In advance of hit Aussie crime thriller Jack Irish completing its run in the US and Canada, I had the pleasure of chatting with the show’s leading lady, Marta Dusseldorp.
Say the name Marta Dusseldorp and it’s likely that fans of Australian television programs will immediately think of three hit series and her characters in them: Janet King/Janet King, A Place to Call Home/Sarah Nordmann Bligh (née Adams), and Jack Irish/Linda Hillier.
When Marta and I did a now-ubiquitous Zoom meeting for our chat, it was a week before the North American series finale of Jack Irish — a top-notch noir thriller that stars Emmy® Award winner Guy Pearce as Jack Irish, a lawyer-turned-debt collector and investigator-attorney with a knack for getting into scrapes with criminals and still haunted by the murder of his wife. Marta stars alongside Guy as Linda Hillier, an investigative journalist who becomes Jack’s on again-off again love interest and his main go-to person when he needs help on an investigation.
Marta’s been in the Jack Irish universe since the first TV movie, Jack Irish: Black Tide, came out in 2012, so having entertained viewers over the course of a decade in what became three Jack Irish TV movies and the three-season series, I asked Marta about her experience being a part of one of the best crime thrillers on television today. What she shared included a bit of very cool news! (Text has been edited for clarity and to prevent spoilers.)
MD: “It was such an interesting time for me when I first started that show. I also got A Place to Call Home and I also had done Crownies, which turned into Janet King, so it was this moment where it felt like I was finally ‘seen,’ I suppose, in the industry here to be able to lead a show and play opposite someone of the caliber of Guy Pearce. So as a young woman, I found it to be overwhelming, exciting, challenging, and everything I had ever dreamed, which is, really, to tell Australian stores that travel around the world — and they all did and they all have. I’ve said goodbye to each of them, as you know, at different times, so this was a bittersweet farewell because it really was the last of that moment for me as an artist and a storyteller, and you can’t help but think,’‘Oh, is that it?’
“But luckily enough, and you’re the first person I’ve really talked to about this, I became very close with all of the creators of all of the shows, and Andrew Knight, who is probably the main creator of Jack Irish originally, we’ve created another show, which has just been picked up. So it will be the end of Jack Irish but the beginning of something that I can’t wait to share with the world. So thankfully those two things coincided… It’s a completely unique creation that me and Andrew Knight and a guy called Max Stan — actually, they’re all about to arrive to continue to plot — so it’s our own unique world that we’ve created.”
You read it here first, folks.
MD: “What is interesting to me is you create synergies with people. For me this business is all about connections, deep connections, and you find the people you love to work with. And certainly playing Andrew Knight’s scripts through Jack Irish showed me how skilled he was, how much the audience responded to his ability to weave and plat a story so that it never got bogged down or sentimental or too unbelievable or too much of a stretch — although I have to say the Americans’ palate for shows is so incredibly rich and nuanced, and it is a thrill to know that America watches our work because you’ve got really great taste. When Americans appreciate what we do, it means a lot to me.”
We do have great taste! And the richness goes both ways, as stateside viewers have gotten to know both Marta and Australia through telly from Down Under — from its major cities and the Outback, to its history, its Indigenous peoples, and beyond.
In Melbourne-set Jack Irish, the character of Linda Hillier certainly has a deep connection to Jack Irish, so when he pulls a Jack Irish and goes, “I need your help,” she says, “No,” but then goes, “Well, okay.” Given what she’s been through with Jack and because of Jack, I asked Marta, “Why on earth does Linda continue to say yes to this guy?”
MD: “What I love about her is that women — as a woman, my experience, you can fall in love and it can remain for a very long time. It seems to me that sometimes males have the ability to switch it off and kind of go, ‘Well, that was that. That’s nice.’ For me anyway, I’m a very loyal person, and if I’ve been connected to someone, I find it hard to ignore that. And I think Linda is the same. I think she is deeply in love with Jack in the sense of — it’s like it’s a cross between a sibling love and a woman love. It just is. So when I play it, it’s a bit like seeing Guy again after years — sometimes it’s two years, sometimes it’s three years, sometimes it’s six months. We catch up, and we love talking to each other. We’re very good friends, and it’s a bit like that. It’s fondness more than a passion, and particularly in this series, I think they understand [in Season 3] that the love part of it, the attraction part of it, the sexual part of it, is over. And that actually they just are gonna get old and probably tap in once a year and check everyone’s okay, but the running from the bad guys is over.”
