Critically-acclaimed drama Top of The Lake returns to BBC2 this July, with troubled detective Robin Griffin (Elisabeth Moss) investigating the death of a sex worker in Sydney alongside new co-stars Gwendoline Christie, David Dencik, Nicole Kidman and Alice Englert.
But while researching the new series (now subtitled China Girl), creator and Oscar winner Jane Campion decided to go the extra mile by actually visiting a brothel like the one that’s central to the new series – and enlisting one of her directors (Australian Ariel Kleiman) to help keep her under the radar.
“She [Campion] had to pretend to be his [Kleiman’s] auntie, and they made up this story that he was her virgin nephew called Tommy,” Campion’s co-writer Gerard Lee told RadioTimes.com and other journalists, with the team not naming the real (and in Sydney, legal) brothel that provided the team with “great inspiration”.
Alice Englert and David Dencik in Top of the Lake: China Girl’s fictional brothel
“Jane and I were in a sex room together, and I was playing a virgin,” Kleiman went on. “If I went up to the screen monitor they would let me in, and Jane followed me in.
“And then Jane started telling them I was a virgin, her virgin nephew called Tommy. And she really wanted to help me out.”
Campion was quick to explain that her “nephew” had only honourable intentions, however, assuring the women in the brothel that he only wanted to talk.
“It was understood that he wasn’t there for sex, that it was just the experience of being close to a woman and to talk to her,” she said. “The only way they could get into the brothel was through Kleiman.
“We thought we should do more research,” Campion explained. “We did have the experience of being in a brothel, and they were so generous and funny and they would tell us anything. And they were very open. They said how popular the ladyboys were with married men.”
She added: “It’s such a close and amazing thing to pay for sex. And so intimate. And such an honest transaction in one way and a very difficult thing in another way.
“Some working women really love their job and are good at it and others just try to make money, and you feel they shouldn’t have to do that for money and you know what it does to them. It was a hard environment to get into.”