Bay of Fires: Marta Dusseldorp says drama mirrors city chick’s real life move to Tasmania

How Dusseldorp and Andrew Knight developed quirky new drama for ABC and Fremantle

Four years ago global TV production giant Fremantle signed an exclusive development and production partnership with actress Marta Dusseldorp.

After that deal expired Dusseldorp launched her own production company Archipelago Productions with her husband Ben Winspear. This week the first major TV production from that company premieres with the release of the ABC drama series Bay of Fires. The quirky drama is set on the west coast of Tasmania and Fremantle is involved as a production and distribution partner.

Dusseldorp has many distinguished television credits including the title character in Janet King, for which she won the AACTA Award for Best Lead Actress in 2015, and her starring role as Sarah Adams in A Place to Call Home.

Dusseldorp’s body of work also includes Crownies, BlackJack and Jack Irish. She was an associate producer on the Janet King series.

Along with TV veteran Andrew Knight, Dusseldorp co-created Bay of Fires. After moving to Tasmania five years ago, Dusseldorp told Mediaweek she rang Knight during covid thinking they could develop a drama while they were both in lockdown.

“I’m living in one of the most beautiful places in the world,” said Dusseldorp to Knight. “And I think there’s a story to be told here about small communities and what it’s like to be thrown out of your life and placed somewhere else. I can tell you some stuff about Tasmanians that I think is really wonderful. Do you want to create a show together over zoom?” she asked

“And he said, ‘Oh yes, I’d love that.’ He told me later, he didn’t mean it at all. He was just trying to get me off the phone. But I’m fairly persistent. If anyone knows me, and I kept ringing him and throwing him ideas and articles. And because Ben [Dusseldorp’s husband] grew up here, he told me these stories, and I just write them down and sent them to Knight. Eventually, he rang me back. And he said, ‘Alright.’”

Knight also introduced writer Max Dann to the project who also became a co-creator.

Bay of Fires: Ava Caryofyllis as Iris, Marta Dusseldorp as Stella & Imi Mbedla as Otis. (Photo Brook Rushton)


The acting advice Cate Blanchett gave to Marta Dusseldorp

In developing her own TV series, Marta Dusseldorp was confident she could pull off the lead role. But she revealed when she first secured a starring role she was uncertain of how to proceed.

“Whenever I take a roll, I want people to watch that scene because they can’t turn away, no matter what I’m doing,” said Dusseldorp.

“I remember when I got my first lead in Janet King when they did the spin off from Crownies, which blew my mind that that would happen. I rang Cate Blanchett, she’s a really dear friend of mine. And I said to her, how do you be a lead? What is the trick? And she said, ‘The beauty of it is you can be different people, you can be different things to different people, we are never the same with any person that we are within our life.’

“So you get to show all the colours of the rainbow. They’re the things that I insist on, that no character starts in the scene as they end it. And that the story arc also has that similar change.

Andrew Knight also kept saying during it, ‘I don’t want to write a plot. I want to write a group of really interesting, fabulous people.’ And the plot is there to keep us wanting it, but we need the audience to fall in love with people. And that’s only if they’re complex and unexpected. So it’s the two things together.”

Dusseldorp wanted to film the show filmed on the west coast of Tasmania which created a number of challenges. “When I went in and pitched to Screen Tasmania that we wanted to shoot on the West Coast, they sort of looked at me in shock. It was going to be expensive to put an entire 150 cast and crew on the west coast for 16 weeks. But they created a regional grant in a heartbeat. I go in and constantly lobby the Tasmanian Government, that if you feed the screen industry here, you can be the next Gold Coast.”

During Mediaweek’s talk with Dusseldorp, she spoke about her decision to move from Sydney to Tasmania, admitting she was initially reluctant.

“At first it was quite confusing for me because I couldn’t settle. But now, I love this place so much. Bay of Fires really is a love letter to this place. And that was part of my drive to share this extraordinary place with other people. I don’t know many people would go to the west coast. This place is a natural wonderland. I’ve got a friend with me now from Sydney, who’s staying for a few days. And she keeps saying to me she can breathe. It’s so calming and nurturing. And it’s not that cold.

“On the west coast it didn’t rain that much. And by the way, Andrew Knight now owns a property here. I’m not sure he needs everyone to know that but the secret is [Tasmania] gets under your skin, and it becomes a refuge.

“That’s part of what I wanted to share with the audience. Here I was this city chick who came in and I was all like, can we speed this conversation up? And then I realised a couple of things. If you don’t stop and have the chat, you’ll never find out where that secret location is where you might be able to go for a swim.

“You won’t be part of the community and you won’t benefit from community knowledge. But also you won’t change and find yourself.

“It sounds a little bit esoteric, but I really heard myself for the first time once I gave in and that’s where Bay of Fires has come from…listening to myself and not waiting for someone else to give me what I think I need next, but rather going out and and trying to get it.”

About Bay of Fires

Bay Of Fires is an Archipelago Productions, Dusseldorp’s production company she runs with husband Ben Winspear, and Fremantle Australia production for the ABC. The production secured investment from Screen Australia in association with the ABC and Screen Tasmania, with support from VicScreen. ABC executive producers were Sally Riley, Alex Baldwin and Louise Smith. Executive producers were Andrew Knight, Brett Popplewell and Greg Sitch. Directors Natalie Bailey (Retrograde, The Unusual Suspects) and Wayne Blair (The Sapphires, Total Control) shared the eight episodes between them.

Top photo: Marta Dusselldorp with Bay of Fires co-stars Toby Leonard Moore and Matt Nable

Marta Dusseldorp: Bonus TV Gold episode

Listen to the complete unedited Mediaweek interview as Andrew Mercado and James Manning talk in depth with Marta Dusseldorp.

Listen on your podcast platform of choice here.

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