Last week I went for a ride with Peter Temple’s publisher, Michael Heyward, to a warehouse in Footscray. Temple, of course, wrote the celebrated The Broken Shore, and its Miles Franklin award-winning follow-up, Truth. He’s also written four novels featuring Jack Irish, a lawyer turned sometime detective, though it’s hard to quite pin down what Irish does — in the tradition of the hard boiled, he simply is.
They’ve been filming the first two Jack Irish novels, Bad Debts and Black Tide, for the ABC next year. For Irish they’ve cast Guy Pearce — on the morning we visited, Pearce was doing a bar scene, in a crew neck t- and a sort of thin cardigan buttoned low. Why these details stick is because they change your picture of the man.
After seeing David Wenham play Murray Whelan in the Shane Maloney novels, it was very hard to picture Whelan any other way. Now I know what Jack Irish looks like. Pearce is sporting longish hair, and he was stubbly in the scene — I had always pictured Irish dressed rather like the guys in Mad Men, all sleek tight suits and narrow ties, duh. I do remember an exchange I had with his creator, Temple, who corrected me: Irish would not be wearing R M Williams; they would be Italian boots.
My hasty rub and scribble of Guy as Jack, above, doesn’t indicate how outrageously handsome the actor is — with that very high forehead and rocket fin cheek bones and sharply delineated nose and lips and the long cantilevering neck. Designed for the camera. And that Irish mullet — but Pearce could make you mistake Bonds for Dolce and Gabbana.
The reason for these drawings is that cameras/phones weren’t appreciated on set, but my innocent non-tweeting pencil and notebook were kosher. The bar scene was a revelation — when producer Ian Collie took us for a brief look at the bar it was like warping back to the Standard Hotel in Fitzroy c. mid-90s; which Jack Irish’s local, the Prince of Prussia is supposedly based on. The detail was astonishing, maybe better than the real thing, more coherent and and less ironic. A work of sincere tribute; the sly original was always much too slippery to be sincere. (I wonder what Steve Miller, the Standard’s publican in that legendary period, will make of the reincarnation.)
Right: Terry Norris (Bellbird, Cop Shop, ex-MP) playing one of the old codgers in the bar waxing over the old days when there were still Fitzroy Lions.
Producer Ian Collie (below) seemed a jovial fellow, very upbeat and keyed in. Here he’s watching the action on a monitor, where we hung out — the filming took place beyond heavy black drapes. Filming seems extremely tedious — when we first arrived, the three senior actors who play the three codgers in the bar scene were slumped on the couch, looking for all the world like old blokes dragged out on an unwanted excursion.
We watched as the actors redid the scene maybe eight times in a row, reciting the lines with what seemed like (mostly) metronomic precision. (To find the scene it was based on, see page 8 and 9 of Bad Debts; it’s fascinating to see how they’ve rewritten it, the elisions and compressions and outright inventions.) The number of takes, Collie explained, was also to get different angles and reaction shots. There were two chuckles or snorts built into that set of lines and it amazed me how you could deliver with conviction and panache those jokes over and over again. But that’s why they’re pros, and why it’s called acting — though, the last take we saw there were a couple of stumbles on the second gag. I wondered it took so long to come.