As we discuss his latest work screenwriter Bevan Lee makes several analogies to theme parks.
Between Two Worlds is like a rollercoaster ride: “There are many loops and turns and twists and upside downs before the ride comes into the station, let me tell you.”
He likens the storytelling to a narrative high-wire act: “Juggling the different tones and the different genres, and actually making it work.”
But he also insists, “I do not want to stay too long at the fair. I don’t want to become the irrelevant old fart who’s still schleppin’ it out with everybody saying ‘Well they used to be good.’
“If I went out on this I’d go out in bliss land, because this is my best work by far. No question.”
Lee has penned some of Australia’s most successful dramas: Packed to the Rafters, A Place to Call Home, All Saints, Winners & Losers, Always Greener and Home & Away.
The 10 part Between Two Worlds could be the perfect swan song to what he describes as his two trademark styles.
“One is fairly heightened melodrama, and I use the term melodrama with great pride. On the other side, domestic drama.
“The first hour is like two half-hour pilots of two completely different genres, occupying the same space. And then at the end, one thing happens that makes you go, ‘Ok, what’s going to happen when these two mix?'”
The ‘worlds,’ are inhabited by tycoon Phillip Walford (Philip Quast) and wife Cate (Hermoine Norris), and in suburbia by single mum Sophia (Sarah Wiseman). But Lee uses the title to convey several contexts.
“It’s also between the worlds of what you think is going on and what’s actually going on”
“The two worlds that are the most obvious are between the worlds of Phillip Walford and Sophia Grey, but it’s also between the worlds of what you think is going on and what’s actually going on, between the worlds of what is on the surface with the characters and what is underneath.
“The whole show is really about duality.”
The cast also features Aaron Jeffery, Tom Dalzell, Alex Cubis, Megan Smart, Melanie Jarnson, Blazey Best, in storylines where nothing is quite as it appears.
“I have set out to slightly pull the rug out from underneath the audience”
“The narrative structure is such that every week I have set out to slightly pull the rug out from underneath the audience about their assumptions of what’s gone on in the previous week. You suddenly come back in the second week and think, ‘Oh ok, I didn’t realise that was going on!'” he explains.
“Each hour finishes on a cliffhanger, and the next episode always begins timewise prior to that cliffhanger, and examines the events from a different angle.”
Even Phillip Walford, who presents as a toxic tycoon ready to crush others, is given an arc where the audience is drawn to understanding.
“Saint Sophia… she’s sort of like Julie Rafter on steroids”
“By the end of the 10 hours, because you get to understand him, you really feel for him. It’s the same with all the characters. That’s why there’s the between two worlds of the surface and what’s underneath …even Sophia, who in episode one I call Saint Sophia because she’s sort of like Julie Rafter on steroids,” Lee insists.
“It came up a lot in discussions about the first hour: how likeable are those characters? They’re not, but they’re not meant to be. I truly, truly don’t think that likeability is required, otherwise Succession wouldn’t be the huge success that it is.
“This is what you’re being presented with. Now go the journey and trust, that like in life, it will take time for you to understand the nuances and depth of these people.”
“Like any suburban family, they’ve got their damage”
He adds, “The Greys look like a nice, suburban family, but like any suburban family, they’ve got their damage. That’s another thing about duality: between the worlds of the health of the person and the damage within the person. We all have damage inside us and all of us to a greater or lesser degree, hide it or display it.”
Producing is A Place to Call Home‘s Chris Martin-Jones, “who I cannot speak highly enough of,” and set-up director is Kriv Stenders, “bringing a wonderful cinematic eye to the piece.”
“I’m totally blessed with the cast…. wonderful people who admired and respected the scripts, and challenged from that best place… a place of no ego. The place of simply wanting to extract the best from the text so that they could as they embrace the truth of their own character.”
Seven has such faith in the show, it was held back for a plan to launch off the back of the Olympics. But 2020’s curve-balls have led to a new plan of attack, with the show now given a prime Sunday slot.
But not all of the Lee / Seven projects have been smooth sailing. Always Greener was axed when it was still rating well, while A Place to Call Home was cancelled due to costs and a desire to pursue younger viewers (it was thankfully rescued by Foxtel).
In 2020 the drama landscape is as tenuous as ever. Lee indicates a more pragmatic approach.
“Nothing’s a slam dunk these days”
“Nothing’s a slam dunk these days. I think it would be very unfortunate if it didn’t find an audience because I think it deserves one. But I’m too puzzled about the landscape other than to say, self-protectively, ‘We have made a f***ing fantastic show and if people like then I believe that’s as it should be, and if they don’t, we’re sad but we can’t control anything outside that,'” he observes.
“I think I’ve got to a point in my life where I don’t want to worry about stuff I can’t control.
“I know what I want. But I’m sensible enough to know that the world doesn’t always give you what you want.
“Maybe that’s me finally growing up.”
Between Two Worlds airs 8:30pm Sunday on Seven.