By Andrew Humphries
Growing up as a “preacher’s kid” within the Uniting Church, Paddy Macrae remembers a childhood of fun and adventure with his siblings and friends and a long line of quirky characters who used to drop into the various churches where dad Alistair was the Minister.
Fast forward to 2023 and Paddy is kicking serious goals as a screenwriter and executive producer, with latest offering Irreverent, screening on Netflix, gaining plenty of plaudits.
When Paddy took time out recently for a chat with Crosslight, he was quick to recall how some of those characters from his childhood have informed his writing on Irreverent.
The Netflix series tells the story of former Chicago criminal mediator Mack, who is forced to flee the US after he accidentally kills the heir to the criminal underworld.
Mack heads to Clump, a remote beachside town in Australia where he takes on the position of its new Reverend in a bid to stay hidden from those who would like to see him dead.
In the process, he meets and connects with some of the town’s weird and wonderful residents, and discovers a lot about himself along the way.
“Oh, my childhood has informed that work in a big way,” Paddy says when asked about the inspiration behind Irreverent.
“I mean, certainly the childhood parallels with Irreverent are fairly obvious, as it’s set around a rural church.
“But my childhood was sort of chaotic in the best possible way.
“Ours was a very loving household, and a very secure household, but it was sort of a rotating door of people and everyone from the town knew mum and dad in some way, so ours was a very open house.
“I always thought I would like to make a series about that later in life, because I think it informed me massively that I grew up with a huge sense of community, and church as community, and the love of God being, you know, the love of people.
“When I went to film school and became a writer and went into film and television, I really wanted to write something around community and championing the love that we all get when we connect with each other.
“You know, that connection can be messy and difficult, but it’s also what makes us human.”
Those early years also left a lasting impact on Paddy in many other ways, thanks to parents in Alistair and Clare who lived out the very best of the Uniting Church ethos.
With four children of their own, Alistair and Clare also opened their home, and hearts, to a number of foster children over the years, something that still resonates with Paddy.
“Mum and dad had four young kids but also took in foster kids,” he recalls.
“It’s almost crazy when you think about it, so we had this rotating roster of kids with some pretty difficult challenges staying with us, and other people would come to the door for vouchers so they could get food.
“It certainly gave me a lot of material when I was writing Irreverent, but I think it also gave me and my siblings a good understanding of a cross-section of life in a small country town in Australia.
“I think it was important that we were always raised to understand that not everyone had as much as we did.”
In Alistair and Clare, Paddy was blessed with parents who were never afraid to stand up and tackle any form of injustice.
In Alistair’s case, it came at a great personal cost.
“Mum and dad were very progressive people within the church and that had a huge impact on me in the most positive of ways,” Paddy says.
“I’m a big fan of their kind of social progressiveness and how we should treat people and how we should think about other people, including those less fortunate than ourselves in lots of different ways.
“Our family was always engaged with the community in so many ways, certainly through the church but also in lots of other ways, through sport and community organisations and protests, and all those kinds of things.
“You know, dad’s a doer and mum’s a bit more contemplative, and I think we had both sides of those things to draw on.
“Mum and dad’s courage and integrity to me, as their child, has never wavered.
“I’ve seen my father get arrested and he went to prison before I was born after protesting about the proposal to dam the Franklin River in Tasmania.
“So yeah, certainly the actions and beliefs of my parents have been massively influential on me.”
For someone now so immersed in the world of film and television, Paddy laughs when he consider a childhood spent without a TV.
“We didn’t have a TV when I was growing up and I don’t remember ever going to the movies, so I think the first film I ever saw at the cinema was Titanic, in 1997,” Paddy recalls.
“But kids at school were watching Star Wars and Round the Twist and these other great shows, but we had no TV so we just played outside.
“So when I went to the cinema and saw Titanic it just blew my mind.
“I can remember walking out of the cinema absolutely changed by the sound and the scale and beauty of the story.
“After that I was so involved in the magical world of diving into the big screen, and still to this day if there’s a TV on somewhere I have to go and watch it, it’s like magic to me.
“I remember being part of a ballet concert when I was four or five years old in Portland and I missed my stage call because there was a TV in the green room showing Bugs Bunny and I just didn’t go out on stage because I was so busy watching it.”
As a teenager Paddy was bitten by the acting bug and thought that might be a potential career, before fate, and recognition for a project involving the other side of the camera, intervened.
“I actually wanted to be an actor and I did some acting as a teenager, but at the age of 19 I won a statewide competition to direct a short film on road safety, and so I changed my university course from drama to film and television because I wanted to write and direct and from there it just grew and grew,” Paddy says.
“I went and completed a Masters degree and started working in advertising, before working for a production company as an assistant to an executive producer.”
At the heart of what he loved, though, was storytelling.
“I have always told stories, mainly because of camping trips involving stories by dad around the campfire and mum also writing stories, so that’s been a huge part of my life,” Paddy says.
“Part of that is the ability to lose yourself in different worlds but also that connection between yourself and parts of the world you weren’t necessarily connected with before.”
