“Everyone I spoke to, on that side of the [police] fence, believe she was murdered,” says Ford. “Which fascinated me, because I didn’t expect that an overwhelming number of people would come to me and say, ‘We think she was involved with somebody dodgy.’ And I couldn’t see that she would kill herself.
“I struggled with that for a long time because it just didn’t seem like her. So I was trying to explore the three main theories – that she had cut her foot off and done a runner and escaped; the other theory that kept coming to me was she’s involved with some dodgy people and they’ve killed her; and then, of course, the third theory was simply that she’d gone over [notorious suicide spot] the Gap.”
To do this, Ford and Miller turned Caddick (played by Kate Atkinson) into her own unreliable narrator. As she says in the opener, “If you believe that story [referring to the three theories], you will believe anything. Then again, I found most people will believe anything. That’s how I got rich in the first place.”
Says Ford: “She seemed like the perfect person to do [an unreliable narration] with because if she’s going to be telling you the story, then you can bet that the story’s going to have whole bits of it that aren’t true, because that’s what she was.”
The next thing was to invent someone who could be the mysterious “dodgy” type Caddick could have become involved with. Enter Colin Friels.
The veteran actor plays George, an invented character who Caddick befriends with the intention of adding to her Ponzi scheme. George, however, turns out to have plans for Caddick too.
“He’s in there for the audience,” says Friels. “To let them in. And you get a perspective on Caddick from him because he’s detached from it all. He’s an outsider, he’s not a victim, he’s a fairly straightforward crook.”
Friels also saw Caddick’s story as a very Sydney tale – Melbourne has the mob and Sydney has rich white ladies ripping off their friends and family.
“Since its inception it’s always been a place of greed,” he says of Sydney. “It’s a pretty divided city – if you look at the eastern suburbs compared to the west, it’s a pretty big divide. It seems when you go to the eastern suburbs, it’s a foreign land sometimes if you’re from the west. I think Sydney’s always been based on, I guess, the accumulation of status and wealth.”
The great sadness at the heart of Underbelly: Vanishing Act is how the pursuit of that status and wealth impressed no one Caddick cared about. After attending her best friend’s suburban backyard birthday barbecue, Caddick grumbles about no one appreciating how expensive her dress was.
“What that came from was talking to a couple of friends who were like, ‘We didn’t really care, we weren’t that impressed,’” says Ford. “One of the stories I learned early on, which interested me, was that when she went to places like Aspen, she didn’t go out that much because she was terrified of being found out by the rich people that she wasn’t one of them.
“But she didn’t want to hang out with people who weren’t rich, who weren’t eastern suburbs type people, either. She was trapped in nowheresville. ”
The show was filmed around the street where Caddick lived with her teenage son and Koletti, who drove past them a few times while shooting, says Ford.
Did Ford talk to him?
“As a producer of the show, I did not feel that I wanted to get involved,” he says. “People were like, ‘Are you going to use his music by him? Are you gonna do this?’, but having hung out with the victims, I didn’t really feel like I wanted to open those doors, out of respect for the people who lost their livelihoods.”
Out of all the people Ford spoke to in writing Underbelly: Vanishing Act (including Caddick’s neighbors, who were convinced she hitched a ride on a garbage truck to disappear), he says the one who left the biggest impression was Caddick’s childhood friend Katherine Horn, who inspired the fictional character Angie in the show.
“She blew my mind completely,” says Ford. “It was a real turning point in the writing process because I’d seen the people who went on TV and said they’re victims, but she was a different kind of human.
“I walked out of the house knowing that I’d found the moral center of the universe I was about to create. Before that, the story was about an unethical person doing terrible things.
“Then I found this whole other side of the universe, which was, wow, you can be totally ripped off by someone you’ve known for 50 years, and she just sat there going, ‘Well, I’ve still got my family , my friends and I still have my health. And where’s Melissa? She’s just nothing now.’”
Underbelly: Vanishing Act screens on April 3-4 on Nine at 8.45pm. Nine is the owner of this masthead.
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