Sea Patrol: articles


Decked out ... the cast of Sea Patrol, at ease in their navy skins as the show picks up pace in the second series.

All ship shape

Decked out ... the cast of Sea Patrol, at ease in their navy skins as the show picks up pace in the second series.

Whether or not you believe in "method" acting - the process of immersing an actor in a real-life experience to achieve a "theatrically truthful" performance - dressing the cast of Sea Patrol in navy uniforms and Kevlar body armour and sending them out into a heatwave day after day delivered striking results.

Returning to the catamaran that served as the show's floating production office during the eight-week shoot at Queensland's sweltering Mission Beach, they filed in like the walking wounded - sweating, exhausted, dehydrated and clearly in pain. Immersed in the role? Yes. Faking it? Certainly not.

Reflecting on the intensity of the experience, actor Jeremy Lindsay Taylor says the challenge was maintaining focus. "Sea Patrol is incredibly challenging, physically and emotionally, and you're trying to do justice to a lot of things - the script, the characters, your colleagues and the Australian Navy," he says. "Every take, that might be the take they use, so it's got to be your best," he says.

Sea Patrol returns this week for a second series, Sea Patrol II: The Coup. The Fremantle class HMAS Hammersley, retired in the final episode of series one, has been replaced by the sleeker, faster (and sexier) Armidale class namesake - a 56-metre, 270-tonne Freudian toy with a Rafael Typhoon 25-millimetre stabilised deck gun, two 12.7-millimetre machine guns and a $28 million price tag.

As in the first series, the 13 one-hour episodes of series two are linked by a story thread, a dramatic concession to the Film Finance Corporation backing it as a miniseries. In the first episode, the Hammersley is sent to rescue civilians during a coup in the fictional (but Solomon Islands-esque) Pacific nation of Samaru, the first of several return visits.

Understanding the strengths of the second series of Sea Patrol involves, to some extent, understanding the weaknesses of the first, which was criticised for its simplicity and stiffness. In its defence, it was written for a 7.30pm timeslot but aired at 8.30pm where the audience's expectation (and attention) is greater and was written entirely - 13 scripts in little more than six weeks - before a single frame was filmed.

The most striking aspect of the second series is its naturalness - in stark contrast with the first. Taylor believes the biggest challenge with the first series was the fact that nothing on such a scale had been undertaken before. Also, because the navy world was new to the writers and actors, Taylor felt there was an unwillingness to rock the boat. "We didn't want to stray too far from navy protocol and we didn't feel we had that right," he says. "With the second series, I think we've earned that right to make it more ours."

The cast certainly seem more at ease in their navy skin. "We know more about it, the writers know more about it," Taylor says. "It was a matter of knowledge and taking that first step up to a new level. This is a lot less formal, a lot less regimented and more how it actually is on a patrol boat."

Before filming the first series in late 2006, producers Hal and Di McElroy (Blue Heelers, Water Rats) sent the cast, including Taylor (Pete "Buffer" Tomaszewski), Ian Stenlake (the captain, Mike Flynn), Lisa McCune (executive officer Kate McGregor), Matthew Holmes (Chris "Swain" Blake), Kristian Schmid (radio operator Robert Dixon) and Jay Ryan (Billy "Spider" Webb), to naval "boot camp".

It was, Taylor concedes, a "method"-style experience by any other name. "It's an individual thing," he says, "but in terms of character, you have to embrace the method in some regard."

The challenge for the cast was accepting that, despite the uniforms, big navy boats and military props, they were just a bunch of actors. "We had no idea what it was like to be navy personnel," Taylor says. "We were going in completely blind. It was some physical training, marching, learning how to salute and weapons training. It was funny but we all took it very seriously."

Once on board the navy ship used during production, after a few days of awkwardness they were embraced by the real crew. "We had proven ourselves, that we were trying to do the best we could do and that we were busting our gut," Taylor says. "There were times we were shattered, because we were striving to do the best job we could for them. In the end, they enjoyed getting involved and being a part of it."

The second series involved 86 days of filming, 42 of them at Mission Beach on board the HMAS Broome (hull number ACPB 90), which was standing in for the fictional Hammersley (ACPB 82). The remainder was studio and location filming at the Gold Coast, and a brief turn on the HMAS Launceston (ACPB 94).

The press material promises more action (and if the first episode is any indicator, delivers on its promise) and more romance, notably the emerging relationship between navigator Nikki Caetano (Saskia Burmeister) and seaman Josh "ET" Holiday (David Lyons). Taylor says the opportunity to get to know the characters beyond the superficiality of their uniforms was a welcome one. "In the first series, I don't think we got to know much of what was going on inside. In this series, there is plenty," he says.

The show, produced on the same budget and to the same schedule as the first season, is "at least 50 per cent bigger" in scope, he says. "When I first read [the scripts] I went, wow - it was like 13 mini-Die Hard films. Then I went, 'Hang on, how are we going to do this?' It's impossible on the same schedule and yet we did. There was talk of trying to scale it back but then we got out there and just went, 'Let's go for it.' As a crew and cast, in my opinion, we achieved the unachievable."

They also forged a bond that seems stronger than that between a typical television show cast. And that is where the line between character and actor begins to blur again. Taylor says the greatest compliment paid to them was to be told by the navy they were authentic. "I'm very chuffed about that," he says. "I've met about six or eight Buffers and taken little bits from all of them, to make my own Buffer, whom I love playing."

That might explain the old-school tattoo of a sailor's pin-up girl that Taylor had applied to his calf during a visit to the iconic Singapore tattoo studio Johnny Two Thumbs, during a holiday just before filming on the second series. (The studio, which opened in 1942, is a popular destination for Australian and US sailors.)

"I went to have a look," he says but walked out with a permanent link to his fictional alter ego. "It will always remind me of my time playing Buffer, which I am immensely proud of."

Sea Patrol II: The Coup begins on Nine on Monday at 8.30pm.

By Michael Idato
March 31, 2008
Sydney Morning Herald