'Rake' Creator Peter Duncan on the Thrall of Antiheroes and Remakes

Rake Episodic Greg Kinnear - P 2014
Richard Foreman/FOX

Rake Episodic Greg Kinnear - P 2014

With Rake, Keegan Deane enters the growing pantheon on TV antiheroes. A charming, if morally questionable and self-destructive, criminal defense lawyer, he comes to Fox by way of Australia -- where the original drama of the same name premiered in 2010 and is about to kick off its third season.

Greg Kinnear tackles the protagonist in his first full-time TV gig since -- can you believe it? -- Talk Soup. But creator Peter Duncan doesn't want viewers to tune in expecting to always root for the leading man. "He's still a charming character and people still love him," Duncan tells The Hollywood Reporter, "but it's not like next week he might turn a moral corner."

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Duncan credits his fascination with conflicting characters to a variety of sources, though with TV, there is a clear choice. "Cracker, with Robbie Coltrane," says Duncan of the 1993 ITV crime drama about an alcoholic, chain-smoking criminal psychologist. "That was a show that I adored. I showed it to my [Rake] co-creator Richard Roxburgh in Australian and he goes, 'Wow. That guy is so bad, but he's so good.' There are all sorts of people who you can delight in for their wickedness or acerbic nature, but Cracker really inspired me. Jimmy McGovern is a master writer."

The label of antihero, so commonly thrown around in the time of Breaking Bad and Mad Men, is not one that Duncan fully embraces. "I've always been of this view that it's not about good or evil or black or white. It's about being interesting," he says. "Two of my favorite Shakespeare plays are Macbeth and Richard III. That's not to say that Keegan is a villain, but he's a complex character that doesn't live by society's traditional values or morals. I'm much more about interesting people than moral judgements."

It's a character that he's quite close to at this point. Named Cleaver Greene in the Australian series, and played by Roxburgh, the U.S. version is not deviating tremendously from the original -- largely because Duncan is still running both of them.

"It was never the attention to make a carbon copy of the Australian show, but we are revisiting material," he says. "The reason Fox picked the show up was because they liked it, so it would be a bit crazy to abandon what made it a success."

Duncan did bring on another producer to take over much of the day-to-day in Australia to focus on the adaptation -- but he still found himself being pulled in several directions during the fall during a window when both series were shooting simultaneously. "It's fine now because it's all done," he says. "It was a little heavy for a while there, a challenging few weeks. I can't even remember them."

Working with Kinnear, for one, has made it worth the trouble for Duncan. "Greg was given the Australian show, and he responded incredibly enthusiastically," he recalls of the project's 2012 origins. "We met not long after that. He's been offered a lot of televisions shows, so it's a great coup."

As far as the differences between making TV in American and Australia, Duncan did note that there is fine one major difference. "There are more voices," he tells THR. "Sometimes that's a good thing, and sometimes that's not a good thing. What's encouraging about all of them is that everyone is smart, everyone is well-intentioned and everyone understands the business."