Ivan Sen’s 'Mystery Road' is many things. It’s a murder mystery and a thriller, but it’s also a film about the meeting point of white and indigenous Australia.
In the film, Aaron Pedersen plays detective Jay Swan, who returns to his remote outback town to investigate the murder of a young girl.
Inspired by a real life murder case, it tells the story of the investigation, as it explores tension between the black and white communities in the town. It’s a mainstream film that explores and uncovers some difficult social truths, and Pederson says that it was the role of a lifetime. In fact, writer and director Ivan Sen wrote the part specifically for him.
“A few years ago, he mentioned that he had a project in mind for me,” Pedersen says. “We had a brief discussion about it, and I said, 'oh yeah, we can talk about that later'. Quite a long time went by, and out of the blue, I got an email from him asking if I was ready to talk about that project.”
It turned out that Sen had written the script for 'Mystery Road'.
“I told him to send it my way, and immediately, I was blown away by the beauty of the words and the poignant story,” Pedersen says. “We jumped right in, and within a year, we’d shot it, and now it’s opening the Sydney Film Festival. Ivan’s a very hard worker — he knew the story he wanted to tell and the actor he wanted to use, and he went for it.”
Ivan Sen first made his mark with the 2002 feature ‘Beneath Clouds’, and since then, has grown into a word-class filmmaker. Pedersen has nothing but praise for him and his methods.
“I’d say Ivan’s like the Dalai Lama,” he laughs. “He’s always calm and never lets anything get to him. He wrote, shot, directed and edited the film, and he composed the music — and he carried himself really beautifully and professionally throughout. He didn’t lose control once. It was such a beautiful thing to see, especially as he was under so much pressure.”
If Sen was feeling stressed out, you’d never have known, says Pedersen.
“I’ve never worked with anyone like him, to be honest,” he continues. “I’d always say ‘G’day Dalai Lama, how’s it going?’ when I saw him in the morning, and he laughed, but that’s what it was like.”
Pedersen himself started out in film in the early ’90s, but his recent roles have seen him move towards television — playing detectives, as it happens — in shows like 'City Homicide' and 'Jack Irish'. For him, making the jump back to film didn’t feel like a great deal of a stretch.
“It’s the same process when you come down to it,” he says, “it’s just that one takes a lot longer to make. Television is shot at a faster pace, so it skills you up a lot quicker than film. Film is slower, you have a little bit more time to develop the ideas.
"There’s a little more detail in film,” he continues, “but really, they’re the same animal for me. It’s all about storytelling. You have to be definitive about your moments and your emotions.”
'Mystery Road' is in cinemas from October 17.