Following on from John “Knocker” Harrison in Water Rats, Peter Mochrie went on to star in Hal McElroy’s next drama series Murder Call, playing Detective Steve Hayden. Peter gave TV Flashback some insight into how it all came together….
1) How did you become involved with Murder Call? Did your previous involvement with Hal McElroy help?
Yes. I’d done an episode of Blue Heelers and then had a modest success as John “Knocker” Harrison on Water Rats, and this led to Hal having faith in me to cast me, and then let me be part of the process of casting Lucy Bell.
2) What attracted you to the role of Steve Hayden?
Steve was a foil for Tessa on Murder Call, and I would have liked to have had more time to flesh him out. The problem we had, with virtually a two hander and very small ensemble, was the sheer number of scenes we had to shoot from dawn til dusk. Lucy and I were in just about every scene, and the large amount of dialogue to learn impaired the ability to do anything more than just mandatory character work. It made for a gruelling schedule every week. To offset that, Hal assembled a great cast and crew, and the support network was phenomenal.
3) This was the third TV detective you’d played in the 90’s – were you starting to feel typecast by the time Murder Call came around?
They say not to come out of the same hole twice. I learnt one is pushing the boundaries of luck to do it three times, but I wouldn’t change it for a second. I am enormously proud of the work we did on those shows and when you place them and Hal’s contribution to Australian Drama, we can hold our heads high. The Australian Drama landscape has changed so dramatically of late I feel most people look back on pre Reality TV times with fondness.
4) You worked closely with Lucy Bell on Murder Call, how did you find that? Did a bond grow over the course of the series?
Lucy Bell is an enormous talent. We put in incredible hours on Murder Call and had a great team around us. We developed a short hand over the many months we worked together and I hope a credible and authentic team dynamic. The ambitious shooting schedule took its toll on everyone.
5) Were the cast of Murder Call as close off-screen as they were on-screen?
The cast were pretty tight on that show, but because it was a relentless schedule we tended not to socialise. We are all still friends but like most things these days, time moves on and one loses track of past associations.
6) Murder Call was a very dark show, did you have any issues with any of that?
Murder Call pushed the boundaries at the time for police drama. We had a most incredible Director of Photography in Mark Wareham to start us off. He used to say ‘Darkness is Our Friend’ and he pushed the envelope of the palette of colours and textures in the look of that show.
Once again Hal was at the forefront of cutting edge TV and was never afraid of trying something new and original. The writers also delivered in a gruelling format of episodic television. It was different and credible, but suffered from time and budget restrictions which is the oldest problem in drama.
7) Were there any lighter times on set?
Due to the nature of the darkness of the show we tried to find a balance with some humour from time to time. The producers were always aware of the need to add some lightness and were always coming up with ways to lighten the load. The guest actors would always say it was so full on that you really had to bring your A game and be ready to shoot at a moments notice.
8) Did you have a favourite episode or storyline?
The movie length episode of Murder Call set in a fairground was my favourite. We had a bit more time as it was longer and the Art Direction and sets were wonderful to work in. Time was always an issue on Murder Call and Lucy and I always had a lot of lines to remember, but it all came together on that episode.
9) What do you think led to the success of the show?
I think the originality of the the story’s themes led to interest from the public. The show had a different look and was cast with great characters played very well by Jennifer Kent, Gary Day, Glenda Linscott, and Geoff Morrell. There hadn’t been a locally produced show of that nature in Australia before.
10) Why do you think the show ended so early?
I feel the show suffered from a repetitive formula, and given more time could have had a lot more to offer. Two seasons is a good effort when you consider the enormous time constraints and huge project it became in terms of shooting in just 4 days. But hey, that’s television drama.
11) What will you treasure most from your time working on Murder Call, from both a professional and personal perspective?
I watched an episode of Murder Call with my son the other day and was pleasantly surprised. It was original, well acted, produced and entertaining, and at the end of the day that is what it is all about. If you can entertain and put a mirror up to society and say ‘This is what we are like’ and they become more aware of life, then I think the job is done.
12) What have you been up to recently?
I was very fortunate to spend 7 years in New Zealand playing CEO Dr Callum McKay on Shortland Street. Since then I have worked on Blue Murder: Killer Cop, Chosen, House of Bond, In Your Dreams, Predicament, Love Has No Language, and Janet King.
Thanks to Peter for another great interview and his generosity. His insight into both Water Rats and Murder call has been fantastic. Don’t forget to check out Peter’s website: https://petermochrie.com.
You can now purchase Murder Call: The Complete Collection on DVD here.
You can see Peter in scenes from Murder call in the clip below: