Jacki Weaver and Alan Dale star in the TV series Secret City.
Jacki Weaver and Alan Dale star in the TV series Secret City. Nick Wilson

Feel the chill of Canberra's underbelly in Secret City

SECRETS, lies, murder and betrayal are all part of a large web of conspiracy spun in Foxtel's new high-stakes political thriller Secret City.

The six-part miniseries, produced by Matchbox Pictures, is inspired by best-selling novels The Marmalade Files and The Mandarin Code by journalists Chris Uhlmann and Steve Lewis.

Beneath the placid facade of Canberra, amidst rising tension between China and America, senior political journalist Harriet Dunkley (Anna Torv) uncovers interlocked conspiracies putting innocent lives in danger.

Secret City boasts an all-star Australian and international cast, including Jacki Weaver, Damon Herriman, Mekhi Phifer, Miranda Tapsell, Dan Wyllie, Eugienia Yuan and Alex Dimitriades.

It is also the first drama allowed to film inside Parliament House and production just happened to coincide with the Liberal leadership spill in September, which saw Malcolm Turnbull become prime minister.

"It's a great building and it was a privilege to be there," Weaver tells The Guide.

"Then just a few days after we were running down all of those corridors and shooting in the PM's vestibule and his courtyard, there we were seeing it on the news. That was interesting."

The two-time Oscar nominee plays Senator Catriona Bailey, the Attorney-General and an Australian Labor Party powerbroker.

"Like all people in that position, she's fairly ambitious," Weaver says.

"She's very tough and has a lot of power. I think what drives most politicians is power. Every single politician you meet wants to be PM."

Alan Dale and Jacki Weaver in a scene from the TV series Secret City.
Alan Dale and Jacki Weaver in a scene from the TV series Secret City. Foxtel


Speaking of the prime minister, successful Aussie export Alan Dale plays Secret City's prime minister Martin Toohey.

"The impression I get is he's a little bit unaware of the machinations that are going on," Dale says.

"His underlings are trying to protect him from that information, and also themselves from what they're doing.

"He seems to be a guy who likes being PM. A guy who likes the power and likes to push his weight around a little."

Dale, who has starred in a slew of hit US shows such as 24, Lost, Entourage, Once Upon a Time and NCIS, is full of praise for Weaver.

"I've known her for years. It's lovely working with Jacki - she's the consummate professional," he says.

"I don't think you share (a scene) with Jacki. You're lucky to be there - if you're noticed at all, really."

Dan Wyllie is the drama's other major anchor, playing minister for defence Mal Paxton. His decision to build submarines in Australia rather than accept a cheaper Japanese contract, and his refusal to side with the US in war games in the South China Sea, unleashes a diplomatic row that drives the series.

Secret City is a dense drama where reading between the lines of dialogue is crucial to piecing together the complex series of events between politicians, diplomats, spies, law enforcement and the media.

"I think it's really important to not have everything explained," Weaver says.

"I blame reality TV for people wanting everything explained. The best stories are those that are ambiguous."

Secret City premieres tonight at 8.30pm on Showcase.