OK, imagine this. Your debut novel’s released. It generates enough buzz when it hits the shelves that people are already talking. And talking about big things. Within 24 hours, someone’s asking for the adaptation rights to make a movie. They could have them, except someone else has already snapped them up. Before the book was even available to buy. You’d be forgiven for thinking that was a fairytale, but it’s actually the story of exactly what happened to Jane Harper with The Dry.
The producers in question, Bruna Papandrea and Jodi Matterson have since become business partners, two-thirds of the wildly successful Made Up Stories production company, and their love for Harper's words was part of the catalyst for them deciding to finally work together, alongside Steve Hutensky.
Together, they transformed The Dry, already a successful bestselling book in its own right, into a film that made $3.5 million dollars on its opening weekend. It cemented its status as one of Australia’s highest-grossing films ever, the biggest offering in the country from an independent studio.
Now, they have the sequel under their belt, Force of Nature. It's a cracking tale of missing persons, money woes and shady dealings set against a backdrop of Victoria's mountain gloom, rain and endless run-ins with leeches. But if Matterson and Harper are nervous at all, they're not showing it. Any pressure they might feel to repeat their performance is well-managed and Harper is nothing but bubbling with excitement when I ask how she's feeling.
"I can't wait for people to see it. I think readers are going to embrace it the same way they did The Dry because the team have taken all the same wonderful elements from the first film and made them fresh and exciting with a new case, new setting, new characters."
The constant in this new world of mystery and intrigue with five fierce women at its swirling centre? Eric Bana's return as Detective Aaron Falk. The foolhardy introspective empath who never leaves a stone unturned and this time around, gets to call the shots in a professional setting instead of the emotionally volatile personal tragedy and reckoning that audiences saw in the first film. True to art, both author and producer are quick to label Bana as the 'true leader' of the cast and crew.
"This was a pretty physically challenging shoot in terms of weather, locations, and what we were asking the actors to do. The hours, leeches, god, so many leeches but everyone was game for it. And a lot of that was due to Eric, the way he was on set with everybody. He made it so they would've followed him into battle," laughs Matterson.
And what an army he'd have had behind him. Debora-Lee Furness in her first onscreen role in years. Anna Torv, known for her electric performance in The Newsreader, gives it her everything in the harrowing role of Alice. All five women are incredible actresses in their own right, "making the movie hard to watch at times" for Harper - "especially in their reactions and relationships with each other". But such is the gift of playing deeply complex and often unlikeable characters that have real dramatic meat for actors to sink their teeth into.
Harper describes the women as "the whole catalyst of that story for me. I was inspired by this story I saw of a woman who had committed a crime as a teenager, with a group of girls and was now facing the repercussive dynamics of that as an adult. It got me wondering about the choices we make under pressure, female friendships, what families would've thought."
Another major source of inspiration? Harper's pregnancy and the subsequent birth of her first daughter during the writing process. This dramatically informed the fact that entangled in the mystery of what happened to Alice is a deep thread of the Babushka doll-like trauma shared between mothers and daughters. Both Matterson and Harper agree that it was "a huge touchstone of development for the film and that it shines as one of the most resonant, relatable and powerful parts of what audiences will see on screen."
With all of this in mind and our interview wrapping up, I have to ask: three books, three films? They laugh. "Only if you get all your followers to go and see this one, Hannah. Then we can talk about Number 3", Matterson says with her cheeky grin. Well, in that case, mission accepted.
The Dry 2: Force of Nature releases in Australian cinemas on Thursday, February 8.