Matthew Le Nevez could never have imagined the direction Australian TV would go. When he emerged from drama school some 17 years ago, the reign of reality TV was looming. But in the years since, series have become shorter and more cinematic, filmmakers have flocked to the small screen and now he’s starring in The Kettering Incident, an atmospheric Gothic drama filmed solely in Tasmania.
“I was fortunate enough early in my career to play different roles and I felt like I was learning my craft and defining myself as an actor as I was going,” he says of the various roles he played.
Then came Offspring. “It’s always Offspring,” he laughs.
Cast as Asher Keddie’s love interest Dr Patrick Reid in 2011, the character’s abrupt death in Season 4 of Network Ten’s series gripped mainstream Australia in a way not many television shows manage to do.
If Le Nevez had any concern that after Offspring and Love Child (whose third season is airing on Channel 9 now), he would be forever pigeonholed as a romantic lead, The Kettering Incident is proof that’s not the case.
He says Madden and Sheehan were very particular about overseeing The Kettering Incident with the showrunner style typical of US television series, whereby the creator is also the writer and producer, with strong creative control.
“Vicki was very aware of the performances the actors were bringing in the first month and helping her carve the way she wanted the stories to go,” he says.
The Kettering Incident is the kind of the series that’s difficult to put into a box.
It stars Debicki as Anna Macy, a doctor working in the UK, who wakes up from a blackout to find she’s returned home to Kettering, near Hobart. In the midst of this town haunted by old folk stories and tensions between environmentalists and loggers, Macy becomes linked to the disappearance of two girls who went missing in the forest some 15 years apart.
It feels supernatural one episode, then more of a psychological thriller or a crime drama the next. The eight-part series keeps you guessing as it delves into mysterious disappearances on the island state.
“Vicki wasn’t afraid to really just change the tact of the show very, very abruptly,” Le Nevez says.
“So as soon as you feel like you’re ahead of the story or you’re defining it… she subverts it to become a police procedural and then suddenly something happens and the whole genre is changed to high concept, not quite sci-fi.
“It’s so fantastic of Screen Australia and obviously Screen Tasmania and Foxtel to be bold like this in this market because we haven’t seen something like this before.
“And that’s what I think is so amazing about television at the moment is you can make something incredibly bold over eight hours like we have or I know Cleverman’s just come on and that’s changing genre too.”
Le Nevez says the sophistication of the TV viewing audience is on the rise. As TV settles into this ‘Golden Age’, he says you have writers like Cate Shortland, Andrew Knight and Louise Fox working on Kettering with Madden and Sheehan alongside directors Tony Krawitz and Rowan Woods.
And it’s paying off. Already The Kettering Incident has been awarded the special jury prize at Paris’ Series Mania Festival and has been picked up by BBC Worldwide for distribution.
It also marks Foxtel’s second original Australian TV drama to air this year, after Secret City aired on Showcase in June.
For Le Nevez, audiences will see him switch gears again for his next project.
Love Child season 3 is on screens now, but Network Ten’s biopic Brock is just around the corner.
Le Nevez is certainly not new to biopics, playing Dennis Lillee in Howzat! Kerry Packer’s War, he says Brock is trying something different.
“With Brock we specifically tried to be a little different than just mimicking and looking back in a nostalgic way,” he says.
The way they shot it aims to bring the story of racing driver Peter Brock to a new audience with a different kind of energy.
“(Cinematographer) Bruce Young, who shot The Secret River, and the director Geoff Bennett had a very specific way in which they wanted this to come about. Senna was a really big influence on them and that whole way of trying to make it doco style.”
The speed of the material and shooting style was also dictated by the short amount of time they had to shoot. While The Kettering Incident’s eight episodes were shot in southern Tasmania over about 18 weeks in 2014, Le Nevez says Brock was filmed over about five to six weeks.
“There are over 200 scenes. Then half of those scenes have got little edits within them, so there are about 400 scenes to shoot,” he says.
“So you don’t have time to get a second take or worry about this or that and in a way, that can lend itself to being a really interesting drama because you’re making it so quickly.
“I know most actors when they turned up on set their head was spinning until probably lunch when they got an understanding of what we were trying to do.”
The Kettering Incident airs on Foxtel’s Showcase from July 4.