Bad Mothers has Daniel MacPherson raising some domestic hell

Bad Mothers on Sundance Now.. Daniel MacPherson as Anton Pooley. Image Courtesy of Sundance Now
Bad Mothers on Sundance Now.. Daniel MacPherson as Anton Pooley. Image Courtesy of Sundance Now /

Bad Mothers star Daniel MacPherson tells Precinct TV what drew him to Sundance Now’s murder mystery and how he humanized Anton.

Daniel MacPherson saved the world on Strike Back, but in Bad Mothers he’s just trying to save his marriage.

The Australian drama premiered Friday on Sundance Now, and it features MacPherson as Anton, a successful chef who makes the mistake of cheating on his wife Sarah (Tess Haubrich, Jack Irish: Dead Point) with her best friend Charlotte (Melissa George, Alias).

As if the infidelity isn’t bad enough, then Charlotte winds up dead—and Anton is accused of her murder. Can he clear his name, repair his marriage, and keep his family from falling apart? That’s what TV crime drama fans will find out over the next seven weeks.

But what is clear is that Anton is in a whole world of hurt, and that he’s not just your prototypical cheating husband who gets what’s coming to him. There’s a lot more to him than that.

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“You can understand how highly I regarded the Bad Mothers script when I read them in a hotel room in Malaysia while I was shooting Strike Back,” Daniel recalled. “I wrapped Strike Back on Friday in Malaysia and I flew to Melbourne on Tuesday, overnight from Singapore. I went straight to the production office of Bad Mothers on Wednesday, five days after I’d wrapped Strike Back, and I started shooting within a week.”

That was tremendously difficult, but it also worked in his favor. “It allowed me to take all the pressure, and all the exhaustion, and all the baggage that comes with a season of Strike Back and use that to build Anton,” he continued, “who was a guy who was emotionally exhausted, carrying a stack of baggage, struggling to get through the decisions he’d made in his life.

“I was like, well, you know what? This is either going to be really interesting or it’s going to kill me or both,” he quipped. “And it hopefully ended up somewhere in the middle, and I survived to tell the story.”

It’s a good thing that he did, because Daniel MacPherson’s casting is a huge component of what makes Bad Mothers work. In a lesser actor’s hands, Anton could easily be dismissed as a cheating husband and a terrible person, whose downfall viewers should be cheering for. But Daniel finds the vulnerability and the humanity inside Anton, so audiences care about him without dismissing the mistakes he’s made.

“That was kind of my goal from the outset with him, was to make the series of decisions that had got him to where he is in his life understandable, and not simply paint him as a good guy or a bad guy,” he explained. “When you’ve got a character like that, that is so essential to the rest of this show and so central to the storyline, that is slightly polarizing…I wanted people to be conflicted, yet somehow understanding and empathetic about Anton.”

There’s reason to be conflicted. Bad Mothers makes clear early on that Anton and Sarah’s issues don’t begin and end with his affair; there’s a lot going on between them regardless of the Charlotte of it all. In building this messy, complicated marriage, Daniel was able to utilize the existing rapport that he had with Tess Haubrich, who had also played his wife in Shane Abbess’ science fiction thriller Infini.

“We had not only a great historical working relationship to draw on, we also had a great friendship that made it very easy for us to dive straight in,” he explained. “We know how each other works and [there] was a real ease of working. We pretty much picked up where we left off five years ago on that last marriage and dove straight into the next one.

“We spoke a lot. We spent a lot of time together working out the dynamics and the nuances of this marriage as the show went on. But it was sink or swim day one, and there’s a real spontaneity to that, there’s a real excitement to that, and I think it also allowed the relationship to grow as the series grew.”

She’s not the only cast member that he has history with; Daniel was familiar with several of his Bad Mothers co-stars beforehand, making the project a literal and metaphorical homecoming for him.

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“When I was looking at whether this was the right project to do, particularly in such a valuable time between seasons of Strike Back, it was like well, I know Tess; I’ve worked with Tess before. I’ve worked with Don [Hany] before, who obviously played Idrisi in Strike Back; he’s also Alin [Sumarwata]’s partner, who I’ve been working with. Stephen Bastoni, I know. And it was coming home to Australia to work.”

Did he have favorite Bad Mothers scenes that he can’t wait for the audience to see?

“In episode two, very early on, Anton’s been arrested. There’s two interview room scenes where everything I’ve done has really come to light. It’s the first time Tess has spoken about it. I think it was our second day on set and we had to dive straight into these big, heavy, emotional conflict things,” he recalled.

“And I think that was kind of where Tess and I, and everybody involved with the production, were like you know what, this is going to be okay. If that was our day two default level of performance and history and backstory and depth, then I think we’re going to be okay. I was really proud of those; they were really some fiery scenes.”

Speaking of fire, there’s a literal one of those, too: “My favorite moment is actually Tess lighting all of my clothes on fire in the backyard, which we couldn’t actually get to ignite on the day,” he revealed. “By the time it went up, it went up like a Strike Back explosion, because they just poured so much gas and fuel on it, but it wouldn’t light. But I think everybody jumped except me!”

Between the fire and getting arrested, it’s just another day at the office for Daniel MacPherson. His characters can’t seem to stay out of trouble. But with Bad Mothers, he’s not aiming for a big, world-changing moment; he’s connecting with viewers on a more personal level, and hopefully getting them to think about the people closest to them.

“We’re really proud of Bad Mothers. I think it’s really binge-worthy television. It’s a great show where husbands and wives, boyfriends and girlfriends, people, flatmates, anyone in a relationship can sit down and watch it,” he told us.

“Watch it where you can talk about it, because I think there’s so many great different relationships [that] everybody’s going to be able to identify with and resonate with one of the relationships in this show. As much as this show is enjoyable to watch, it’s enjoyable to talk about afterwards as well.”

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Bad Mothers is currently streaming on Sundance Now; new episodes premiere Thursdays.