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Posted on
Mar 2, 2019

What lies beneath — Secret City: Under The Eagle star Anna Torv on Australia’s real spy games

Australian political thriller Secret City might be a fictional tale with no shortage of murder, corruption and secret deals, but star Anna Torv doesn’t think the twisted stories in the series are really that far from the truth.

Based on the novels The Marmalade Files and The Mandarin Code by Nine News political editor Chris Uhlmann and journalist Steve Lewis, Secret City, explores the seedier side of the nation’s capital and the deals that happen in the corridors of Parliament House and the shady dealings of our security services.

In the new season, Secret City: Under the Eagle, Torv stars alongside Jacki Weaver, who plays Attorney-General Catriona Bailey, Danielle Cormack as MP Karen Koutoufides, and Don Hany as Prime Minister Ewan Garrity.

It’s easy to write off all of the intriguing elements in the series as pure fiction, but Torv, 39, who plays maverick reporter Harriet Dunkley in the Foxtel series, isn’t so sure.

“I think it’s incredibly close — I don’t think it’s way out at all,” she tells Watch. “And that’s not me being a conspiracy theorist, I just think we’re inundated with so much stuff now that you don’t have to dig very far to start to see the tangles underneath the surface.”

With a very different global political landscape currently in play, it’s only natural that some of what finds its way into these thrillers is also happening in the real world. It makes producing quality drama even harder when the truth can be much stranger than fiction.

“Someone was saying you wouldn’t be able to launch a House of Cards in this climate because it just wouldn’t compare to what’s actually going on,” Torv says. “It is the world we live in and it’s becoming more and more international and it’s becoming more and more of a crossover.”

Starring in the series was a return to Australia for the US-based Torv, who is currently also working on the second series of hit Netflix drama Mindhunter.

It was a great opportunity to work with some old friends, including Justin Smith who she appeared alongside in her first stage performance in her early 20s.

But it was the writing of the Secret City script which really drew her in.

Torv was impressed by the way the series, while set in Canberra and telling an Australian story, was a tale that could be easily understood and appreciated anywhere in the world, something she believes is often lacking in local productions.

“I thought that the show was really great and I thought that it was universal in a way that I haven`t seen a lot of Australian series be,” she says. “I think that`s testament to a good story — it’s like a good television show, a good movie, a good novel, a good song — it should be universal because it should tap into the human experience.”

To get into the head of press gallery reporter Dunkley, who embarks on a slightly different career — but remains committed to pursuing the truth — in season two, Torv spent some time in Canberra with those who cover the major political stories of the day.

“I was so lucky with the generosity of a couple of different journalists, who I won’t name because I said I wouldn’t,” she laughs. “But I got to go to Canberra a little bit early and I got to just sit down and talk and watch.

“You quickly learn what drives a person and then you quickly learn what kind of person is drawn to journalism and put the individual stuff on top of that.”

Tailing the real life reporters who walk the halls of Parliament House opened Torv’s eyes to how the media-politician relationship really worked.

She was intrigued by how the machine really operated.

“Everyone knows what’s going on through whispers in the hallways of parliament — that was fascinating for me,” she says.

Torv started her television career in Australia, appearing as a regular on series such as Young Lions, McLeod’s Daughters and The Secret Life of Us.

She shot to international fame when she was cast as FBI agent Olivia Dunham in popular US science fiction series Fringe in 2009, a role she stayed in for five seasons.

The Fox network show was 20 episodes a season and Torv looks back in wonder at how the writers and producers could conjure up 20 individual storylines each week.

In contrast she is excited by the trend of creating much shorter series that have the potential to have a greater impact.

“Because the format now is so different — these showrunners and writers no longer have to break 22 new stories,” she says. “Who could honestly do that: sit down and write 22 to 24 stories and make them all great?”

“Now we’re doing limited episode series — eight episodes, 10 episodes which is completely doable not just for the creatines behind but also the people shooting it and then you get a bit more consistency.”

* Secret City: Under The Eagle, 8.30pm, Monday, Fox Showcase

Credit: The Daily Telegraph