All posts by Michael Pickard

Stroke of Genius

Spanish screen star Antonio Banderas transforms into one of his personal heroes for the second instalment of National Geographic scripted anthology series Genius. He tells DQ about playing the many faces of celebrated artist Pablo Picasso.

When it debuted in 2017, the first season of National Geographic’s anthology drama Genius became a critical and popular hit, drawing more than 45 million viewers worldwide and earning Emmy and Golden Globe nominations for its focus on the life of Albert Einstein.

Season two, launching around the world from next Monday, turns its attention to Spanish painter Pablo Picasso, with Antonio Banderas (The Mask of Zorro) playing one of the 20th century’s most influential and celebrated artists. The drama explores how Picasso imagined and interpreted the world in new and unorthodox ways – but also how his nature and relentless creative drive were inextricably linked to his personal life, which included tumultuous marriages, numerous affairs and constantly shifting political and personal alliances.

Genius: Picasso is produced by Fox 21 Television Studios, Imagine Television, Madison Wells Media’s Odd-lot Entertainment and EUE/Sokolow, and distributed by Fox Networks Group Content Distribution.

Here, Banderas tells DQ about his longtime interest in Picasso, how he gets into character and the challenges of portraying a man with as many faces as the portraits
he paints.

Genius: Picasso stars Antonio Banderas as the celebrated Spanish artist

DQ: You say Picasso fascinates you – why?
Banderas: Because I am an artist. And when you recognise a real one, an honest one, somebody who is way bigger than you, there are no other words than fascination and curiosity. Besides that, he was born in my hometown, Málaga, and he was probably the only international hero we had at the time.

How was the series pitched to you and what was the appeal of taking on the role?
I didn’t know when I saw Genius: Einstein that there was going to be another one or that it was going to be dedicated to Picasso. But I loved it. I loved the quality of it. And I loved the fact that National Geographic, which is a channel that goes behind the facts, was going to explore the life of Picasso. I was also attracted by the presence of people I admire like [executive producer] Ron Howard and [showrunner] Ken Biller. So those things were guarantees that what we were going to do was something serious and well put together.

After portraying Pancho Villa (in And Starring Pancho Villa As Himself) and Che Guevara (Evita), what is your acting approach to playing someone who existed in real life?
Trying to get as much information as I can is number one, so I read books. Then I try to understand the script and how the character is positioned in the story, and then to understand the bible created by the creators – not only the script, but also how it is going to be shaped. What is the narrative process we’re going to follow? Is it going to be linear, or we are going to be jumping back and forth – as we are, actually. So trying to understand the entire project, from content to form.

How does the series tackle the story of Picasso’s life?
The only problem we have is that Picasso didn’t write very much about himself and he did very few interviews. He basically talked through his paintings. So all we know about Picasso is through the people who surrounded him, and everybody who was in the orbit of that planet called Picasso was affected by him in one way or another, good or bad.
Who he was is something we have to determine. I made decisions, sometimes followed by creating my own intuition, listening to as many voices as I could. I may question myself and say, ‘I think he did this. Now that I know the guy, I think he took this action for this reason.’ So I take those choices, supported or not, by the material that I have in front of me, which is the script.

Banderas and Samantha Colley (as one of the artist’s lovers) take to the beach

Do you like art and enjoy painting? Are you a fan of Picasso’s work?
Hell yeah. Picasso is my favourite painter of all time. But before I even became an artist, when I was a kid, I loved Picasso. The thing that has always fascinated me about him is he practically did everything. Matisse is an amazing painter, but he’s got a very specific style. Picasso went through practically every style invented. And then there is a tremendous sincerity to him. He never looked for applause. He never worked for anybody except himself. That is amazing and, in our day, practically impossible.

How were the scenes of you painting filmed? Did you take any lessons or practice a lot?
I practiced the mechanics of brush strokes, holding the brush and understanding how the paints, brush and canvas interact. But my focus was more on understanding the character.

