Aaron Pedersen, actor, 47
You trained as a journalist; what made you change course? I don’t know if I changed course or just branched out. Storytelling is storytelling. I wanted to get into television so I took a journalism cadetship at the ABC, and that was my way in. I was in Sydney and they were making Heartland – Cate Blanchett’s first TV role – and I auditioned. I didn’t get the part I wanted but I got a smaller role… and here I am today. I had a plan and it worked.
Was being Cleo’s Bachelor of the Year in 1994 part of that plan? [Audible cringeing] Well, I was a pioneer there; somebody had to be the first. Black men in this country are important and beautiful and relevant, as I said at the time. Someone told me I should enter again … what, and [stuff] up my average?!
You and Ivan Sen made the 2013 film Mystery Road together, its sequel and now the TV series. Is this a personal project for you both? We’re indigenous descendants who have taken the same journey; there’s a connection. We were devising conversations to have with the country. Series director Rachel Perkins – it’s a massive part of her too, and of all the indigenous people attached to it.
Tell us about Detective Jay Swan, who you play opposite Judy Davis’s local cop. He’s a fantastic character dreamed up by Ivan. He’s a man who lives in the middle ground. And while he’s a character designed for me, I think he’s half me and half Ivan. I’m the words and Ivan’s the silences.
The unforgiving East Kimberley landscape plays such a big role, it’s almost a character… It is. It’s so hot you want to jump in the water, but a croc will eat you – that’s real. And without the mod cons, we’re stuffed.
Actress Jessica Falkholt’s death last summer must have been devastating for you all. The first scene I did was with Jess. The spirit of it started with her. It’s ridiculous – nobody should die in car crashes, it should be a thing of the past. We were so grateful to have her spirit and we’ll always cherish that.
Thirty years ago, Ernie Dingo was just about the only Aboriginal actor on TV. How have things changed for indigenous performers? We’ve always been marginalised and I love the fact that it’s changed. Bob Maza, Justine Saunders, Uncle Jack Charles, Kevin Smith – there’s a long list of pioneers who made this possible. I have a career because of their hard work. It comes from way back – it’s not us who have changed, but Australia.
People know you from TV dramas like Water Rats, The Circuit, The Code, Jack Irish and A Place to Call Home but you also have loads of theatre credits. Will you take to the stage again? If I’m working as an actor, I’m working. Bud Tingwell said you never knock back a job. Even if you’re stereotyped like me – I play a lot of coppers – I’m working. Stereotyping doesn’t bother me, except in real life.