Amazon Freevee’s Troppo tells the story of former detective Ted Conkaffey (Thomas Jane) and Amanda Pharrell (Nicole Chamoun) — whose unexpected bond immerses them in a small Australian town’s series of mysterious deaths. In pursuit of the truth, Ted and Amanda’s backstories come to light, testing each’s character and resolve.
Based on Crimson Lake — a 2017 novel written by Candice Fox — Troppo features Yolanda Ramke as its showrunner, who most notably co-directed a pair of episodes of Netflix’s The Haunting of Bly Manor in 2020.
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Screen Rant spoke with Ramke about the joys and challenges of bringing Troppo to life.
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Screen Rant: Troppo is based on Candice Fox’s novel, Crimson Lake. What was it about this story that drew you to the project of its TV adaptation?
Yolanda Ramke: It was absolutely the dynamic between Ted and Amanda in the book — that sort of oil and water, chalk and cheese awkward, unlikely friendship dynamic. I think I really loved the fact that it was taking the idea of your two detective characters who are often fairly noble and have authority in terms of being armed with a badge and having that support behind them.
But the version here was the idea that they’re both kind of perceived as criminals and outcasts and have no real resources at their disposal, and have to be a lot more resourceful with the way that they operate. That uneasy chemistry combined with the world that they inhabited — this wild place where everything can kill you from people to wild animals, it just felt like a really juicy setting for a crime show.
As you were adapting this story, to what extent did you work with Candice and rely on her vision of the novel?
Yolanda Ramke: I had a really early meeting with Candice when I first came aboard the project and had written a draft of the pilot script. That was a really cool experience. I have a lot of respect for Candice and to see, particularly in Australia, a female crime author knocking it out of the park on a global scale is really inspiring.
I think the thing that was particularly lovely about Candice was that she was super generous and really quite hands-off with the project. She would read drafts as we went along and was always very positive, supportive, and not precious at all about understanding that we would have to deviate from the book in places to make that story able to unfold over eight hours worth of viewing. It was a relatively distant collaboration in that sense.
I was fascinated by how in just 8 episodes, you feature 3 different murder mysteries. Even as they are connected to some extent, how did you manage to give each storyline and the characters involved the proper attention and payoff at the end?
Yolanda Ramke: Oh my goodness. Honestly, that was the challenge of the writers’ room. At times, we thought we were foolish [laughs] for biting off that much. That was the big challenge. Obviously, you’ve got the “A” story in terms of the Jong Min missing man turned into something a little bit more insidious, and this strange death by crocodile, and then of course, Amanda’s backstory. It’s sidelined, but there’s also a sense of trying to evoke Ted’s past as well.
At every turn, Jane Ellen — the script producer — and I were looking for the emotional connection between those characters and those storylines and to try and really drive those threads from that place as opposed to what’s starting to feel too plotty. That was certainly, I would say, the biggest challenge that we faced in terms of the plotting of the show.
Troppo really emphasizes its characters’ backstories and personal relationships and we see Ted and Amanda develop this very unlikely friendship. What was it like seeing Thomas and Nicole embody this pair and create build upon their dynamic with each episode?
Yolanda Ramke: That sort of thing is the thrill. When Thomas came on board, I was stoked. I was familiar with his work and he has really great genre cred with films like The Mist. I just knew that he would bring that wry, steady presence to the center of the show. With Nicole, there’s a real mischievousness to her, a strength, and a fire. I think the show starts in a relatively light place in those first couple of episodes and their relationship, that unlikely friendship starts to develop, but it’s very much an odd couple kind of scenario.
It was lovely to watch that evolve over the course of those eight episodes to become something more substantial and more of a sense of these two people recognizing that they’re kind of reflections of one another and that they are both in a similar predicament in terms of struggling to understand who they are in the wake of society putting them in a corner and saying, “You are this, and you are this,” and then having to reinvent themselves under the weight of that and help one another toward some kind of redemption.
In your opinion, what is the quality that brings Ted and Amanda together despite their differences?
