How Scott Ryan’s hitman became a hit show
When Scott Ryan won a Logie and an AACTA award in 2019 for his comedy-drama Mr Inbetween, it was a vindication and a validation of a very long journey.
He'd already been living with the character of Ray Shoesmith - a suburban dad and hitman - for nearly 20 years, first conceiving, writing, directing and starring in the micro-budget 2005 film The Magician and then for another decade trying to get a TV adaptation made in the face of some fierce resistance.
"One of the reasons we couldn't get the show made for so many years was because nobody wanted me to be in it," he reflects, as he prepares to finally farewell Ray when the third season of Mr Inbetween airs next week. "And now the fact that I am winning awards for doing a thing that people didn't want me to do is kind of hilarious."
And he admits that those unexpected wins - indeed the show's very existence - for someone who only starred in the show because he initially couldn't afford a professional actor, is also a huge middle-finger to all the haters and the nay-sayers who slammed doors shut in his face along the way.
PROVING A POINT
"There is definitely an element of middle finger to that," he says with a chuckle. "I realise that by doing what I am doing I am sticking it up a fair few people and that's part of what drives me is a massive 'f-- you' to a whole bunch of people.
"That's a healthy way of channelling that aggression into something positive rather than just letting it eat you up inside."
Nobody is slamming doors in Ryan's face any more. After being championed by Nash Edgerton, who has directed all three seasons of the show, Mr Inbetween was picked up by US pay TV channel FX exposing Ray's ongoing battle to balance being a good dad and boyfriend with the shady world of Aussie crime to an American audience, drawing rave reviews along the way.
"It's opened doors all over the place and I can't keep track, which is a great thing," says Ryan.
If anything though, Ryan became a victim of his own success. The well-received, six-episode first season was followed by an 11-episode second season, which upped the stakes in every way.
After being well in control of his double identity, cracks started to appear in Ray's armour as a life of violence and deceit took their toll, threatening his relationships with his nearest and dearest, including daughter Brittany (played by Edgerton's daughter Chika), girlfriend Ally and brother Bruce. Darker and deeper, the second season ended with Ray at a crossroads, leaving Ryan and Edgerton wondering how to elevate the series yet again.
"That was the problem," says Ryan. "You say to yourself 'well, I am going to have to step things up - how the hell am I going to do that?' So, that puts a lot of extra pressure on but I said to myself 'it's going to be what it's going to be and if it's as good as Season Two then I will be happy with that'.
"In Season Three, he's starting to fall apart - and out of falling apart comes some kind of change."
The new episodes, which Ryan conveniently wrote during last year's COVID lockdowns and filmed late last year, kick off about 18 months after the fiery finale of the previous season.
It expands Ray's world beyond the Sydney suburbs, with bigger action set pieces, bigger baddies (including a new crime boss played by Jeremy Sims) and bigger issues for Ray's conscience to wrestle with. Ryan says his antihero's day job of meting out beatings, torture and murder take their toll as Ray risks completely losing touch with his humanity. Even acting such unspeakable deeds comes at a cost.
"It's even hard as an actor where you are having to do this stuff," Ryan says. "You're not actually doing it, but it wears on you after a while. And you're thinking 'I'm just pretending to do this stuff and it's wearing on me - he's really doing it, how the hell do you live with that?'. I don't know how you just switch that off, I really don't.
"There was one pretty full on day - like 16 or 17 hours - and I had been running around burying people and all kinds of stuff. And I found that by the end of the day I wasn't a very nice person to be around."
THE REAL DEAL
Thankfully his director and long-time champion Edgerton had his back, having grown to know each other well over the long journey getting Mr Inbetween to the screen.
"One of the reasons Scott is so good in the show is that he plays the scenes like they are real to him when he is doing them and that makes it taxing," Edgerton says.
"The way I handle it is to try to pace it out and keep an eye on where I think he's at and move on to other things if I think we need to. The more you shoot with them the more you get to know how to get the best out of your actors."
Having walked in Ray's shoes for so long, Ryan says it will be relief to be finally finished with the character so he can move on to something completely different. But he's satisfied he got to do justice to the character he fought so hard to establish.
"He deserved that and that's a satisfying thing because I have lived with this character for a lot of years and it's kind of like the character exists and is a real person in a way," Ryan says. "I am glad he's now out there in the world and people get to see and enjoy the show and the character."
Mr Inbetween, Season 3, May 26, 12 noon & 8.30pm, Fox Showcase and On Demand
Originally published as How Scott Ryan's hitman became a hit show