Faking it

Faking it

By Michael Pickard
July 10, 2024

In production

Star Asher Keddie and producer Imogen Banks tell DQ about their partnership behind the scenes of Fake, a stress-inducing, thought-provoking look at one woman’s search for love and the man she falls for, despite her instinct that he’s not everything he seems to be.

Based on a book and the lived experience of its author, Australian drama Fake is a gripping, stressful and often gasp-inducing journey into one woman’s search for love in a world full of liars, cheats, fantasists and phoneys.

For star Asher Keddie and producer Imogen Banks, that’s exactly the show they wanted to make.

Keddie (Stateless, Offspring) stars as Birdie Bell, a magazine features writer who think she’s found the perfect match when she’s paired with successful grazier Joe Burt (David Wenham) on a dating app. But as their relationship quickly intensifies, Birdie is torn between Joe’s magnetic charm and her instinct that her new boyfriend isn’t all he seems.

“What’s been beautiful about this is that both of us got to the end of this process, and we’d worked so hard on making it everything we’d set out to make it,” Banks (RFDS, Offspring) tells DQ. “It was really satisfying to finish it and go, ‘We made what we set out to make.’ We’re both experienced enough to know that’s rare.”

Keddie picks up: “You hold your breath for that, because you go through this really intense investment with a show, particularly one like this where the content is complex and at times brutal and confronting, but you also hope it’s moving and emotionally involving in the way you intended.”

Specifically, the pair wanted to draw viewers into Birdie’s relationship with Joe and have them experience the same confusion she feels as Joe doubles back on the lies he tells her or the excuses he feeds her during the course of their romance.

“That’s a very difficult thing to do because when you’re watching somebody go through something like this, it’s confounding,” says Banks. “It’s really hard to understand why somebody doesn’t just walk away or why somebody can’t see it. What we really wanted to do, from very early on, was sit an audience inside that confusion and inside the confounding grip of someone like a Joe.”

It’s an approach that would later inform the drama’s shooting style to make the show as “experiential” as possible, Keddie says. “For months beforehand, we would discuss how we felt the camera language could help us in that way and how the writing too could expose vulnerabilities that perhaps some writing can’t,” she notes. “We wanted the audience to really connect with it, and for it to be relatable on a deep level.”

It’s a sign of their success that the eight-part series, which debuted down under on Paramount+ on July 4, is so involving and consuming, despite the fact viewers know they are watching a show called Fake and can surmise that Joe may have some secrets he’s not sharing with Birdie. They may also come to the show aware that it is based on the memoir of the same name by Stephanie Wood.

“That was the challenge of it,” Banks says. “The comment we came up against all the time was like, ‘Well, how are we going to turn this into drama when people know the ending from the beginning? They know he’s fake.’ But that was what was so interesting about it to us, and that was the challenge we accepted.”

Asher Keddie as as Birdie Bell in Australian drama series Fake

As a result, Fake isn’t a story told from an objective perspective that may or may not end in a murder. For Banks and Keddie, it is more about why Birdie doesn’t listen to her instincts, why she doesn’t acknowledge the red flags surrounding Joe’s behaviour and what it is that allows Joe to behave as a “viral infection” in this way. As well as informing the camera language, it was an approach that led them to use Joe’s voice to narrate the strings of text messages he sends to Birdie, rather than simply have the text appear on screen.

“It also became about digging deeper into why we lie to ourselves and why we push those instincts down,” Keddie says. “It became about an investigation into her as well, in a sense; an investigation of herself.”

Produced by Kindling Pictures and distributed by Lionsgate Television, the show begins with Birdie on her way to meet Joe for the first time. Already uneasy at the thought of using dating apps, she soon finds a way to end their date prematurely. But under pressure from her family – and herself – to find love, she gives him a second chance and quickly becomes smitten.

From the outset, however, something is not quite right, whether it’s Joe’s friend who joins them for drinks, his excuses for missing a dinner date or dropping hints he is broke – a moment that even leads Birdie to look up the warning signs of a financial scam.

Keddie, who is also a coproducer on the series, says she and Banks were keen to explore the “princess myth” Birdie has grown up with and, consequently, the relationship she shares with her mother. “She’s like many women at her age. She’s grown up as a young girl imagining or being told that someone will come and complete her, that there is a Prince Charming who will come and save you, who will complete your life, complete you as a person,” the actor says. “That’s something she starts questioning throughout the relationship, but at that point in her life, as her mother comments, ‘Well, at this point, you’ve really got to consider anything and everything.’

“It’s quite cruel the way she says it to her, but it’s part of the reason she tries so hard to engage in it [her relationship with Joe], even though her instincts are screaming and there are red flags everywhere.”

While the show is mostly told from Birdie’s perspective, viewers do get an insight into Joe’s past when episode six explores events from his standpoint.

“Joe’s a fantasist and he really believes his own narrative,” Keddie says. “He’s committed to it and he needs it, and we explore that a lot more through his POV when the audience is able to go inside his experience. He’s just as complex as his narrative and what he’s offering her.”

