Interview: Benjamin Maio Mackay – (Part 2) Casting of The Phoenix Files

Part Two of Glam’s interview with Benjamin Maio Mackay. This time dealing with the casting of his audio version of “The Phoenix Files”

Young Adelaide actor, director, writer, singer, producer, host, podcaster and entrepreneur, Benjamin Maio Mackay, has adapted Chris Morphew’s best-selling Australian young adult novels, The Phoenix Files, into an exciting new audio drama; the first instalment of which will be available this coming Thursday, 30 Nov 2017. It will feature a multitude of local Adelaide talent PLUS BAFTA nominee and Doctor Who star Paul McGann (the Eighth Doctor), Australian acting legend John Jarratt (Wolf Creek) and Chaser member, Andrew Hansen.

Benjamin kindly took time to chat to Glam about this exciting new project.

This second interview (of three) looks at the casting process of the audio drama The Phoenix Files..

B.G.: I know you had auditions for the local cast of actors, but how did you go about approaching the well-known stars – in particular Paul McGann and John Jarratt?

B.M.M.: With our cast of 42 actors it is the largest Australian audio drama ever produced and that’s something I’m very proud of. With the exception of Paul McGann (and a couple of 1-line cameos) every actor is Australian, which created a huge amount of opportunities for actors all around the country. There’s so much talent in Australia and I listened to thousands of audition tapes to find our cast – so we really do have the best of the best.

John Jarratt was the first person I cast. I heard his voice in my head as I was initially reading the books a couple of years ago. Once I had the scripts completed, I wrote a short summary and a character blurb, and sent it all over to John’s wonderful agents. It really came down to material. I was confident in the story that Chris (Morphew) had created and hoped my adaptation did it justice. John read it, looked at the character – we talked and he signed on to the project. He really was wonderful to work with and the day in the studio with John was one of my favourites.

With Andrew Hansen (from the Chaser), he’s a good friend of mine and we’d briefly worked together in Great Detectives (in Sydney) and back on ABC Radio Extra in 2013. I sent Andrew the scripts and the character description. He liked the premise, wanted to work with me again and signed on. With Kurt Phelan (Dirty Dancing) and Stephen Mahy (Jersey Boys, Grease), two of Australia’s greatest theatre actors, I knew them both personally and they’re friends of mine. I really wanted to get them involved in this, but I didn’t quite know what roles they’d suit. They both auditioned for a couple of roles, which was hugely appreciated and from there I found roles that suited their incredible talent.

Paul McGann for me was the natural choice for Shackleton. He has a wonderfully menacing voice and beautiful British accent; he could sell you anything, which is important for a villain. I reached out to Paul’s management team and after some negotiations Paul agreed to do the project. It all happened very quickly; we recorded Paul in a studio in Manchester a week after he signed onto the project. He was fantastic to work with and really dedicated to making his villain a three-dimensional character, not a disposable enemy to over come –  which I think we’ve achieved.

B.G.: With so much vocal talent involved, how were the recording sessions handled? In particular, with the interstate and overseas talent?

B.M.M.: The great thing about audio dramas is that you can record everyone individually and then in post-production it gets edited together. This not only enables me to record in different states and countries for our national and international talent, but it means we can very much focus on each person’s performance. The whole trilogy was recorded over a period of 6 months. Most actors spent about 3 to 4 hours recording the dialogue and I’m very grateful to my composer and studio engineer Sean Braithwaite for being with me on about 70% of the recording process. Sean’s original score is fantastic; hearing it for the first time (especially Shackleton’s theme – my favourite piece of music) was one of the most joyous aspects of the project for me.

There’s three lead characters across the series, played by Julia Sciacca, Sebastian Cooper and myself. Seb and I spent a couple days each in the studio recording, but Julia, who plays Jordan has the most dialogue and spent over 200 hours recording. The dedication, preparation and commitment from the whole cast was incredible, but Julia’s contribution is especially noteworthy. So, the way the sessions function is that each person would record their individual dialogue separately and I’d work with them to ensure we got the best performance possible. It’s a very fun, intense, but ultimately collaborative process.

You can pre-order The Phoenix Files: Man in the Shadows now from iTunes, Amazon and Google Play. From Thursday it will also be available on



Google Play:

Interview by Brian Godfrey

Part Three of my interview with Benjamin Maio Mackay will appear tomorrow, Thursday 30 Nov 2017


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