In advance of tomorrow’s premiere of Series 2 of Ms. Fisher’s Modern Murder Mysteries, I chatted with the star of the series, Geraldine Hakewill.
Before Geraldine Hakewill landed the lead role in Ms. Fisher’s Modern Murder Mysteries, she costarred alongside Rebecca Gibney in Wanted. Geraldine’s work on the action-crime drama series was brilliant, and it netted her a nomination for the Logie Award for Most Outstanding Newcomer in 2017.
Fast forward to June 2021, when Geraldine returns to our screens as Peregrine Fisher in the second season of Ms. Fisher’s Modern Murder Mysteries, the popular spin-off of the worldwide Australian hit, Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. Set in Melbourne during the Swinging ’60s, the series follows the fearless, unstoppable, fun and charming Peregrine, the niece of Miss Fisher’s Phryne Fisher, as she sets out to become an exceptional sleuth in her own right, like her aunt did four decades earlier.
In the first season, Peregrine inherits a windfall from Phryne, moves from her small-town home to the big city of Melbourne, and begins what will be her new career as a private investigator. Along the way she meets, befriends, and falls for police detective James Steed (Joel Jackson, Peter Allen: Not the Boy Next Door), whose cases she invariably has a hand in solving. For him, the feeling is mutual.
The arc of Peregrine and James’s relationship carries into Series 2, where it takes on a deeper and broader significance as well as plays a role in the investigations of the eight standalone murder mystery stories. Much of what happens in the new season is based in their relationship, so it was front and center in my mind (and in my notes) when Geraldine and I started chatting.
To me, it seemed like just yesterday that Peregrine and James were in the flirty stage of things, so I was caught a bit off guard by the happily-ever-after type talk of marriage, a house in (I think) the ‘burbs, and children in the Series 2 opener. I asked Geraldine about her reaction when she saw these in the scripts and whether she knew they were coming. (Text has been edited for clarity and to prevent spoilers.)
“I did not, but… I realized pretty quickly once I got the scripts. I wasn’t caught off-guard, because I think it’s a really obvious evolution for him, in his mind, and in that time period as well. It was really interesting talking through her reaction to it, Peregrine’s reaction to it, with the creative team, because I’m obviously coming at it as a modern woman thinking, ‘Well, she might not be ready. Maybe she doesn’t want to get married.’ Like there’s probably lots of questions she has about it.
“And these things come up in the series. But the thing that Deb Cox, who is one of the creators of the show, said to me was that the ’60s were a very different time in terms of how people thought about marriage. And we were coming out of the ’50s — we weren’t quite in the hippie era yet, and we weren’t quite in the free love kind of vibes yet — so people still had very conservative views about what you did in a relationship. And even if you were slightly out of the box, marriage was what happened next.
“And so I think, especially for James, he’s attracted to her, they love spending time together, they’re a really good intellectual match for each other. It’s very obvious to me that he would go, ‘Well, now we have to get married.’ And I think Peregrine knows that, and knows that that is what would be expected of her. And I think she loves him and she wants to be with him, but what is interesting about this season is her trying to figure out what that relationship looks like in her mind and what she wants it to be. And it might not be what society expects of her. It might not be what he expects of her, either, which is the conflict between them.”
As for what viewers can expect as Series 2 progresses, Geraldine offered this:
‘Well, [Peregrine and James] obviously have to keep working together, because she keeps finding a way to be involved in every murder case, and he needs her, because she brings insight that he doesn’t possess…
“But I think it’s also really important that, because James sort of represents the bulk of society, the ideals of most people at the time — not everybody, but what society expected of women in particular — I think it’s important for him to go on a bit of a journey to work out whether he’s willing to compromise his ideas about marriage in order to be with the person that he loves. And I think for her, she has to reconcile within herself that perhaps, even though she loves him, she might not be the right person for him, because he wants something very specific for his life. So it’s about them sort of dancing around each other, trying to work the other one out, trying to make space for the other person’s feelings…
“And I think it’s really interesting, because I think Peregrine, even though she’s ingenious at so many things, doesn’t quite have the words to articulate how she feels and why it’s important that she takes the time to get to know somebody and doesn’t rush into marrying somebody, and doesn’t compromise her independence. It would’ve been incredibly difficult for women at that time to be able to express that in a way that other people would understand, because it just wasn’t normal. So she’s sort of growing up through this second season, I think, and finding language to be able to express herself…”
In one of the first four episodes, Peregrine’s friend and fellow Adventuress, Birdie (Catherine McClements, Tangle), remarks to her madly-in-love brother, Samuel (Toby Truslove, Bad Mothers), something along the lines of how, for some people, what’s in their heart might not be a person. For Peregrine it’s both a person and something else — and they don’t fit neatly. And Geraldine agreed.
