Blackjack: about

About the trilogy

BlackJack is a Jigsaw Entertainment production for Network Ten Australia and Optus TV, produced with the financial assistance of the Film Finance Corporation Australia and the New South Wales Film & Television Office. The trilogy is distributed internationally by BBC Worldwide.

The Ten Network Australia and Optus TV commissioned the trilogy of BlackJack telemovies following the success of the highly acclaimed BlackJack telefeature, which introduced the character of Jack Kempson to television audiences in 2003.

The original screenplay, by Gary McCaffrie and Shaun Micallef, was one of the first projects Jigsaw Entertainment head Nick Murray chose to develop when he established the production company in 1999.

It was, he says, one of the most original and unusual scripts he’d ever read for a television drama.

“It was a wonderful premise—senior policeman sent down to the archives to rot because he’s gone whistle blower, and now he’s going out using new technology to go back and solve old crimes. It is a great premise to develop story lines from,” Nick says.

“That’s where we started and I am delighted to say that the three new scripts—by Kristen Dunphy, Tim Pye and Katherine Thompson are equally compelling and intriguing. It’s been great to attract such fantastic writers and I think that’s a tribute to the originality of the concept.

“Shaun and Gary’s story—with its complex central character Jack Kempson—has allowed us to continue to create very strong character driven films, something we haven’t done in Australia for a very long time.

“It was very pleasing that our broadcasters and investors, recognising the quality of the original telemovie, were confident enough to commission and fund three more films in the BlackJack series and it’s a great coup to have BBC Worldwide partnering with us on the films internationally.”

Colin Friels returns in the starring role of Jack Kempson, a cop who chooses to work outside the system when he is banished by his peers for whistle blowing on a drug-dealing colleague.

Marta Dusseldorp (After the Deluge, Praise, Paradise Road) joins the cast as rookie cop Sam Lawson, working in the police Archives Department with aspirations to one day be a crime scene forensic analyst.

David Field (My Husband My Killer) reprises his role as Jack’s boss and nemesis Kavanagh and Doris Younane, as the forensic specialist Christine Vallas, returns as one of Jack’s few friends left on the force, also adding romance to his jaded private life. Gigi Edgley (The Secret Life of Us, Day of the Roses) returns too as Jack’s daughter Liz, who was born with a significant physical disability.

Award-winning director Peter Andrikidis (Jessica, Grass Roots, My Husband My Killer, Heroes Mountain, Wildside), who helmed the original BlackJack telemovie, directs two of the trilogy—Sweet Science and Ace Point Game—with Ian Watson (The Secret Life of Us, White Collar Blue) directing In The Money.

Nick Murray is producer of the trilogy. He gathered a world-class production team including leading cinematographers Henry Pierce & Martin McGrath (Muriel’s Wedding, Swimming Upstream), Academy-Award nominated sound recordist Guntis Sics (Moulin Rouge) and composer David Hirschfelder (Shine), Makeup and Hair artists Lesley Vanderwalt (Moulin Rouge, Star Wars) and Deborah Lanser (Jessica, Queen of the Damned) and production designer Kim Buddee (Lantana).

“It is a testimony to the quality of BlackJack that we managed to bring together such an amazing team to make this trilogy, including the return of Colin Friels, one of this country’s finest actors, to the central role,” Nick says.

An attraction to the key creative team members and cast is the contention by co-creator Gary McCaffrie that BlackJack avoids the clichés of many cop shows: “After all, the world doesn’t need another cop show. We wanted to explore the way people have dealt with a crime, the effect on the perpetrators’ lives and the effect on the families of the perpetrators and the victims.”

Cast and crew were each committed to creating fine Australian films for television, based on character, with a strong story line propelling the drama. Essential to their vision was the creation of an older lead character—and the casting of an actor with life experience, intelligence, integrity and ability.

There had been some commercial pressure during development for the writers and producers to make Jack Kempson a young man. But, as Nick Murray says: “The interesting thing about this character is that he is older. He’s world weary and jaded and if you’d had some of those attributes in a younger character he’d just come across as an ‘arsehole’. But because Jack’s been through the mill in his personal life and his work life, he is a much more believable character.

“If you look what works in character based crime genre—programs like Law & Order, Morse, Cracker—the characters tend to be older. The stories have to be compelling, but it is the characters who engage audiences.”

Friels was attached to BlackJack almost from the beginning. He says it is rare to find a character as interesting as Jack Kempson.

“Jack is an ordinary man, but life is quite on the edge for him, life has done some extreme things. He doesn’t have friends and he’d rather it that way. He has difficulties with his daughter who has enormous physical and emotional problems, money is a problem—life is a bit grubby and temporary, but essentially he’s alright, he’s true, he is in the moment. Jack doesn’t have a future as far as he is concerned; he is living from day to day. I know exactly how he feels. It is very human. There’s a lot of layers in it, and it is not so much in the dialogue, it’s what is in between the lines,” Colin says.

Co-starring with Colin in the three telemovies is the striking Marta Dusseldorp. She describes Constable Sam Lawson as: “Smart but not cocky, she’s not sentimental, she’s not a victim. She’s really warm, she really wants to learn, she is realistically ambitious as opposed to brutally ambitious. Her job means a lot to her, but so do the people she works with so that’s a really nice balance. And she’s not a token female—the writers have written beautifully to make sure of that.”

Marta also loved the experience of working with Peter Andrikidis for the first time: “He’s very quiet and I like a quiet director, for an actor it means there’s no unnecessary extraneous conversation to distract you. He watches what you’re doing and gives very subtle hand gestures. He’s a great leader and so too is Colin Friels—it doesn’t get any better than that team.”

David Field worked on My Husband My Killer and cites the opportunity to work with Colin again as the main attraction to BlackJack: “Working with Colin I find I learn so much. It is like working with a mentor and those opportunities are rare…plus I get to wear a suit and play the guy who runs the show, that’s nice for a change!”

Doris Younane, who plays forensics specialist and Jack’s love interest Christine Vallas, is another Peter Andrikidis fan. As well as both being of Greek heritage, they share a great sense of humour.

The BlackJack films are all the richer for each having an original score composed by David Hirschfelder. David is one of Australia’s most outstanding and successful composers. He’s enjoyed associations with Baz Luhrmann (STRICTLY BALLROOM), Scott Hicks (SHINE), Shekar Kapur (ELIZABETH), Diane Keaton (HANGING UP). His albums have been runaway hits in Australia and the United States, and his compositional skills have been honoured with Oscar nominations and distinguished awards from around the world.

The BlackJack trilogy has attracted exceptional guest cast ensembles for each of the telemovies:

BlackJack—Sweet Science features Anthony Hayes (The Boys), Vince Colosimo (Lantana, Secret Life of Us), Chris Haywood (My Husband My Killer, Grass Roots) and exciting newcomer Alex O’Lachlan (who stars in the up-coming feature film The Oyster Farmer).

BlackJack—In the Money features Helen Thomson (Getting Square), the legendary Max Cullen and Bille Brown (The Dish, Man Who Sued God). TV legend Elaine Lee (No 96) pops up as an astrologer.

BlackJack—Ace Point Game features Craig McLachlan (My Husband My Killer), Sacha Horler (Grass Roots), Alice McConnell (MDA), Daniela Farinacci (Lantana, MDA) and John Brumpton (Grass Roots, Dance Me To My Song).

BlackJack was filmed on location in and around Sydney with police Headquarters created the abandoned Hoover factory on the Parramatta River near Ryde.