“Aaron wants a break from acting”: How ABC pivoted to Mystery Road: Origin

When Aaron Pedersen wanted a break from performing, producers and ABC discovered a whole new take on a franchise it could never have imagined.

A change of heart from actor Aaron Pedersen to return to Mystery Road led to producers Bunya Productions and ABC shifting to prequel series, Mystery Road: Origin.

But in the process, it ultimately revitalised the franchise.

Speaking on a Screen Forever panel, outgoing ABC Head of Drama, Entertainment and Indigenous, Sally Riley said, “Mystery Road was totally financed, we had production dates, we were ready to go, and I get this call from Greer (Simpkin, producer) going, ‘Aaron wants to take a break from acting.’

“They were crewed up, ready to go. We spent a bit of time coaxing him… but it had already gone through my mind at that point: why don’t we do an origin story?”

Producers and writers spent nine weeks re-versioning the script, before starting pre-production.

“Then the question came ‘Who’s gonna play Jay Swan?’ I immediately went, ‘It has to be Mark Coles Smith because you looked similar, but you’ve got that same charisma,” Riley said to Coles Smith.

“I was the last blackfella that hadn’t been in the franchise!” Coles Smith laughed.

“Mark has got that gorgeous smile and he just slipped seamlessly into it. It’s so cute when you see him meet Mary (Tuuli Narkle), to see them start their relationship on this really beautiful love story,” Riley continued.

“Then Greer says ‘Dylan River wants to direct all six episodes.’ Okay. Interesting. Has he done a TV series before? But we knew he was an exceptional talent. It’s a huge risk, but we were changing the scripts, we had a new Jay… why not put this young director in?

“I think two days later, they came back and said, ‘We want Tyler Perkins to shoot it.’ Because he and Dylan are so close. I thought, ‘Okay, right!’ And then probably a week later, she comes back and says ‘There’s a composer that Dylan wants to work with.’ Never done television before!”

But Riley said having young creatives and cast opened up new horizons for the franchise.

“It just revitalised the series and we were so excited about that. It was just like, ‘Yep! Let ’em rip! As long as it’s in the same world and it’s got the same feel. Just let them go for it!”

2 Responses

  1. What a delightful article. I am long past my teenaged days, but the first time I saw Mark Coles Smith on the screen, in Last Cab to Darwin I think, I felt like I was a young girl again. And now to see what a lovely actor he continues to be, and to hear the story of all these relative newcomers being given not only a chance, but a blessed launching pad, i think I will bring this show with me when I travel this winter, to re-watch all this knowing the genesis of so much of it.

  2. TV shows don’t often get it right with prequels but Mystery Road: Origin was perfect. Great script, actors and of course the amazing landscapes.

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