Recently I had the pleasure and privilege of speaking with Greta Scacchi and Bryan Brown about their new Australian TV series Darby and Joan. Today, my interview with Greta.
But first, a quick overview of Darby and Joan: The series is a lively road trip drama starring Emmy® Awards nominee Bryan Brown (The Thorn Birds, Breaker Morant) and Emmy® Awards winner Greta Scacchi (The Player, Emma) as Jack Darby and Joan Kirkhope. He’s a retired Australian homicide detective who’s taken to the open road with his dog, Diesel, to flee his past; she’s a recently-widowed English nurse who’s on a reluctant pilgrimage to find answers about her husband’s mysterious death. As fate would have it, the two collide in the Outback and end up traveling together, encountering colorful characters and unexpected mysteries along the way.
(Text has been lightly edited for clarity.)
LJ: “Let me start by saying how much I really, really enjoy the show.”
GS: “Oh, brilliant! How many episodes did you see?”
LJ: “I watched all four of the screeners that were available. I love the characters, and I was reading a quote that you had given, which, if I can summarize it, is sixty or even seventy is the new twenty. I love that the show is centered on and built around these two characters of a certain age. And with a couple of others of Acorn TV’s shows, I see a trend, which I think is a fabulous trend. So how do you feel about being a part of what I’ll describe as ushering in what could be a sort of golden age for golden-agers on television?”
GS: “Well, I think it’s been a long time in the waiting, and whenever, even ten, fifteen years ago, I’d hear statistics about the aging population, it just would baffle me that the producers of film and television weren’t kind of thinking commercially: This is gonna be the biggest demographic, so why not cater for them and why not start preparing right away? And now, finally, we see it happening. Of course they are gonna be the biggest market out there potentially, and I suppose especially with watching from home. And what’s fantastic is that we’re beginning to see people in their sixties and seventies, like me and Bryan, not from the gaze of the twenty-year-old, but from our point of view, gazing back at all ages, because what we realize as we get older is that we are exactly the same in personality and spirit. We’ve learnt a few things. We’ve had a few knocks. We probably got a bit wiser, or we realize we’re never gonna get any wiser. It’s just the same; it’s just that we’ve accumulated a lot more experience and we’ve navigated a lot more different situations, politically, socially, in trends and culture, and so on. And we’re also navigating possibly a lot of prejudice against our older generation, and it’s great to find a vehicle where we can express that, where we can be ourselves, because the spirit, the personality, the person inside the aging body, is still the same. And I love that Jack and Joan have this youthful curiosity, drive, spirit of adventure.”
LJ: “For me as a viewer, that’s definitely a part of the attraction of the two characters. When I was doing some research for my chat with you this morning, I didn’t realize that there’s actually a phrase, ‘Darby and Joan,’ that is defined by Random House Dictionary and Merriam-Webster Dictionary as ‘a happily married, usually elderly, couple.'”
GS: “It came from a painting. I think it was an 18th-century painting that was very successful, very popular, and it got repeated. In my generation in England, we still know what it’s referring to. We know that Darby and Joan, they’ll be in an expression like ‘as happy as Darby and Joan,’ and we say it of the older people — the lady in the rocking chair knitting, the man smoking his pipe, they’re both beside the fire with the cat and the dog happily lying on the rug keeping warm. And that image has been repeated through the last couple of centuries in paintings and engravings, in cards, and on crockery. So we’re very familiar with it. And of course I could have taken it as a little bit of an insult, you know, that now I’ve got to the old couple stage in my life, but I’ve noticed that even people we were working with, even the younger crew, hadn’t heard of it before. So younger generations are not making that association, and I suppose it’s a very British thing, but even younger Brits don’t know it.”
LJ: “Oh, interesting. I saw an image of the painting, and thinking to the show, I’m like, ‘Joan and Jack are anything but like the people in the painting.’ When I think of the word ‘elderly,’ what immediately comes to mind for me is ‘frailty’ — and there’s nothing frail about either of your characters. You’re both very vital and full of life and energy. So what drew you? Was there anything specific about the character of Joan or about the script that just so drew you in and was so compelling for you that you absolutely had to say yes to doing the show?”
