Jane Campion has directed a gorgeous, touching and suspenseful four-part drama, Top of the Lake, which aired Sunday night on HBO and is streaming now on Amazon Prime Video. Elisabeth Moss stars as Robin Griffin, a New Zealand detective, who is assigned to investigate the disappearance of a pregnant 13-year-old, Tui (Nicole Kidman), from the home of a wealthy socialite, Lou (Nicole Kidman). The series is based on Campion’s award-winning 2012 novel, but takes place five years before the events described in the book.
Campion and Kirsten Dunst, who plays Lou’s daughter, Alicia, met with The New York Times in London to discuss their new series, answering some questions via teleconference. The interview has been edited for clarity and length.
What is it like to make a new series in eight weeks? How much time did you spend with Lou and Alicia before filming?
Ms. Campion: Well, two weeks. And we lost time for a week when we were shooting the last big, [fictional] moment in Sydney, in July, and also for a whole week later in Adelaide when we were shooting New South Wales in winter.
Ms. Dunst: We shot through Christmas and we came back to Australia for New Year’s . We shot a bit of stuff in Sydney, we shot a bit of stuff in Adelaide and then we went off and did a film [called The Mountain] in France.
Did shooting in England and then in Australia create an additional challenge for you and the cast and crew?
Ms. Campion: They both have different degrees of weather. But in fact, as you would see in the film, we had an incredible year of beautiful, beautiful weather — extraordinary weather in Australia in the summer. It was perfect. It was great. The first couple of months, which you would have sort of had a bit of sodden landscape, we were luckier than that. And also, the climate was warmer. The luckier ones on the whole, as you would go around the locations [in Australia] were actually warmer than what you see.
There was also a strong commitment to presenting the piece with a [few] familiar faces, and present a fresh perspective. Was that a strategy?
Ms. Dunst: We shot with eight locations and it’s just scary to shoot in all those different places. That’s just really, really complex to find all the angles and some of the buildings — the new hotel. It was designed specifically to capture a certain style, [with] wood on all sides. But it was hard to find a location that [rounded] off what it’s trying to represent in the story.
How was it working with Elisabeth Moss and Nicole Kidman in particular?
Ms. Dunst: I’m honored to have worked with these two amazing women, so it was really, really a privilege. And to be in a women’s movie — to do a show that has a women’s perspective and it focuses on women. When you’re a woman of a certain age and when you’re on the set and you’re surrounded by women — everyone on the whole crew is a woman. To have that platform to show the world something different, at a certain time in our history, [was] amazing. And for Elisabeth, to have an opportunity to show what she’s doing in front of the camera and the actresses and all the stuff that she does and to portray somebody that is smart, which you would be wanting to be, and strong, but at the same time a nurturer, kind of “good person” — it’s awesome to know where she’s coming from and how she came to this role.
Top of the Lake is available on HBO Go and HBO Now. Top of the Lake: China Girl is available on Amazon Prime Video, and for subscribers of the Amazon Prime Video TV service.