Danger 5 is an exotic cocktail loaded with sensual pleasures, bullet casings and sexy dynamite. The comedy series bizarre premise exploits the glory days of 1960's pulp, culture, bigotry and beyond, by gathering a 'crack team' known as the Danger 5 together to kill Hitler (yes Hitler) in the strangest most unhinged version of the troubling era yet, and easily the best program to grace Australian screens in a long time!
On the day Madman released the series on DVD, and with a major Australian television channel SBS broadcasting it weekly, I had the immense pleasure of catching up with the creator Dario Russo and co-creator and actor of Jackson, David Ashby, for a debrief and here is what they had to say after I administered the truth serum, just to ensure they weren't in fact Nazi spies from Atlantis.
What were your primary influences for Danger 5? Were you reading pulp men's magazines before you decided on the premise of this show?
David: We weren't necessarily reading them. Years ago we went to Melbourne and wound up in a bookshop that had all these various sorts of literature and books, and one of them was a massive collection of men's magazines covers going all the way from the 1930's to the early 70's. The illustrations of these men's magazines which were so outrageous, vivid, surreal...
Dario: ...and stupid! You know for example there was a panther with a swastika on its head mauling some chick in a bikini with a big high hairdo in a Nazi torture dungeon...
David: ...and they had all these bitchin' taglines on it that we mimicked with the episode titles ("Kill Men of the Rising Sun", "Hitler's Golden Murder Palace", etc.!).
Dario: It was all very provocative material you know, it got the ball rolling to think, Jesus, this would be a great concept to make a TV show about this ludicrous, distinctively 60's tainted World War II in which dinosaurs could potentially factor prominently!
Generally, how did people respond to the show after it aired?
Dario: Well, unexpectedly about an hour after the show aired we received an email from Shaun Micallef (a famous Australian comedian) stating that he really liked the show and good on us, it was mind-blowing, it was shock and awe, (we were) in a state of frenzy and total paralysis - it's a really surreal experience to think, hang on a second, this show was just broadcast to anybody who's got a television and can flick it over and watch it, not to mention that if there was anyone we would have liked to have seen, let alone enjoy it, Shaun would be at the top of the list.
David: ...and it feels surreal for us in the sense that, I mean for the last couple of weeks that Danger 5 has aired we've had friends and family over and it just feels like we are watching Danger 5 and it's just us with our friends and we sort of forget it's broadcast throughout the whole country.
What about similar but more recent works of this ilk, were you encouraged by shows like Gareth Marenghi's Darkplace or even Adult swim's The Venture Brothers?
Dario: Well, yeah, you know I've been a big fan of Garth Marenghi for a long time, they played it (Darkplace) late night on SBS and that's how I first discovered it - I think that show is basically the closest thing, in genre and in pastiche level to Danger 5, it was definitely an encouragement. Venture Brothers we looked at a bit, it was a very funny show, but wasn't quite the same motivation but once again based strongly in this 60's heroes and villains theme.
David: We think the characters and the art in particular of Venture Brothers is fantastic. The thing, however about Garth Marenghi's Darkplace is the style of humour as well...
Dario: We were kind of jealous, they got to shoot it on film - we would have loved to for Danger 5.
David: ...and you can't compete with the British when it comes to dialogue-based humour and we sort of resigned to that...
Darkplace was technically inept on purpose, but you tried to avoid that sort of concept of a production within a production
Dario: They did do a fair bit of that, we kind of steered clear of the dodgy, incompetent production value factor; we never wanted to create the world within a world with the fake film makers. The Danger 5 world is its own thing.
David: That's the biggest thing for us, knowing what we don't like, and when writing the show, the first-half the dialogue was quite contemporary and American slang-based, and after a week we decided against it, filtering the jokes and gags, esoteric film references and technical jokes, stuff you'd pick up after watching it 100 times.
The art department did an incredible job, most shows like this have a 'so bad they are good' aesthetic, but you towed the line brilliantly and it ended up being good on its own merits! How did you manage the quality and production value throughout?
