If audiences want to see new faces in their local dramas, they need look no further than Hungry Ghosts, the new SBS drama set in Melbourne’s Vietnamese community.
Producer Stephen Corvini, who previously made Better Man in 2013, says much has changed in casting options in the intervening seven years. Casting agents Maura Fay & Associates searched comprehensively to fulfil 30 Asian-Australian actors and 325 Asian-Australian extras.
“When you look there are many,” he tells TV Tonight.
“If people are complaining about often seeing the same sorts of faces, we’ve got some extraordinary talent that has had very little film or TV exposure, led by Catherine Van-Davies, who’s quite a well-known theatre actor. She will be absolutely loved by our audience.
“… superb actors in their own right but they haven’t had large roles.”
“Jillian Nguyen recently did Loveland with Ivan Sen which hasn’t come out yet, and a small role in The True History of the Kelly Gang. There’s a number of people we have seen over the years like Ferdinand Hoang and Gabrielle Chan, who are superb actors in their own right but they haven’t had large roles. These are roles that have really stretched them and they’ve been really wonderful.
“Ideally we wanted to get Vietnamese-Australians. In some cases we have Chinese-Australians, but also there are ethnic Chinese in Vietnam. So we feel we’re not departing too far from the truth.”
The 4 part series is set during the month of the Hungry Ghost Festival. As spirits wreak havoc across the community in Melbourne, a young woman May Le (Văn-Davies) must rediscover her true heritage and accept her destiny to help bring balance to a community still traumatised by war.
“The show really is about the past catching up with you”
“The show really is about the past catching up with you in the present at it’s absolutely core,” Corvini explains. “In our story the past took place during the Vietnam War, and it’s a significant personal event that happened to a number of our characters.
“The Hungry Ghost festival is a very widely celebrated festival in Southeast Asia where people venerate ghosts to come back for a month every year. These are ghosts of the dead that haven’t been properly laid to rest.
“These ghosts are restless”
“So it’s really about appeasing. These ghosts are restless until they feel they have been properly taken care of.
“I think what’s interesting from a non-Asian perspective, is the way the ghosts are represented in Asian culture. In Buddhist and Tao culture, a ghost is another stage that you go through. It’s not something necessarily to be feared -it has it has very strong familial connotations. So therefore, it’s very much part of the culture. It’s not superstition it’s absolutely cultural.”
Corvini’s own interest in the subject links back to filming scenes for Better Man in Vietnam.
“One floor was completely black. It was haunted”
“I remember when we were filming in Ho Chi Minh City, at an apartment building, and one floor was completely black. It was haunted. At the time it triggered an interest in the mythologies that are celebrated.”
The Matchbox Pictures series, directed by Shawn Seet, is written by Timothy Hobart, Michelle Lee, Alan Nguyen, Jeremy Nguyen and John Ridley.
In addition to new television faces, there are others more familiar: Ryan Corr, Clare Bowen, Bryan Brown, Justine Clark, Susie Porter and Gary Sweet.
In a rare move for Australian drama, the series will also include elements of horror, if linked to cultural touchstones.
“We absolutely have a very strong horror genre element”
“We absolutely have a very strong horror genre element to it. But in a way also there are elements of fantasy, elements of rom com,” he continues.
“We look very closely at the Vietnam War and the way that it still resonates through individuals through the trauma that is carried by families.”
Hungry Ghosts screens 9:30pm Monday 24 – Thursday 27 August on SBS.