Cold Feet creator Mike Bullen brings his backstory to North Shore

By John Mangan

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Mike Bullen, creator of the legendary British comedy/drama series Cold Feet, has a terrible admission to make – he’s never watched Game of Thrones. Consequently, he was previously unfamiliar with the actor John Bradley who played Samwell Tarly in the acclaimed blockbuster, and was up to play Max, the English cop, in Bullen’s new Sydney-based detective drama North Shore.

“I will watch Game of Thrones one day,” Bullen assures me, on a call from New York. “I’ve never really been into fantasy stuff. But when I first saw John reading the role I just thought he was perfect. I hadn’t thought of Max being someone like John. But John has such a warmth and charm to him, he absolutely encapsulates those important aspects of Max. It’s similar to when James Nesbitt was cast in Cold Feet – I hadn’t imagined that character being an Irishman. But you know Jimmy very quickly made Adam his own, and John already has with Max.”

John Bradley (centre) with Rob Carlton and Kirsty Sturgess in North Shore. The Game of Thrones star quickly made the role his own.Credit:Paramount.

Directed by Gregor Jordan (Two Hands), North Shore is a glossy murder mystery, with international political consequences as a British government minister played by Golden Globe-winning actor Joanne Froggatt (Downton Abbey) deals with the death in Australia of her teenage daughter.

As Westminster follows the case, they send Max Down Under to keep an eye on the investigation, much to the chagrin of the Australian team, which is led by Rhys Muldoon. Friction between the unassuming but experienced Max and his feisty Australian counterparts fuels the drama as the story unfolds.

The clash of cultures between the two nations is a topic that appeals to Bullen since he and his family emigrated to Australia in the wake of the success of Cold Feet.

Mike Bullen, writer and creator of North Shore.Credit:Paramount

“The first time I visited Australia was in 1991 and it was a revelation to me,” he says. “I actually thought this is where I’m meant to be, rather than England. I’ve always had a thing about the class system in England. I hate it, I find it suffocating, and I liked the fact that there didn’t seem to be a class system in Australia. Of course, once you spend any time here you realise there is a class system to a degree. It’s just not as obvious because everybody’s wearing shorts on the beach so you can’t tell who’s from where!”

With Cold Feet on his CV, Bullen and his wife, who has family here, were able to apply for permanent residency. “We thought we’d come for a year, just for the experience, and realised that was no time at all. So we decided to stay two years so we could get citizenship. Our children were very young and we thought that would be great for them. And of course, after two years the hooks are in, your kids are Australian and there’s no going back!”

Bullen started thinking about an Australian murder mystery around the time they first settled, but “life intervened”, he says, and when he came back to the idea a few years later he got sidetracked again by the revival of Cold Feet. Returning to it in 2019, things moved quickly once Network 10 commissioned the series.

Rhys Muldoon, Dan Spielman and Joanne Froggatt front a press conference in North Shore.Credit:Paramount

For Bullen, North Shore represents a change of style. “This has been a departure for me,” he says. “I’ve previously done relationship dramas, but the way television is going now it’s that much harder to get relationship dramas away. Also, I didn’t want to do another one. I felt I’d been there, done that, so I wanted to do something else. I’ve always loved detective series and I thought I could bring my strengths to that genre and try and make it a bit more about the backstories of the major characters as well, so it’s not just about the crime and its solution.”

With their complex backstories, two murder mysteries provided inspiration, Scandi-noir The Killing and Kate Winslet’s Mare of Easttown, though the writer says he wouldn’t have minded if Winslet’s lead character smiled every so often.

Bullen has been a long-time admirer of Australian television. “I’m going back a long way now, but I don’t think there are many crime series that hold a candle to Blue Murder. When I first saw that when we were visiting Australia many, many years ago, I thought it was just fantastic. It was the depth of the characterisation, particularly Richard Roxburgh’s performance as Roger Rogerson.”

SBS’s East West 101 is another favourite that Bullen thought was vastly underrated when it screened, and he loved Geoffrey Atherden’s political satire Grass Roots, where he was first impressed by Rhys Muldoon.

North Shore also gave him the chance to work with one of his favourite Australian directors, Gregor Jordan (Buffalo Soldiers, Ned Kelly). He describes the director’s Australian classic Two Hands (which starred Heath Ledger, Rose Byrne and Bryan Brown) as the Australian movie he wished he’d written. “It’s such a wonderful blend of drama and humour,” Bullen says. “I thought, wow, if we can get him it will be a real coup.”

When the two met for coffee Bullen says he couldn’t quite work out which of them was auditioning the other. “Because he’s a writer-director, I did have this worry that he might want to get a little too involved in the writing for my liking,” Bullen says, “but happily we forged a really good working relationship.”

North Shore will benefit from the world’s enthusiasm for streamed television, being screened on Paramount’s global network, and Bullen relishes the enormous opportunities Australian writers, directors and actors now have to be seen on a bigger stage.

“I hope North Shore might be part of this, that it will show that Australian-based stories can work abroad,” he says. “I’m hopeful that this will work in the UK because it has British actors who the audiences will turn up to see, and hopefully they’ll enjoy the setting and the rest of the characters.”

And Bullen’s ambition for the series extends beyond Australia and the UK. “There had never been Korean series that people abroad watched but everyone was watching Squid Game,” he says. “There’s no reason now why a good TV show cannot travel the world.”

North Shore is on Wednesday, 8.40pm on Ten.

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