Tag Archives: Mystery Road

Along the Road

Stars Aaron Pedersen and Sofia Helin discuss making the second season of Australian drama Mystery Road, the journey of protagonist Jay Swan and bringing Aboriginal stories to the screen.

When Swedish star Sofia Helin (The Bridge) was offered the chance to co-star alongside Aaron Pedersen in the second season of Australian drama Mystery Road, it wasn’t a difficult decision.

“I wasn’t supposed to be doing anything because I had been too busy, but then this came along,” Helin remembers. “I watched Aaron’s two films [in which he played Mystery Road’s main character before the series was created] first and I was so blown away. This man is one of our biggest actors. That’s the truth. I’ve never seen anyone doing a portrait of an alcoholic like Aaron. You have to see those two films. Then I saw the first season and my husband said, ‘I’m sorry Sofia, you need to go.’ It was not a hard decision. It was a lovely decision.”

It has been a long journey to this point for Pedersen and his character Detective Jay Swan, who first appeared in writer/director Ivan Sen’s 2013 film Mystery Road, about an Indigenous police officer who returns to the outback to investigate the murder of a young girl. He reprised the role in Sen’s 2016 follow-up Goldstone, in which Swan arrives in the eponymous town ostensibly to solve a missing-person case but ends up unravelling a web of conspiracy and lies.

Then in 2018, the character moved to television in the Mystery Road series, which is set in the time between the two films. Season one sees Swan working alongside Judy Davis’s police sergeant to solve the disappearance of two young farmhands from an outback cattle station, leading them to uncover drug trafficking and a historic injustice that threatens the fabric of the community.

Earlier this year, following its world premiere at the Berlin International Film Festival, the second season of the atmospheric and visceral series premiered on Australian broadcaster ABC. This time, the discovery of a headless corpse leads Swan to take on a grisly case in a coastal town to be closer to his family, but he soon uncovers secrets, lies and a dangerous new enemy.

Sofia Helin as Professor Claire Sims in season two of Mystery Road

Warwick Thornton (Sweet Country) and Wayne Blair (Top End Wedding) directed the six-part series in Western Australia’s picturesque Dampier Peninsular and Broome. Its cast also includes Jada Alberts, Callan Mulvey, Tasma Walton, Rob Collins, Ngaire Pigram, Mark Mitchinson, Ursula Yovich, Rhimi Johnson, Gary Sweet, Fletcher Humphrys, Joel Jackson, John Brumpton, Eve Morey, Stan Yarramunua and Tasia Zalar.

The Bunya Productions series scooped a number of awards for its first season, most notably being named best television drama at both the Australian Academy Awards and the Logies, with Pedersen also twice scoring best actor nominations. All3Media International is the distributor.

“It’s interesting because the first film, Ivan wrote for me, and then I wanted to do a second one. But we had this chasm between the last shot of Mystery Road and the first shot of Goldstone, and a lot seemed to have happened in between,” Pedersen tells DQ about the origins of the series. “I’m standing with my family on the side of the road at the end of Mystery Road, and then Goldstone opens and I’m very drunk, being pulled over by a police officer. There’s this chasm of life that had taken place. We said, ‘Let’s put the TV series in between the two films.’

“I knew there was a lot to play with because there were a lot of questions being asked about what had happened to Jay, what the journey was and what happened to his personal life, because it looked like, at the end of Mystery Road, things were going alright [for him]. It looked like he was going to get his family back together. Then when we started Goldstone, it looked like it had fallen apart.”

With the story of Mystery Road unfolding between the films’ time periods, the challenge for Pedersen comes in taking his character to the point at which he appears in Goldstone. But the actor says every story that features Swan is also a “conversation” between the character and Australia, examining the country’s history of colonisation and brutal treatment of Aboriginal people.

The Australian drama stars Aaron Pedersen as Detective Jay Swan

“It’s about how we treat each other and how we belong in each other’s world, but how we also see ourselves in that world, whether we accept it or whether we don’t,” Pedersen explains.

“That’s a big part of it. Australia has always had a silent history and likes to not talk too much about the past, because it’s a dark history. But then, the world over, humans are like that anyway. I just love the fact that we get to have that conversation with Australia. We don’t like to force-feed people, we don’t like to signpost [issues]. I always treat my audiences intelligently, because I believe that when you do that, they see that and they take away something you would never even have thought of within the structure of the film or the TV series.

“Our stories are long overdue; they have never been told, and it’s about time. People have an appetite for it. They want to hear our side of the story. We’ve got interesting stories, and the storyline that crosses over with Sofia’s is very interesting.”

