Can­berra on the world stage

Sunday Territorian - - TV -

The new Foxtel minis­eries Se­cret City does a lot of things well. It sees Aus­tralia throw­ing its hat into the po­lit­i­cal thriller ring, a space tra­di­tion­ally oc­cu­pied by the Amer­i­cans and Brits (and more re­cently and in­creas­ingly by a fair few Euro­peans).

It pro­vides a great show­case for home-grown talent on both sides of the cam­era, in­clud­ing a stel­lar cast headed by Anna Torv, Jacki Weaver, Alex Dim­i­tri­ades and Alan Dale.

But per­haps most im­pres­sively, in the words of costar Dan Wyl­lie (of Love My Way fame), “Dare I say it, it makes Can­berra look sexy”.

It’s true, that’s not often a term one ap­plies to our cap­i­tal city and po­lit­i­cal hub. But Se­cret City gives Can­berra a moody, at­mo­spheric feel that’s well and truly in keep­ing with the com­plex and sus­pense­ful drama of the story, based on two nov­els by po­lit­i­cal jour­nal­ists Chris Uhlmann and Steve Lewis.

“They have great in­sight into Aus­tralian pol­i­tics and par­tic­u­larly Can­berra pol­i­tics,” says Wyl­lie, who plays De­fence Min­is­ter Mal Pax­ton in the six-episode se­ries.

“They were piv­otal in the pro­duc­tion get­ting the ac­cess it had to Par­lia­ment House, which is ab­so­lutely re­mark­able.”

Wyl­lie adds that Uhlmann and Price’s two nov­els are “mag­nif­i­cent”, but that Se­cret City dif­fers slightly in

Ev­ery cul­ture in the world has their ver­sion of it – some­one pro­vid­ing a link be­tween the real world and what lies be­yond.

There are many names for it. Witch doc­tor. Shaman. Clair­voy­ant. In this coun­try’s in­dige­nous mythol­ogy, that per­son is known as the Clev­er­man.

There’s a good chance you may not have heard the term, but that’s about to change, thanks to the new six-episode ABC fan­tasy se­ries Clev­er­man, which folds the rich, vi­brant archetypes of in­dige­nous mys­ti­cism into a com­pelling drama that ad­dresses race re­la­tions and the refugee cri­sis.

Set in the near fu­ture, the story sees Aus­tralia com­ing to terms with the emer­gence of a race known as the “Hairypeo­ple”, who have hid­den in the shad­ows for thou­sands of years but are now be­gin­ning to co-ex­ist with humans.

Strong, fast and, well, hairy, they’re feared and dis­trusted by the pow­ers that be and rel­e­gated to a closed­off com­mu­nity called The Zone. Those try­ing to live else­where are de­tained and im­pris­oned by the bru­tal, ruth­less govern­ment agency called the Con­tain­ment Author­ity.

It’s a pow­der-keg of a sit­u­a­tion, made even more ex­plo­sive by a string of mur­ders the author­i­ties and the me­dia are quick to pin on the Hairypeo­ple.

There’s only one be­ing – tone, tak­ing more of a dark, dra­matic ap­proach in depict­ing what be­gins as a po­lit­i­cal scan­dal but deep­ens into a far-reach­ing in­ter­na­tional con­spir­acy that could re­shape and even jeop­ar­dise Aus­tralia. the Clev­er­man – who has the abil­ity to find out who or what is be­hind these killings and re­store some sense of bal­ance to the world.

But there’s a catch: the young man who has been in­her­ited the ti­tle and pow­ers of the Clev­er­man wants noth­ing to do with any of it.

Koen West, played by Hunter Page-Lochard, is es­tranged from his fam­ily and dis­con­nected from his cul­tural roots. But when he’s em­pow­ered with the su­per­nat­u­ral gifts of the Clev­er­man, he finds him­self in a po­si­tion of great re­spon­si­bil­ity. If that seems a lit­tle fa­mil­iar, it’s be­cause it’s sim­i­lar to any num­ber of su­per­hero sto­ries you may have seen. And ac­cord­ing to PageLochar­d, that’s a de­lib­er­ate choice on the part of Clev­er­man creator Ryan Grif­fen.

