The Killing Field: Gibney with relative unknowns and Peter O'Brien
Rebecca Gibney has spent the past 12 months immersing herself in murder. No more The Nicest Mother in Australia. She’s watched The Killing, Broadchurch, Prime Suspect, The Broken Shore, The Bridge, and The Fall, and she’s recorded True Detective to watch as soon as she gets a spare minute.
This is not simply so she can play a new role. Nowadays she’s much more than an actress. It’s so she can confidently supervise the writing, casting, directing and editing of the new series she hopes will spring from the telemovie in which she stars on Sunday night – The Killing Field.
As a performer you can’t actually spend your life doing jobs where you just want to be liked all the time.
When she finished filming the final episode of Packed To The Rafters, in May of last year, Gibney was determined to do something different from her most famous roles – matriarch Julie Rafter and forensic psychiatrist Jane Halifax. Channel Seven approached her production company with a script about a detective named Eve Winter, and she thought it had potential.
The Voice ... Challenged by Kyliegate
“It was very important for me to play a character vastly different from Julie Rafter,” GIbney says. “Jane Halifax was emotionally quite remote, but when we meet Eve Winter at the beginning of the telemovie, she’s actually taken a desk job because of her emotional involvement in previous cases, which have left her completely burnt out. She does get caught up, she does reveal too much of herself. One of her strengths is she can get people to say things they might not necessarily want to say.”
While the character had potential, Gibney felt the script was not quite ready: “We said it’s a real page turner, the plot really hooked me in, but I asked can we rework it so it becomes more of the sort of show that I want to do?
“Seven have been incredible in allowing me to be really hands-on in the whole process. We massaged the script. We brought on a director and a producer. We set about getting the cast together. I sat in on every casting session, and we got this extraordinary crew, and I was right across the editing. I do feel I’ve earned my stripes as a producer on this one.”
MasterChef ... challenged by a three year old sandwich
Having massaged the script to her satisfaction, Gibney had to make a decision about casting. It’s common in Australian TV dramas for the audience to be familiar with the actors, and to say “Oh look, it’s Claudia Karvan – she’s got shorter hair in this” or “There’s Vince Colosimo – I wonder if he’ll get killed this time” or “Don Hany’s lost weight since Offspring”. That can be fun, but it can also be distracting. Gibney decided to go the other way, to let viewers immerse themselves in the story.
“We actively tried to cast it with faces that people don’t know – theatre actors, wonderful actors most people haven’t seen before,” she says. “You’ll be seeing faces that look like they belong in a country town. Hopefully that will mean people are able to disappear into it a bit, because they’re not recognizing everyone – except me, presumably.”
And will Eve Winter be as popular as Julie Rafter, who became a national cult? “I’m turning 50 this year and frankly it doesn’t bother me if I’m liked as a character,” says Gibney. “My friends love me, my family loves me. As a performer you can’t actually spend your life doing jobs where you just want to be liked all the time.
“Halifax was seven years and 21 telemovies, and she wasn’t particularly liked. Julie Rafter was absolutely loved, and that’s because she was the mum of Australia, and I loved playing that. Eve Winter won’t be loved like her, but I don’t think she’ll be hated. She is a bit enigmatic. In the telemovie, you find out bits and pieces of her history, but all the questions won’t be answered. We’re really setting her up in this for a short-run series.”
Detective Eve Winter doesn’t have to be a saint. She just has to be smart enough to catch murderers – and to carry a whodunit that’s up to the standard of all the dramas Gibney has been studying. Tomorrow morning’s ratings figures will determine whether Australians will learn any more about her.
The Killing Field is on Seven at 8.30pm Sunday.
Haunted by a turd sandwich
This week Channel Nine and Channel Ten launch their biggest series of the year, but both are starting with a handicap. MasterChef must get over what came to be called “the turd sandwich incident” – Ten’s decision three years ago to insert cut the finale of MasterChef in halves and insert an episode of The Renovators between them.
This attempt to boost the numbers for a dud reno-show only served to drag down the audience for MasterChef, and to taint the whole series for the following two years. Have the three million Australians who used to be devotees of Masterchef finally managed to get the nasty taste out of their mouths?
Nine’s handicap is Kyliegate. Securing Kylie Minogue’s services as a judge should have been a huge ratings booster, but then she appeared on The Logies. Whether or not she was miming, the song and the performance were embarrassing. And then came nasty publicity about how some of the dancers may have been underpaid or not paid at all. Was that enough to change her status from “Australia’s sweetheart” to “one of those Aussies who are up themselves because they had a modest success overseas”?
The ratings over the next two weeks will offer answers to these troubling questions.
The Voice starts on Nine at 6.30pm on Sunday. MasterChef Australia starts on Ten at 7.30pm on Monday.
The Tribal Mind column, by David Dale, appears in a printed form every Sunday in The Sun-Herald and The Sunday Age and also as a director's cut on this website, where it welcomes your comments.
David Dale teaches communications at UTS, Sydney. He is the author of The Little Book of Australia - A snapshot of who we are (Allen and Unwin). For daily updates on Australian attitudes, bookmark The Tribal Mind.