Yvonne Strahovski, Jai Courtney and Fayssal Bazzi didn’t have to go far to hear, firsthand, the stories they were portraying on-screen in “Stateless.” The show, which debuted in Australia in…
Yvonne Strahovski, Jai Courtney and Fayssal Bazzi didn’t have to go far to hear, firsthand, the stories they were portraying on-screen in “Stateless.” The show, which debuted in Australia in March and is out on Netflix today, centers on three characters (a flight attendant, a guard and a refugee) whose lives intersect at the fictional Barton immigration detention center; many of its background actors were asylum seekers and immigrants themselves. Some had even been housed in a detention center not far from where the series was shot in south Australia.
Strahovski calls the experience of listening to their stories “heartbreaking and eye-opening.”
“Normally on a set, you would have an AD, an assistant director, directing the background,” she tells Variety on the “After-Show.” “But our background artists were just so into the scenes because this was a representation of what actually happened to some of these people.”
Adds Bazzi, “There wasn’t a scene finished in a detention center where a background artist didn’t run up to me and say, ‘This is what happened to me. I experienced this. I saw this.’”
The six-episode limited series, executive produced and co-created by Cate Blanchett (who also stars), is an unflinching portrayal of asylum seekers trapped in the maddening red tape of bureaucracy and Australia’s on-shore immigration detention sites, which have made headlines for their prison-like environments; many of them have been shut down. Strahovski’s character, Sofie Werner, is partly inspired by Cornelia Rau, an Australian national and flight attendant with bipolar disorder, who was unlawfully detained at a women’s prison and, later, immigration center for months between 2004 and 2005.
To play Ameer, Bazzi drew upon his own experiences immigrating to Australia from a then-war torn Lebanon at age 3 ½. He says his portrayal of the Afghan refugee and self-sacrificing father is partly inspired by watching his own dad adhere to life in their new home country.
“We weren’t refugees, but I put a lot of my dad in Ameer because when we moved here, we had nothing. And I just watched this amazing human kind of have to rebuild himself and my mum have to rebuild our family from scratch. The first few years in the country, we all shared the same bed,” he recalls.
Bazzi’s father, a dentist by trade, pursued six more years of schooling upon the family’s arrival so he could practice in Australia. “He chose to study again, which just meant that we were below a certain line for a while. And it’s just that appreciation of seeing what someone does for their family.”
While “Stateless” takes place in the early 2000s, scenes depicting protest and violent encounters between law enforcement and detainees feel all too relevant today, as do the persisting problems asylum seekers face when entering industrialized countries like Australia and the U.S.
“The simplest of things, having your documentation, you know, not in order can mean a totally different future,” says Courtney, whose portrayal of Cam Sandford from a soft-hearted family man to hardened, abusive guard reveals that within these systems, no one is untouched or fundamentally unchanged. “There’s no coming out of this experience talking about how well operated it is, how fantastic conditions are, how fond their memories are.”
Watch the full interview with the stars of “Stateless” on the “After-Show” above.
Written by Audrey Cleo Yap