How did you transform yourself into Picasso?
It’s not a job I do alone. My character, and everybody’s character in this production, is made through teamwork. You cannot do this by yourself. Two people were fundamental: Davina Lamont, our head of hair and makeup, and Sonu Mishra, our head of costumes. I have never been so affected by the creation of a character. Never, in any movie – I’ve done 105 movies.
Sonu had studied deeply the complexity of how Picasso dressed himself, so when I step into his pants every morning, the character comes to me. It makes me smaller in size, it makes me wider, it makes me more wrinkled like Picasso. But I don’t think Picasso was very worried about the way he looked or anything like that. He had this kind of Bohemian ‘I don’t give a shit’ thing, and Sonu got that completely. She helped me enormously to understand the character. The way you dress is a proclamation of who you want to portray yourself as in front of others, so what she gave me was extraordinary.
Then in the prosthetic setup, there was a lot of suffering every morning. You have to learn to play with them because they are kind of a mask, but you have a person behind them like Davina who gives you tremendous security. She did a job with the character that is unbelievable, priceless. When they put things on top of you, you’ve got to know the value of gesturing, for example, or mannerisms. It’s a different face that you have to learn how to use.

The real Pablo Picasso, who died in 1973

How involved are you behind the scenes? Do you work closely with the writers and directors?
Absolutely. I had the scriptwriters around me and I could discuss certain lines. When I proposed things, sometimes they accepted my ideas. And it was the same with the directors, especially Ken Biller. Ken is the pump of the whole thing: he created the bible, he’s got the biggest responsibility on set and he listens a lot. Málaga, for example, was not in the schedule, but I made him come to Málaga and see where Picasso was born and the church where he was baptised, and those places were used [in the series]. He gave me a gift – he allowed me to shoot one scene in Málaga on the beach. It should probably have been done in Malta later, but we did it there in Málaga. It would have been beautiful for me as a kid to see Picasso walking on the beaches of Málaga.

What was the biggest challenge you faced on the show?
It’s funny, in [his grandson] Olivier Picasso’s book, it says Picasso hated his voice. That’s one of the reasons he didn’t do many interviews on radio or TV. So I created a voice for him. I make him a little bit lower in voice and try to give him a little bit more gravity. There is something in the way he walks and talks and I tried to use that and expand it. The only interview I have seen him do was for Belgian television, and he speaks almost like an Italian. I remember my father speaking like that, and my uncle Pepe.
The most difficult thing was that there were many different Picassos. There is a Picasso for every style, for every wife, for every lover. He transformed himself like he transformed his own painting. So sometimes he can be cruel, sometimes he can be a very lovely guy. It just depends. He’s a genius. And very confident, very secure in his skills as a painter. That gave him a tremendous security, and that is very dangerous too because if he finds people in his way, he becomes dismissive. And that can create a lot of problems.

Do you see yourself doing more writing and directing in the future?
Yes. In fact, that’s what I want to do, really. I’ve done two movies as a director [Crazy in Alabama and Summer Rain], but they were based on books and the novelists wrote the scripts. I want to write and direct the way I see the world. There’s a number of issues I would love to reflect about families, and another issue is hypocrisy. The way we live, we are all actors playing roles. We don’t express what we feel, and now with social networks, you start seeing what is inside, and it’s very dark.
When you are anonymous, what comes out is horrendous. So I’d like to make movies about that, about the true self of a human being and how we portray ourselves in society.

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In the Zone

Directing brothers Jorge and Alberto Sánchez-Cabezudo talk about the inspiration behind Spanish thriller La Zona (The Zone), an eight-part drama that follows the hunt for a murderer three years after a catastrophic nuclear tragedy.

Deadly nuclear disasters of the kind that have become synonymous with locations such as Chernobyl and Fukushima have all the ingredients for compelling television drama. Death, tragedy, environmental devastation and the displacement of hundreds, if not thousands, of people can inspire a wealth of stories, not forgetting the chance to recreate catastrophic explosions and the events that precede them.

One such series currently in production is the aptly titled Chernobyl, the first coproduction between HBO and Sky Atlantic. Starring Jared Harris, Stellan Skarsgård and Emily Watson, it dramatises the true story of one of the worst man-made disasters in history and the people who tried to save Europe from tragedy in April 1986.

The two disasters were also the inspiration for Spanish drama La Zona (The Zone), though this series transplanted the cause and effects of an explosion to a fictional setting in northern Spain.