Yolanda Ramke: I think initially, it’s a pragmatic thing on the surface in terms of Ted needing money and needing some kind of distraction to get himself out of this malaise, and Amanda needing his expertise as somebody she’s pegged as an ex-cop. It’s quite practical. There’s a sense of them both recognizing in each other an outsider, a fellow pariah, another lost soul. I think neither of them are particularly conscious of how lonely they actually are. That’s the dynamic for me.
One of the key differences between the show and the novel is that in the show, Ted is an American instead of Australian. How did that modification come to be and what did you hope to achieve by making Ted more of an outsider in this setting?
Yolanda Ramke: I think it’s exactly what you said. Certainly there are practical considerations at play in terms of the business side of things in terms of financing a show and the caliber and profile of an actor that we needed to generate the kind of resources that we needed to make what is a really ambitious show. When the idea of Thomas came up, we saw creative potential there as well. It’s exactly like you said, it’s that sense of making Ted even more of a fish out of water.
If his objective when we meet him is to keep a low profile and to not be noticed in this small backwater community, a thick American drawl is the absolute antithesis of that and creates problems for him. When you’re already playing with this sort of odd couple dynamic of two people that feel like they could not be more opposed, the idea of there being a cultural clash within that as well was a really juicy prospect. It’s interesting. Hopefully, the audience forgets as we go along, or becomes less conscious of the fact that there’s even a difference there. That was something that was really interesting to us as we were making the show was that at first it was like this character’s really popping in this world, but after a while, it started to feel like he could absolutely inhabit this place. It felt like weirdly he started to become a part of the furniture at a certain point.
Troppo’s setting in the Australian wilderness is so immersive with the crocodiles, the snakes, and everything. What went into choosing the ideal locations and creating the most authentic atmosphere for the show?
Yolanda Ramke: That was a challenge, particularly because we were in the middle of the pandemic and there were all sorts of issues in terms of travel and that kind of thing. We based ourselves on the Gold Coast in Queensland, which is the same state where the show is set, but it’s slightly further south, so not quite as jungley. But there certainly are those elements there to play with, so the challenge for us in terms of finding locations and building the world was having many less options in terms of places that were in our achievable area of shooting that could offer that lush, tropical feeling.
I think our team did an incredible job of finding places to help sell this idea that you are further north and that you are in this extremely isolated, unruly pocket of the country where anything could happen. And snakes, we find those all over the country, which is all very fun for us. That side of things wasn’t so difficult, but it was that sense of wanting to have a feeling of oppressive heat and a sense of wildness where this is a place where people come to disappear or be disappeared — possibly against their will — and to get that sense that you’ve got to watch your back on every level.
Obviously, there are three more novels following Crimson Lake. If Troppo continues beyond a first season, do you see yourself returning? If so, what are your hopes for where this show can go?
Yolanda Ramke: I would love to return. I have a lot of affection for Ted and Amanda, and for the team.
I think, true to the trajectory of this trilogy of books that Candice Fox has written, book two further unpacks Ted’s case and really gets to the core of that. I think that’s something that we would really like to explore. I know that’s something Thomas is very keen to explore, so fingers crossed that we get the chance to do that.
Amanda Pharrell, an eccentric private investigator with a disturbing criminal past, recruits disgraced ex-cop Ted Conkaffey, to help her solve her first real case: the disappearance of a Korean family man and tech pioneer.
Check out our previous Troppo interview with stars Thomas Jane & Nicole Chamoun and author Candice Fox as well.
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All 8 episodes of Troppo premiere May 20 on Amazon Freevee.
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About The Author
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Madeline Lapreziosa is a Features Writer and Interviewer for Screen Rant, covering TV and Movies. A 2022 graduate of Penn State University, she possesses dual Bachelor’s degrees in print/digital journalism and French. Madeline has extensively reported on both sports and entertainment in her writing career. Outside of her love for TV and films, Madeline enjoys reading and watching soccer. Her all-time favorite works of fiction are The Expanse, The Hunger Games, and Game of Thrones.
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