When the scene is finished, Brown and Scacchi have time for a break and a chat. It turns out that Brown’s hat is not glued on, but both the 74-year-old Brown and the 61-year-old Scacchi are feeling the effects of working 13-hour days across a 13-week shoot.
It’s “bloody full-on”, Brown says, “but the days are enjoyable.”
“Oh yes,” says Scacchi, who lives in England. “I love working in Australia. I like Australian crews. It’s all more relaxed, generally. More jocular.”
“You love Australian actors, don’t you?” Brown teases, pressing her for a compliment.
“Some,” Scacchi replies pointedly. “Just a few.”
Brown and Scacchi are the same kind of double act off camera as they are on screen in Darby and Joan. They’ve known each other since the early 1980s, though they can’t remember how they met.
Surprisingly, the only other time they’ve worked on screen together was in Rachel Ward’s 2019 film Palm Beach.
like Palm Beach, Darby and Joan has a focus on people of Brown’s and Scacchi’s vintages, their experiences of life and the issues that affect them.
“For me it’s been very liberating to play Joan,” Scacchi says. “Roles (for older actors) tend to be limited by the limited view people have of our age group or the limited interest in how people are in our age group. I felt that there’s room in this for us to be playful and to be older people who can rib each other, have a bit of fun.”
Brown agrees that older people are keen to see authentic reflections of their lives on screen.
“Maybe years ago you thought that someone who’s 65 is old,” he says. “The truth of the matter is this age group now is pretty vital and getting on with things.
“It’s a big demographic in terms of audiences now, particularly with movies — the over-55s, they go to the movies. They’re interested in things about their age group.”
Asked about the process of creating their characters, Brown deadpans: “When they say ‘action’, you just open your mouth and hope something comes out.”
“That’s the Bryan Brown theory,” says Scacchi. “Mine’s very different, but somehow we manage to work on the same screen together.
“I had to think about being an Englishwoman who suddenly finds herself in Australia, unplanned, against her will, really, and in horrible, traumatic circumstances.
“She’s gradually opening her eyes and seeing what’s around her. I’m very familiar with Australia, and from when I first moved to Australia, it’s been very much a part of me, but I’m thinking of what it is that somebody notices who’s not seen it before. So that’s been fun for me.
“Usually when I’m in Australia, I tend to start relaxing into the whole Australian way and my vowels and my speech start to change slightly and I’ve had to be careful with that, especially working with Bryan. I could pick up his tones, his cadences, very easily, and I’ve got to stay English.”
The series, created by Phillip Gwynne (Australian Rules) and veteran producer Glenys Rowe, has been a boon for actors of a certain age — Steve Bisley, Kerry Armstrong, Heather Mitchell, John Waters and Peter O’Brien are among those with episodic or recurring roles.
Executive producers Claire Tonkin and David Hannam see the connections between the older actors as part of the fabric of the series.
“A lot of the actors coming in to work with Bryan and Greta are people they’ve known for decades,” says Tonkin. “They’re bringing this body of work and these relationships to the storytelling, which is quite remarkable.”
Hannam says he teared up watching Brown and Bisley in one emotional scene. “That episode is very much about male vulnerability, which is something we’ve been very keen to explore, to try and show the other side of that quintessential Australian male. While the show is very regional and very warm, we also want it to be very contemporary.”
Darby and Joan also defies expectations in other ways. The fact that most of the episodic mysteries aren’t murders gives it a relatively gentle feel. The locations aren’t just typical beaches and outback; there’s also the lush greenery of the Gold Coast hinterland, along with banana plantations and canefields.
“It’s kind of the anti-Wake in Fright,” Tonkin says. “It’s landscape as redemption rather than Australian gothic.”
Scacchi is equally enthusiastic about the scenery: “That’s what really tipped it for me, because at first I thought ‘oh no! Not Bryan again!’ Then I thought ‘well, I don’t really know Queensland…’ ”
Darby and Joan premieres on Acorn TV on August 8.
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