Sigrid Thornton returns as Laura Gibson in the new series of SeaChange.
Sigrid Thornton returns as Laura Gibson in the new series of SeaChange. Channel 9

On the set of SeaChange: Back to Pearl Bay after two decades

IT MAY have only aired for three seasons, but SeaChange left its mark on Australian viewers.

The beloved comedy drama and its colourful cast of characters became a fixture in family lounge rooms and a topic of conversation around the water cooler.

An unprecedented ratings success for the ABC, SeaChange won a swag of awards, cemented Sigrid Thornton's status as one of TV's leading ladies and launched the career of David Wenham as quirky Diver Dan.

Even if you didn't grow up watching the show, its title has become part of the cultural vernacular.

Sigrid Thornton with David Wenham in a scene from SeaChange.
Sigrid Thornton with David Wenham in a scene from SeaChange.

Lawyer Laura Gordon's hasty move to Pearl Bay inspired a generation to consider leaving the fast pace of the city behind for a more relaxed lifestyle in one of regional Australia's many coastal havens.

Now, 20 years later, it's the show itself that is enjoying a comeback and its own sea change.

Originally filmed in Melbourne and Geelong's Barwon Heads, Channel 9's reboot - with creator Deborah Cox back at the helm - has moved north to Brunswick Heads, Byron Bay's quaint neighbour in the Northern Rivers.

 

Filming on the Northern Rivers.
SeaChange filming at the Billinudgel pub. Vince Valitutti

"The original intent was to film up here but 20 years ago there wasn't quite the infrastructure and support base there is now. But now, 20 years on, here we are," producer Fiona Eagger says during a visit to the set, which on this particular day includes Brunswick's Tokarina Beach and a high-set house on Park St.

"It's fabulous. You don't have to cheat and pretend you're by the sea when you're not.

"The original SeaChange was filmed out of Melbourne. Part of it was in Barwon Heads, part of it was in Gordon Street Studios and there was a mishmash of Williamstown and St Leonards. It was a patchwork to create Pearl Bay.

 

Wayne Blair stars as Riley Bolt in the new season of SeaChange.
Wayne Blair stars as Riley Bolt in the new season of SeaChange. Supplied by Channel 9 Jon Love

"The original was very well filmed and it was clever the way they filmed, but now we're in the Northern Rivers we don't have to pretend."

Sigrid Thornton is certainly smiling as she soaks up the winter sun. She's days away from wrapping the 12-week shoot, and just in time too, with Splendour in the Grass revellers pouring into town.

"A lot of the cast and crew are locals, but there's a number of us who are Melbournites too and we are particularly happy," she says. "It's a wonderful way to spend the winter."

Thornton's return in this modern revival was crucial. She's back as Laura Gordon, but this time she's also an executive producer.

Sigrid Thornton returns as Laura Gibson in the new series of SeaChange.
Sigrid Thornton returns as both star and a producer of the new SeaChange. Channel 9

"I didn't think about it for that long. I'm an instinctive person and my instincts told me it was a good idea," she says.

"I thought from the start there was a lot we could do with a new series. Also, I wanted to have a seat at the table. That's been a really interesting learning curve and really rewarding.

"This is a show that is timely and pertinent and still in the business of discussing sociological phenomena but also with really deeply personal stories. I thought there was a lot of scope in the proposition and my main focus has been to find the heart of the original series and to populate the town of Pearl Bay with an exciting, alchemic, diverse cast of characters."

 

Kate Lister and Alex Tarrant are two of the fresh faces joining the cast of SeaChange.
Kate Lister and Alex Tarrant are two of the fresh faces joining the cast in the new season of SeaChange. Supplied by Channel 9 Jon Love

So where do we find Pearl Bay and its inhabitants two decades on?

Well, the bridge into town is still a sticking point. But now it's local radio host Riley Bolt (Wayne Blair) monitoring who comes in and out of town.

Laura's fiercely independent daughter Miranda (Brooke Satchwell) is all grown up and fighting to preserve this little slice of paradise as a park ranger. But she has a big secret - a child on the way that Laura knows nothing about.

