We talked to Fern Sutherland, the very funny and charming star of The Brokenwood Mysteries, as the series returns for its third season.
“Aw it’s roolly good thanks, how does that sound to you? Does that sound kind of vaguely in the ballpark of an independent, powerful Australian female?”
Fern Sutherland is demonstrating her Australian accent, which sounds pretty spot on. The star of The Brokenwood Mysteries is currently living in Sydney because as an actress, you have to go where the work is and there is more on offer across the ditch.
As well as polishing her Ocker accent, she’s also facing the perils of Aussie living, including evicting a “giant huntsman spider,” from her flat.
But then, she’s had a bit of practice of late with spiders.
The new season of The Brokenwood Mysteries sees the town’s latest victim struck down by our only native poisonous spider, the katipo. However given the katipo’s status in New Zealand, stunt doubles were required.
“They were redbacks, because katipos are protected and quite hard to get hold of so we had a spider wrangler that day, that’s a thing that exists so that was cool.”
Fern’s character, Detective Kristin Sims, is characteristically unfazed by this homicide via arachnid. After all, she’s already seen plenty of bizarre happenings in New Zealand’s favourite fictional murder capital.
“They’re a very inventive people in Brokenwood,” says Fern, “number 8 wire kind of mentality to all things, including murdering people.”
While Fern says her 8-legged co-stars were, “really beautiful,” it’s the rest of this season’s guest cast, including veteran actors like Amanda Billing, Theresa Healy and Cameron Rhodes, that she’s really excited about.
“One of the biggest highlights was again, just working with a set of guest characters each episode that were just so integral to the show’s pace and energy and heart.”
“It just kind of gives it a bit of vibrancy and colour because Neill and I sort of have to play it straight down the line, straight down the middle, kind of guide the story where it needs to go, but without the ancillary characters doing what they’re doing it would be quite boring, wouldn’t it?”
Neill is of course her co-star, Neill Rea, who plays her sidekick, Detective Mike Shepherd. Across three seasons, their characters have forged a strong bond, as have Fern and Neill.
“He’s really sensitive and very observant. He very genuinely has an interest in everyone and is quite perceptive in that he picks up if you’ve got low energy or if something might be bothering you. Which is actually a really hard thing to do when you’re really under the pump and you’ve got fifty thousand things that you’re thinking about and huge amounts of lines to remember.”
“He’s just such a dick as well,” she laughs good naturedly, “in the best way. His humour, oh god, he’s sort of like, I don’t know a protective brother and kind of that uncle that’s a bit wrong at a family reunion. He’s cool, he’s a really cool dude.”
One of the most appealing aspects of the series is that it depicts a relationship between a male and female colleague without a skerrick of romance. While workplace romances do happen, for the most part life is not like the movies and men and women are perfectly capable of working together without falling in love.
“If there was ever any suggestion from higher up that it was going to head that way then Neill and I would both stamp our feet and be like ‘nah’,” says Fern, “but Prime they’re actually really great, they totally get it.”
Fern says that Mike and Kristin, “both kind of see each other as being really capable and are respectful of each other’s different approaches.”
“It’s actually how a lot of the world works, you know.”
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“I just think it would be a death knell for that show if anything weird happened between those two, it would just be icky.”
Where would Kristin and Mike even find the time? They are up to their eyeballs in bizarre homicides.
“I know, have you seen the murder rate in Brokenwood? It’s through the roof, it’s out of control!”
While the series has been a huge homegrown success, it’s also found a loyal fanbase overseas. Viewers in several countries have responded to the gentle, quirky, rural mysteries of Brokenwood and the show has been particularly well received in France.
“It’s quite validating and I think historically New Zealanders have always looked overseas for validation, it’s not until someone overseas goes, ‘oh that’s actually really good that we say, ‘oh, is it?’ OK, we’re into it.”
“It never ceases to surprise me and delight me how in this day and age, because of the way that we produce and distribute content, that people on the other side of the world can somehow watch you and enjoy what you’re doing, which just really buzzes me out.”
Season three of The Brokenwood Mysteries premieres Sunday 30 October at 8.30pm on Prime