The eight-part series, commissioned by Spanish pay TV platform Movistar, follows what happens after a nuclear power plant meltdown leads to the creation of a contaminated no-go area and leaves the nearby provincial city and its inhabitants in a state of shock and mourning. One of the victims is police inspector Hector Uria (Eduard Fernández)’s 20-year-old son Fede.

Brothers Alberto (left) and Jorge Sanchez-Cabezudo are behind La Zona

Three years after the event, the discovery of a mutilated body in a warehouse and a spate of other mysterious killings take Hector’s search for the murderer deep into the contamination zone, where he uncovers a smuggling racket controlled by the company in charge of the clean-up.

As a survivor, he must also confront the demons of his past – the same demons also haunting doctor and public health official Julia (Alexandra Jiménez), Hector’s wife Marta (Emma Suárez) and his daughter Ester (Marina Salas).

The police thriller, created and directed by brothers Jorge and Alberto Sánchez-Cabezudo (Crematorium, Grand Hotel), is produced by Movistar in collaboration with Kubik Films, Feelgood Media, Kowalski Films and distributor Beta Film.

“It’s something mysterious, very intense and exciting,” Alberto says of the idea behind La Zona. “We work a lot in documentaries so we like to go deep into the news. We were about to pitch the project but we had to stop because of Fukushima [in March 2011] so we put the project aside.

“Then two years ago we asked what was happening with Fukushima and it was really amazing. We discovered a lot of things were going on and it was about normal people. So we found a lot of interesting things to add to the project.”

The story follows the aftermath of a nuclear disaster and the hunt for a killer

The brothers admit their working relationship is “complicated.” Alberto says: “We work together so we design the production, the settings, the casting, then when it’s time to shoot, Jorge directs and I’m more like an executive producer, supervising the whole show.”

They also write together, taking half the episodes each and adding lots of visual elements to the scripts so their vision is on paper before shooting starts. La Zona is a thriller at its heart but it’s also incredibly atmospheric.

“There’s a lot of silence, a lot of scenes without dialogue,” Jorge notes. “We also have a lot of perspective, but it’s not just one point of view; it’s many, of the same thing sometimes. It’s very interesting to shoot that way because you have one main character but, in the second chapter, you have another point of view, and again in chapter five. It’s very funny to play with what the audience knows about the characters and what the characters know about the investigation. It plays on the tension.”

The murder investigation is at the heart of the story, with Hector on the hunt for a killer. “The special thing about this detective is he’s a victim too, so we felt very interested in this paradox,” Alberto says. “He has to contain the rage of the people but also he’s a victim, so he has to feel that grief.”

Jorge continues: “That aspect is very strong and also very emotional – there are two faces to the same character.”

La Zona has been picked up by broadcasters in countries including Germany and the US

Unsurprisingly for such an ambitious series, there were notable challenges – not least in finding the location for the fictional power plant and its vast no-go perimeter.

“We shot in more than 160 locations, all in natural locations,” Alberto reveals. “Our focus was on the north of Spain, in Asturias. It’s very green and the nature is amazing but it also has industries that are abandoned, like a ghost, in the middle of nature, so that feeling was very important for us. It was a challenge to produce and have so many locations, so we had two units.”

Finding the perfect locations, with many disused buildings that could simultaneously be described as contaminated and abandoned, also meant the need for building sets was vastly reduced.

“From the beginning, the important thing was to get this local and realistic aspect of the aftermath,” Alberto says. “People had to believe from the start that something like that happened in Spain. We started scouting right from when we were writing so we could add that nature, landscapes and places into the script.”

The Sánchez-Cabezudo brothers expect to return to the thriller genre in the future, but say their future projects will also continue to tackle contemporary social issues and draw inspiration from real events.

For now, La Zona continues to pick up international admirers. Earlier this month the show was taken by US premium cablenet Starz, while Germany’s ZDF acquired it last October. Movistar owner Telefonica, meanwhile, secured the series – its first original drama – for its pay TV services in Poland and Latin America.

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Medical marvels

Australian medical drama Pulse highlights some of the challenges facing hospitals down under. Stars Claire van der Boom and Pallavi Sharda discuss the series’ real-life origins and overcoming diversity and gender imbalance on screen.

