Ian McElhinney drawn to High Country’s script, tension and “this bloody landscape”

Game of Thrones star Ian McElhinney had no hestitations in signing onto High Country, his first foray into an Australian drama.

When you’ve been performing as long as Ian McElhinney you would rightly expect to be offered roles and not be asked to screen test.

That was just what happened for the veteran Irish actor when producers for Binge drama High Country reached out to his agent.

McElhinney attributes his work in Derry Girls and Stephen Merchant’s The Outlaws as being instrumental to the offer.

“There was something about seeing those two shows, in particular… having made this decision already that they were going to make this guy Irish, they thought, ‘This guy could be the right type for us,'” he tells TV Tonight.

“I mean, it’s lovely. I’ve been around long enough, and I’ve got enough stuff in my back pocket. Now they’re inclined to say, ‘We’ll trust you’ rather than ‘We have to see you in order to trust you,’ you know? I mean it is what it is. If they’d asked me to do a screen test, I would have done the screen test happily.’ Fortunately, it was, ‘Would you like to do it?’

“I read the scripts and thought ‘Why would I not?’ It’s a great script. It’s a good story. It’s got lots of tension in it. And it’s got an interesting character over and above the central characters, which is this bloody landscape, which is very powerful in the story. I thought, ‘It’s Australia, it’s a place I don’t know, a place I’d like to visit. Why not?'”

McElhinney plays Sam Dyson, Brokenridge’s local cop who retires at the top of the series when Melbourne detective Andie Whitford (Leah Purcell) encounters a series of disappearances in the area.

“He believes in this young woman that’s coming up,” he continues. “She’s a Melbourne detective but she was dealing with a very high profile case, drug-related. Certainly in Melbourne, the feeling was, for her own safety, it might be wise for her to go to a quieter place where she might be away from any trace of the drugs case that she’d been involved in. When he talked to the Melbourne police about that he liked the sound of this girl, he investigated her background and he thought, ‘Yep, she’s the one for me. I want her up here.’ There’s a bigger story to that. But again, that’s to be revealed.

“Of course, being a small community, being a country policeman, he may be retired, but that doesn’t mean that he’s uninvolved. He’s, he’s still around, keeping an eye on things being helpful when he can, being a friend and a mentor to Andi, this young new detective / sergeant. But because he’s got a few issues of his own, and he’s got a few cases that he hasn’t tied up the way he likes to, sometimes he can be a little bit of a problem for her as well as a help to her.

“You know, he can complicate the picture sometimes. He doesn’t always know exactly when to butt out. He’s lived a life and he’s got attitudes.”

There are also revelations, tied to Dyson’s own past which emerge over the unfolding eight episodes.

Filmed in mid 2023, High Country marks McElhinney’s first Australian drama but his second visit down under (he previously filmed The Grasscutter in New Zealand in 1988).

“It’s the second time working in the Antipodes. But first time working in Australia,” he confirms.

“I think it’s a beautiful part of the world, where the weather for my money is amazing, given its winter. I’ve managed to get around quite a bit. I think the countryside is amazing. the landscapes and all that. It’s very different from what we would know back home. Melbourne is great city, it’s great city to be in on your own because it’s easy to get about it. The transport system is fantastic with the trams and so on. It’s very negotiable, you know, so I’ve been able to get about quite a bit, do quite a lot.”

He has also been impressed with the production team behind the Curio Pictures series, which surely has a modest budget compared to the biggest show on McElhinney’s CV –Game of Thrones, in which he played Barristan Selmy.

Game of Thrones budget would probably have been in excess of anything. Game of Thrones also was fabulous, yes, but it was a weird beast because you were here, there and everywhere. But we’ve kind of been here, there and everywhere. We are supposedly in Melbourne, but you’re an hour every which way,” he explains.

“It’s not so bad from the point of view of the actor. You get picked up, you get driven to wherever but the unit guys have been brilliant.”

Surprisingly, McElhinney says he hasn’t actually watched Game of Thrones -at least not at length.

“I’d read the books which in a way was a shame because the script didn’t necessary stick to the book. I’d seen some of the episodes necessarily. So I didn’t really care if I didn’t follow it. I’ve seen a bit of it. But I haven’t seen all of it,” he reveals.

“I probably will at some point, but it hasn’t really bothered me that I haven’t.

“I mean, also, it’s horses for courses. I really enjoyed doing Game of Thrones. But fantasy is not really something that I as a punter would necessarily go to.

“I’ll almost certainly watch this because as a storyline, it would engage me more. I like human stories,” he says of High Country.

“I’m not really big into fantasy or sci fi or the Marvel world. I think I’m too old to get into it!”

High Country continues Tuesday on Binge / 8:30pm on Showcase.

5 Responses

  1. At least it is original and made in Australia with some talented actors who have honed their craft……unlike most reality shows with wannabes and so called celebrities a lot of people have never heard of….or quiz shows where people like to top up their bank accounts (except for a brass mug as a prize)…..and show us what brainiacs they think they are….these shows are mostly universal and adapted to be…..the “Australian Version”…unfortunately there are some people would not know one actor from another because they live in the “reality bubble”…especially when 3 major FTA channels pit one against the other in the same time slot and people are basically forced to choose if they don’t have streaming …and in all probability it is why people are turning to streaming service….to escape “reality”.

  2. The landscape is beautiful, theres at least a drone shot every minute or so, the script not so, very predictable, I lost count of how many times I spoke the next line in a scene. 5/10

Leave a Reply