The long journey from ‘The Magician’ to ‘Mr Inbetween’

Scott Ryan in ‘Mr Inbetween’. 

After directing, writing and starring as the lead in 2005 feature The Magician, Scott Ryan was still full of ideas about where to take his character, charismatic hitman Ray Shoesmith.

“Because of the low budget nature of the film, 80 per cent of the things I wanted to do I couldn’t do…. I had all these ideas, and I was like, ‘Oh, maybe a TV show’,” he said.

Together with the film’s producer, Blue-Tongue Films’ Nash Edgerton, Ryan worked for years to get a series up that was centred on Shoesmith. They came close several times, only to have it fall down at the last minute.

Ryan eventually gave up on the idea that they were ever going to succeed. However, Edgerton persisted.

“He was the first person to really get The Magician. He gets it, he really gets it, and that’s why he’s pushed it all these years when I gave up,” Ryan said “He loved the scripts; he was like ‘I’ve got to make this’.”’

For Edgerton, the reason for pushing the TV project for so long was simple: he always thought Ryan was a talent, and he loved the character he had created in Shoesmith.

“I felt like what he was writing and what he was trying to make was all coming from a place of authenticity,” Edgerton said.

Around two years ago, Edgerton brought the project to production company Jungle Entertainment, and together, they got it commissioned through FX Australia. Titled Mr Inbetween, it was the first Australian series the now defunct channel had backed. It will now screen on Foxtel’s new Fox Showcase – a rebranded version of showcase – instead.

Ryan wrote each of the 6 x 30 minute episodes, with Edgerton directing. Michele Bennett, who also worked on The Magician, is the series’ producer.

Starring alongside Ryan as Shoesmith are Brooke Satchwell, Damon Herriman, Justin Rosniak, Edmund Lembke-Hogan, Nicholas Cassim, Natalie Tran and Jackson Tozer.

There are also a host of cameos from industry players; Kriv Stenders plays a dodgy accountant and David Michôd is Shoesmith’s anger management counsellor. The series’ EP, Jungle’s Jason Burrows, plays the born-again stitched up husband to Shoesmith’s ex-wife (Tran).

Cameras rolled on the project in August 2017 in and around Sydney’s suburbs. When IF visited the set in Earlwood, the team were shooting a tense scene set in a basement with Rosniak, who plays Shoesmith’s best friend, and Tozer, who stars as Russian gangster Vasilli.

While it’s over 13 years since The Magician, Bennett said that working once again with Ryan and Edgerton, it doesn’t feel like much time has passed.

“It’s fantastic that it’s happening. Scott’s such a talent. He’s so natural and understated as an actor. Very authentic, and that’s the way he writes as well. It seems as though it’s a very familiar world to him.”

Ryan was initially drawn to create the character of Shoesmith after reading biographies of hitmen.

“The thing that struck me about them was that they had wives, they had kids. They were good fathers, they were good husbands, they were very loyal friends, but they killed people,” he said.

The audience is generally very judgemental of people like this. I thought it would be interesting to put people in a position where they’re looking at what this guy does and going ‘Oh this man’s terrible, he’s horrible’, but you end up liking the person, and then that puts you in a moral conundrum.”

The series has given Ryan time to develop the character of Shoesmith further; he argues he knows him better now than he did previously. Whereas in the The Magician you only saw Shoesmith at work, now audiences will learn more about his personal life; there is more “light and shade” in the series. “You’re going to get a more three dimensional picture of who this guy is.”

In particular, he was influenced by Curb Your Enthusiasm in his approach to writing. “This is Curb Your Enthusiasm but if Larry David was a hitman.”

Speaking from set, Ryan said Mr Inbetween was shaping up close to what he had imagined. “It’s a little more cinematic than I figured, but that’s not a bad thing. And it’s still very real, and that was the most important thing to me – that it be real, rather than just look good.”

Bennett said audiences should expect action with Edgerton, who has worked extensively as a stuntman, behind the camera.

“Nash’s background as an editor as well means he comes up with some really clever ways of delivering violence.”

Mr Inbetween was a move into drama for Jungle, which had previously typically worked in comedy. However, Burrows was drawn to Ryan’s unique voice and the script’s dark comedic undertones, which have since come through via “beautifully understated performances”.

“It’s just got this brilliant character at the centre of it. It’s dark and it’s violent, but you’ve got these hilarious scenes that break up the intensity of the thing.”

On Ryan, he adds: “It’s so beautiful when you get the writer being able to play the role of the main character, because he just knows it so well.”

Edgerton came to the Mr Inbetween set straight from shooting feature film Gringo in Mexico and Chicago. According to Burrows, Edgerton’s reputation Stateside was a drawcard for FX in US, which later went on to acquire the series and co-commission development of a second season with Foxtel – FX expects to make a decision on whether to give it the greenlight within weeks. The series also premiered at the Indie Episodic section of the 2018 Sundance Film Festival before screening at the Melbourne International Film Festival.

And while it was his first time directing television, Edgerton said he shot Mr Inbetween like a film – albeit a long one.

“I’m not doing it one episode at a time; I’m doing everything that’s in one location together like you would do in a movie. Because I’m doing every episode it just made sense.

“I guess when I edit it that will be the time I notice the difference, because I’m doing it 24 minute chunks.”

While the series is more expansive in its subject matter, Edgerton said he’s tried to stay true to the elements of the original film that he loved.

The Magician was mockumentary in style, while Mr InBetween is much more of a drama. However, Edgerton has tried to maintain some of that sensibility and much of dialogue is improvised.

“To me the film felt very real, and I wanted to keep that in the performances, and the way it’s shot and lit.”

An original version of this article first appeared in IF Magazine #180. ‘Mr InBetween’ premieres tonight on Fox Showcase  8.30pm.