Take a trip down Serangoon Road
Don Hany takes Debbie Schipp on a trip down Serangoon Road
HE learned martial arts, Mandarin, muscled up and copped plenty of bruises for the role of Sam Callaghan, but Don Hany says nobody got through filming Serangoon Road “without losing a bit of skin”.
A mammoth shoot, logistics crossing several cultures and stakeholders, all with different ideas on what the partnership was trying to achieve, stretched pre- production and filming out to more than a year.
“It was a bit like the United Nations coming together to make something and everyone agreeing, but nobody had the experience of making this sort of drama,” says Hany, whose previous credits include Offspring and East West 101.
“It was like this epic journey. It took something out of everyone, but that’s the way you want it to be.”
The result of that journey is an exotic crime drama with brutality, bite, history and culture clashes, at a time of political upheaval in Singapore. Sharp detective work and fastpaced action scenes are underpinned by complex personal stories.
It’s a happy first production partnership for HBO Asia and the ABC.
Not so happy is the marriage of Maeve Dermody’s Claire Simpson, who as the beautiful but bored wife of expat company executive Frank ( Jeremy Lindsay Taylor) is having an affair with Hany’s Sam.
As far as flawed anti- heroes go, Sam is a doozy.
He’s a sometime- detective and a sporadic importer/ exporter, who moved to Singapore with his army major father and mother aged eight, spent his childhood in a POW camp, worked in military intelligence in the Malayan Emergency and consequently is a man filled with demons.
He doesn’t fit in with the expat community, but is a foreigner in a city at a crossroads, filled with racial and political tensions and terrorist unrest.
As an action man, Sam is sublime. But when he looks himself in the mirror, there’s plenty of baggage.
He cuts a scruffy figure among suited expats and the CIA operatives he comes into contact with via neighbour Patricia Cheng ( Joan Chen) and her detective agency. Sam’s personal debt to her, it seems, is the guilt he feels for not being able to stop her husband being killed.
And it’s that work which brings Sam and Patricia into conflict with powerful and ruthless factions in Singapore.
“Sam is kind of on the run. Life’s been a series of traps for him,” Hany says.
“He has been initiated in the cruel things of life. He lost his mum. He lost his best friend in Changi. He’s lost his dad.
“He won’t fully commit to his business, he doesn’t know if he wants to join forces with Patricia and he knows he’s going to let Claire down, so he’s a failure in his relationship as well.”
Hany plays Sam with the noble remoteness of a man who does good things but always seems about to slip off the edge and take refuge in his opium habit.
“He is motivated by the fear of failure. He’s kind of an anti- hero in that he’s not motivated to do good or have a sense of justice, he’s just trying to exist,” Hany says.
He says the relationship between Sam and Claire is one of the saddest elements of the show.
“They are both very lonely characters. I don’t think anyone else understands them like they do each other, and yet that relationship is never going to work,” he says.
“I don’t think Sam will ever have the emotional courage to really commit to her because he’s so unreachable. He’s just a coward, emotionally.
“That’s a shame, because she could be such a turning point in his life.” SERANGOON ROAD ABC1, tonight, 8.30pm