Lydia Jenkin takes on the detective squad of The Brokenwood Mysteries in a game of Cluedo to get them to spill the beans about their roles on the new local crime drama.

It was Miss Scarlett, in the billiard room, with the candlestick.

TimeOut wanted to find out whether Neill Rea and Fern Sutherland's roles in new murder mystery series The Brokenwood Mysteries had heightened their powers of deduction. So we challenged them to a game of Cluedo, the winner being the first to discover Miss Scarlett's misdeeds.

It initially took us a while to remember the rules of the game (correct protocol must be adhered to) and get a little momentum going with our investigations, but once we discovered the secret passageways that ran between the kitchen, study, conservatory, and lounge, we were on a roll.

Questions began flying as we tried to out-manoeuvre each other in figuring out who had killed poor Dr Black, with what handy implement, in which room of Tudor Close.


Both Rea and Sutherland claim to have figured out who the killers were early on in the likes of Broadchurch and The Killing, and their fictional counterparts - Detective Inspector Mike Shepherd, and Detective Kristin Sims - have recently solved four murder mysteries in Brokenwood. So you'd think one of them would win ...

"It's not really a hunch thing though, is it?" Rea muses as we set up the board. "I don't think I'm going to be any good at this."

But it turns out he is. He figures it all out first, and Sutherland is only a moment behind - but with some tricky tactics, lucky rolls of the dice, and a wild guess, TimeOut takes the game, and feels a little guilty about it.

But it's clear the two have picked up detective instincts from The Brokenwood Mysteries. This is the first lead screen role for both of them though they are familiar faces - Rea was in Scarfies, Mercy Peak and many television commercials with his bloke-next-door face. Sutherland is best known for her role as the long-suffering Dawn in The Almighty Johnsons.

Around the Cluedo board over a few glasses of wine - labelled "Innocent Bystander" curiously enough - they seem to have a natural camaraderie. That's something that translates to their screen crime-solving partnership.

Not that either actor had pictured making their acting names as a detective.

"Definitely not. And it's not something anyone would suggest me for either," laughs the bubbly Sutherland.

"But it wasn't Kristin's job that attracted me to the character, it was more her psychology that made me go, 'Oh yeah, I get her, for sure'. The occupation side of her character has been quite challenging, but her personality really struck a chord with me."


Detective Kristin Sims is a sassy, determined cop, an ambitious type who writes up every suspect, fact, and scrap of evidence. She likes to get things done, but having been posted to smalltown Brokenwood for a couple of years, she's yet to really assimilate into the community.

She's formal, efficient, forthright, and likes procedure a little too much.

That all changes when Detective Inspector Mike Shepherd arrives from Auckland in his 1971 Holden Kingswood, country music blaring from the car's cassette player. He's been sent to Brokenwood to help the local constabulary with a possible murder case.

"When he arrives, Mike wants something different in his life, hence deciding to leave the big smoke. He's got a twinkle in his eye, he's kind of wry, he's not a black and white guy," Rea explains. "He has his moments, because I guess he understands why people do things, and there is some sympathy there for people who find themselves in messy circumstances."

Sims is put out by Shepherd's arrival, and sceptical of his skills. But it's their contrasts, and how their relationship develops, which should draw viewers in.

"Initially they're quite frosty, but it then becomes a grudging admiration, and then becomes something warmer and less grudging," says Rea.

"Mike probably goes on a hunch a bit more than Kristin does, but I think they learn a lot from each other. He's an old dog who learns some new tricks from her, and I suspect she learns from him, too."

"I think Kristin wants to dislike him quite a lot," Sutherland laughs, "but she can see that actually, for all his unconventional attributes, he's really good at his job, and better than her. He is older and wiser."

"We were quite lucky in that we've always got along very easily," Rea adds, "and there was a great respect between us, so it was easy to transfer that to the characters as their respect grew."

The show follows the pair, over four feature-length episodes and four different cases.

Commissioned by Prime TV, it was made by South Pacific Pictures with $4.2 million in funding from NZ On Air. It's written by local television drama stalwart Tim Balme - a familiar face for his roles, as a cop in Mercy Peak, and in The Almighty Johnsons, as well as having various writing credits.

Balme's storylines turn up bodies all over - there's one floating in a river, one bobbing in a wine vat, another one dow nat the local golf course, and one out in the bush.

Brokenwood and its surrounds were shot in various parts of north-west Auckland known for rolling pasture and picturesque vineyards: Kumeu, Puhoi, Warkworth, and Helensville.

Both Sutherland and Rea are originally from Taranaki, but Sutherland says she could feel plenty of small-town familiarity in the story.

"When I first read the script it did make me think of Hawera and Inglewood. It made me think about the people and how everyone knows each other, and how tightly knit everything is.

"The detective I talked to down in New Plymouth said everybody knowing everybody's business is a double-edged sword, because on the one hand it means you can get information quite easily and on the other, you have to be careful, because everyone is watching and gossiping."

Rea spent a good deal of time with an Auckland cop in preparation for the role. He and Sutherland were interested to find a prevalent sense of humour among the officers, which is reflected in the show. "[The officer I spent time with] had the kind of great irreverence those guys often have, despite the fact they spend their days looking at horrible, shocking stuff," Rea explains.

"All the cops we talked to all had the blackest sense of humour," adds Sutherland. "They would find the funny side, almost as a coping mechanism. And I think that comes through in the show."

Rea even admits to a little surprise when he watched the first episode, realising how unlike other current crime dramas The Brokenwood Mysteries is.

"I was quite surprised when I watched episode one, how jaunty it was. I didn't expect it to be. I thought it would be darker and a bit bluer perhaps. But there's a humanity to it that I really like."

It's not sinister and surreal like Top of the Lake, nor gritty and grey like many famed British crime procedurals. There are a few dark, more chilling moments, but there are also quirky characters, a knowing sense of humour in the writing, and a slightly timeless, everyday feel helped by the rural setting.

"It's not a show about a detective who is a twisted genius with dark secrets either," Rea nods. "He's not [Fitz in] Cracker, he's not an alcoholic, he's not Helen Mirren in Prime Suspect. Mike's got a few secrets, a few ex-wives, but he's not a really dark character."

"And it's not really a show about all the high tech stuff either," Sutherland adds. "There are no test tubes and microscopes or CSI-type stuff. It's really about the people."

The pair are both long-time detective story and crime show fans - Sutherland remembers watching Heartbeat with her Nana -- and has been quite taken with The Bridge and The Killing in recent times.

Rea also loves a good Scandinavian thriller (he reads a lot of Jo Nesbo), and remembers plenty of Sunday evenings watching British murder mysteries, so they both know The Brokenwood Mysteries has plenty of comparison points, but they both agree there's always room for more, and see the series as offering something new.

"Murder and mysteries actually appeal to everybody don't they? But you can't do it yourself, you can't go out and kill someone. And not everyone can be a detective, so it's as close as you can get in your everyday life," Sutherland laughs.

"I also think it engages people in the way that they're trying to figure out who did it before the big reveal, and so it's sort of like a game, and it feels quite empowering," Rea points out.

"But what I reckon is interesting about Brokenwood, as opposed to a game of Cluedo, say, is that the motive is just as interesting as the 'who', sometimes. Working out why someone would've killed their sister, or neighbour, or boss, is just as compelling as knowing they did it.

"And while the whodunnit is the thing that will keep people watching on the day, it's the characters, and their relationship that will hopefully keep people coming back for the whole series."

Who: Neill Rea and Fern Sutherland
What: New local miniseries The Brokenwood Mysteries
Where and when: Prime TV, 8.30pm, Sunday September 28.

- TimeOut