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Bay of Fires brings drama to a remote Tasmanian town

Marta Dusseldorp’s experience of moving to Tasmania during the pandemic served as the perfect inspiration for ABC TV’s new dark comedy Bay of Fires.

Jul 18, 2023, updated Jul 20, 2023
Marta Dusseldorp is co-creator, producer and star of 'Bay of Fires'. Photo: ABC TV

Marta Dusseldorp is co-creator, producer and star of 'Bay of Fires'. Photo: ABC TV

The eight-part series tells the story of Anika Van Cleef, a Melbourne-based CEO and mother whose life is turned upside-down when she is whisked away by a mysterious woman and told there’s a hit out on her. Anika is then forced to change her name to Stella Heikkinen and flee with her two children to Mystery Bay, a remote spot on Tasmania’s west coast.

As well as playing Anika/Stella, Dusseldorp also co-created the series alongside Andrew Knight and Max Dann.

The actor and producer says she and Knight came up with the pilot over Zoom during the pandemic, while she watched the world crumble on the news.

“When the pandemic hit, I rang him and I said, ‘I bet you’re sitting locked-up in Melbourne and I’m here in Tassie – do you want to talk about a show, because I’ve been living in the most beautiful place in the world?’,” she says.

Knight and Dusseldorp had worked together in the past and she had always wanted to do a show with him. The same day they pitched the series to the ABC, it was picked up.

With a cast that also includes Yael Stone, Stephen Curry and Rachel House, the gritty dramatic-comedy ­is intended to make you cackle, while drawing you in to the characters of the small Tassie town and the mystery of it all.

It’s clear from the get-go that Stella is a complicated woman. As she tries to balance working full-time with being a mother and shielding her children from the recent events that derailed their lives, the cracks start to show.

“I think Stella’s biggest flaw is that she thinks she knows better,” Dussledorp says. “And because she’s run huge corporations and been very successful, she’s missed the nuances, which is about listening, and about understanding when you’re out of your depth.”

Dusseldorp says Stella is like that possibly because she’s from a big city, and she drew from her own realisations about the cultural differences when moving from the big smoke. Once in Tasmania, Dusseldorp learned she needed to stick to a slower pace and make friends with those around her.

“I had a very sharp learning curve about how to be in a place, to be a part of it, and that’s not about imposing yourself on it,” she says of her move from Sydney.

The character of Stella has inspired a lot of praise, with women telling Dusseldorp that, as mothers, they get it wrong sometimes, so it was good to see that explored on screen.

“She would do anything for her children but she doesn’t know who they are and so she has to learn from them. I really wanted to show that, because I’ve learned so much from my daughters,” she admits.

In saying that, Dusseldorp thinks Bay of Fires is for anyone and everyone. She hopes families can get together and watch it, and that week after week viewers will discuss the latest episode. She also hopes the series will inspire people to visit Tasmania’s west coast.

“It is one of those hidden parts of Tasmania, and possibly the world, where people just don’t go because it’s seemingly too difficult … but the beauty of it is that it’s completely untouched.”

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Having appeared in many Australian productions and having her own  company, Archipelago Productions, Dusseldorp is passionate about Australian film and TV. She says Australian actors and crew members aren’t the type to complain about standing in the rain on set, and she stresses the talents of the Bay of Fires cast and crew, calling them a “beautiful mix of theatre, [and] unknown film people”.

When Bay of Fires wrapped filming in Tasmania, Dusseldorp revealed on her Instagram how the cast and crew went through more than 9000 COVID rapid tests. Filming during a COVID wave, there were also a few setbacks and challenges.

“We just kept shooting as these poor, beautiful people would have to disappear for five days… we would drop food to their doorsteps and, you know, we got through it,” she says.

Due to COVID, Dusseldorp did have to isolate herself a bit during filming. “But if we did do it again, I’d be hoping to be a part of that pool comp that I missed out on,” she laughs.

As for the possibility of doing it again, with a second season, it could happen.

“I think that that’s the privilege of television – you can stay with these people for hours and years and the opportunity of storytellers is so great, but also the satisfaction for the audience is so deep.”

Bay of Fires screens on ABC TV at 8.30pm Sundays, with the first episode available now on ABC iview.

This article was first published on The New Daily.

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