Imogen Banks

“He’s a lot of things, and that was what was so beautiful about the way David played him, without any kind of judgement,” Banks adds. “Joe’s got plans and he’s got desires. There’s always a hierarchy of what his needs are, and he does at some level believe what he’s saying. There’s this incredible complexity in that. It’s not just somebody coming at you with a bunch of lies; it’s somebody coming at you with a bunch of lies they believe.

“We tried to allow an audience not to come to grand conclusions about either of them or to question them all the way through it. We wanted to keep Joe active and alive and interesting and sometimes reasonable, so that you could see why Birdie was confused given the conditions Birdie came into the show with.”

Banks describes making the series as “a real high-wire act,” but one that was buoyed by her existing relationship with Keddie. They had previously worked together on Offspring, the comedy-drama co-created by Banks and led by Keddie that ran for seven seasons until 2017, and have been discussing potential projects to develop together ever since.

In fact, Banks had long held the rights to Wood’s memoir, though any plans for an adaptation had fallen dormant. But when she mentioned the book to Keddie, they began to talk about it as a potential series.

“There’s an inherent trust there, and we both want to interrogate the truth until we’re blue in the face,” Keddie says, “so that’s very helpful in projects like this. You need to partner with people who want to dig as deep as you and pull apart all the layers and put them back again. We’re quite similar in that way. As much as we love comedy too, this has been joyful.”

Banks admits the book didn’t lend itself to a television adaptation, but in the hands of writer Anya Beyersdorf (Fires, The Twelve), they found someone who could take the “scaffolding” from Wood’s memoir and then explore the themes beneath the story.

“It wasn’t so much about replicating the story; it was about digging into the ideas we all found interesting,” Banks says. “It was very much about, culturally, how do we find ourselves in these situations, and what are the conditions for someone like Joe to flourish? They’re all questions Stephanie asked in the book, and that was what intrigued all of us.

“When Anya read it, that was absolutely what she hooked into and she wrote this incredibly beautiful manifesto about why she wanted to do it. We were like, ‘Hallelujah, yes.’ She just did the most beautiful job and we all feel like we’ve got to the end of it and we’ve made what we set out to make.”

Birdie enters a romance with Joe Burt (David Wenham), ignoring various red flags

Keddie has previously worked as an executive producer on Binge series Strife, and came to Fake with the intention of working with Banks across every aspect of the show. “We were together all the time, pulling it apart every minute of the day and delivering what we instinctively felt was right,” she says. “Because of its complexity and because we wanted to not label anything or hit it over the head too hard, we just were constantly trying to find the nuance. We wanted it to be mercurial, so that you’d sit forward and lean into it in a way that was really stimulating.”

On screen, Keddie and Wenham (Wake in Fright, Romper Stomper) play Fake like a two-handed theatre show. But as she appears in almost every scene, was it ever too much for Keddie to be so involved behind the scenes as well?

“No, I just love it,” she says. “I’ve never been happier than I am now, producing and being able to have a voice that someone like Imogen appreciates. It’s such a wonderful feeling to have been a performer for 30, 35 years. But now I just want to be involved. That’s just my nature. I want to be a part of developing a project from start to finish because I just love it. I love all of this. I love story as a whole as opposed to just performing a role.”

Playing Birdie, the star admits some days were “exhausting,” but the problem-solving required to pull a production together never felt like something she couldn’t take on at the end of the day. “I just feel compelled by it,” she adds. “It’s kind of propulsive, in a way. It makes me feel excited.”

In Wenham, she found a co-star with whom she shares an easiness with on set, despite the intense performances they were delivering once the cameras were rolling under the direction of Emma Freeman, Jennifer Leacey and Taylor Ferguson.

The Paramount+ drama is produced by Kindling Pictures

“He’s great to work with in that way. We really did enjoy it and also we share a very similar sense of humour,” she says. “It was lovely to work on material like this, which is sometimes quite uncomfortable, because there is that ease between us. We do like to amuse each other.

“It’s important as actors to be able to relax, so there was a great relaxation between us, which unleashed us and allowed us to look at the material together without any constriction. He’s great and he’s so good in this. He’s given it such extraordinary complexity, and we really wanted that. We really needed that for the project.”

Looking back on making Fake together, Keddie says there’s a good “creative rub” between her and Banks that means while they don’t always agree on every decision, “that’s how you make your best work, when you’re interrogating something with someone that you both don’t quite understand,” she says. “I love that about our relationship. It makes me want to do it again.”

Banks hopes viewers embrace the stressful nature of Birdie and Joe’s relationship and can understand how Birdie is drawn into Joe’s embrace, despite the warning signs. “Everyone I mentioned the show to, everyone’s either had it happen to them or had it happen to a friend. It’s just endless,” she says. “And it’s not about being stupid. It’s not about being naive. It’s not about being any of those things. It’s about being empathetic and having doubt. You’re a target.”

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