Mr. & Mrs. Murder is not a Comedy. It has comedic elements, I’m assured, but it takes death seriously.
“Shane Bourne explained it to me once,” says Micallef. “He said, “For Comedy you either open a door funny, or you open a funny door.”
“I prefer to open the door funny. But I don’t necessarily think this is a Comedy. There’s humour in it.”
Right, so can we say it’s quirky?
“I always think ‘Quirky’ equals Seachange, or maybe even Offspring,” he suggests.
Offspring certainly is quirky when it detours into its fantasy moments. But there’s none of that in TEN’s new show, either. Categorising Mr. and Mrs. Murder is proving tricky, even if the promos dub it as a Drama.
“We treat death seriously, it doesn’t throw it away or make it unimportant. Hopefully it speaks to the human condition,” he says.
“I think you have to treat things seriously for an hour. You have to invest in the characters and care about the results, so in that regard it’s very different from anything I’ve done because I’m playing a real person not a ‘joke’ person.”
It will be different for the audience too, most of whom know Micallef as presenter of shows such as Talkin’ ‘Bout Your Generation, Newstopia and Mad as Hell. While he has acted before in guest TV roles and on stage the pressure is on, as a series co-lead alongside Kat Stewart.
“It’s unlike anything I’ve ever done before. Usually it’s a small, discreet affair. TBYG we did two shows in one recording for a ten week season, so it would be over in 5 weeks,” he admits.
“But this is a different animal that you can’t tame any other way. It’s the biggest thing I’ve ever worked on. Seachange was big years ago, but I was a guest performer on that so it didn’t seem as large, I suppose.
“For a large part of the Channel TEN audience I’m the guy that used to host TBYG for four years.
“Now they’ll go, ‘Wow he has an older brother who acts! Isn’t that interesting!’”
Micallef plays Charlie, husband of Nicola (Stewart) who operate a crime-scene cleaning business. The premise leads them into scenarios where they spend much of their time solving crimes. Both Micallef and Stewart worked on Newstopia with Producer Jason Stephens, who came up with the idea of the crime cleaners.
“The murder mystery thing was more of an add-on to the trauma cleaning, so they’re two nice ideas that sit beautifully together,” says Micallef. “The sites of where they work bring them to crimes and she’s got a bit of a thing for mysteries, and in that regard it’s a bit like it’s inspiration which was The Thin Man series with Nick & Nora Charles. That’s where the names come from.
“Our characters are Charlie and Nicola, so we sort of borrowed the sounds of those names. It’s a nod to the original source material.”
The episodes are all self-contained in unique settings, and have the advantage of being able to be broadcast in any order.
“We’re in a marina or a horse farm or an art gallery or a fancy restaurant. They’re always worlds that are slightly inaccessible to Charlie and Nicola. There’s no way they’d be invited to a celebrity chef’s restaurant.
“Most murder mysteries in Australia are period pieces such as Dr. Blake or Phrynne Fisher or the Hansom Cab mystery. This is set in the now so it’s quite interesting from that point of view. And tonally it’s quite different. I can’t even think of what it’s like.”
I presume the concept follows a traditional procedural genre, a whodunnit with twists and red herrings?
“You don’t see who did it because that would spoil it,” he jokes.
“It’s either a very interesting discovery of the body or a particularly challenging death. The moment of expiration. And they’re really the only scenes we’re not in. I’ll give you the tip.
“Every block there might be half a day when we’re not on and we go and do costume fittings or sleep.”
Despite supporting roles from Jonny Pasvolsky and Lucy Honigman, Micallef is still coming to terms with the demands of sharing the series lead.
“We realised that the reason most hour-long shows have an ensemble of 5 or 6 people is so you’re not in every single scene of a 21 week shoot,” he says.
“We have support from Johnny and Lucy, but it is essentially Kat and I with a different guest cast.
“I’m not complaining, work’s great.
“Kat’s probably more used to it than me because she’s done series drama before. I’ve never done series drama as the lead, ever. I’ve done guest roles and everything where I’m the main attraction, so-called, but it’s been a presenting role or sketch. So I’ve ticked another box.”
Guest appearances include the likes of Peter Phelps, David Whitely, Vince Colosimo, Diana Glenn, Stephen Curry, Anthony Hayes, Bob Franklin, Ros Hammond and Julia Blake.
But the series will really hang on the chemistry of its two leads. Luckily he and Kat Stewart have a long history of working together.
“From the get-go we’ve had quite a good rapport with each other as performers,” Micallef explains.
“Professionally we have the ability to play well with each other and saw the value in that, the fun in that, and were eager to find a different area to explore that.
“I mean it could have been the easiest thing in the world to ask Kat to be on Mad as Hell, but I wanted a different cast with a slightly different emphasis. But I knew I had this happening and it was as different as you could get from Newstopia. It plays more to her experience as a dramatic actor and there’s a lot of fun in it as well.”
Mr & Mrs Murder premieres 8:30pm Wednesday February 20 on TEN.