Good thing, too, because that scene of Linda in the parking lot…
MD: “That is Andrew Knight. He cannot help but put me in jeopardy! When I read that, I rang him and I said, ‘Really? The nose?’ And he was like, ‘Alright, top of the eye.'”
It’s situations like that, where Linda, a wife and mother in Season 3, is threatened yet again, that has me wonder why she, anyone really, would continue to allow themselves to very likely be put in danger again, to put themselves in danger again.
MD: “Because people are flawed. People are — You know, I like presenting someone who probably shouldn’t but does anyway. Janet had that about her a bit, and certainly Sarah did. I mean, [Sarah’s] history was coming from [Holocaust concentration camp] Ravensbrück, so nothing scared her until she had children, as well. I think Linda is not a natural mother, and I think that’s okay, as well. I think it’s good to represent women in different ways, that not everyone shuts everything down because they have children and want to give up. I don’t know if you’ve seen the scene between her and Orton, where she explains what she’s doing and why, but there’s a moment where she burrows in and says, ‘I am as flawed as anyone else and I need everything.’
“And I think when we get selfish as a human being, we fail. We fail ourselves, we fail our community, and we fail our children. And we’re seeing that today, all over the world. There were protests in Sydney just recently about vaccination, and I thought, ‘Are you not watching what’s happening around the world?’ We just need to stay safe. We need to take care of our elderly people, etc. etc. But we don’t need to talk about Covid. We’re all tired of Covid.’
“So I think Linda is — what I love about her and what I’ve loved playing in her is she constantly trips up. And it’s two things — it’s her journalistic instinct, and you would understand that, where you might go too far to try and get the story, or you might go too far because you don’t know how to stop. And that’s one of the reasons she can’t be with Jack. Neither of them knows how to stop. But Orton gives her the independence and the autonomy and the understanding and the forgiveness. So I think it’s a good message to say that we all muck up, and hopefully someone gives you another chance.”
Orton, played by Jacek Koman, is Linda’s husband (starting in Season 2). Following that parking lot scene, there is one of Linda and Orton that is very sweet and touching — an example of one of the many reasons why I and millions of viewers adore this show. At or near the top of that list: the characters. One of my favorites in Jack Irish is former horse trainer and current horse racing personality and enthusiast Harry Strang, played by Roy Billing — a character who reliably delivers comic relief in the dark, gritty crime drama. For Marta:
MD: “You know who I love, and I thought Andrew just gave him the best scene ever, is — I’m sorry I don’t know the character’s name, but I never did a scene with him — he was the one who was in hospital and then he put the drip up in the car and drives and is like, ‘That ****ing Jack Irish.’ That guy. He has the body parts in the jar — that character. To me, and this is the thing about Andre Knight — he writes characters, he doesn’t write store [ready-made] plots.
“In this new show that we’ve drilled up together, we’re constantly going deeper into each character and things they could think or do or not do, which is as important. So I find him to be one of the most — and when he came and cooked him the meal and Harry went and burned it…”
By now, Linda and I are cracking up recalling this character — convicted felon (and good cook) Brendan O’Grady, played by Bob Franklin — another quirky one in the Jack Irish universe, as well as the two (starting in Season 2) old guys, Wilbur (played by John Flaus) and Eric (played by Terry Norris), bar stool regulars at the Prince of Prussia pub.
MD: “And you can see the old men at the bar for the rest of time. That’s their place. And I think this is what Andrew does. He understands frailty, he understands relatability. So for me, we all relate to Harry going to burn the spatchcock because, for us, maybe that’s what we would want to do to remember our loves ones. And that it’s so imperfect. That’s what I love about Jack Irish. It’s an imperfect world.”
Speaking of an imperfect world: Covid, and the filming of Series 3 during lockdown in Australia.