In season two of Mystery Road, Helin co-stars alongside Pedersen as Professor Claire Sims, an archaeologist carrying out a dig at a sacred site.

“If you sacrifice your home, family, life and friends – everything – and you stay in the Australian outback for months and years, you need to find something significant,” she says of her character. “In the end, she almost does everything to find something, because she gets greedy. Then she has to struggle with her conscience. It’s an interesting journey to go on.

“I imagined, ‘What if someone would come and dig up our graveyards? What would we say?’ I mean, it’s quite crazy to do that. At the same time she’s working, she has a group of protesters from the Aboriginal community around her. She thinks she’s doing the right thing and that she’s good. But she realises during the story that she’s not good, and there’s something criminal involved. The present and the past are crossing, and that puts her under pressure.”

Directors Wayne Blair (left) and Warwick Thornton on location

Pedersen describes the storyline as “brain versus heart,” with Helin’s professor using her scientific background to claim what she is doing is right, while those who have lived on the land for generations believe it’s wrong.

“With archaeological digs and with repatriation [of land to Indigenous communities] and stuff like that, there’s certainly going to be an argument for the ancestors, first and foremost,” he continues. “In past times, there’s never really been an argument for them, as somehow it belongs to the science. But then isn’t that our burial ground, doesn’t that belong to us? That was a burial ground before it became an archaeological site. I find that storyline really complicated, actually. It’s an international conversation.”

Helin says she’s never had a friendlier working environment than her three weeks filming in Broome, where she was welcomed with a traditional ceremony led by an Aboriginal community leader. Shooting was done out of chronological order, allowing Helin to fly in and complete her scenes in one block.

“The atmosphere was so friendly, so calm and so respectful – and so unstressful,” she says. “I asked the producers and the directors, ‘How do you do it?’ because it’s the ideal situation to have if you want to create something. Stress just destroys everything. I was super impressed.

“It was so hard to come back [home]. There’s something called ‘Broome Time,’ where time is not something that disappears. You don’t have to stress about everything. There’s even a line in the show that says, ‘There’s no such thing as time,’ and that’s so interesting to think about. When I got home, I started looking around, and we’re all in this prison of time. It’s crazy. The interesting thing is, even though we didn’t stress, we managed to get it done, and that was a magic trick. It was an inspiring and important cultural experience.”

Plans for another season of the show, and another film, are in the works

Meanwhile, Pedersen says there are still more things he wants to say and more conversations he wants to have via his character, meaning Mystery Road 2 won’t take Detective Swan right up to the time explored in Goldstone.

“Ivan wants to do another film. They’re already in the writing room for the third season. We’re moving forward with it,” he reveals. “There are conversations I want to have with the country. I’m trying to make the next generation live stronger and better than the last, and that’s through storytelling, because a lot of people didn’t have these stories before. Now they have them. Jay’s come alive. It was just one film at one point; now, there’s a second film, a second season, and we’re doing another film and talking about another season.

“In Goldstone, I have lost my daughter, so when we reach [that point in the series], they’ll play with the darkness of it all. And I’ll be ready for it. I don’t get tortured by it. It’s very cathartic. It’s therapy in some ways.

“I feel like if I’m giving it to people and sharing it with people, I’m not wasting my time. For some reason, a lot of people are taking something from it, and that’s the strength of art. Otherwise, you do torture yourself. I’m never tortured by my characters. My characters are very dark, but they make me very light. I feel lighter every time I do something; I feel wiser.”

With networks around the world picking up Mystery Road, Pedersen says there’s one message that needs to be shared: “Respect land, respect people,” he concludes. “That’s probably the big thing in it. That’s what we don’t do enough.”

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Rules of the Road

Australian ‘outback noir’ series Mystery Road first launched on ABC in 2018, bringing Detective Jay Swan (Aaron Pedersen) to the small screen following feature films Mystery Road and Goldstone.

Season one saw Swan investigate the disappearance of two young farmhands on an outback cattle station, leading him to uncover drug trafficking and a past injustice that threatened the whole town.

Now in season two, Swan arrives in a small coastal community where secrets from the past and present collide to reveal a dangerous enemy.

In this DQTV interview, producer Greer Simpkin and season two director Warwick Thornton discuss how the films inspired the series and how it blends western tropes and the Australian outback to create a unique crime drama.

Mystery Road is produced by Bunya Productions for ABC and distributed internationally by All3Media International.

