High Country’s Leah Purcell on funding local TV to ‘compete’ and riding on Deadloch’s ‘coat tails’

“Put the money into our stories, so we can compete. I think our stories are absolutely international, it’s whether we’ve got the money.”

Leah Purcell – the Goa-Gunggari-Wakka Wakka Murri actor at the heart of the new BINGE Original series, High Country – believes that First Nations and multicultural stories need more funding to achieve the international success experienced by the likes of Wentworth and Deadloch.

“We’ve made a start in the last five years. I’ve been a part of shows now from different cultural backgrounds, so I see the change, I’ve been part of it,” Purcell told Mediaweek at the world premiere of High Country in Melbourne last night.

Put the money into our stories, so we can compete. I think our stories are absolutely international, it’s whether we’ve got the money to put the time and effort into production that’s the standard out there in the rest of the world. That’s where we need to put our money.”

The eight-part thriller sees Purcell play Andie, a police sergeant tasked with solving the mystery of five missing people. In the process, she also discovers her deep connection to Country. It’s a local story, filmed in rural Victoria, but its cast and executives believes it will have global appeal.

Wentworth – in which Purcell also starred – gained traction internationally. So did a more recent series that bears resemblance to High Country: Deadloch. Both take place in regional Australian areas from which the shows take their titles. Both are crime mysteries. And both feature blonde, curly-haired police officers in same sex relationships. Purcell is happy to benefit from Deadloch’s momentum.

Any support from other shows that have gone before that are turning the light on Australian stories is helpful for all of us. And we need more of it … So if the girls [Deadloch creators Kate McCartney and Kate McLennan, and lead actors Kate Box and Madeleine Sami] have done that prior, mate, I’ll hang on their coat tails.”

BINGE, Curio Productions, and Rage Media are equally hopeful High Country will resonate with audiences around the world, teasing yet-to-be-announced deals in markets like the US and UK.

“We’ve been really proud to see some of our more recent shows travel around the world,” said BINGE’s Executive Director of Commissioning and Content, Alison Hurbert-Burns.

“We can’t announce the details yet, but Sony and the Curio guys have done an amazing job of getting us out there to the world and we’ve already got some really cool sales away. So this will be in some big territories really soon as well.”

The twisty and turny series plays an important role on BINGE’s slate this year, Hurburt-Burns added: “Australian stories, both scripted and unscripted, they punctuate our slate, they are designed to stand out and complement all the great things that we buy in from around the world.”

The project saw Purcell reunite with Wentworth writers John Ridley and Marcia Gardner, who wrote what Purcell described as “an intriguing, personal whodunit” just for her. “We really sat down with the aim of creating something for Leah, that was aim number one,” Ridley said.

The production crew took over the small Victorian town of Jamieson, which has a population of under 400 people, for over a month. “I think we took every spare bed in the area,” quipped Hurburt-Burns. It’s a special place for writer Ridley; half of his family lives there. “I’ve been going up there for 35 years. I’ve always wanted to make something up there.”

Most of the town was involved in the production in some way, his mother and sisters were extras, his sister delivered Purcell fresh firewood every second day. Jamieson is hosting its own premiere at the town hall, which served as the set’s production office (the post office became the police station).

The town is a character. And so is the landscape: Big flocks of yellow and white cockatoos, tangled bush, red autumn trees, snow-capped mountains.

“It is very much about her connection to this Country … so things like soundscape and all that plays a big part,” Ridley added.

Hurburt-Burns noted that High Country was the last project Foxtel co-founder and TV legend Brian Walsh worked on before his death last year. It was also Curio’s first project after the production agency rebranded from Playmaker. “High Country was the first project we brought onto our slate as a new company,” High Country executive producer and Curio creative director Rachel Gardner confirmed.

Purcell said she feels honoured to lead the new show – “you dream about being a number one on the call sheet” – but it is complex when that lead role is a police officer and she is an Aboriginal woman.

“My family always have a dig. I’ve been playing coppers since I first came into this industry.

“We didn’t shy away from that tension within Aboriginal communities and police relations … but I hope that I can bring another side, I guess, and hope that people can see both sides. You gotta understand what they have to do. And yes, there is race relations within communities of the blue and the black. But we do a lot of police shows, so if you don’t take the jobs, you don’t have a job. But you hope to make a difference, hope to make a change.”

The first two episodes of High Country will premiere on BINGE on 19 March, with the remaining six episodes to drop weekly after that.

See also: Binge drops ‘High Country’ trailer as Aussie dramas surge on streaming sites

Top image: Leah Purcell

To Top