Wakefield calling Rudi

Wakefield's Rudi Dharmalingam sheds light on the complex, fragile ABC drama on mental illness.

British actor Rudi Dharmalingam remembers getting the call from his agent last October.

“I think it was a particularly gloomy day in England, and he said “Good morning, it’s terrible today, isn’t it? I bet it’s nice in Australia.’ And then the penny dropped!” he tells TV Tonight.

And with that he landed the lead role in Wakefield, ABC’s new psychological mystery set in the Blue Mountains.

Dharmalingam, best known for The Split, Strike Back, Dark Money & Tin Star, had auditioned mostly via tapes sent to producers Jungle Entertainment in Australia. He’d visited before as part of a History Boys tour by the National Theatre, which included a visit to the Blue Mountains.

“The whole area has such wonderful energy about it”

“It was just incredible,” he recalls. “The whole area has such wonderful energy about it. It was a real privilege to be up there working.”

Yet Wakefield is not your ordinary ABC drama. There are moments of magic realism, even a detour into musicals. The series explores the fine line between sanity and madness. He plays psych nurse, Nik Katira, described as the most stable person in his a psych ward, but whose grip on his own sanity is slipping.

“Nik is the epitome of what you’d want in a psychiatric nurse. He is playful, intuitive, very unorthodox. He’s the kind of guy anyone would want attending to their needs, I suppose.

“He’s very content in his work life. He’s not particularly ambitious, much to the disliking of his family, which you will see later on. He’s got this reputation in the family and amongst his friends as being an underachiever.

“A series of other triggers sparks some kind of long lost memory”

“In Episode One a song gets stuck in his head, but a series of other triggers sparks some kind of long lost memory that has been buried over the years. As the series progresses, you see auditory flashes, visual flashes of memory, that begin to enter his consciousness.”

Filming from January to March was halted by the COVID-19 shutdown, with Dharmalingam returning to the UK, But he returned in June after the mandatory 2 weeks quarantine to restart the shoot.

“I had two weeks in a hotel in Sydney, which on paper sounds very nice! Room service and all that! No,” he insists.

“I had lots of Skype meetings, Zoom meetings, and tap dancing lessons in my apartment.”

“Obviously, it’s a very, very different thing. It was a tough two weeks. Most modern hotels don’t have any opening windows and I didn’t have a balcony or fresh air . Little things, having not seeing a tree for two weeks, you take for granted. It can be quite debilitating, really. But I had lots of Skype meetings, Zoom meetings, and tap dancing lessons in my apartment.

“I was just coming to the stage in the series where Nik is feeling more and more isolated and alone. So two weeks in quarantine I was able to use that and I managed to do lots of script work.”

He adds of the role, “I was able to bring my own experience, my own journey through life I suppose -without going into too much detail. When I read the script for the first time, there were so many elements that resonated with me, personally. So I had all that there as baggage, which I could just use.”

Joining him in the 8 part series are Geraldine Hakewill, Mandy McElhinney, Harriet Dyer, Harry Greenwood, Ryan Corr, Felicity Ward, Kim Gyngell, Dan Wyllie, Sam Simmons and Bessie Holland.  Kristen Dunphy  is creator, sharing showrunner duties with Sam Meikle, while Jocelyn Moorhouse (Stateless, The Dressmaker) and Kim Mordaunt (The Rocket) direct.

“I didn’t know anyone. I was familiar with Jocelyn Moorhouse’s work, I’d watched The Dressmaker which I loved. But it was just the most wonderful company,” he continues.

“So complicated, so textured and layered”

“Sam and Kristen were just always there for me, as were Jocelyn and Kim. I used to spend a lot of time talking to Sam about the journey that I had to go on as an actor, in order to actually do their work justice. What Kristen & Sam had created was something that was so complicated, so textured and layered, that I had to have a constant conversation with them. The cast were wonderful, really giving and talented.”

ABC will drop all 8 episodes on iview on Friday, perfectly timed for Easter viewing, two weeks ahead of its on-air broadcast.

“It’ll make you laugh, make you cry. It’s very enlightening”

“I think it’s got everything. It’ll make you laugh, make you cry. It’s very enlightening, especially in the current climate. It’s a feel good show, which is tackling the very sensitive area of mental illness,” he suggests.

“But it’s bringing mental illness to the forefront as well. It’s been long stigmatized. You know, we’re all on the spectrum, we’re all have fragility. The mind is something we all need to be very open about and talking about, rather than sweeping it under the carpet.”

All episodes Friday April 2 on iview.
Airing weekly on ABC, from Sunday 18th April at 8.30pm.

6 Responses

  1. This was gripping to watch. Particularly impressed by Rudi, Mandy and Felicity. The actors who played the patients all did a sublime job at sympathetically portraying mentally ill people.

  2. The only other series which comes close in brilliance to this is Denis Potter’s “The Singing Detective”. There is not a false step in this brilliant series which I have just finished watching. The acting, the settings (especially those amazing sandstone cliffs, “leaps” (or waterfalls) and the deep valleys below – and the different ways in which it has been filmed – framing – and of course the musical numbers and dance. And soaring – the lynchpin – Rudi Dharmalingam. What is the thing which haunts and evades his clear view. And beyond even his portrayal as Nik – his flawless Australian accent (not your exaggerated Bazza McKenzie/Dame Edna version) – at no point did I think – Hmm – got that wrong! In fact after first checking that this British actor had not spent years living in Australia as a child – though he did tour with “The History Boys” quite some time back – I totally…

  3. Wakefield gets a thumbs up from me, it’s very binge watchable after a short period of orienting to the mental health issues at hand, the sometimes quirky story arc flows along nicely after that.
    Rudi Dharmalingam provides the charisma which would have been missed without him, all the actors had a good time by the looks of it.
    I would predict Wakefield could be another purchase by Netflix in the near future, this is the sort of quality series Netflix look for, so ABC take note.

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