Deb Mailman takes charge in Nine’s new crime drama, Bite Club
FOR one of Australia’s most decorated actors, Deb Mailman sits uneasily in front of a stills camera.
Prompted to deliver her sexiest “Blue Steel” glare, the 46-year- old dissolves into a girlie fit of giggles – igniting the room with the warmth of that smile which has brightened our screens, big and small, for more than two decades.
It’s a rainy day in Sydney when we meet, but Mailman is pure sunshine. Poised like a Greek goddess for TV Guide’s cover, before kicking off her high heels for more shots and a “natter,” she is the brightest part of this gloomy afternoon.
Fans of the Offspring and Redfern Now star know she can f lick the switch from light to dark, from one show to the next, but she is shades of both in her latest role – as the head of homicide in Nine’s new police drama series Bite Club.
The Logie-winning actor admits even she was surprised to be offered the job as “boss lady” in the six-part serial killer thriller – her first time in the crime genre. “My guilty pleasure is Law & Order: SVU, so all I kept thinking about was, ‘ What would Olivia do?’ she says, with a laugh, referencing the US show’s lead character, played for 19 seasons by Mariska Hargitay. “Her and Stabler (Benson’s former policing partner) are the coolest team, the coolest team,” she enthuses. “So to be given the opportunity to play in this genre I love so much was just so exciting for me. Then to be given the role of boss lady … like, hello? Of course I’m going to do that, it was great!”
That “boss lady” is Detective Superintendent Anna Morton, who wields her power with a firm hand, albeit in a velvet glove.
Adding interest for Mailman is the fact her character risks alienating some of the audience and her position by having an affair with a subordinate ( played by Underbelly heavyweight Robert Mammone).
It’s a moral twist the actor continues to wrestle with, she says. “Anna’s compartmentalised this relationship in her life and I think that’s how she is as a person, how she works. In her mind, I know she knows what she’s doing is wrong, but the reality of what she’s doing is right in front of her,” Mailman says.
“As the story progresses, we see that her affair with Jim (Mammone) slams straight in her face and suddenly she realises, ‘ What the bloody hell am I doing?’ It also puts her work in jeopardy as well and she’s worked incredibly hard to get to this position.”
She adds: “It’s not making excuses for her, but it’s about trying to figure out how you get yourself in a situation like that as a woman. That’s the thing … sometimes, when it comes to being attracted to another person, it becomes a lot more powerful.”
The show’s co- creators and writing duo Sarah Smith and John Ridley wrote the “moral ambiguity” of Mailman’s character before she was cast, but admit they were “delighted” by her ability to balance the duality of the role.
“She has to be quite hard because of what she’s doing, and also being in control of all these people,” Ridley says. “But to have that humanity … Deb has that in spades.”
Smith adds: “You get that warmth but she’s got a steeliness to her that I was surprised by … she played the boss really well.”
In other unexpected choices by the Playmaker production, the show stars Dominic Monaghan ( Lord of the Rings) as the serial killer hiding in plain sight. Giving double-meaning to the title, Monaghan is police dog handler Stephen Langley, a menacing villain who collects the teeth of his victims.
On his trail are lead detectives, Dan Cooper (Todd Lasance) and Zoe Rawlings (Ash Riccardo) – former lovers, estranged by the trauma of both surviving a shark attack, now back working together again.
Mailman says she leaned on the experience of her co- star Mammone, who is seasoned in crime drama – famously playing Melbourne gangster Tony Mokbel in Nine’s Fat Tony & Co.
“He knows the world so well in regards to this genre and I really loved watching how he works,” she says.
“He sort of anchors every scene with his expertise and understanding of it … he’s just brilliant to work with.”
The rest of her research for the role was kept simple, Mailman jokes.
“No, no [real police interviews]” she giggles, “just Olivia Benson.”
8.45PM, WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 15, NINE
Role reversal: Deb Mailman stars as Detective Superintendent Anna Morton (below left) in the serial killer thriller BiteClub.