“Ryan talked about the first Spi­der-Man movie, the one with Tobey Maguire, and how the first sea­son of Clev­er­man is like the first 15 min­utes of that story,” says the young ac­tor and dancer, who is also the son of Stephen Page, artistic di­rec­tor of the ac­claimed Ban­garra Dance The­atre.

“Koen is dis­cov­er­ing his pow­ers and there’s a lot of room for him to move, a lot of places he can go. His jour­ney is a pow­er­ful one – there are per­sonal as­pects to it, in­clud­ing his re­la­tion­ship with his fam­ily and his own com­ing of age, be­cause he doesn’t know his iden­tity and his place in the world.

“He’s a clas­sic char­ac­ter

Po­lit­i­cal jour­nal­ist Har­riet Dunk­ley, played by Torv, has long been in pur­suit of Wyl­lie’s Pax­ton, but her pur­suit of a story that could put some of his hid­den deal­ings in the spot­light is com­pli­cated by a se­ries of in­ci­dents here and abroad that hint at dan­ger­ous al­liances be­tween the world’s su­per­pow­ers.

“The show is in­cred­i­bly com­plex and doesn’t spoon­feed its au­di­ence,” Wyl­lie says.

“You’re deal­ing with is­sues like the Aus­tralianAme­r­i­can mil­i­tary al­liance and China’s ac­tions in the South China Sea, as well as col­lu­sion be­tween in­dus­trial forces and mil­i­tary forces. It’s got mul­ti­ple sto­ry­lines run­ning par­al­lel at the same time, so there’s this in­tri­cate and wicked web be­ing wo­ven. – a flawed hero who needs to im­prove for the good of ev­ery­one around him.”

So for Page-Lochard and ev­ery­one in­volved in Clev­er­man, it was “a big priv­i­lege” to be able to tell such a story through an in­dige­nous lens.

“I was ec­static!” he laughs. “When I first read the script and ab­sorbed the ideas of it, I was like, ‘Yes!’ It had our mythol­ogy and le­gends but it also had sci-fi and mon­sters and fight scenes, and it struck me as so smart to take ev­ery­thing about us and ev­ery­thing that has hap­pened to us and just add fun. And I wanted to be part of it and help push it for­ward.”

Just as his char­ac­ter Koen has been given an im­por­tant job to do, Page-Lochard takes his re­spon­si­bil­i­ties as a sto­ry­teller se­ri­ously as well.

“We haven’t had the chance to share any­thing like this with the rest of Aus­tralia, and shar­ing sto­ries about cul­ture and his­tory is how we come to know and un­der­stand one an­other,” he says.

“If peo­ple had got to see some­thing like Clev­er­man or Red­fern Now or the Ban­garra Dance The­atre 50 years ago, I be­lieve things would be dif­fer­ent to­day.

“When we were mak­ing Clev­er­man, [co-star] Iain Glen said we were say­ing things that peo­ple would re­late to glob­ally. It’s like we were part of a move­ment. And hav­ing fun with it at the same time.”

“There’s a lot of wheel­ing and deal­ing the pub­lic never knows about, and it’s so in­ter­est­ing the way we delve into it in Se­cret City.

“It’s in­cred­i­bly cur­rent. We were hop­ing when we were shoot­ing that the news wouldn’t catch up with us or even over­take us.”

Se­cret City is the kind of pro­gram that re­wards the pa­tient and en­gaged viewer, in much the same way as in­ter­na­tional pro­duc­tions such as Bor­gen or House of Cards.

“Those Scan­di­na­vian shows and other things that are bit more chal­leng­ing than tra­di­tion­ally for­mu­laic fare, it’s great to be in­volved in some­thing like that,” Wyl­lie says.

Aus­tralia’s cap­i­tal isn’t a city to re­veal its se­crets eas­ily, but the new Foxtel po­lit­i­cal thriller digs into the dirt. GUY DAVIS speaks with co-star Dan Wyl­lie.

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