Ewen Leslie rises to the challenges in ‘Safe Harbour’ and ‘Fighting Season’


Ewen Leslie and producer Stephen Corvini on the set of ‘Safe Harbour.’

Ewen Leslie has spent much of his illustrious career playing basically good men who are in challenging situations.

His latest roles in Matchbox Pictures’ Safe Harbour and Goalpost Pictures’ Fighting Season are in that milieu, but each with intriguing nuances.

In the SBS-commissioned psychological thriller Safe Harbour he plays Ryan, the captain of a small yacht who sets sail for a holiday in Indonesia with his wife and three friends

Directed by Glendyn Ivin and scripted by Belinda Chayko, Matt Cameron and Phil Enchelmaier, Safe Harbour follows the Aussies as they encounter a broken-down fishing boat full of desperate asylum seekers.

They agree to tow the stricken vessel back to Australia but the next morning it has vanished. Five years later they meet some of the refugees and discover someone had cut the rope, resulting in the loss of seven lives.

Leslie was attracted to the project because all the characters were complex and make bad decisions. He also jumped at the chance to work for the first time with Ivin, whose career he had followed since the director’s 2003 short film Cracker Bag.

“Ryan is thrown into a very difficult situation and like the other characters is trying to make the best decision he can under the circumstances,” he tells IF. “It’s such a ‘what would you do?’ scenario. There are no easy answers. What the right thing is becomes very grey.”

He enjoyed working on screen for the first time with Jacqueline McKenzie, who plays fellow passenger Helen, an embittered lawyer, after they co-starred in the Belvoir Street Theatre production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof directed by Simon Stone.

Phoebe Tonkin (The Originals, The Vampire Diaries) plays Ryan’s sister Olivia, Leeanna Walsman (Seven Types of Ambiguity, Cleverman) is his wife Bree and Joel Jackson (The Wrong Girl, Peter Allen: Not The Boy Next Door) is Damien, Olivia’s boyfriend who disappears after the incident on the water and reappears at a group reunion five years later

He had fun teaming up again with Jackson after they collaborated on the Foxtel-commissioned WWI miniseries Deadline Gallipoli.

Nicole Chamoun and Hazem Shammas play Zahra and Ismail, an Iraqi couple whose nine-year-old daughter dies after the vessel sinks, and Robert Rabiah is Ismail’s brother Bilal.

Like most of the cast and crew, Leslie found the week-long shoot on three boats and a dinghy off the coast of Brisbane challenging, especially playing the yacht’s captain with zero maritime expertise. He was cracking Jaws and Waterworld jokes before venturing out to sea but quickly desisted.

After finishing filming in Brisbane on a Friday he flew to Sydney start shooting Foxtel’s Fighting Season  on the Monday alongside Jay Ryan, George Pullar, Marco Alosio, Julian Maroun, Paul De Gelder and Kate Mulvany.

Scripted by Blake Ayshford, the 6-part series follows Australian soldiers who return from Afghanistan suffering from PTSD.  Leslie  plays an Australian Army captain who is killed in Afghanistan and thus appears in flashbacks. Much of the drama pivots on the circumstances of the death of his character.

Leslie was well prepared because he did a commando-style boot camp in rural NSW and rehearsed with the cast before shooting Safe Harbour.

He was delighted to work with Kate Woods, who directed four episodes, and with Ben C. Lucas who did the other two, as well as for Goalpost. Woods directed the WW2 TV drama Changi for which he did his first audition fior after graduating from the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts in 2000.

“The good thing about working with really experienced TV directors is that you can turn it into a really positive creative experience where you are thinking really fast on your feet, you are throwing lots of options out as quickly as you can and you try to get the best you possibly can out of each scene, “ he says.

“As long as you don’t get too precious it can be really exciting.”

Check back tomorrow as Leslie discusses his roles in Jennifer Kent’s ‘The Nightingale’, ‘Sweet Country’, ‘Top of the Lake: China Girl’ and his return to ‘Rake’.