For Australian actors Claire van der Boom and Pallavi Sharda, the chance to appear in medical drama Pulse marked something of a homecoming.

LA-based van der Boom has been on screen in the US in shows such as NBC’s Game of Silence and CBS procedural Hawaii Five-O. Sharda, meanwhile, has starred on the big screen in films such as Oscar-nominated Lion and Bollywood productions Begum Jaan, Hawaizaada, Besharam and Heroine.

But they both returned down under for the eight-part ABC series, based on the true story of a transplant patient who was inspired to become a doctor. Van der Boom plays Frankie, a high-flying financial analyst who was given a second chance at life following a kidney transplant and, inspired by the man who saved her life, she trains to become a doctor at a major teaching hospital.

Pallavi Sharda as Tanya Kalahari

The series, produced by Clandestine Beyond in association with Beyond Entertainment and distributed by ABC Commercial, also highlights many real-world issues facing hospitals in Australia as the medical staff confront the political, personal and professional realities of working in an ailing system. In fact, as preparation, van der Boom watched UK factual series Hospital, which she says featured similar problems such as bed shortages, lack of places for medical students and the issue of suicide among trainee doctors.

“[The profession] is still very male-orientated so we’re dealing with a lot of that,” she continues. “In terms of patients, we’re dealing with the morals around what it is to be an old person with a pacemaker and when they want to turn it off, and a female refugee who doesn’t have her papers, so can we operate on her and [what if] she gets deported? It has all those huge questions, like whether or not a gay partner can come in over a sister when someone’s in a life-or-death situation. So all of that is global. I was really proud of our writers; they really crammed it full of cutting-edge questions.”

Sharda plays Tanya Kalahari, a “maverick” doctor senior to van der Boom’s Frankie, leading to some compelling head-to-head battles on the hospital ward.

“She’s someone who has worked really hard but is fighting the fact that her father is the head of medical and is trying to prove herself, as opposed to being someone who may be there through nepotism,” she explains.

More appealing to Sharda, however, was the fact she felt this was a part in an Australian show – created by Kris Wyld, Michael Miller and Mel Hill – she could really “dig her teeth into.”

“It was really interesting because, being an Indian-origin Australian actor, it’s a pioneering cast in terms of the representation of people from different ethnic backgrounds and different sexual orientations, and [it looks at] very cutting-edge issues we need to explore now,” she explains. “I hadn’t had access to writing like that before or been given a script to read where I thought, ‘That seems like an authentic character I believe in.’

“The funny thing is an Indian doctor is a stereotype in itself, but here we are all playing doctors. It was really nice to be in the mainstream in this show and the ‘us and them’ was really broken down. Australia has been a little bit slower [to tackle on-screen diversity], only because our waves of immigration have worked very differently.”

With a lack of Asian stars on screen, Sharda looked up to talent such as British stars Meera Syal and Sanjeev Bhaskar and director Gurinder Chadha (Bend It Like Beckham). Now she says Australia is opening up more to diversity.

Claire van der Boom alongside Owen Teale, aka Game of Thrones’ Alliser Thorne

“I had to go to India to become an actor to a certain degree, because those opportunities definitely weren’t there in Australia seven or eight years ago,” she notes. “I don’t begrudge the industry for that, but it takes time and every industry has it’s teething process with these things.

“The same is true with any industry. Bollywood is pretty homogenous in it’s own representation of what being Indian means. It just talks about north Indian culture, for example. So it’s not that one is better than the other. For me, it’s nice to work in Australia because I’m Australian.”

As a renal resident at City West Public Hospital, Frankie must hide the fact that she is not only a transplant doctor but a transplant patient too, a fact she fears could destroy her career if discovered.

That overarching plot line, coupled with the true story behind the drama, meant van der Boom learned an incredible amount about dialysis and kidney diseases during the course of production, leading her to become very passionate about the subject of transplants and donor registration.

“Australia has some of the worst transplant rates in the world and a lot of people die waiting,” the actor says. “Particularly if you’re a young person who gets a kidney disease, it’s a life sentence, in a way, because it’s about eight years for a transplant. People don’t realise you can walk into a hospital and give a kidney. If you’re a recipient of a kidney from a living donor, it lasts twice as long as a deceased person’s, so there really are incredible options in science people aren’t really talking about.”

