Returning to Australia for the first time in nearly Two-and-a-half years to make the final season of Jack Irish was both a joy and a sorrow for Guy Pearce.
The Geelong-raised actor had last been on these shores in mid-2018 for a whirlwind trip to promote and perform songs from his second album, The Nomad. But a combination of family life in Holland with Game Of Thrones star partner Carice Van Houten and their four-and-a-half-year-old son Monte, a busy work schedule that included recent TV hit Mare Of Easttown and film roles in Hollywood blockbusters Bloodshot and Without Remorse, and the Covid-19 pandemic travel restrictions had all conspired to keep him away from his beloved homeland until late last year.
“That’s too long for me,” he says over the phone from Bulgaria, where he has been filming the action-thriller Memory with Liam Neeson. “I start to lose the connection and that’s not great.”
Pearce says of course he misses his family, friends and beloved Geelong Cats when he’s out of Australia, but beyond that there’s the space, the air and the common references and language he has with his compatriots.
“Everyone keeps saying to me ‘how’s your Dutch?’,” he adds with a laugh. “I am not even trying to learn Dutch, it’s taking all my effort to even be on the other side of the world and I am trying to learn scripts and read scripts and I just don’t have it in me to learn another language. The ease with which we communicate and understand each other in Australia is something you really take for granted and you really notice it once you are somewhere else.”
But as delighted as he was to be back in Melbourne filming the final four-episode season of Jack Irish with old friends and colleagues, it came with the bittersweet knowledge that this was the last time he was going to play the rumpled, doggedly determined lawyer-turned-private investigator/debt-collector, who has been part of his life for a decade.
“I was quite emotional about it,” he says. “There was a point suddenly when I was filming where I went ‘hang on, this feels sad’ and I think I had not even considered that because I was so excited about coming back to Australia. But when I was doing scenes with Shane Jacobsen or Aaron (Pedersen) or Marta (Dusseldorp) – the team – I was going ‘aw, this is the last one’. We have done three films and three series now so it’s time. But still, it’s a hard one to let go of.”
Dusseldorp, who has played Irish’s confidante, partner-in-crime and sometime lover, journalist Linda Hillier, since the beginning was grateful to be working in such a disrupted year of Australian television and credits the production team with handling the multiple postponements to be able to shoot safely from November to January. But even having experienced farewelling a long-running series when A Place To Call Home wrapped up in 2018 after six seasons, she too felt the pang of saying goodbye.
“It was very meaningful for everyone,” she says. “It was really beautiful. I have knocked a couple of long-running shows off in my time so you learn that you have to deal with it like a grown-up. So, I tried to stay calm and dignified with lots of thankyous and elbow bumps … and a little bit of Covid-safe hugging.”
After the second Jack Irish series aired in 2018, there was a feeling among the creative team of Andrew Knight, Matt Cameron and Andrew Anastasios, that they had probably gotten all the wanted from the books of Peter Temple, who had died in March of that year. Pearce, too, was wary of outstaying his welcome as the title character.
But after some time away, all parties agreed that they could give the show and the character the farewell he deserved with a final season that would circle back to the events that shaped the first movie, namely the murder of Jack’s wife. Writers Cameron and Knight were able to retrofit elements of the existing early episodes to fit in with the new season’s plot, as Jack untangles wider and more sinister circumstances surrounding her demise.
“These guys have managed to go back and go ‘well what if this and this happened around that time?’,” says Pearce. “Of course, Jack and none of the other characters knew about it at the time but it’s now just coming to the surface. So, it really makes it a wonderful story of discovery for Jack about what really went on around the death of this wife. It’s really great.”
Setting the story years after the previous season also allowed new elements of the character to be explored, most significantly that Jack is now a father and somewhat baffled and befuddled by the responsibilities that come with it. As a late-in-life parent himself, the 53-year-old Pearce can relate.
“It was great for me to play that stuff because I have my own child,” he says. “I think for a lot of dads, we’re ten steps behind because we haven’t carried a baby around in utero for nine months and we don’t generally have that maternal drive the way a mother does.
“The intellectual thing of going ‘what, I’m really a father?’, that takes us a bit of time to catch up with because our bodies were there nine months before when we had the shag – and that was great fun – but then two years later you are like ‘oh, right, OK’.
“As they grow up and they look at you dead in the eye with a vulnerability and go ‘you need to give me the answer to life right now papa’. And you go ‘OK, I better do that I suppose’. It’s amazing.”
Jack Irish, Sunday, 8.30pm, ABC and ABC iview
Originally published as Guy Pearce’s bittersweet homecoming