Jeffrey Walker on the unique experience of ‘Lambs of God’

Ann Dowd and Jeffery Walker on the set of 'Lambs of God'.

Ann Dowd and Jeffrey Walker on the set of ‘Lambs of God’ (Photo credit: Mark Rogers).

When director Jeffrey Walker was sent Sarah Lambert’s scripts for the first two episodes of Lambs of God, he replied he’d have to take the job so he could read episode three.

That was in jest – but he could not resist the challenge to direct Lingo Pictures’ comedic drama commissioned by Foxtel, which is unlike any show he had ever directed in the past 15 years.

The four hour miniseries adapted from Marele Day’s novel “treads a fine line between dark comedy, fantasy, fairytale and thriller,” he tells IF.

“It definitely pushes the boundaries of expectations and lives in its own space. The scripts were completely unpredictable, from page to page.”

Walker, Lambert and Lingo Pictures’ Jason Stephens attended the world premiere of the first two episodes at the Series Mania festival in France and were delighted with the responses from audiences and French critics.

There was uniform praise for the performances of Essie Davis, Ann Dowd and Jessica Barden as nuns, the last survivors of the order of St. Agnes, who live in a convent on a remote island. Sam Reid plays Father Ignatius, an ambitious young priest who plans to turn the property into a money-making luxury resort and is kidnapped by the nuns.

Walker was impressed with the way Lambert’s screenplay expanded on the novel which was set on the island, examining efforts by those on the mainland to find the missing priest. The series also broadens the narrative by exploring the nuns’ traumatic past and looking at the relationship between the Catholic Church and women.

Don McAlpine was the DOP in his TV drama debut, his second collaboration with the director following Ali’s Wedding. “Don had to shoot faster than he had ever done before but he was up for it. He is a born storyteller,” says Walker.

Don McAlpine (L) with Jeffrey Walker (Photo credit: Mark Rogers).

All the night scenes were illuminated only by candles – no artificial lighting. Chris Kennedy, who worked with Walker on Dance Academy: The Movie, was the production designer and Xanthe Heubel, who worked on the director’s ABC telemovie Riot, was the costume designer.

The cast includes John Bell as a bishop, Damon Herriman as Father Bob, Daniel Henshall as the local cop and Kate Mulvany. The series will premiere on Foxtel’s showcase later this year.

Walker has been nominated for best direction of a TV series or telefeature for Riot at the 2019 Australian Directors’ Guild awards.

The director credits his long career as an actor – he made his debut on The Flying Doctors at the age of seven – with giving him valuable experience of life on sets.

He starred in two series produced by Jonathan M Shiff, Ocean Girl and Thunderstone, which led to the producer hiring him as an intern/trainee when he left school. He was 19 when he made his directing debut on Neighbours and later directed H2O: Just Add Water for Shiff.

Since 2012 Walker has alternated between directing multiple US series such as Modern Family, Bones, Difficult People and Raising Hope and working on Oz shows including Rake and Jack Irish.

He’d have liked to have tackled more movies but acknowledges: “Films are such difficult and delicate beasts to bring together.”

One project he is keen to direct is The Cartographer, a drama based on the Australian novel by Peter Twohig about a nameless child who handles the terrors of his life by copying the attributes of fictional pop culture characters he admires.

Andrew Knight and Andrew Anastasios wrote the screenplay for producer John Barnett. Scott Hicks is now attached as the producer and Walker hopes it will be ready to shoot next year.