Dario: Work everyone extremely hard and don't have that much money to do it with is the key! Generally, our eyes were a hell of a lot bigger than our appetites; we had grand aspirations to create sets like the volcano base in You Only Live Twice or fantastic and intricate dungeons and in a deluded way we kept these ideas the whole way through, but to do it with limited budget and resources. We didn't have many people in the art department; just a core group and we even roped in volunteers to help paint. It was like a kid creating his own Thunderbirds set out of toilet rolls. Everyone did a phenomenal job with all the means at their disposal - a makeshift James Bond!
David: Economy helps bring out the comedy; we are very strong believers that the audience is intelligent and doesn't need to be spoon-fed and would find it funny if we re-used the same spaces in every episode.
Dario: Pretty much every episode reused the same bar space in a different context, every episode we've got this sort of amphitheatre that doubles up as Hitler's birthday hall, Menghala's death arena, Goering's Bahamas villa...
David: ...so we figured we got these basic spaces so let's make them really nice and that would palm off the earnestness of our attempt; the whole show itself is a technical period piece...
Dario: We were never attempting to look cheap, everybody tried really hard to create a pleasing aesthetic, it was all executed in a playful and interesting manner and it was more about creating a fun impression of reality.
How did you go about casting?
Dario: Dave was always going to play Jackson, Aldo was always going to play Pierre, the other three we weren't sure which was a little scary, but we found them relatively conventionally eventually. The other supporting roles are people we've known for a long time - high school friends, people that have been in our short films - a real South Australian family affair.
David: When we were coming up with the show and it was about five spies who, are on a mission to kill Hitler, we thought let's use the same characters you've seen a thousand times and do something different. Everything has been done before, but we took that in our stride even up to the point of the five main characters, their traits you've seen a thousand times before; Jackson the lone wolf, Tucker the straight man, Claire the prude, Ilsa the town girl and Pierre the cool guy, but we twisted it and it ended up being something quite different.
Dario: Since the entire program is dubbed, all AVR no location dub, we knew we didn't have to cast people who had the voice to match the face either. We were looking for people that had 'the look' like Sean-James Murphy, who we chose as someone who could look completely at home in a cigarette commercial for example!
David: We were a bit naïve coming into it and writing it and up until pre-production we hadn't said anything about what we'd been doing the last couple of years, this almost bit us as we wrote the character Pierre specifically for Aldo and at that stage there was a big question mark about whether he could do it or not. Another thing was that Natasha who played Ilsa spoke all of her lines in Russian, on set, her dubbing is actually correct, and thinking about it now that would have been a huge task if we had to find someone who spoke Russian.
Dario: But in saying that Carmine as Hitler spoke English on set every day, he didn't have to learn a drop of German. Luckily the voiceover was so skilful at acting out the matching ridiculous timing and phrasing so generally his mouth moved in sync with the German lines.
Speaking of Carmine, Hitler is an incredible character in this, somehow less politically incorrect than he should be - relegated to an evil genius, but lacking the strong persona, was this intentional?
Dario: I explicitly told Carmine to look bored, the majority of the time. If you watch Diabolic, the Mario Brava movie Adolfo Celi who plays Ralph Valmont...
David: (interrupts) ...like him, these swooning villains who only get annoyed at their minions and just wander around their lair, they only move when they have to move, a different caricature and far more appealing than the fist-waving tyrant archetype.
The Hirohito character was slightly disturbing, care to elaborate on him?
David: Well he is the emperor of Japan, we read that a lot of people didn't realise he was the emperor of Japan...
Dario: We thought it would be hilarious to have this hopelessly depressed leader to create bizarre tension between him and Hitler.
David: We thought of a character set to go with every episode and for someone to die at the end. We initially thought Hitler dies then comes back every episode but it didn't make sense... But regarding Hirohito's strange behaviour, he had a complicated romance and backstory, and that is another running theme in Danger 5 with all of the characters, everything's about love man!
What nationality is Tucker supposed to be?
David: Australian, but with a mid-Atlantic accent, like early television in Australia, the peculiar anglicised accent - we wanted to also tap into the notion that this would have been the foreigner's interpretation of how Australians talk!
The end of Danger 5 certainly points towards a second season, anything to add there?
Dario: It's always a cool way to end a series by having some sort of 80's disco sequence, beside that whether it connects narratively, well we just thought it was an awesome moment to put at the end of the credits...
Danger 5 is out now on
DVD!!!!!!!!!!! and can also be viewed online at SBS http://www.sbs.com.au/danger5/videos.html