“Yes. And I think women still grapple with this. There’s this idea that once you find your person, you will be fulfilled. In the ’60s, when you got married, you couldn’t work. If you were a woman, you couldn’t work in any government jobs anymore. You couldn’t do many jobs if you were married. Or it wasn’t seen as proper, either, if you did. It’s like career and love or passion, your passion in life and love, can’t exist in the same space. It’s like there’s not enough room for it. If you’re a woman, you have to devote your whole life to your partner and your family and there’s no space for your mind. And particularly at this time, I think there was a lot of tension with that. What’s great about this series is we have the Adventuresses, the Adventuresses’ Club, that sort of represents women who have decided to throw themselves into their passion and give space for their mind to feel fulfilled.
“Peregrine is torn between these two things, which, ideally, you wouldn’t have to choose between. Men don’t have to choose between those two things most of the time. There’s always compromise to be made in terms of a work/life balance, but it’s like women were never allowed to have that balance. It was either/or, and I think Peregrine questions that, because there’s this person that she really cares about and wants to spend her life with, but there’s also this profession that is who she is. She found this place, she has this inheritance, and she got given this gift of a life that fits her perfectly, you know? And I think she doesn’t want to let her aunt down, and she doesn’t want to let herself down, because she knows that she’s good at this. I think it would be a very difficult decision to make.”
Speaking of difficult, Series 2 of Ms. Fisher’s Modern Murder Mysteries was shot during a couple of Australia’s pandemic-forced lockdowns, and Geraldine shared what it was like.
“Victoria, where we were filming, had sort of moved out of one phase of lockdown, and everyone was still being incredibly careful. But then partway through filming, we had a snap lockdown. I think it was about four days where all of Victoria went into quite a restrictive lockdown. And we continued to film, because we had very strict protocols in place. So I suppose, in that case, things hadn’t changed that much for us, because we were already being incredibly careful.
“It’s amazing how quickly you get used to things. I think the fact that we’re doing this [interview] over Zoom, everybody’s become quite easy with all the new technology that’s emerged during this time. And, you know, you wear a mask to the shops. When we were working, we had face shields and we had our little bubbles and we were getting tested, and it just becomes normal. The first few days are a bit weird, but then it’s just a part of what you do.
“Obviously we felt incredibly fortunate to be working at that time, so everyone was just being very careful. We were lucky as actors, because you get to take your mask off and actually fall into this imaginary world and forget about the pandemic for a minute. Yeah, incredibly fortunate to have that little escape, and hopefully the show — even though we’re in parts of the world where we’re starting to have a bit more freedom — hopefully this show is some lovely escapism for the audience at this very strange time.”
It absolutely is.
Before we exited our Zoom meeting, I asked actress-producer Geraldine if she’s thought about adding “writer” to her résumé, if she’s come up with any murder mysteries for Peregrine to investigate.
“Oh, things bubble around in my head. I’m often kind of throwing little tidbits to the writing team, like ‘What about this? And what about this?’ I haven’t got a complete murder mystery that is sort of sitting there, ready to go, but I definitely have ideas for little threads of storylines, and perhaps a nemesis for Peregrine…
“Yeah, there’s definitely things in my head. I’m such a big Agatha Christie fan, and she’s obviously the queen of the murder mystery, and it’s very hard, I think, to come up with something that’s entirely original, because she did it all. So I’m always amazed at the writing team and how they manage to find these really detailed and funny and surprising, and also very heartfelt and moving, scenarios for us to solve. They make it look easy and it’s actually quite difficult.”
Not difficult is how to watch Series 2 of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries: With Acorn TV, which premieres the new season tomorrow, Monday, June 7, in the US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. It launches with the first two episodes, and the remaining six episodes will debut weekly through July 19.
If you haven’t watched Series 1 yet, you still have time to binge all four feature-length episodes before Series 2 starts.
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