After writing, directing and starring in the cult Australian film The Magician in 2005, Scott Ryan was so frustrated by failing to get any traction for his career that he quit the entertainment business and started driving a taxi.
“I’d completely given up on everything,” he said. “No more film, no more TV, no more writing.”
But that changed when Ryan took a call two years ago from Nash Edgerton, the stuntman-director whose rising American career includes the coming dark comedy Gringo, starring David Oyelowo,???Charlize Theron, Amanda Seyfried and his brother Joel Edgerton.
After years of false starts, they finally had funding from the cable channel FX Australia to turn The Magician, a clever low-budget mockumentary about a philosophical Melbourne hitman, into a six-part series.
So Ryan quit cab-driving and is now writer, star and executive producer of Mr Inbetween, with Edgerton directing his first television project.
While not widely seen, The Magician was acclaimed by reviewers as “a neat, surprising and tight little movie that is both emotional and true” and “a delicious low-budget gem”, with Ryan heralded as “a major new filmmaking talent”.
After shooting a scene in a cramped flat in the eastern suburb of Hillsdale this week – with the deadpan hitman menacing a small-time Russian crim – Ryan said a series of bad experiences made him walk away from the industry.
One was being cast as the lead in an American film that fell over just days before shooting was due to start.
“I found it a lot more difficult than I thought it was going to be,” he said. “I was surprised that I didn’t get a bit more backing.
“But hopefully after this, people will look at it and take me seriously.”
Ryan said the sticking point during past attempts to make the series was usually whether he would star in it.
“A lot of people didn’t want me to act in it,” he said. “They wanted a ‘name’ or someone better-looking.”
The series shifts the story to Sydney and goes deeper into the hitman’s colourful life, blending black comedy with violence.
“The film didn’t do him justice,” Ryan said. “The great thing about this is you’re going to see the other part of his life – his daughter, his girlfriend, his wife – so you get a better picture of who he is.”
He drew on biographies of hitmen to create the character.
“I read all the Chopper books and I’d read biographies from the States, guys like The Iceman, Richard Kuklinski. So it was an amalgamation of all those people plus a bit of imagination and a bit of me.”
Edgerton, who is part of the Blue-Tongue Films directors collective that has also made The Square, Animal Kingdom, Wish You Were Here, The Rover, Felony and the American film The Gift, was impressed when he first saw a rough early version of The Magician.
“There was something likable and charming and scary about what he was doing,” he said. “It just felt very real and authentic.”
He teamed up with Ryan to re-edit the film and shoot extra scenes before it screened at festivals then had a cinema release.
Edgerton said he always believed Ryan had to star in the TV series.
“He created it,” Edgerton said. “For me, he is that character.
“Doing it with someone else wasn’t going to be very creatively satisfying for me. I liked what he brought to it and I liked the idea of someone starring in the show that isn’t already established as a TV star or a leading man.”
Becoming FX Australia’s first local commission encouraged Edgerton to step away from his blossoming American career.
“I’ve never really been interested in making TV but something about this I liked,” he said. “It felt different and fresh and I knew, with Scott’s portrayal, it wouldn’t feel like a typical TV show.”
With a cast that includes Brooke Satchwell, Damon Herriman, Justin Rosniak and YouTube star Natalie Tran, Mr Inbetween will screen on FX Australia early next year.