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When director Thomas Tancred walked into the office of Duplass Brothers Productions with his pitch for a true-crime documentary set in a tiny town in the Australian outback, Mark Duplass was immediately hooked.
“I was like, ‘Well, f—, this is really exciting’,” says the actor-writer-producer-director and champion, with brother Jay, of the branch of lo-fi indie filmmaking known (both derisively and appreciatively) as mumblecore. “I’d been thinking this whole true-crime thing is really interesting but it’s getting a bit one-note, and then this thing walked into our office.”
Barry Sharpe, the late publican of the Larrimah Hotel, in Last Stop Larrimah.Credit: Warner Bros
This thing was the story of the disappearance, and presumed murder, of 70-year-old Paddy Moriarty in 2017. In an isolated town in the Northern Territory with a population of just 11, originally everyone was a suspect.
Tancred had come across the case while scrolling Twitter. “I think it was a headline of, ‘Population 11. One goes missing.’ And I really knew there was something there when I went on YouTube and saw some of the residents. I thought those are great characters.”
Duplass saw the project as “a combination of two really disparate but seemingly interesting things – a true-crime documentary series and a Christopher Guest film”. (Guest’s movies, including Waiting For Guffman and Best in Show, are mockumentaries about small communities of oddball characters who are utterly unaware of their oddness.)
Hot off an Emmy win for the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh documentary series Wild Wild Country in 2018, Duplass thought it would be a breeze to sell the idea to a broadcaster.
Paddy Moriarty: his disappearance caused a frenzy.Credit: Warner Bros
“I told Thomas, ‘I’m gonna sell this thing in, like, two days; this is going to be explosive’. And I was totally wrong. I took this project all over town – and every single studio passed on it.”
Five years later, though, he and Tancred have finally been vindicated. Last Stop Larrimah is a hit.
Eventually picked up by HBO’s streaming platform Max in the US (as a feature film), it is on Netflix in Australia and a bunch of other territories as a two-part series, where it has been a top 10 title since debuting two weeks ago.
Larrimah has sparked fascinated chatter online and in the real world, with people who have watched the tragicomedy unfurl on screen sharing and debating theories about what happened to Paddy, who was responsible, and why.
Mark Duplass as The Morning Show’s executive producer Chip Black.Credit: Apple TV+
One of the most far-fetched theories is that a neighbour paid to have him murdered (the motive being a long-running dispute over nothing much at all), then disposed of his body by chopping it up and cooking it for the “famous” meat pies she sold at her eccentric stopover cafe, where every customer received a soft plushy toy when they paid up. The neighbour in the series strongly denies the accusations.
Duplass knew the show had truly resonated, he says, when his house was swarmed at Halloween by trick-or-treaters. “As the parents came through with their kids, it wasn’t like, ‘Oh, I recognise you from The Morning Show’,” he says. “It was, like, ‘Dude, the f—ing meat pies, man’.”
The way the show has been embraced is especially pleasing for Tancred in light of how difficult it was to make.
Before he’d shot a frame, he spent seven or eight months trying to woo the residents to participate, without any luck. “One night, as I was close to giving up, I just randomly called the pub and got Barry Sharpe, the publican,” he says. “He very kindly said no, and then we talked for 10 or 15 more minutes, and at the end he said, ‘F— it. If you fly here, I will talk to you’.
“The pub is the heart of the town, so I knew if I got Barry to do it hopefully the others would follow. And that kind of happened.”
What Tancred didn’t get was a clear answer to the mystery; Moriarty’s murder remains unsolved. Police have never charged any Larrimah resident. But there is a Jinx-like twist at the end of Last Stop Larrimah that’s as good as an answer for many viewers.
If the case remains open, what about Last Stop Larrimah? Might there be a coda yet?
“We’ll see what happens up there in the judicial system,” says Tancred with all the weariness and wariness of a man who has spent way too long on this story already. “Maybe.”
Last Stop Larrimah is on Netflix.
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