In this age of COVID, shooting a big budget series, convincing A-list stars to lend “a touch of Tinseltown” and then gathering everyone in a quarantined production hub hardly seems possible.
But that is exactly what happened in 2020.
In what was described as a huge financial “coup for NSW”, an eight-part series based on The New York Times bestselling book from Australian author Liane Moriarty and produced by the teams behind Big Little Lies and The Undoing, Nine Perfect Strangers, was filmed entirely on location in the Northern Rivers/Byron Bay region of the state.
It stars Australian actress and producer Nicole Kidman and Hollywood royalty Melissa McCarthy, of Spy and Bridesmaids fame, who collaborated for the first time.
In a recent interview, McCarthy describes Kidman as a “wonderful weirdo” after they worked together on the project last year.
As IF Magazine reported in August last year, filming in NSW was contingent on Border Force Australia granting exemptions from travel restrictions to Kidman’s co-stars, including McCarthy, Welsh actor Luke Evans (Dracula Untold and Fast and Furious 6), Manny Jacinto of The Good Place fame and other key creatives. Samara Weaving, Asher Keddie and Grace Van Patten joined the cast.
Kidman told The Sunday Telegraph: “I am thrilled we are able to make Nine Perfect Strangers in Australia. It is a great opportunity for me to give back to the community that nurtured me through so much of my career.”
The project was allowed to get underway in August last year at an isolated pre-production hub under police-supervised quarantine at her Southern Highlands property, with the federal government, Screen NSW and NSW Health all agreeing to a 14-day quarantine.
So, the drama is set at a boutique health-and-wellness resort, and if you’ve never been to one they cater for primarily middle-aged men and women who are lonely, dealing with weight problems or have personal transformational issues. You can’t drink alcohol, the food is vegetarian and, basically, you sit around and wait for the next yoga class.
However, the nine stressed city dwellers in Moriarty’s fictional world who enter Tranquilim House look like they are in for a wild ride, and it kinda seems a little scary … if the official trailer is anything to go by.
The group of strangers leave behind the struggles of their personal lives, with the expectation of healing, redemption and self-fulfilment at the resort. They’re all smiles when they arrive.
One minute into the tantalising trailer and it’s starting to feel a bit weird, especially when we see them laying in nine perfectly dug open graves. The characters start lashing out at each other, look increasingly apprehensive and cry a lot.
Played by Kidman, the resort’s director Masha – who gives off a very guru vibe – is team leader, and she’s on a mission to reinvigorate their fried brains and weary bodies.
“These nine strangers have no idea what is about to hit them,” reads an Amazon Prime statement.
Meanwhile, back in the land of the living, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said after the $100 production was announced last year: “Australia is in the box-seat to attract productions to our shores and we are proud and privileged that one of the first is Nine Perfect Strangers with our Nicole Kidman.
“Not only is Ms Kidman an acclaimed, Oscar-winning actor and producer but she is an outstanding ambassador for our nation.
“This major international production will support more than 250 full-time and around 1300 casual jobs, many who will be local to the Northern Rivers area.”
At the time, a mask-wearing Kidman took to Instagram ahead of shooting in Byron Bay: “Feeling so honoured to have just participated in a Welcome to Country ceremony for Nine Perfect Strangers.
NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet said: “Our economy could do with a touch of Tinseltown right now and we welcome productions like this one. This will showcase the best of NSW on the global stage.
“It’s showtime for new jobs and new investment in NSW.”
Nine Perfect Strangers will premiere exclusively on Amazon Prime Video on August 20 worldwide, excluding the US and China.