Surprisingly this marks his first TV role under multiple directors, but he is enjoying the change from single directors across 4 movie-length episodes alongside co-star Geraldine Hakewill. He is also loving all the costumes, props and designs that are hallmarks of the Miss Fisher brand.
“A lot of the characters I’ve played have been so big. So it’s quite nice to sit back and just enjoy the scenes for what they are,” he continues.
“But you’re still adding colour to it, because you can be the straight guy but you can do a lot with that.
“Seven does a great job with finding those projects where people are going to fall in love with the character and the world of that character. Peter Allen went through three different decades so there’s all the costumes, the music and the different characters that came in and out, which made it so memorable.
“And of course the great actors that they’ve got involved to carry that storyline.
“Geraldine is just a powerhouse. Because of her experience and the amount of TV she has done she’s just so good at being at the helm of a show and knowing when to pull back with certain things. and throw ideas in. Especially when scripts are being thrown out quite quickly.”
Jackson has enjoyed playing a hardworking detective who sticks to the law, but finds himself challenged by the spirited Peregrine Fisher, niece to Phryne Fisher, in the Seven sequel.
“Detective James Steed is one of the up and coming detectives of Melbourne. Very smart, very dogged determination, black and white. It’s the law. If you break it, petty theft, anything, you’re in his bad books,” he continues.
“He’s always with the first guy to tip his hat to a woman or give up his seat or things like that. So it’s a lot of fun to play in terms of the escapism in that world.
“But you can tell the moment he first sees he’s that he’s never experienced anything like this woman or ever had to deal with someone like her. The moment she enters his life it’s never the same. So his sensibilities are challenged. His acceptance of the grey area, between what is right and what is wrong….
“He’s a very held-together kind of man. And she’s a woman to encourage him to loosen his tie. To. go 10 miles over the limit. So she’s a lot of fun.”
“We are continuously being thrown into these situations where we need each other”
But it wouldn’t be the Miss Fisher brand without some unresolved sexual tension between the two leads. As Jackson explains, the two compete in the ’60s world of change.
“Geraldine’s character is continuously competing with me to beat me to solve the crime. To be seen as my equal or above, which is great. But then throughout it we are continuously being thrown into these situations where we need each other.
“So you build that relationship that is either a great friendship or an even better relationship. But do you sacrifice the working relationship for the love?
“And then you’ve always got the rest of the characters who are there battling us away from each other and pushing us and pulling us in different directions.
“So there’s a lot of tongue in cheek moments and also our moments where we desperately need each other. And you see those great human moments where people need someone in their lives.
“But he knows that Peregrine’s going to get more information out of certain suspects than he ever could, because she is not wearing a badge, she’s very persuasive, very intelligent and wily. And tough.”
The drama also touches on social and political themes from the era including White Australia Policy and the Cold War, as backdrops for the whodunnit crimes.
“We touch on hiding homosexuality within the entertainment industry. So there’s a whole lot beneath the surface and every character’s got their own perspective on those things and they’re explored alongside the action and the drama,” he observes.
“There’s a whole lot to sink your teeth into.”
“I know that people are going to fall in love with Geri”
This year Jackson films the feature H is for Happiness with Richard Roxburgh, Deborah Mailman and Miriam Margolyes and awaits word on whether Ms Fisher will proceed to a second season.
“I know that people are going to fall in love with Geri,” he says.
“If it goes again it would be the first time I’m reprising something, which would be exciting to do.
“If it doesn’t then I’ve had the best time doing it, but if it does I’d be very honoured to step back into the world again.”
Ms. Fisher’s Modern Murder Mysteries airs 8:30pm Thursdays on Seven.