Diving into lakeside mystery
Oscar winners Jane Campion and Holly Hunter reunite for a television mystery, writes Toni Mason
SIGNING on for a leading role in the television miniseries Top of the Lake was a no-brainer for Holly Hunter – not the least because it would reunite her with her fellow Oscar-winner for The Piano, Jane Campion.
‘‘Just the fact that it’s Jane puts it in a completely different category, without even reading it,’’ says Hunter.
Hunter has appeared on television – including three seasons of the TV show Saving Grace (2007-2010) – but she’s best known for her work on film.
It didn’t take long for Hunter to take the role of the enigmatic GJ in Top of the Lake. The pair have been lifelong friends since they worked on The Piano in 1993.
‘‘Initially I was hesitant and I didn’t understand why she would think of me for it . . . she was just incredibly persuasive, as Jane is.’’
Both projects were filmed in New Zealand. Hunter says the difference between the North Island, the setting for The Piano and the South Island, setting for the TV series, was marked. However, the relaxed environment Campion created for her actors was the same.
‘‘She loves to work, there’s no other place she would rather be and you know that when you’re working with her,’’ Hunter says.
Filmed against a stunning backdrop of a large lake with soaring mountains all around, the seven-part series deals with a police investigation that’s launched when 12-year-old Tui Mitcham (Jacqueline Joe) is discovered to be pregnant and then disappears.
Tui is the daughter of local crime lord Matt Mitcham (Peter Mullan) who appears to have many children to various women and who runs a walled encampment, helped by his adult sons.
The series has a stellar cast, including Mad Men’s Elisabeth Moss as big-city detective Robin Griffin returning to her home town to visit her ill mother (Robyn Nevin).
While there Robin works on Tui’s case with local cop Al Parker (David Wenham) who resents her involvement.
Hunter is drawn to Campion’s work by the revelations it contains about the characters – both male and female.
‘‘In Jane’s movies there are no villains, even though you do have people who do things that are extreme or evil . . . she is a filmmaker who in a way stands in no judgment of the people she brings to the screen.’’
Directly in conflict with the crime lord is the ‘‘women’s camp’’, set up on the shores of the lake and run by Hunter’s character GJ – who appears to be offering a group of wounded women a place to recover.
‘‘You can tell from the beginning this is not a character who is going to have easy explanations for how she is, (or) why she is how she is,’’ Hunter says.
And she says she thoroughly enjoyed working with the varied group Campion assembled for her to lead, which includes Australian Genevieve Lemon, who has previously worked with Campion on The Piano and her 1989 feature debut Sweetie.
‘‘This group I worked with at the women’s camp were a stunning group of actresses,’’ Hunter says.
‘‘We had a ball. It was like going to play instead of going to work.’’
Hunter says the success of the ensemble and of the series overall will be due to Campion’s unbiased attitude when picking the right person for each role.
‘‘She’s got a really generous eye with actors,’’ she says. ‘‘She will see anybody. She will have anyone audition if they really feel that they’re right for the part, even if she thinks that they’re not.’’
Top of the Lakes stars Elisabeth Moss and Holly Hunter