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Berlin calling

With television now well and truly matching the star power of the movie business, DQ runs the rule over the TV series getting red-carpet premieres at the Berlin International Film Festival, which kicks off today.  

As the Berlin International Film Festival, aka the Berlinale, begins today, the red carpet will be rolled out for screen stars from all over the world. But it’s not just the movies that will be celebrated over the next 11 days.

For the past few years, television has played an increasingly important and visible part of the annual event, which is celebrating its 70th anniversary in 2020. This year will be no different, with eight series – from Australia, Austria, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, the UK and the US – enjoying world or international premieres.

The Berlinale Series strand will introduce shows that feature representations of various communities, sexual identities and new perspectives on the world today, while the selection also plays vividly with ideas of television style, structure and tone.

Dispatches from Elsewhere comes from How I Met Your Mother star Jason Segel

First up will be Dispatches from Elsewhere, the AMC series starring Jason Segel, Eve Lindley, Sally Field, André Benjamin and Richard E Grant. Creator Segel (How I Met Your Mother, Forgetting Sarah Marshall) also co-directs the series, in which an enigmatic institute promises a chosen few an escape from everyday life into a world full of beauty and magic. But is this a game, an alternative reality or a conspiracy? And what are those taking part risking?

Dark Austrian drama Freud, meanwhile, transports viewers to 1886 Vienna, where a young Sigmund Freud (Robert Finster) – restless, high on cocaine and striving for recognition – embarks on a nerve-wracking, hypnotic trip into the depths of the human soul with a mysterious medium and a traumatised policeman. Directed by Marvin Kren (4 Blocks) for Austria’s ORF and Netflix, the show’s cast also includes Ella Rumpf, Georg Friedrich, Christoph Krutzler, Brigitte Kren, Anja Kling, Philipp Hochmair and Noah Saavedra.

Canada’s C’est comme ça que je t’aime (Happily Married) is set in 1970s Quebec

From Canada is C’est comme ça que je t’aime (Happily Married), which is set in Quebec in 1974. The drama tells the story of two couples who send their kids off to camp for three weeks. With their children away, things quickly turn uncomfortable for the couples and cracks start to appear in the facades of their relationships. The series was created by François Létourneau, who also stars alongside Patrice Robitaille, Marilyn Castonguay, Karine Gonthier-Hyndman and Sophie Desmarais. Joanne Forgues is the showrunner on the programme, which  was commissioned by Radio-Canada Télé and Tou.Tv Extra.

British entry Trigonometry focuses on a couple who take in a lodger. The trio fall in love together and start up a three-way relationship – but can it possibly work out? The BBC and HBO Max series was created by Duncan Macmillan and Effie Woods, with Thalissa Teixeira, Gary Carr and Ariane Labed playing the central trio. Athina Rachel Tsangari and Stella Corradi are the directors.

Also due to premiere at Berlinale is the second season of Australian drama Mystery Road, which has added The Bridge star Sofia Helin to its cast. The ABC series, created by Ivan Sen, opens when a headless corpse is found floating by the shore of a remote outback town. As if this weren’t mysterious enough, Detective Swan and his colleague Fran have to contend with protests against the excavation of an Indigenous site. And then another body turns up. Aaron Pedersen returns as Detective Swan, alongside actors Jada Alberts and Callan Mulvey. The directors are Warwick Thornton and Wayne Blair.

British drama Trigonometry centres on a three-way relationship

Shortform drama Sex, from Denmark’s TV2, comprises six episodes with a total running time of 77 minutes and will be screened in its entirety at the festival. Created by Clara Mendes and directed by Amalie Næesby Fick, the show follows Catherine, a call-centre worker giving advice on sex and love but at a loss herself. After a kiss, she wants more from her colleague Selma. Her boyfriend Simon feels that what’s little is actually plenty. But what if that’s not enough? The cast includes Asta Kamma August, Jonathan Bergholdt Jørgensen, Nina Terese Rask and Sara Fanta Traore.

Stateless, another drama from ABC Australia, boasts an all-star cast led by Yvonne Strahovski (The Handmaid’s Tale), Jai Courtney, Asher Keddie, Fayssal Bazzi, Dominic West and Cate Blanchett, who co-creates and executive produces the six-part series. Directed by Emma Freeman and Jocelyn Moorhouse, it tells the story of four strangers whose lives collide at an immigration detention centre in the middle of the Australian desert. Elise McCredie and Tony Ayres co-created the series alongside Blanchett.

