Stingers: articles

Shooting stats

SHOOT-outs, drug busts and interrogations—it’s all in a day’s work for the undercover cops on Stingers.

This is set to be a big year for the series: Angie Piper (Kate Kendall) faces life as a single parent, Church (Peter Phelps) falls in love and Harris (Gary Sweet) tries to make a go of fatherhood. And that’s not to mention the dicey situations they face every day on the job.

So far, Kendall’s biggest problem has been remembering exactly how the show ended last year.

“We’ve just had a three-month break, so I’m a bit vague. I do remember I was having a baby, so that’s a start,” she says with a laugh.

That particular development has opened up interesting possibilities for her character, but Kendall was a little ambivalent about becoming an onscreen mum, fearing she would end up housebound.

“I don’t want Angie to be talking about nappies the whole time and lose her integrity as a cop.”

The unexpected turn of events meant that Kendall had to shoot the obligatory labour scene—something she found confronting.

‘I didn’t want it to be too cliched, but the reality is panting, sweating, screaming… it was kind of a vulnerable position to be in though, legs open, “Hi, camera crew.”’

“It was actually really exhausting. I did a bit of research but, in the end, I threw the textbooks away and just went for it. I didn’t want it to be too cliched, but the reality is panting, sweating, screaming—you can’t really get away from that. It was kind of a vulnerable position to be in though, legs open, ‘Hi, camera crew.’ ”

She isn’t the only character travelling into uncharted territory. Gary Sweet, who plays the unit’s manic chief, will be going undercover this year, something he expects to add an extra dimension to his role.

“I finally get out of the suit and get down and funky,” he says with a laugh.

“For one of the episodes I’m dressed up like Guido the pimp—big chunky jewellery, bright paisley shirts. It’s very un-Luke.”

As for Phelps, he’s just happy his character has finally been given a love interest. “Church has never been very lucky in that department, so this season should be a bit of a turn-up for the books.”

The show is in its eighth season, a record to rival classic Aussie cop shows like Homicide and Cop Shop. And after surviving a host of teething problems from budget cutbacks to timeslot changes, the series has built up a loyal following. However, Kendall says it was touch and go in the early days.

“If we’d been in the current climate with our initial ratings, we would have been given the chop.

“I think it is a pity when they don’t give shows a chance. We’ve had the past five years to experiment and develop, and it has paid off.”

And while the series has been enjoying its best ratings yet, the shows producers are constantly on guard against complacency.

A new consultant has been brought on board (an ex-cop who worked undercover for 16 years) and a host of guest stars are lined up for this season, including Chris Haywood and Sophie Lee—additions the cast has welcomed. According to Sweet they “add their own little bit of spice to the mix”.

The show’s guest roster is impressive, including leading Australian actors like John Howard, Peter O’Brien, Pamela Rabe and Rachael Beck.

Kendall says the calibre of actors lining up to appear on the show is flattering, but she says casting is subject to certain criteria.

“They always use people we can work with,” she says.

Many actors can’t handle the demands of a long-running series: the grind of playing the same character week in, week out. But making things work on and off camera has prevented the cast from burning out. Phelps says the show is still creatively fulfilling, despite admitting Church “is like a comfy old jacket”.

“It is a role within a role,” he says. “The real undercover guys in the field call each other actors, and they really do have to get into character.

“I guess the main difference is that they are in life-and-death situations, whereas we just go home and wash off the make-up.”

For Kendall, playing the same character hasn’t got stale, but she says there can be down time in an ensemble cast.

“There are patches where there is too much walkie-talkie background action, and I think it is a challenge to keep it interesting for all the core cast members, but then, when you are least expecting it, the writers will throw you a ‘curve-ball’. ”

So what keeps the fans coming back for more? According to Phelps it’s simple.

“I think there is a bit of a wink and a nudge to the audience.

“They know who we are, and the bad guys don’t so they’re always one step ahead—we take them along for the ride.

By Louise Crossen
March 11, 2004
The Courier Mail