'I went behind the scenes of the Stan Original Series Scrublands. It's the crime drama of the year.'

There's a good reason why Scrublands was one of the most anticipated new Australian shows of the year. 

Readers will recognise the name of the new series, which premieres this week, from the award-winning novel by Chris Hammer, which so many adored, myself included. 

So when Mamamia was offered the chance to visit the set of Scrublands, which has been brought to life on screen as a Stan Original Series - our answer was an immediate yes.

Back in March I was whisked away to Riversend, a fictionalised isolated and struggling country town in rural Victoria, where this captivating crime drama takes place. While there, I spoke to the actors and producers themselves about what it was really like to bring this beloved Australian mystery to life. 

The story kicks off when a young priest named Byron Swift (played by Jay Ryan), who had been known throughout the community as a charismatic and dedicated man, calmly opens fire on his congregation.  

Take a look at the trailer for the Stan Original Series Scrublands. Post continues below.

In a devastating turn of events, he ends up killing five of his parishioners. 

Things then fast-forward a year when investigative journalist Martin Scarsden (played by Luke Arnold) arrives in Riversend to research and write what he thinks will be a simple tribute story, to commemorate the anniversary of the murders and the families, who are still mourning the loss. 


But he soon finds himself in a life-and-death race to uncover the truth about what really happened that day. 

Simply put, the juicy twists and turns are plentiful.

While visiting the set of Scrublands, I was able to see a scene filmed between the show's local bookstore owner, called Mandy Bond (played by Bella Heathcote), and an intrusive TV presenter who peppered her for details about the town's murders. 

Heathcote's character is then escorted into a police car, while the TV presenter is left holding his bloodied nose. 

The tension certainly felt real. 

As the scene ended with the police car driving away to the station, Martin Scarsden was brooding in the near distance, trying to piece together what to do next. And although not integral to the scene, there happened to be two very adorable kelpie dogs on the set as I watched the actors do their thing. Dogs are always a bonus. 

Bella Heathcote was riding the high of a scene performance when we spoke in a nearby RSL, where the crew had set up for the week.

Heathcote said she was immediately fascinated by her character when the script landed in her lap, given Mandy is such an integral part of the novel's plot. Mandy is cool, tough, and incredibly resilient and it's how she responds to situations that Heathcote admires most, saying she wishes she was more like her.

'It's super sassy, and it feels very Australian," she said with a smile.


Bella Heathcote as Mandy Bond in Scrublands. Image: Stan.

Interestingly though, Heathcote has not read the novel Scrublands, only the TV script given to her.

She said it was a deliberate decision.

"This is the first time ever I haven't read the book beforehand where relevant for a role," she explained. "There are certain plotlines from the book that I'm told haven't made it into this show, and so it was important for that not to cloud my perception of who this version of Mandy will be." 


As for what was the biggest challenge while filming, Heathcote said she aimed to not get too swept up in her character's trauma. 

"Maybe the cancer storyline," she said. "My mother died of cancer when I was little, and trying to separate that from Mandy's storyline [it is referenced in the book that Mandy's mother passed away from cancer], because I'm not a believer in substitution as an actor."

But overall the actress said it's been a tremendous filming experience, especially being back in Australia where there "isn't as much tall poppy syndrome" she noted, adding that it feels "more organic and natural".

Next I spoke with Luke Arnold, who was brilliant as Martin Scarden, bringing the enigmatic character from the pages of the novel to life. 

As someone who "loves a good mystery", Arnold said it's been super engaging to work on such a big story like Scrublands.

"The best part about working on this series is nailing down those emotional scenes and how the little parts fit into the big story. It's all about a community that has been hit hard by an awful event, and trying to put the pieces back together and rebuild their lives. The storytelling is really raw," he said. 

"It's really fun being the centre of a mystery. You're responsible for helping the audience through the twists and turns of it all. And that's something I love from a writer's point of view too."


It's the show's creators who have managed to carefully turn a very chunky novel into a four-part series.

Luke Arnold as Martin Scarsden in Scrublands. Image: Stan.

Producers Felicity Packard and David Redman said it was important to get the scenery and backdrop perfect as well, considering the quintessentially Australian landscape of Riversend is essentially a character in itself.


"I think what sets us apart from other productions in the crime genre is the setting," the producers noted. "It's uniquely Australian, and reflective of the challenges a lot of regional communities face - especially when it comes to the bushfire scenes.

"And magic things happen on set when you're filming in these parts of the country. There's one scene where a flock of about 200 corellas come swooping down and circle in the foreground, and we managed to capture it all."

After seeing the crew in action, there was clearly a lot of passion and excitement circulating among them - all keen to see this series captivate audiences. 

And after watching a few of the scenes, and even the opening episode, Scrublands has that intriguing whodunnit narrative and so much more.

Ultimately, whether you're a fan of the book or just someone who loves this genre, you will be gripped from the very beginning with this Australian crime drama. 

It's an original series you don't want to miss.

The Stan Original Series Scrublands premieres November 16, all episodes at once and only on Stan.

Feature Image: Stan.

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