Peter Duncan
Friday, October 29, 2010
Justinian in On the Couch

The former Allen's man Peter Duncan is the writer, director, co-producor and co-creator of Rake, the new ABC barrister series to launch on ABC TV next Thursday night ... Duncan luxuriates on Justinian's couch

Rake's press kit says that Peter Duncan is "an award winning screenwriter and director".

His first feature film was Children of the Revolution, with Judy Davis, Sam Neill and Geoffrey Rush. It carried off a swag of AFI gongs.

His creative triumphs continued: A Little Bit of Soul, Passion (on the life of Percy Grainger), Romulus My Father (where he script consulted) and Unfinished Sky (six AFI awards and an IF prize for best director).

Duncan was at Sydney Law School in the 1980s, in the golden era when there was no requirement to attend lectures. This enabled him to spend time writing and directing reviews.

He paralegalled at Allen Allen & Hemsley's commercial litigation department for about three years.

Soon he saw where the real money was to be had and headed to the Australian Film Television & Radio School.

Rake is an eight episode series on the life and professional escapades of barrister Cleaver Greene. It starts on November 4 and for the truly fascinated there's a preview on ABC iView on Sunday (October 31) at 8.30 pm.

Justinian had no trouble getting Duncan to explain himself ...

Describe yourself in three words.
My own problem.

What are you currently reading?
"Tony Blair, A Journey."

What's your favourite film?

Who has been the most influential person in your life?
My mother.

How and why did you extract yourself from a life in the law?
When I came to the shocking realisation that I had smart, talented friends who genuinely enjoyed reading the Commonwealth Law Reports I knew I had no business being a lawyer. So I applied for film school. Since then it has all been one long series of sexual favours.

What is your favourite piece of music?
Satie's Gnossienne No 1.

What is your most recognised talent?
My intense personal process with actors - which in the film world means I pay for dinner.

What words or phrases do you overuse?
"I want to flip this one." I never use the word "correct". (Please watch episode two of Rake for clarification.)

What is your greatest regret?
Every third act I've written.

Whom do you envy and why?
Tom Stoppard, because he's been able to forge a fabulous, authentic and idiosyncratic career out of his intellect. Bastard.

From where did the inspiration for Cleaver Greene come?
For years Richard Roxburgh and I had been looking for a narrative context about a brilliant but busted man. Then Charlie Waterstreet told us a story and Cleaver, the lawyer, started taking shape.

Will Rake inflict lasting damage to the standing of lawyers and the law?
With any luck.

What is your most disturbing personal obsession?
That is a matter between me and my internet service provider.

What's your most glamorous feature?
Well, my law degree, obviously.

If you were a foodstuff, what would you be?
Anything Hugo Weaving has for dinner.

What human quality do you most distrust?

What would you change about Australia?
Its location.

Whom or what do you consider overrated?

What would your epitaph say?
"I'm not sure about this line."

What comes into your mind when you shut your eyes and think of the word "law"?
A paralegal I once knew.

Article originally appeared on Justinian: Australian legal magazine. News on lawyers and the law (
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