Stan Original Series Scrublands may be based on the novel of the same name by Chris Hammer but its leading actor Luke Arnold says it’s not a “page-by-page recreation”.
While the premise of the series, including the characters and story arc, are the same, there has been some creative licence to bring it to the screen.
Speaking on Mediaweek and Chattr’s The Entertainment Hotline Podcast — from the set of where the four-part murder mystery was filmed — Arnold revealed that “there is pressure,” to do the book justice; however, “you have to forget it fairly quickly”.
“It happens every time something is adapted,” he said. “Everyone’s a purist until the adaptation comes out.”
Arnold, who is also an author himself, further added that retelling a story in a visual medium is a “different mode of storytelling than just putting things on the page.
“What works on the page will often not work on screen,” he said. “You don’t get to spend pages and pages in the head of characters understanding their thought process. If you actually depicted that visually, it would be way over the top and traumatising for everyone who watches it.”
Scrublands is set in an isolated country town that is brought to its knees by endless drought, where a charismatic and dedicated young priest (Jay Ryan) calmly opens fire on his congregation, killing five parishioners. One year later investigative journalist Martin Scarsden (Arnold) arrives in Riversend to write what should be a simple feature story on the anniversary of the tragedy. But when Martin’s instincts kick in and he digs beneath the surface, the previously accepted narrative begins to fall apart and he finds himself in a life-and-death race to uncover the truth.
The 39-year-old said that writers Felicity Packard, Kelsey Munro and Jock Serong were “smart in what they’ve taken from the book” but also focused on how they can tell the story without doing a “page-by-page recreation”.
“It’s actually about going, “How do we lift this off the page and put it on the screen in the most impactful, interesting, compelling way? And these are really smart, fun scripts in the way they’ve managed to do that.”
He continued: “The truth is, no film or TV show can ever be the book because some of the fun of it is that the book only meets you halfway. You are coming and bringing the rest of yourself to it. You’re casting it, you’re doing the set dressing, you’re writing the score, you’re doing the colour grade.
“So, as much as everyone can sit there and say it’s not the way you saw the book projected on a wall, someone else who read the book would also look at that and say that’s not the way it should be. There’s no way you’d ever please everyone.”
Luke Arnold on his character Martin Scarsden
Arnold plays Martin, a former jet-setting foreign correspondent, who used to try to reveal stories about corruption and take down mining companies and governments.
“He was that kind of guy,” the actor said. “So he’s very used to probably flying into places, using everyone around him to get to the truth, to get the story and maybe not being scrupulous in his way of getting to the bigger truth of doing what he thought was kind of seeking justice.”
Prior to arriving at the Riverlands, Martin had “some collateral damage that has shaken him up” and he’s not the journalist he once was.
“The higher-ups recognise that and think that, ‘Okay, maybe his best days are behind him, so let’s send them out to this little town to do a simple little job, because maybe that’s all he’s good for. And Martin’s kind of going along with that story.
“But once he gets the sniff of something else happening, he really can’t help himself and it’s a bit of the story of him getting his journalistic instincts back.”
Like many journalists discover in the real world, the character deals with the difference between “telling the story and the experience”.
“I think when we come into it, that’s how he’s got himself into trouble, I think it’s by fighting for the story but not really connecting with people. And so that is his journey there. So going like, ‘Okay, how do I fight for the truth?’
“Because the truth can heal. The truth can help people. The truth can find justice, not just because the truth makes a good story.”
Luke Arnold on how the cast dealt with such heavy content matter
Given that the story deals with themes of murder, gun control and the human experience, it’s no surprise that the heavy content matter was at the forefront during filming.
The INXS: Never Tear Us Apart star admitted it “can be tough” in certain circumstances.
” I do think when you work on something when you work in a good job with good people, I think everyone’s very aware of understanding the seriousness of things like this and of going like okay, ‘How do we make sure we do these characters justice, we do these topics justice, we honour what these characters are going through,’” he said.
“But it’s not about It’s us. It’s about how can we tell that story. How can we give that to the audience? It’s not about how we indulge in this for ourselves…You want to be in that moment, receiving that and taking that on, but you’ve got to get really good at, you know, shaking that stuff off.”
Further to this, he admitted that allowing himself to feel the emotions can be “addictive”.
“It keeps surprising me that you do stuff on set and you’re like, ‘Wow, this is now in my bones’. And it can be really tempting to be one of those actors who is like, ‘Sorry, I’m just like working with such deep stuff’ and use it as an excuse to be a d–k off-set. But, it’s part of the job to go, ‘No, that happens between action and cut’ and shake it off.”
Arnold also praised director Greg McLean (Wolf Creek, Rogue) for his role in allowing that to happen.
“He has obviously done some of the darkest, most horrific films that have ever been made,” he said. “Yet he’s just an absolute joy on set. He’s fun and respectful.
“It’s a very different feeling, even though someone might be getting their head blown off on set, we’re all having a laugh and making sure everyone’s comfortable and happy and take safety really responsibly.”
Stream Stan Original Series Scrublands from November 16, only on Stan.