Natalie Bailey tackles female-led crime caper ‘The Unusual Suspects’

Natalie Bailey with her Emmy.

Natalie Bailey was set to shoot feature comedy Sumo in South Africa when the pandemic struck, which turned out to be a blessing as she was then asked to serve as set-up director on Aquarius Films’ SBS miniseries The Unusual Suspects.

The Melbourne-based director, who shot isolation comedy Retrograde for the ABC, readily agreed. She had long wanted to make a 4-parter for SBS and she was intrigued by the story of immigrants working in Sydney’s affluent Eastern suburbs with strong female characters.

Scripted by Jessica Redenbach, Roger Monk and Vonne Patiag, the plot revolves around the theft of a $10 million necklace from self-made Filipino businesswoman Roxanne Waters’ home during her twins’ birthday party. The suspects include socialite Sara Beasley whose life is crumbling fast, and her long-suffering nanny, Evie De La Rosa, a godmother for other Filipino domestic workers.

Casting is underway led by casting director Kirsty McGregor, tapping into a large pool of talent in the Filipino community. “It’s amazing to find new names, some of whom made their fame overseas,” she tells IF.

Also she is enjoying mentoring emerging director Melvin Montalban, who is making his TV directing debut on one episode, and collaborating with Melvin and Vonne to ensure the experience of Filipino immigrants is portrayed accurately. Some of the dialog will be in their native Tagalog language.

Among her upcoming projects is Audrey, a feature comedy-drama produced by Michael Wrenn. The screenplay by Lou Sanz follows Ronnie, a frustrated mother who lives vicariously through the dreams she seeks to install in her two daughters. When Audrey ends up in a coma, Ronnie believes she has no choice but to become her daughter. Bailey lauds Sanz as a really funny, talented writer with a unique voice.

She hopes to shoot Sumo, based on an original idea from producers Ado Yoshizaki and Emily Leo and scripted by Richard Galazka, next year. Suzy Nakamura (Avenue 5, Curb Your Enthusiasm, West Wing) is attached to play a school janitor and former sumo wrestler. She meets Jonah, an overweight kid with low esteem, and helps him to find self-respect.

With Toby Truslove she is developing two projects. PR For the End of the World is a comedy about the government trying to put a positive spin on the end of the world. They started work on that during the pandemic without realising how long the lockdown and associated government spin would last.

The other is Society Man, a TV comedy set in a secret society, created and written by Truslove, with Princess Pictures.

Natalie Bailey with David Hasselhoff.

Bailey began her screen career as an actress before training as an editor and sound designer at QUT. After writing and directing short films she moved to the UK in 2000 to work as a nanny before joining the BBC comedy department, initially as an assistant to Jo Sargent, who produced Absolutely Fabulous and French and Saunders.

When producer-director Armando Iannucci joined the BBC he mentored her and she later worked on the development and production of The Thick of It and Time Trumpet.

After leaving the public broadcaster she directed a bunch of UK series including the Emmy Award-winning David Hasselhoff comedy Hoff the Record, The Thick of It series 4 and the Jo Brand/ Morwenna Banks Channel 4 series Damned.

Returning to Australia in 2014, she joined Princess Pictures as a development producer and director and was the lead director on the Peter Helliar/Lisa McCune comedy How To Stay Married.

Taking sabbaticals from Princess Pictures, she directed several drama series for Channel 4 and AMC. After leaving Princess in 2018 she returned to the UK to direct three episodes of Iannucci’s HBO comedy Avenue 5, starring Hugh Laurie, and the HBO drama Run, shot in Toronto, co-starring and executive produced by Phoebe Waller-Bridge. Of Phoebe, she says: “She is so creative and such a lovely person to work with.”

She reflects: “It has been a long winding journey to get to where I am. I have been a sound recordist, an editor, an actor, an operating PD, a production manager and many things in between (including a nanny and barista), which has made me a better director, because I really understand how to best work with my production, crew, cast and post team. All this and I still have many things to learn.

“It is the writer that attracts me to a project, which is why I am excited to be developing relationships with Lou Sanz, Toby Truslove, Jo Kasch, Joel Slack-Smith, David Hannam, Mark O’Toole and the writers I’ve had the pleasure of working with this year.”