It’s a wintry day in the inner Sydney suburb of Redfern when I take a seat in Wayne Blair’s “office”, a row of old chairs on a street corner not far from the controversial patch of open grass known as The Block.
On one side, rows of terrace houses, some in dire need of maintenance. Opposite, the legendary boxing gym founded by Anthony Mundine’s father, Tony.
It’s a world away from Cannes, where Blair has just been for the screening of his first feature as a director, The Sapphires.
“It just happened,” says Blair of his transition from acting to directing short films to TV series including Lockie Leonard, then The Sapphires.
It may seem strange for the acclaimed director to now be acting on a TV show but that’s the nature of the business says Blair, who had been in discussion for both for a long time. He also directed an episode of Redfern Now — Raymond, starring Deborah Mailman and WA’s Kelton Pell.
“It’s very challenging, he is being put through the wringer,” says Blair of his role in Pretty Boy Blue, the final episode of the indigenous drama series.
“Acting is hard, you really have to be on your game every scene. I have really enjoyed it. I have learnt so much, I feel like I have been blessed, having directed a film, to act straight away in such an intense role has been a good learning experience for me to remember what it’s like.”
Blair stars as police officer Aaron Davis opposite Stephen Curry as his partner Ryan Hobbs as they deal with the community and personal fallout resulting from a death in custody.
“He has arguably made a mistake this one night on the job which has led to a fatality and he has to deal with it for the next few days of his police career,” Blair explains.
“He’s a good officer in Redfern, he has to have a good balance working with the community and working with the force. I think he is a bit of an asset to the area, in the sense of his Aboriginal background but this one day it plays against him.”
Director Rachel Perkins, who earlier this year gave us the outstanding Mabo with Jimi Bani in the title role, has directed two episodes of Redfern Now, for which indigenous writers worked up scripts under the guidance of acclaimed British screenwriter Jimmy McGovern. The series was this week nominated in several categories of the AACTA Awards including best drama series.
Each episode was filmed predominantly on location in Redfern houses, which Perkins says added a layer of authenticity. The community has also embraced the series, which does not dwell on the area’s chequered past.
“The community has been very clear about it, the series is called Redfern Now; it is not what it was like 10 years ago or earlier than that. It has actually really changed.
“People who live in Redfern want that represented. We have had to take that in; it is not necessarily a challenge but it is about making the scripts authentic.”
Perkins says it is good to see an indigenous drama set in an urban location after SBS series such as The Circuit and RAN.
Curry is equally pleased that Australians are starting to see more stories featuring talented performers we may not have seen much of previously, told from (the indigenous perspective.
“It’s nice to be a part of something that feels like it might help to open the floodgates to being able to tell more indigenous stories,” he says.
“The level of talent we have from our indigenous performers and technicians is incredible. We need to see a lot more of it.”
Sue Yeap visited the set of Redfern Now as a guest of the ABC.The final episode of Redfern Now airs today at 8.30pm on ABC1; a second season has been commissioned.