Pulse tells the true story of a transplant patient who becomes a doctor

As well as greater diversity on screen, van der Boom and Sharda also recognise the greater opportunities now for female actors in television, particularly in leading roles.

“We’re starting to see less of ‘woman, smart and beautiful’ in a script,” van der Boom explains. “Now it’s just ‘woman.’ Thank God that’s changing, but on this show, it just wasn’t important in the audition and the first couple of scripts I got. It was such a relief to find the love life was the fourth most important thing. We don’t have to talk about it, it just bubbles to the surface. We hope there’s more of that.”

Sharda picks up: “I do feel this convergence on so many levels of so many things I’ve been mentally fighting since I was a younger actor. This year I had a film released in India called Begum, in which I played a sex worker. It was about 11 women fighting for their house at the time of partition, where the British drew a line between India and Pakistan and pissed off.

“Our histories have been told in a certain way for so long, and all the storytelling I’ve been a part of in the last year-and-a-half has made me consider the history I’m a part of and how that storytelling has occurred, and the role I can play going forward.

“If we’re looking at what’s going on in Hollywood, Bollywood wasn’t even there. Then I saw this sea change and a global consciousness shift in the last couple of years. I feel really pleased that, at a global level, everyone’s thinking about those things.”

Van der Boom now hopes to return to Australia at least once a year to work on projects that are “quintessentially Australian,” while Sharda is writing a book about her cross-cultural experiences, reflecting on the ideas of dual identity and representation in a multi-cultural society. But the screen remains her priority, noting that it’s not the medium but the story that is now the most important thing when it comes to choosing acting roles.

“We’ve moved beyond ‘film versus television,’ with such great television being made,” she adds. “With Netflix, Amazon and all these people coming into India and making original content, the quality and production values have gone up, so it’s just more about the scope of storytelling for me. I’m an Indian dancer so one thing I want to do more is concentrate on live work. I feel like I’ve ignored that in the last few years. Anything I can do that is fusion and bringing cultures together, it doesn’t matter what the medium is.”

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Killing time

Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer engage in a game of cat and mouse in spy thriller Killing Eve, from Fleabag creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge. DQ visits the windswept English countryside to see them in action.

Sandra Oh is staring out of the window of a production trailer lodged on an exposed hillside overlooking miles of beautiful English countryside. It’s a typical British autumnal day as grey clouds jostle with blue skies. “Look at this location,” she says while wrapped up amid the blustery conditions. “It’s like the most beautiful, fantastic location. And it’s raining – it’s so romantic.”

More used to the never-ending sunshine enjoyed in LA, it’s here at Ivinghoe Beacon, which stands tall among the Chiltern Hills, that Oh chats to DQ as she prepares to film scenes from BBC America spy thriller Killing Eve.

Oh plays the eponymous Eve, a bored MI5 security officer whose desk job does not fulfil her fantasies of being a spy. When she is tasked with tracking down fearsome Russian assassin Villanelle (Jodie Comer), working on behalf of a shadowy organisation, the two women are thrown into a cat-and-mouse game set over eight episodes and several stunning European locations, including Tuscany, Berlin, London and Russia.

Based on the Villanelle novellas by Luke Jennings, the series was created by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, the writer and star of BBC comedy Fleabag, who is the head writer and executive producer. It is produced by Sid Gentle, with Sally Woodward Gentle and Lee Morris also exec producing and Colin Wratten as producer. Endeavor Content distributes the show, which debuted in the US this month and has already been sold to the BBC in the UK. Other buyers include France’s Canal+, HBO Europe, HOT in Israel and TVNZ in New Zealand.

Grey’s Anatomy star Sandra Oh as Eve

“When we meet her, the surface of her life is that it is a happy and complete one,” Oh says of her character. “But she’s unfulfilled in ways that are mysterious to her. Her relationship with this assassin really awakens something deep in her that she’s willing to sacrifice many things for.”

