Variety sat down with “Scrublands” lead actor Luke Arnold to talk about what it was like working with the legendary director Greg McLean (“Wolf Creek”), the intricacies of playing such a complex character, shooting on location in country Victoria, and what it means to be part of an Australian show of this calibre.
The opening scene begins with a literal bang when a charismatic and devoted young priest named Father John Byron (Jay Ryan) is shot dead by local cop Robbie Haus-Jones (Adam Zwar) after he serenely opens fire on his congregation, killing five parishioners.
A year onwards, investigative journalist Martin Scarsden from the Sydney Morning Herald (Luke Arnold, who played Michael Hutchence in “INXS: Never Tear Us Apart”) ) is sent by his editor (Nicholas Bell) to do a puff piece on the recovery of the town on the anniversary of the shooting. Martin has PTSD after his friend was killed on assignment, and the piece is clearly a step down for such a gun journalist.
He arrives in town feeling jaded about the task ahead and is confronted by a town of inhospitable and deeply scarred locals who mistrust journalists after the shameful incident. It’s not long before he begins to unveil cracks in the accepted narrative of a local pedophile priest unable to live with his actions and finds himself in a life-and-death race to uncover the truth.
Jay Ryan perfectly plays the handsome, brooding priest whose character builds with each flashback as the story unravels. Adam Zwar performs stellar as a well-meaning yet down-on-luck cop, while Bella Heathcote and Robert Taylor are superbly cast.
But the show’s star is Luke Arnold, who performs outstandingly as a shrewd, determined journalist. When asked what attracted him to the role, Arnold replies, “Martin Scarsden was an immediately appealing character. He has a lot of sides to him; he’s a very flawed character, but he’s the perfect guy in the middle of a mystery. Someone who has their own stuff going on but is very dedicated to getting the truth out.
“Besides that, Chris Hammer’s books being as well received and loved as they are was a great indication of the story’s potential. It began with the story, and then, of course, having Greg McLean attached to it was a huge bonus. Like everyone else in Australia, I’ve adored his work ever since “Wolf Creek”, and the team of people on board was phenomenal.
“The show is quintessentially Australian in its location, characters and story. It’s just a joy when you get to go out into the country with such a hardworking crew and make a show that looks this good and is this well put together. When I get to work here on stuff of this quality with filmmakers of this calibre, I don’t see much need to go anywhere else,” says Arnold.
Shortly after he arrives in Riversend, tensions rise when Martin meets the owner of the only bookstore in town and single mum, Mandy (Bella Heathcote), with whom there is undoubtedly a strong attraction. Mandy is not convinced of any wrongdoing by the town’s beloved priest, which sparks the investigative instincts of the hero of this Australian noir. Yet, once she finds out he’s a journalist, she turns cold, and he’ll soon find out she has some secrets of her own worth hiding.
Director Greg McLean hones in on the stark, captivating landscape. Cinematographer Marden Dean captures many haunting, moody shots, making for a visually striking representation of a dry and dilapidated town. The violent and suspenseful moments will leave you on the edge of your seat and are somewhat reminiscent of McLean’s earlier “Wolf Creek”.
When asked what it was like to work with such a legendary filmmaker, Arnold replies, “Greg is so much fun to work with. He’s a lot nicer than you’d expect the writer and director of Wolf Creek to be and much more mild-mannered (laughs). It’s a privilege to have someone like Greg at the helm because he will fight so hard to make the show what it needs to be and to look as good as it does.
“He understands the constraints of shooting television and shooting on location. Greg is just a laid-back, funny guy who just so happens to have put together some of the most terrifying movie scenes in film history,” Arnold muses.
Writer Felicity Packard and director Greg McLean are a dynamic duo, and this superb ensemble cements their position as some of the finest screen veterans to come out of Australia. “Scrublands” is set to be a truly noteworthy and wildly successful country noir series with the production house Easy Tiger behind it.
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