While Paddy can bask in the knowledge that Irreverent is now available to watch via a major streaming network, he admits it was quite a journey to get it to the screen.
“I started writing it in 2009 and, in 2010, I filmed it with my university film school peers as a 30-minute pilot episode and it was absolutely terrible,” he says with a laugh.
“But a company in Melbourne that had made a few comedy shows picked it up to develop, but just couldn’t sell any interest in it, so it sat on the shelf for a long time before I pitched it to Channel Nine in 2017.
“I developed it with Channel Nine for a couple of years and it then went on a very complicated and difficult journey before I pitched it to a Los Angeles-based executive who bought it and then Netflix came on board as an Australian partner.
“It was an incredibly long and arduous journey and, yes, there were fears that it might never see the light of day.
“I can remember a particular occasion a few years ago when we had reached the day that it was about to be commissioned, but on that day it fell over,” he recalls.
“I had never had a panic attack before that but that day I had one and collapsed in a restaurant and ended up in emergency in hospital.
“It’s hard to describe the impact of the project falling over when you have worked seven days a week around the clock for months on end.”
That level of commitment continued during the shooting of Irreverent, with long days and little sleep part and parcel of getting a major production on to our screens.
“It’s a very stressful job, you know it’s 18 hours a day, you’re on set for 12 hours and then go home and continue working on it, so you’re only sleeping three or four hours a night and that’s seven days a week for seven or eight months,” Paddy says.
“I had never been through anything like that’s before and it took a huge toll on my body and my health.”
So how does Paddy feel now, as family, friends and the rest of Australia can see the finished product on their screens at home?
“I do feel incredibly grateful, mainly because of the incredible amount of talent we had involved with the project,” he says.
“I write scripts with a talented bunch of writers and it’s a real team effort.
“We had the most extraordinary cast, fantastic department heads and great practitioners all the way through, and I got to put my story out there for everyone to work on.
“Yes, I feel chuffed, but also incredibly grateful for the chance to work with the amazing professionals involved and I feel deep gratitude for the opportunity I had.
“You’re only as good as your last piece of work, though, so you have to make sure the ideas keep flowing.”
As a congregation member at Wesley Church in Melbourne’s CBD, Paddy says his faith continues to have a major impact on how he lives his life.
“I hope my faith informs the way that I live and I hope that love is the guiding principle of my life,” he says.
“I have lost my WWJD wristband from youth club so I have to keep that sort of stuff in my head now, but I hope it informs the way that I do things.
“I hope my faith reflects the way that I was raised, the way that I believe things work, the way that I live and the choices I make about the kind of work I put out into the world.”
So what does Paddy hope viewers will glean from watching Irreverent?
“I hope what people take away from the show, which I kind of distilled down when I was pitching it, is that happiness doesn’t come from taking or receiving, it comes from giving,” he says.
“You know, I think that was probably one of the central pillars of the love of Jesus, that the connection, beauty and meaning come from giving to other people, and I hope that people who come across the show discover a central character in Mack who is ultimately self-motivated, and who is forced to connect by virtue of his situation, and is forced to try and help people in order to serve himself.
“In doing so, he discovers that he actually finds meaning in it and discovers a fair bit about himself.”
And as for mum and dad, Paddy says they seem pretty impressed with what he has achieved.
“Mum and Dad are absolutely thrilled, or that’s what they tell me anyway,” he jokes.
“I think they’re just proud that Irreverent got made because they saw over a decade of struggle on it, and they’re really happy to see it on screen because they know what I went through to get it out there.”
Lights, camera, action
Irreverent is a dramatic caper with heart and comedy. It’s a morality play with a hard edge, a juicy premise and a fresh spin on the witness protection sub-genre.
The threats on our guy Mack are real, and the relationships he cultivates become authentic, even if they don’t start out that way.
There’s a sense of fun in the stories and the lengths to which our hero must go to stay hidden, and the characters that go with him are people who will experience victory and loss. Irreverent doesn’t shy away from the messy beauty of contemporary Australian life.
The story will come from both weekly problems Mack must deal with, and his series-long goal of getting enough money together to buy a new identity with which he can get his life back on track.
It will make liberal use of action, suspense, and episodic cliff-hangers as Mack desperately tries to maintain his holy façade. Each week will explore a new problem, but also progress the growing list of problems that Mack has in the town.
In order to stay away from the crooks that are hunting him, Mack must stay hidden. But to do that, this urban criminal is going to have to convince an entire town that he’s a devoted man of God.
The stakes couldn’t get any higher; one slip up and he’s dead. But as time goes on and as Mack is forced to help people in order to maintain his cover, he discovers that maybe, just a tiny bit, he likes it.
Irreverent is a story about a crook coming to terms with the transformative power of doing good. It’s a story about family, identity, and community.
Ultimately though, Irreverent is a redemption tale that shows that happiness comes not from taking, but from giving.
Production notes courtesy of Asha Holmes Publicity
Irreverent is produced by Matchbox Pictures, part of NBCUniversal International Studios, a division of the Universal Studio Group
It is currently screening on Netflix
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