Producer Ian Collie looks at how Jack Irish has evolved as Guy Pearce’s private eye shifts from telemovies to his own ABC TV series. By Caris Bizzaca.
Wiry, endearing and intrinsically Australian, the gambling, drinking private investigator Jack Irish is back, but this time with his own TV series.
And as Jack Irish steps away from telemovies, it’s also moving away from the books.
Played by Guy Pearce, Jack Irish was plucked from Peter Temple’s best-selling crime fiction novels to feature in three edge-of-your-seat contemporary noir telemovies from 2012 to 2014.
The three telemovies closely followed Temple’s crime fiction novels Bad Debts, Black Tide and Dead Point (for those yet to see them, they are well worth the watch on ABC iview, Netflix, Stan or Quickflix).
Producer Ian Collie says initially they were going to do a fourth telemovie, based on the fourth Jack Irish book White Dog. However, after discussions with broadcaster ABC, talk turned to something longer.
“We felt we had the scope and breadth of story and characters to make a compelling six-part series,” Collie says.
But it also lends itself to the way people consume television now, preferring to return to familiar faces each week, or binge-watching in one go. From a business point of view, he says series are also more popular for that reason with overseas broadcasters.
With the series locked in, the team behind Jack Irish found they had a lot more room to explore, moving from a dense 90-100 minute telemovie, to six hour-long episodes.
“And to give Jack time to breathe, to sometimes have quieter moments with him rather than constantly being on the move and getting chased or beaten up,” he says, adding, “there’s still obviously parts of that, it’s just spread out”.
They wove some of the plotlines from White Dog into the series, but Collie says as they plotted and brainstormed, the story expanded far outside of Fitzroy, even Australia.
A story about a lost missionary (played by Brooke Satchwell) emerged as the writers caught onto the idea of looking at where religion is at the moment.
“In terms of movement toward more fundamentalist and radicalised forms of religion, whether it’s on the Christian front or the Islamic front,” Collie explains. “And the potential ‘holy war’ you could call it, that’s starting to evolve…
“We increasingly see terrorism happening, if not on our doorstep, then nearby (and) we thought it was an interesting terrain for Jack to be caught up in.”
That ‘nearby’ location became the Philippines, principally Manila, where Jack’s now-estranged lover Linda (Marta Dusseldorp) begins work for an Australian publication.
“We were able to post Linda there and of course what Jack is chasing back home in Melbourne overlaps with what she’s doing a story piece on,” he says.
Aside from the on-again, off-again relationship with Linda, there’s also the arrival of a guarded new romantic interest, played by Claudia Karvan. It marks a reunion for the pair who first starred onscreen together some two-plus decades ago in Flynn (1993), before Dating the Enemy (1996) and 33 Postcards (2011).
Karvan’s role is just another addition to the rich tapestry of characters woven into Jack Irish.
Collie says from the very beginning, they have been lucky to have Temple’s books as a basis for the characters.
It allowed the writers, including Andrew Knight (the main showrunner on the new series), to channel Temple’s voice and “produce equally brilliant, clever and sardonic dialogue for our various characters”.
From the old codgers at Jack’s local pub, still barracking for a now long-extinct AFL team, to bookie Harry Strang (played by Roy Billings) and Shane Jacobson’s old-school cop, there’s a distinct ‘Aussieness’ that’s intrinsically part of Jack Irish – and one of the things that sets it apart from your average noir crime show.
“It’s sort of that Aussieness without being too flag-waving about it, because yes it’s a crime series but it’s very much located in the heart of inner city Melbourne,” Collie says.
“In this case he goes through a little bit of a journey into the heart of darkness… apart from him doing his usual stuff of being a private investigator and trying to find people or money, Jack himself goes through the wringer emotionally as well.”
While Temple has only penned four Jack Irish novels, all of which have now been adapted (even in part) to screen, Collie says by no means does this mean they have run out of material.
“We’re obviously hoping that if this series works, if people watch it… we like to think there may be another series,” he says.
“That’s obviously a matter for the ABC, principally, but I think because we’ve established the various characters and the world of Jack and what he does, it lends itself to being able to be a good repeat series. Obviously the big challenge is finding those storylines that will make it fresh and hopefully compelling.”
If Collie and Andrew Knight are at the helm again, that seems a pretty safe bet.
Jack Irish screens on ABC TV Thursdays at 8.30pm, repeated Sundays 9.30pm.
Also available on iview.