Cate Blanchett co-creates and stars in detention centre drama ‘Stateless’

15 May, 2019 by Don Groves

Yvonne Strahovski, Cate Blanchett and Jai Courtney.

Cate Blanchett co-created, co-produces and will play a key supporting role in Stateless, a six-part drama about four strangers in an immigration detention centre in the Australian desert commissioned by the ABC.


Yvonne Strahovski, Jai Courtney, Fayssal Bazzi and Asher Keddie will play the leads in the series scripted by showrunner Elise McCredie and Belinda Chayko, to be directed by Emma Freeman and Jocelyn Moorhouse.

Strahovski is cast as an airline hostess who is escaping a cult-like self-improvement group, with Bazzi as an Afghan refugee fleeing persecution. Courtney is a young Australian father escaping a dead-end job and Keddie is a bureaucrat who is caught up in a national scandal.

When their lives intersect they are pushed to the brink of sanity, yet unlikely and profound emotional connections are made within the group.

In her first Australian TV role since Rake in 2014, Cate will play one of the leaders of the self-improvement group along with her husband (Dominic West).

Co-created by Blanchett, Tony Ayres and Elise McCredie and inspired by real events, the series intertwines personal stories within a system struggling with the contradictions of border protection.

Shooting is due to begin at the Adelaide Studios and on locations in South Australia in June, produced by Sheila Jayadev and Paul Ranford for Matchbox Pictures. Dirty Films’ Blanchett and Andrew Upton will be executive producers together with Ayres, McCredie and Liz Watts.

The supporting cast includes Kate Box as the sister of Courtney’s character, Rachel House, Rose Riley and Clarence Ryan as guards and Claude Jabbour and Helana Sawires as detainees.

Stateless received major production funding from Screen Australia and the ABC with support from the South Australian Film Corporation. Matchbox SA’s Kirsty Stark is a co-producer. Bonnie Elliott is the DOP, Melinda Doring is the production designer and Allison Meadows is the casting director. NBCUniversal will distribute worldwide.

When the project received development funding from Screen Australia in 2015, Blanchett was attached as the director. As the production developed in scale and ambition she and the producers agreed it made sense to hire experienced directors.

It will be Moorhouse’s third TV gig following Wanted and Les Norton. Freeman and Ayres collaborated on Glitch and she was the lead director on Matchbox’s Secret City.

The concept is based on an original idea by Blanchett. She discussed it with McCredie who suggested they involve Ayres, who had directed the 2009 SBS telemovie Saved, which starred Claudia Karvan as the advocate for a young Iranian refugee (Osamah Sami) held in detention. Chayko scripted that film in which McCredie played a supporting role.

Ayres tells IF: “We wanted to tell the story of onshore detention from different perspectives, not just the detainees but a whole range of people including a policy maker who works in Canberra. Onshore detention is a part of our history which is rapidly being forgotten.”

He and Blanchett pitched the show to the ABC several years ago and it took a while to figure out how to tell the story, develop the scripts and assemble the cast.

“Cate has been instrumental in driving this show; she has been incredibly persistent and driven,” he says. He’s confident it will resonate with audiences internationally, not just due to the high profile cast but because border protection is a divisive issue in many countries.

“We have assembled the most extraordinary array of Australian talent to make this show, both in front of and behind the camera,” he says. “In each case, people were drawn to Stateless because it asks one of the most vexing questions of our times – how do we as a nation maintain control of our sovereign borders whilst retaining our humanity?”

Blanchett said: “While this story centres on Australia, the dilemmas that it explores through four absorbing characters will resonate globally: the desire for personal freedom, the need for social stability, an escalating lack of faith in the political process and the deeply unsettling impact this has on individual lives.”

ABC head of scripted production Sally Riley said: “The ABC is proud to be collaborating with such high calibre home-grown talent to create this thought-provoking, ambitious and gripping series that is sure to connect with Australians and audiences around the world.”

Matchbox Pictures MD Alastair McKinnon added: “Stateless is at once both intimate and epic in its scope and ambition and this stellar cast is testament to the power of this story.”