First published on 1 Feb 2012. Updated on 2 Feb 2012.
Aaron, first of all: congratulations for creating a show featuring someone getting a speargun bolt through the jaw in the first five minutes.
Welcome to Australia!
Everyone’s going to mention The Sopranos when describing The Straits, and I’m going to do it too. Was that the pitch? “It’s Sopranos in Far North Queensland”?
It was, I guess, because there wasn’t anything else that we could hang it on. Underbelly hadn’t arrived yet, and Sopranos is undoubtedly the best drama series ever on our small screens. So, pitching it, we said: imagine it’s The Sopranos in thongs.
So it was happening before Underbelly? You must’ve been developing it for years...
I think Underbelly was just about to screen when I grabbed Louis [Nowra] and dragged him up to the Torres Straits. It’s been in development since then, so we had the opportunity for the scripts and characters to ferment over time. It’s been fantastic because now we’ve got these really strong storylines and well-developed characters. It’s a crazy world, mate.
Louis Nowra is an enormous name in Australian theatre. How did he get involved?
It was that simple?
It was that simple. I said it was an opportunity to do research in a world he’d never been to before. At some points he was sceptical about how it could actually play out, so we wanted to experience how this world really operates. Louis said it was one of the best research trips – and one of the most adventurous – he’d ever been on. That’s a credit to the Torres Straits and Far North Queensland.
It’s great to see Brian Cox playing the family patriarch, Harry. He seems like he can do anything, whether it’s superhero movies or Shakespeare.
That’s the mark of a great practitioner, I believe. There’s not much that Brian Cox can’t do and I can bear witness to that. As soon as he stepped on set and delivered his lines, it was like: “Oh, is this how it’s done? We’re going to school now, boys and girls!” It’s an absolute honour to work with him, as well as Rena [Owen] and some of the great Aussie actors I grew up watching.
Do you think it’s fair to say mainstream Australia’s been resistant to indigenous stories in the past?
I’m not sure if it’s “resistant”. I just believe they didn’t know how to tell them, you know? There were examples of film and television attempting to have indigenous storylines but never getting the nuances of the culture. The good intentions were there – but how does a whitefella tell a blackfella’s story? But the fantastic thing about our industry is you can have collaboration. If the mainstream is open to understanding indigenous stories, we can see a much better portrayal of Australia and the uniqueness of this country. These are some of the oldest cultures in the world! Fifty thousand years old, man! There’s a lot of gold here.
And it’s happening. We’ve seen great examples of more and more indigenous stories being told over the last ten years. The future is exciting. I think we’re moving into – I might be getting carried away here – a new renaissance? Can I say that? You’ve got the likes of Wayne Blair’s The Sapphires about to be launched and the success of Warwick Thornton with Samson and Delilah. With The Straits, Australia will see a place that they know absolutely bugger all about. When the overseas audience sees different faces, they’ll find Australia’s suddenly more interesting, too.
The Straits premieres on ABC1 on Thu 2 Feb 8.30pm.