Daniel Nettheim: The Thirteenth

June 20, 2022
The Tourist director on the challenges of directing Foxtel’s flagship series, The Twelve.

Australian director Daniel Nettheim is on a major streak in 2022. Having recently come off the HBO Max/BBC/Stan series, The Tourist, starring Jamie Dornan, he returns with the big-budget courtroom series, The Twelve.

Starring Sam Neill, Marta Dusseldorp, Kate Mulvany, Brooke Satchwell and Brendan Cowell, the series looks into the lives of twelve jurors who decide the fate of an accused woman (Mulvany), defended by a shrewd lawyer (Neill).

FilmInk spoke to the director to find out what made him take on the series.

The Twelve is unlike any other series you’ve done. Was that what got you interested?

“That’s definitely one of the reasons, I hadn’t done a courtroom show before. One of the things I realised when I got offered the job, was I don’t really know enough about the way the judicial system works in Australia. And I was keen to find out more, particularly as my dad’s sole career was in the law, and I hadn’t pursued that. So, it was a great learning opportunity. I got to read up a lot about how juries work and how the judicial system works and trials by jury in Australia work. The show is based on a Belgian format. Our judicial system is very different here to their court system. So, obviously our story’s been adapted a lot.”

This is one of the biggest shows Foxtel has done, with one of the largest ensembles in an Australian production. Was it challenging working on a series with so many cast members involved?

“Definitely. It’s big on that scale in terms of amount of cast. Particularly around the amount of significant cast. In terms of big roles, we’ve got the jury, 12 people, we’ve got all of the legal teams, we’ve got big name actors, we’ve got the families of those involved in the legal case. And we’ve got the families and associates of the jury members. There’s a lot going on.

“We built a couple of beautiful sets, like the courtroom. It’s a big set, but we’re in there a lot, so we haven’t had to build a lot of big sets. This show is quite contained in that way, it’s all set in contemporary, urban Sydney. So, we didn’t have to create an artificial world. It’s been set in an existing world, but we do visit a lot of locations.”

Did you enjoy working with Sam Neill again, ten years after you worked on your feature The Hunter?

“It was nice. I feel like we picked up where we left off 10 years ago. It was nice that I already had a shorthand with him, it helped quickly get into a working relationship type groove. I think Sam completely embraced this show and his role and that, as always, was a pleasure to work with.”

How was it working with Marta Dusseldorp and Brendan Cowell?

“Lovely as well. Marta has played a crown prosecutor before [Janet King], so she came armed with a bit of knowledge about how that works, but (her character) is a very different character. I’ve worked with Brendan and a lot of these guys before, it’s a bit like catching up with old friends.”

The series delves into the lives of the jury members who decide the case of the accused. How important are the jury members?

“We’ve got six to eight main stories going on with those characters threaded across 10 episodes. There are definitely some who have bigger back stories than others.”

How difficult was dealing with COVID on a series with so many cast and moving parts?

“COVID was a nonstop challenge throughout the series, which did disrupt the flow and meant that the schedule was constantly changing. As soon as an actor comes down with COVID, for example, then we’d have to look at the next five days and go, ‘Right. What needs to be moved’. So, on some days we had three directors working at once. Some directors shooting stuff that’s been pulled forward, some directors shooting stuff that’s been held back. But I think every production was in the same boat. It’s been a little bit more difficult than normal, but we’re used to bouncing back from adversity.”

The Twelve is in some ways completely different to The Tourist. Have you enjoyed working on shows in such contrasting settings?

“Yeah, there are definitely different challenges on this one to The Tourist. On The Tourist, we were out in remote South Australia for most of the time. This one was all around Sydney, I was able to go home each night, which is always a nice change. Still dealing with COVID challenges on both jobs. But they’re very different shows in style and in their own ways.”

What was the biggest challenge of making The Twelve

“Keeping track of so many characters, which has been a pleasurable challenge. I think it’s come a lot from talking to the cast members. Each one of those is holding onto their own story and I totally trust them on that front. So, it’s having those conversations at the beginning of each new block or episode about what are the peaks and troughs within those character storylines in that episode and making sure that we hit them.”

Has making The Twelve changed your understanding of our legal system?

“I think I was called up for jury duty three times when I was a student and managed to get out of it each time because I thought it would be boring and it would take up too much time. Having been through this process, I’m kind of regretting that I never got to have that experience because I think it’s such an interesting and important part of our social structures. The experience of making it has given me more respect for the role that juries play that, really, I hadn’t considered much before. I definitely have a lot more knowledge about how that process works. It’s given me an insight into a murder trial, even though it’s a fictional one, it’s very well researched, so I think really it’s as close to reality as a good drama can be.”

The Twelve premieres June 21, 2022 on Foxtel

Photos by Brook Rushton/Foxtel

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