GS: “Well, the thing that got me to say yes most of all was that Bryan Brown asked me to be in it. We’d worked together a couple of years before on a lovely film called Palm Beach, which was directed by Rachel Ward, his wife. I’ve known Rachel since we were teenagers, actually, and over the years got to know her a little bit more because of her migration to Australia. Rachel Ward and Bryan Brown have been that sort of royalty couple of celebrities in Sydney, very welcoming to people in their home. A very, very cool pair. So when I did Palm Beach — she’s a very good director now — I was playing sort of her autobiographical self. I had Bryan as my husband and their daughter, Matilda, as our daughter, and we had, Bryan and I, partly because of Rachel giving us that freedom, we had a twinkle. We had a lot of sparkle together on screen, and I think the producers of Darby and Joan saw that Bryan and I really enjoyed working together on Palm Beach, and so we knew that we’d get on on this. And it was delightful, actually. It was very, very easy. He’s very easy and warm. He makes a lot of self-deprecating kind of jokes about himself and his acting, but actually he knows how to eat up the screen, and he can be really moving. Even though he’s got this sort of crusty exterior, down-to-earth persona, he’s very warm. And those moments, I think, they work very well as the two characters, suspicious of each other at first, quite standoffish at first, they get to know each other, respect each other, and really enjoy each other’s company.”
LJ: “It’s quite apparent. Watching the dynamic between the two of them, the connection that they develop, they rib on each other, and in my experience you only rib on someone that you have a good connection with, coz otherwise why bother, right?”
GS: “You should hear the way that Bryan and Rachel go on at each other. That was a lot of inspiration for me, how bold you can be, how mean you can be while you enjoy each other’s company.”
LJ: “There’s Joan. There’s Greta. What are the similarities between the two?”
GS: “I think most of all a sense of fun and, well, I guess what I was saying before about how you don’t feel that you have to, as you get older, give up on adventure and discovering things. She’s very driven, partly because she’s going through a lot of trauma… he as well; Jack has had a recent trauma and he finds it very hard to open up about it. She gets to talk about her immediate past more easily once she trusts him. He’s gonna take a few more episodes to open up. And so we get to see these two backstories.
“I guess one similarity that I have with Joan is the ability to sort of change moods quite easily. From the deep depression that she’s in — it’s a post-traumatic stress, actually — she finds fun and her spirit is awakened by the prospect of finding out what’s really going on in whatever dodgy situation that they come across, where there’s a crime to solve, where there’s a culprit to find, where there’s someone to help. So she quickly focuses on that, almost deflects from her own troubles by looking to something that she can do to help others. That’s quite fun and drives her. They both have that. I’m not saying that I’m some kind of angel of salvation exactly; I just think that I, too, find things to be excited about. I like spontaneity.”
LJ: “Nice! For the audience, what would you like to share with them about the show and why they should tune in?”
GS: “Well, of course, we get to see some wonderful places in Australia. The show has that kind of standard format of good old crime mysteries; in some episodes there’s a murder or a near-murder attempt. Each episode has a rounded, self-contained story in it, so you get the satisfaction of that, of the stage being set for something mysterious to be going on and the riddle is solved by the end of the hour. But there’s also the ongoing thread of Joan’s backstory and the mysteries that surround that, and Jack’s backstory, which has some surprises along the way. And that part of the show is really the main thread. It’s present throughout the first series, throughout eight episodes, and we’re left with a cliffhanger at the end. So if people like it, if it goes well, we’ll be coming back to do more.”
Darby and Joan, an Acorn TV Original, premieres in the US and Canada with its first two episodes on Monday, August 8, exclusively on Acorn TV and its digital channels. New episodes will debut in pairs through August 29.
Episode 1 sees Joan learning of her husband’s death and then leaving London for Australia to find out more than what he had told her about his trip and what actually happened to him. It is while driving in the Outback in a large motorhome that she and Jack, in his Land Cruiser, have a near miss of a collision — prompting her to give him a lift, and prompting him to travel with her to her first destination, where they encounter an interesting group of people… and a murder victim.
In Episode 2, Jack and Joan take a detour while en route to her next destination in order to help one of his friends, who’s in a spot of bother with something he can’t report to the police. While Jack is doing unofficial detective duty, Joan is starting to show her sleuthing skills. She also discovers something her husband had been hiding…
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