The role written especially for Aussie screen legend
ALEX Irving is already having a bad day when she finds herself in a life-threatening situation.
Unable to pay her mother's parking fines, and avoid a court appearance, she angrily storms out of the courthouse only to come face to face with a gunman on a domestic violence rampage.
The footage of her heroism goes viral and catches the eye of Prime Minister Rachel Anderson, who's looking for a strong female ally to take up a recently vacated seat in the Senate.
That's the dramatic premise which brings Australian screen legends Deborah Mailman (Alex) and Rachel Griffiths (Rachel) together for the first time in Total Control.
The role of Alex, an Indigenous social worker turned first-time politician, was written especially for Mailman, reuniting her with the Blackfella Films team behind her Logie-winning turns in Redfern Now and Mabo.
"I love the way she walks through quite dramatic or chaotic events and the fact she responds to that with incredible honesty. She doesn't apologise for who she is as a person, or what she is or what she's saying," Mailman says.
"But of course she's full of a lot of contradictions. She seems quite steely in moments but underneath that she's full of vulnerabilities and insecurities. It was about trying to get that balance in her; she's a deeply flawed character."
When Alex accepts Rachel's offer, it's seen as a polling master stroke for the PM. But the single mum wants to be more than just a political stunt; she wants to make a difference. But it doesn't take long for party politics to drive a wedge between the women.
"It does start off with absolutely good intentions," she says. "They are thrust into these extreme situations and the decisions they make in order to survive. I love you see these two really strong female characters managing or negotiating that."
The six-part drama series pivots between the power plays happening in the cold, polished halls of Canberra, where Alex feels like a fish out of water, and the local politics of her hometown in Outback Queensland.
"The politics of being in those communities, like when Alex's mother says 'I don't feel I belong here because I was taken away', we're hitting on those realities of being Indigenous in this country," Mailman says. "It's not all the one and the same. Everyone has a different experience. We have a shared history but within that there's a diversity of reality of what it means to be black."
Filming in Winton was a joy for the Mount Isa native.
"I've been to Winton, but I'd never filmed in Winton before. The whole shoot was fabulous," she says. "It's beautiful country but there's a reality in places like that. I love that within the dialogue and within Aex's conversations that we show sure it's charming but there's the reality of what it means to live out there."
The series underwent a name change after the ABC received complaints its working title, Black B----, was a racial slur. But Mailman says it was a very carefully considered reference.
"I get that the original title created the passionate debate that happened, but certainly people were coming to it without much context," Mailman says. "It's actually intrinsic to the narration. There's not a casualness around using the words. They're hurtful and the intention was to say this is the reality of what it means to be a black woman in this country.
"In terms of the (name) change I think it's great too. Alex is in total control of her life."
Total Control premieres on Sunday at 8.30pm on ABC-TV.