Kevin is still in charge of the caravan park, which has had a much-needed update, and dodgy real estate agent Bob Jelly is back to his scheming ways despite just getting out of prison.

Kerry Armstrong and John Howard return as Heather and Bob Jelly in the new season of Seachange.
Kerry Armstrong and John Howard return as Heather and Bob Jelly in the new season of Seachange. Channel 9

Ben (Dan Wylie) is the owner of the local pub and Anna (Katrina Milosevic) is doing her best to show overzealous young cop Lillian (Kate Lister) that policing a small town requires a soft touch.

"You have to think carefully of why you would go back. Why would you touch it?" Fiona says. "There was enough from our point of view about community, diversity and acceptance that it felt like a good time to bring back something that celebrates people and how you can be very different people in the community but you can learn to get on."

Brooke Satchwell on the set of SeaChange in Brunswick Heads.
Brooke Satchwell on the set of SeaChange in Brunswick Heads. Vince Valitutti

For Brooke, it felt like the powers to be steered her towards the project.

"When the audition came up I was actually in the middle of moving house - it had been this epic move as I was working at the same time - and the prospect of preparing for an audition was a little beyond me at that point," she says.

"It was the day the moving truck was coming and I was sitting around all these boxes and I'm meant to be at this audition and I was thinking 'Oh God, Oh God' and something in my gut said you just have to get there, and I'm so glad I did.

"There have been so many coincidental and serendipitous things happening that made it really feel like we were supported in doing this."

She and Sigrid have formed a close friendship while playing mother and daughter on screen.

Their reunion, after a lengthy estrangement, is at the heart of this new series.

"Laura's been in Africa doing aid work and prior to that she was in London, so there is an estrangement of sorts," Brooke says.

Brooke Satchwell and Sigrid Thornton in a scene from SeaChange.
Brooke Satchwell and Sigrid Thornton in a scene from SeaChange. Jon Love

 

"Laura thought she was respecting Miranda's wishes to stay with her father in Pearl Bay, and Miranda thought her mother was dumping her - that old chestnut - and those patterns have perpetuated and expanded as these two women have moved through life.

"The conception of the child is an issue itself storyline wise. Miranda has a lot of shame and guilt around that, and it was easier in the initial stages to not bring in other opinions. She's very compartmentalised and very good at denial for such an open-hearted, save-the-world type of person."

Miranda finds another nature lover in marine biologist Findlay Knox (Darren McMullen), who is employed as an environmental consultant by a sand mining company.

He swims into town to address community concerns.

"I didn't really understand how big a deal it was until after I got the role, and luckily enough because that pressure wasn't on initially," Darren says.

 

Brooke Satchwell and Darren McMullen in a scene from SeaChange.
Brooke Satchwell and Darren McMullen in a scene from the new season of SeaChange. Supplied by Channel 9 Jon Love

"It was only when I got the role and I was telling people what I was doing people said they'd say 'Oh my God, I love that show so much. I'm so glad it's coming back'.

"It's one of the best roles I've ever done in my life."

There will be the inevitable comparisons between Findlay and Wenham's Diver Dan.

"He's a marine scientist and biologist, so he's quite intelligent but emotionally stupid - especially when dealing with humans in a romantic sense," he says. "He's more comfortable with animals and nature than he is with human beings. He's a salt of the earth kind of guy who's happiest in his scuba suit diving under the water."

She may be leading the cast of fresh faces, but Brooke assures returning fans that there's enough of the original DNA of SeaChange to make them feel at home.

"What's been really beneficial is having so many original cast members returning for the re-imagining; that provides a touchstone for us," she says.

"It's still very much in the territory of magical realism. It has that whimsy and that heart. Yes, we've travelled 20 years further in time, but like all things in life some things have progressed and some things have regressed.

"You'll recognise it immediately; it's family, it's community, it's belonging."

SeaChange premieres on Tuesday at 8.40pm on Nine.