MD: “We’ve been very lucky here, as you know, and where I live in Tasmania, we haven’t had a case for over a year. So Melbourne — we started, then it got shut down, and then we restarted, but obviously there were Covid rules in place, and everyone was very careful and everyone was tested every week. Certainly when [Guy] and I had to be intimate for the last time, we were swabbed three days earlier. It’s really not that romantic, but yeah, very well handled…
“So yeah, it was necessarily, I guess, emotional, all of it, and so that just added to the nurturing of every day and loving being there and playing with these friends. You know, we have all gotten old together and we all love each other in different ways, and there’s really been no problems on this show at all. Often you hear that things aren’t always great sometimes, cos you’re putting people together who don’t, you know, but it’s always been a delight, and I’ve always made time to do this show whenever Ian Collie, the producer, rings me and he goes, ‘We’re going again. Wanna come?’ And I go, ‘You betcha.'”
So how did she feel when he called and said it’s the last hurrah?
MD: “It was the third time that it had happened to me on a big show, and I knew it was inevitable. And I just said, ‘Ah, Ian, this has just been so great. Please don’t put her back with Jack.’ And he completely ignored me.”
Of course he did, because Jack Irish wouldn’t be Jack Irish otherwise. So of course there’s that intimate scene between Linda and Jack that Marta had mentioned (followed by Linda in the midst of a range of emotions).
MD: “Yeah, it was a really tricky thing to navigate for me, how to play that believably, that she would go there again. I had to really drill into that part of Linda that forgets to look around the corner, and I also tried to burden her so completely with this new responsibility of being this sensible, stay-at-home mum with the big kitchen — which was the most spectacular house! I had to find a place in me that is not natural to me. But I get — again I got back to that idea that you trip yourself up and you actually break your own life somehow. So I went into that.”
Marta inhabits the character of Linda Hillier so completely, I asked her if there are particular parts within herself that she drew from in playing Linda.
MD: “Well, it’s funny. I did an interview on set where we talked about the character, and the interviewer said to me, ‘Is this anything like you,’ and I said, ‘No, not at all.’ Anyway, my father watched it — he’s sitting in Madrid at the moment, caught by the plague, and I haven’t seen him for a long time — and he sent me an email and he said, ‘I’ve just watched your interview where you said Linda is not like you at all,’ and he said, ‘Actually, I would say that you were describing yourself — impulsive, hectic, relentless, purposeful, driven…”
Is Marta as inquisitive as Linda is?
MD: “Oh, yes. I am, but I try to be more watchful, necessarily.”
But perhaps not as courageous or brave or… ?
MD: “No, I’m not stupid to — walking into a dark alley by myself after I just offended one of the major cops and said I’m going to bring you down. Mind you, she was offering him a peaceful, let’s bury the hatchet and we’ll walk away. Leave my kid alone. So, you know, it was unnecessary for him to do that. But nonetheless, I did enjoy she got a little bit of a hit, like stop mucking around with these people. Maybe I’m not quite that courageous. I used to be, maybe back in the day, I used to probably. But as you get older — and I have two daughters of my own now, so I’d like to set an example.”
Marta is likely a brilliant example for her children. From what I can tell, she is in the world of television. Before we signed off, I asked Marta to share something that encapsulates Jack Irish, particularly for folks who may not have dipped their toes into the Jack Irish waters yet, to entice them to the show.
MD: “I think it is full of Australia in a way that you might not have ever seen it before. I think, from the very beginning, it had an original voice, a chaotic intention. It’s quite anarchic. And it gives you a real sense of Melbourne, which is, in these days where we can’t travel, it’s a good way to get out there and see Melbourne. For me, that was certainly one of the perks, being able to walk those streets that are graffiti-lined, and all the colors and the faces and the people and the diversity. And it’s got some of the best actors we have in this country — and led by the extraordinary Guy Pearce — so I think you’d be mad not to.”
The series finale of Jack Irish premieres in the US and Canada on Monday, August 2, exclusively on Acorn TV and its apps and digital channels — where you can binge-stream the entirety of Jack Irish, including all three movies and all three seasons of the series.
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