'I went to the set of the Stan Original Series Population 11 to uncover the real story behind the mystery series.'

Deep within Western Australia's Kimberley Region, around a small town named Derby, a nearly forgotten Australian mystery has caused a TV set to spring up amongst the mudflats, mangrove swamps, boab trees and red dirt.

After flying from the popular tourist attraction that is Broome in Western Australia — which contains a legion of lush hotels, famed restaurants, and a location where I witnessed a dolphin leap from the waves as I was ferried to a sunset cruise in a move that felt ripped from the pages of a travel magazine — the town of Derby and its surrounds could not have felt more different. 

Yet it was equally as beautiful.

Out on a large mudflat, where it appears there are shimmery waves in the distance that later turn out to be a mirage, the crew of the Stan Original Series Population 11 is filming a scene where a lone man stands next to the shell of a car that has gone up in flames, staring out across the Australian outback with a look of grave concern on his face.

After the director yells "cut", the man in question turns around and reveals himself to be American actor Ben Feldman (known for his roles in Superstore, Mad Men and Silicon Valley), who stars in the 12-part comedy crime thriller, which is directed and executive produced by Trent O’Donnell (New Girl, Hacks, and Stan Original Series No Activity) and created by AACTA award-winner Phil Lloyd (The Moodys, Review With Myles Barlow). 

On December 16, 2017, Paddy Moriarty and his dog Kellie left their house in the tiny Northern Territory town of Larrimah, which had a population of just 12 people, and was never seen again. It's a story that Feldman tells me inspired the plot of Population 11, in which his character Andy Pruden, a suburban bank teller from Ohio, USA, travels to a tiny outback Australian town to visit his long-lost father Hugo, only to discover that he has vanished.


Ben Feldman in the Stan Original Series Population 11. Image: Stan. 


"It all started with Paddy Moriarty, who had gone missing in a small town here in Australia," Feldman told Mamamia. "And there were a lot of articles about it, some people wanted to make it into a documentary. But Phil saw the articles about it and thought, 'There's a story in here', and he used it as a jumping-off point to create a whole new world.

"It was an interesting experience, because it happened in stages," Feldman said of arriving in Derby from his home in Los Angeles to film the series. "I flew out here to Australia and I was in a fancy hotel at The Rocks in Sydney, eating a fancy meal with the network. Then we took a plane to Broome, and stayed there for one night, and to me that place felt very remote.

"Then the next day we drove to Derby, and all of a sudden Broome seemed like Paris," he continued. "It was like a big city compared to it, so there was this weird progression to get to Derby, which is good. I think I would have had a bit of vertigo if I had gone directly to Derby. But as soon as I got here, I instantly understood why we're shooting this here. You just couldn't shoot Population 11 anywhere else."

Take a look at the trailer for Stan Original Series Population 11. 

"When I arrived at the Population 11 set, just outside of Derby, a small city of tents and trailers had been erected upon the mounds of red dirt. The cast and crew were all settling down to a classic craft services dinner around folding tables under the stars.


They had been closeted together on set for months already, away from their families, and their bond was evident by the sea of in-jokes and stories being shared across the table, before they were all shipped back to a tiny motel that had become their home during filming — a building they had affectionately nicknamed 'The Brown Lotus'.

The cast of Population 11 includes rising star Perry Mooney as outsider Cassie Crick, Katrina Milosevic (Wentworth) as cop Sgt. Geraldine Walters, and Darren Gilshenan (Stan Original Series No Activity, The Moodys) as Pruden's missing father, Hugo Drivas.

The series also stars Chai Hansen as Gareth Biggins, Stephen Curry as Noel Pinkus, Tony Briggs as Jimmy James, Genevieve Lemon as Valerie Hogarth, Rick Donald as Leon Croydman, and Pippa Grandison and Steve Le Marquand as Maureen and Trevor Taylor.

"I hate every one of them," a straight-faced Feldman told Mamamia of his Population 11 cast mates while back in Sydney the week of the series premiere. A story that would have been more believable had I not seen him laughing with them while also filming for hours in the blazing hot sun.

"The Aussies are great," he confirmed. "You come into it thinking, 'Are they going to be different than what I'm used to?' — I've been on a lot of set. But they were not. They're unique in their own ways but it's not like I'm visiting some new tribe. They were just charming, fun, and extremely welcoming. 

"They also couldn't believe that I wasn't an asshole. So that makes me worried about what other Americans who have come and worked here have done, and what experiences they've had with them."


The cast of the Stan Original Series Population 11. Image: Stan. 

Population 11 is part comedy and part thriller, knotting together moments of laugh-out-loud dialogue with head-scathing mystery and eye-catching action sequences, creating a uniquely Australian story with universal appeal. 


"While I was playing Andy, I really was the outsider who was confused, nervous, scared, amused and also weirded out," Feldman said. "I was all of those things, so I was learning in real time what it was to be a part of this strange world, both in my real life as me and as the character.

"So, ah, they really shouldn't have even paid me because it was a breeze. I didn't earn my paycheck.

"When I first read the script, I was hoping that it would be bad because nobody wants to leave their family," he continued. "I have two small kids, and to leave them for three months and go to the other side of the world was really hard for my family and certainly for my wife, who had to be a single mother for months.

"It was during the summer so she didn't even have school to send them off to. So I just kept looking for reasons not to do it and I couldn't think of any because it's a great script. So I apologised to my wife that day because I knew I had to do it."

The Stan Original Series Population 11 is now streaming, only on Stan.

Laura Brodnik is Mamamia's Head of Entertainment and host of The Spill podcast. You can follow her on Instagram here.

Feature Image: Stan. 

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