“No-one can pull it off like the Australians”
The team behind Nine Perfect Strangers explain why they'd love to shoot everything down under.
“For years, I’ve said to my American husband, ‘Why can’t we just do a Baz Luhrmann and make everything in Australia?’ Because that’s my dream!” producer Bruna Papandrea declares.
“In some ways that’s always been our plan but COVID accelerated that plan.”
She’s one of the hottest producers in the world right now, having made Big Little Lies and The Undoing.
Next week her third production with Nicole Kidman, Nine Perfect Strangers, gets its world premiere, screening in Australia on Amazon Prime Video.
Like Big Little Lies the series is based on a book by Australian author Liane Moriarty, but Papandrea has two more local titles to come, Wolf Like Me by actor / writer / director Abe Forsythe and The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart by Holly Ringland. Born in Adelaide, but moving to the US in 1990s, she also recently produced the movies The Nightingale, The Dry and Penguin Bloom.
“No-one can pull it off like the Australians. Australia does offers this massive breadth of locations and the best technicians in the world,” she boasts.
“We make so much here, as has Nicole….. we can’t shoot everything here, but I’m gonna try.”
L to R: Steve Hutensky, Bruna Papandrea, Jodi Matterson
The eight-part limited series takes place at a retreat at health and wellness resort Tranquillum House. Nine stressed city dwellers are keen to drop their literal and mental baggage but resort director Masha Dmitrichenko (Nicole Kidman) is convinced that her unconventional interventions will successfully cure them. But as the ten-day program progresses, her methods tip from unconventional to downright dangerous.
Executive producer Steve Hutensky who, with Jodi Matterson comprises part of the US / Australian-based Made-Up Films, says the series was originally planned to film in California.
“About four weeks before we started filming, COVID hit and we had to shut down and basically reconfigure where we were going to make it. Nicole’s company and ours have strong roots in Australia so it quickly became a smart place to be,” he said.
“We always ask Liane ‘Are you open to us resetting it?,” says Papandrea. “This one was not super-difficult, because it’s set in a very particular health retreat that almost could exist anywhere.
“When we started seeing some of these locations that exist, and the world she created, it made total sense. We should 100% do it here (in Australia).”
“I think we were the first show in Australia, one of the first in the world, to get back up during COVID. Trying to figure out how to do it safely in a COVID world was a big task” adds Hutensky.
Much of the series is set at Tranquillum House, filmed in Byron Bay while the lush surrounds and coastal setting made for an easy transition as Southern California.
“We have two main locations that we filmed in to create the world of Tranquillum in the show,” explains Matterson. “One is an amazing meditation retreat called Soma, which exists as a meditation retreat. The other one is an amazing private property owned by two individuals who have such a keen interest and passion for architecture, nature and landscapes. So we merged both of these two properties.”
Production designer Colin Gibson (Mad Max: Fury Road) hand-designed wooden paneling inside the retreat’s ‘dome’ where the guests undertake their mediation.
And what a star-studded cast it is.
In addition to Kidman are Melissa McCarthy, Asher Keddie, Samara Weaving, Bobby Cannavale, Luke Evans, Regina Hall, Manny Jacinto and Michael Shannon.
Asher Keddie was cast before the show relocated to Australia.
“She really had so many of the qualities that Heather needed. It’s a very complicated role. So she was coming to America to make her first American show. But then guess what …we’re now coming to you!” Papandrea recalls.
As the story unfolds the guests must band together to find a way to escape – each taking away from the experience much more than they bargained for.
“I think is a piece is trying to say that we are all on the journey in life, ” says Hutensky. “We all have baggage, damage, experienced hardships, trials and tribulations. Ultimately, we all can work through those and get ourselves to a place where living a happier life. For me, that’s the heart of the show.”
“We’re not trying to parody or satire the wellness industry,” Papandrea insists. “We definitely are interested in the fact that it exists, and that everyone’s trying to in some way, shape or form, trying to heal ourselves. But with a lot of Liane’s work, what lies beneath the surface is not necessarily what you think.
“It’s more complex and moving than people will first assume. Even though it’s fun and delicious at times, there’s loss, and it’s actually deeply emotional. It really delves into the complexities of what every individual journey is, as they and find answers to the struggles that they’re dealing with.”
While the show is faithful to the book, Matterson promises some extra twists and turns.
“People who love the book, I think, will love the series. In this really tough time that everybody’s having at the moment, it is pure escapism in a way that you will be laughing one minute, but then you’ll be so emotionally moved and connected to some of these characters in the next breath. It’s such a wild roller coaster ride, that you’re going to go on, all led by Nicole as you’ve never seen her before.”
Papandrea adds, “When you’re trying to create seven or eight hours of television, you have to create more backstory, more complexity, more drama. Liane has seen the show and loves it.
“Big win for us!”
Nine Perfect Strangers Friday August 20 on Amazon Prime Video.