One of Australia’s most recognisable and highly regarded actors, Aaron Pedersen has always felt there was one character in particular that he wasn’t done with.
The actor got the chance to step back into those shoes with ABC’s highly anticipated television spin-off of the 2013 film Mystery Road.
Filmed in WA’s East Kimberley, the series again finds Pedersen’s detective Jay Swan as the outsider cop embroiled in a dark mystery that threatens the fabric of the local community.
Speaking on the Kununurra set of the six-part series, Pedersen says he was heavily involved in translating the film, which was followed by a sequel, Goldstone, in 2016, to the small screen.
“We had talked about it,” he says. “The only person who didn’t think it was going to be reprised was (the film’s writer and director) Ivan (Sen).
“I was pushing him for the second film, and then we got it up, and we talked about the TV series and (producers) David (Jowsey) and Greer (Simpkin) went to work putting all the pieces in place and making it happen, and here we are.
“They brought it to fruition, which is really beautiful because it takes a lot of hard work to do that.
“There’s also a third film instalment we’re talking about, and maybe even another series. That would be fantastic. The whole project in itself has got a life of its own really.”
Set between the events of the first and second films, as the series opens Jay has been called out to a remote outback town to help the local police, led by Emma James (WA-born screen legend Judy Davis) investigate the disappearance of two young men, one indigenous and one white.
It soon becomes clear that there is much more at play than a straightforward disappearance, and Jay and Emma’s investigation soon unearths some of the town’s long-held secrets, including a shocking centuries-old injustice.
The powerhouse Australian cast also includes Deborah Mailman, Ernie Dingo, Tasma Walton and Colin Friels, and impressive young indigenous actors Madeleine Madden, Meyne Wyatt and Tasia Zalar.
Pedersen has been a fixture on Australian screens for more than 25 years, from early appearances on Water Rats, The Secret Life of Us, City Homicide and Blue Heelers to more recent roles on ABC’s Jack Irish, the Seven series Blue Murder: Killer Cop, and Foxtel’s period drama A Place to Call Home.
Throughout his career the 47-year-old has always championed indigenous stories.
“I’ve always believed that the country has a craving for it,” he says.
“I always thought there was a bit of a hole in the ozone layer if you want to put it that way, that we were being misrepresented, that our stories weren’t being treated seriously, and it was for us to tell them. It was for us to re-inform, re-empower and re-educate the country, to give the country the right story at the right time and not necessarily a romanticised element of it.
“We as a nation are a long, long way from even seeing where we might be and what we’re capable of doing unless we take indigenous stuff and seriously see it for what it’s worth.
“And that is, it’s a feast. And I think audiences want to sit down for that feast and enjoy it.”
Pedersen says Jay, who has long been caught between two worlds — treated as an outsider by the indigenous and non-indigenous communities — and is still dealing with the repercussions of the shootout in the first film, also now finds himself with an added layer of complications in the form of the arrival of his young daughter Crystal (played by Madden, currently starring in Foxtel’s Picnic at Hanging Rock remake). Crystal, along with Jay’s ex Mary (WA-raised Walton) are also suffering with the fallout from Jay’s past.
“Things aren’t great for them either,” Pedersen says.
“He’s kind of made this mess and he hasn’t really fixed it, but he’s able to walk away from it.
“That hasn’t really worked out. They have to leave town too. And he doesn’t need it at the moment because he’s got a case he’s gotta solve but he’s also got a daughter there which he has to stop ignoring. He has to face a few issues.
“And I really love that about the series.
“We get to see Jay at home and in a home environment…. as a father and as a partner that’s being questioned on a lot of things.”
Mystery Road airs on Sundays at 8.30pm (AWST) on ABC.
Cy Clayton travelled to Kununurra as a guest of ABC.