Yvonne Strahovski in Stateless

The final premiere will be Netflix’s upcoming musical drama The Eddy (pictured top), created by Jack Thorne (His Dark Materials) and Damien Chazelle, the Oscar-winning director of La La Land, who is also the lead director on the series. Bandleader Elliot is improvising his way through a complex score of problems: his Parisian jazz club The Eddy isn’t doing too well, while ruthless debt collectors are breathing down his neck – and then his teenage daughter Julie arrives from New York. The cast features André Holland, Joanna Kulig, Amandla Stenberg, Tahar Rahim, Leila Bekhti, Adil Dehbi and Benjamin Biolay.

Themes of macabre humour, female sexuality and an interconnected world will be on display through the eight shows, while the increasing trend for actors to be more deeply involved in series creation and development – notably Blanchett (Stateless) and Segel (Dispatches from Elsewhere) – is also apparent.

At a time when the distinction between movies and television is increasingly blurred, the focus Berlinale places on series marks it out from other film festivals around the world, though other events are now also pushing the small screen into the spotlight.

Meanwhile, numerous other screenings will also take place at the city’s Zoo Palast, with shows including Ukraine’s Hide & Seek,  Czech drama The Sleepers, Brazilian series Where My Heart Is, UK/New Zealand coproduction The Luminaries and Australia’s Total Control among them.

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Road trip

Mystery Road is the latest Australian feature film to hit the small screen. Series director Rachel Perkins discusses working with stars Judy Davis, Aaron Pedersen and the stunning Western Australian landscape in a show that blends cop drama and outback noir.

Picnic at Hanging Rock, Wake in Fright, Wolf Creek, Romper Stomper – in the last few years, Australian drama has revisited some of the country’s most famous feature films and novels to bring new series to TV that are either sequels or reimagined interpretations of the original versions.

Now comes Mystery Road, a spin-off from Ivan Sen’s award-winning feature films Mystery Road (2013) and Goldstone (2016). The six-part series, which will air this year on the ABC, sees Detective Jay Swan (played by Aaron Pedersen) assigned to investigate the mysterious disappearance of two young farm hands on an outback cattle station. One is a local Indigenous footy hero, and the other a backpacker. Working with local cop Emma James (Judy Davis), Jay’s investigation uncovers a past injustice that threatens the fabric of the whole community.

“I’d long been an admirer of Ivan’s work so I was very excited about doing something that was a homage to that but then extended the idea further,” director Rachel Perkins says. “Having an opportunity to expand on the original film and make this noir outback cop show that dealt with both race relations and history was a really interesting crossover for me.”

Rachel Perkins

Produced by Bunya Productions and distributed by All3Media International, Mystery Road was filmed on location in Wyndham, the northernmost town in Western Australia. The harsh landscape meant Perkins was able to take the show’s characters and turn up the heat on them, literally, in this small community where everybody knows each other’s business.

“It was so hot shooting in Wyndham, 40°C most days, but the landscape is this incredible backdrop,” she says. “It really is an outback town; it’s almost like a frontier town and it has all of those qualities television has when it’s really great these days. It’s not just the story you’re interested in but the world. So we looked at series like Fargo and True Detective and looked at where they were set and how they really conjured the places. We wanted to set this story in a place that was very distinctive. So far, people have been amazed by the setting and that’s been part of people enjoying the series, that experience of the Australian outback in its most incredible form.”

The location was also appropriate for its history of racial conflict, a theme that bubbles beneath the surface of Mystery Road. “It’s not a cop show, it’s not just really about two missing boys. It’s about black and white Australians and how the simmering tension of history sits under our relationship,” Perkins adds.

Fronting the show alongside Pedersen is Hollywood star Judy Davis, who recently appeared in FX series Feud. The actor’s familial history with the region meant she had a deep understanding of, and interest in, the story. “I try not to think too much about how incredibly talented she is because otherwise it might be overwhelming,” Perkins says of Davis. “But I couldn’t have asked for a better collaborator. She was really terrific and I’m not sure what I’ll ever do now because I’ll want her in every role.”

Best known for films and documentaries such as Jasper Jones, Bran Neu Dae and First Australians, plus TV series like Redfern Now, Perkins says she enjoys telling stories across a range of genres. “But I’ve particularly loved working on Mystery Road because it’s a genre piece, it’s a TV cop drama but it has all this interesting, rich historical context, shot in one of the most shootable places in Australia,” she adds. “The landscape was so extraordinary. And with people I loved working with, so it’s very special to me. Having helmed all six episodes, it was wonderful to work across a canvas that was so large, and to be able to see the story through the whole evolution and its various chapters was such a privilege. I feel very lucky.”

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