WHAT would you do if you came across a boat of stranded asylum seekers?
A new Queensland-filmed thriller explores just such a stressful scenario. The four-part drama Safe Harbour follows five people whose sailing holiday to Indonesia is thrown off course when they find a broken down fishing boat full of desperate asylum seekers en route to Australia.
The group puts it to a vote and decides to help by towing the vessel back into Australian waters. But in the middle of the night, the fishing boat and its passengers disappear.
Years later, the incident long-forgotten,the sail boat's owner Ryan (Ewen Leslie) seems to randomly bump into one of the asylum seekers, who has somehow made it to Australia and is now working in Brisbane as a taxi driver.
Ryan invites Ismail and his family over for a barbecue, but their reunion soon throws everyone's lives into chaos as it is revealed that after the fishing boat came, or was cast, loose it sank and seven people died.
"The great thing about the idea of this show is it's a what-would-you-do scenario," Leslie tells The Guide.
"It's very easy to sit in the comfort of your lounge room reading the newspaper and looking at scenarios and going 'That's absolutely horrible and I would do everything I could to change that'.
"The characters we play are the sort of people who would read these horrible stories and go 'That is absolutely awful and given an opportunity to make a difference I would make a difference'. But when you're thrown into the pell-mell of that situation it becomes a very different thing. I've always looked at the guy I was playing as someone who would consider themselves to be a good person trying to make the right decisions in a really complicated situation."
The series required long days of filming off the coast of Moreton Bay, a new experience for Leslie.
"Obviously we were shooting intense, harrowing stuff but it was a pretty amazing experience," he says.
"We were on a yacht, there were actors on the other boat, there was the camera crew on a separate boat and the sound crew on another boat. You hear stories about Jaws and Waterworld going over budget, and everything I'd heard was true in terms of shooting on water.''
Safe Harbour follows Leslie's acclaimed turns in the mini-series Top of the Lake: China Girl and the feature film Sweet Country.
The murky morality tale is sure to earn him even more praise. But it hasn't been a straightforward or easy road to success for the 37-year-old.
"I'm definitely lucky at the moment that people I admired from a distance are now knocking at my door," he says.
"You learn (that this work) ebbs and flows. When I first graduated (from WAAPA) in 2000 I didn't work for four years."
Steady work isn't a concern these days. Leslie has already reunited with Safe Harbour's director Glendyn Ivin on his latest project, the BBC series The Cry, which is currently filming in Melbourne.
"There's some really good TV being made at the moment in Australia by the likes of SBS, the ABC and Foxtel," Leslie says.
"It's funny, years ago film was naturally the thing you were more excited by. TV stuff came through you were like 'Yeah I'm not sure' but that's all shifted. Now on TV you get to play these characters and you get to do it over six hours, in the case of Top of the Lake, or four hours in the case of Safe Harbour. It's exciting stuff."
Safe Harbour premieres tonight at 8.30pm on SBS.