Later on set, the crew is fully exposed to the elements as firearms experts prepare a number of weapons between takes. One is then handed over to Comer, who runs through a rehearsal before filming a scene from episode four, in which Villanelle, gun raised, approaches a battered and broken 4×4 that has been brought to a stop along a dirt track by what appears to have been a tremendous volley of bullets.

Liverpudlian Comer – who sports a Russian accent in the series – agrees Villanelle is a complicated character. “When you first meet her, she’s mystical in the sense that you don’t really know much about her. She lives in Paris, she has this very luxurious lifestyle but seems to have nobody around her. The only real relationship she has is with Konstantin [her handler, played by The Bridge’s Kim Bodnia]. She very much wants to be in control of every aspect of her life – and when Eve comes into the picture, things start to slip up.”

But is she also a psychopath? “Essentially she is, yes. She kills people. She enjoys it. Killing is like an art to her,” Comer explains. “She really thinks about how she’s going to execute it. She takes on personas to do that, whether it be dressing up as a different person, [speaking a] different language… all these different things she goes at with full speed. She’s not to be trusted but I think she’s very likeable, in a weird way. I hope she is, anyway.”

Comer has risen to fame on the back of starring roles in BBC dramas Thirteen and Doctor Foster. And after heading the cast of Starz period drama The White Princess, the actor was looking for something more contemporary when Killing Eve came along. “Phoebe’s script was probably the only one that came through and I was like, ‘I’ve got to do this,’” she recalls. “You get scripts that you love but this was so much fun to read on the page. Also, [I had to take] the chance to work with Phoebe, because I loved Fleabag and I thought with episode one, where is this story going to go?

Oh comes up against Jodie Comer’s Villanelle

“As for Villanelle as a character, I feel like assassins can be so one-dimensional and unrelatable. They can be very cold. But I felt that people would relate to her in some way. It’s quite original what Phoebe has done – going from quite a dark moment to laughter is the perfect balance.”

The role also afforded Comer the chance to do some stunts. “But I’m so uncoordinated,” she admits. “There will be a close-up of me flicking a knife and I’m, like, butterfingers, so we have to do it eight times. I’m so bad at this. But it’s fun and it’s something I’ve never done before.”

However, the actor adds: “Villanelle gets so close to the people she kills that not an awful lot of it is super physical. It’s very interesting how she gets so close to these people and how comfortable people feel around her. She can so easily be the girl next door. She can do all these different things and I think that’s what she enjoys the most.”

By contrast, what makes Eve stand out is that when she enters the spy game, she doesn’t suddenly know her way around a machine gun or become an expert at going undercover. “She’s not being an idiot, but everything is new,” Oh says. “She’s just a middle-aged lady who works at MI5 and makes sure everyone’s security is in order. There’s a difference between someone who picks up a gun that is believable and someone who is really picking up a gun for the first time.

“I remember one time I was going to do a movie where I had to shoot a big gun. I went into training and I looked at myself and thought, ‘I just look like a middle-aged Korean lady holding a big gun. This is not believable.’ I feel like in a lot of shows and movies, people seem to know how to do shit and that’s just not true.”

Killing Eve launched in the US last weekend

Sid Gentle had picked up the Villanelle novellas for adaptation when founder Woodward Gentle first met with Waller-Bridge. The latter was then still relatively unknown, as Fleabag, based on her play of the same name, had yet to air. “I’d read the play and I just loved the idea of putting her voice with that material,” Woodward Gentle says. “She really liked [the Villanelle IP] as well and was really excited by it. We actually developed it for another broadcaster, but BBC America took the script away and completely loved it even before Fleabag had gone out, so they totally got the tone and the ambition of it and weren’t just jumping on the Fleabag bandwagon. When it was greenlit, they asked if there could be one American character, so at least there would be some access point for an American audience.”

Eve was cast first, with the producers seeking a 40-something American to play the part. Canadian-born Oh, whose parents are Korean, fitted the bill. “She’s an extraordinary, serious, compelling, compassionate actor,” Woodward Gentle says. “You also believe her to be married to a Brit and to have been here [in the UK] for a while.”

For Villanelle, “we didn’t want a kick-ass sexy female,” she continues. “We wanted somebody who feels real, who feels like you could sit next to her on the Tube and she would just mix in. She needs to be a chameleon.

“Jodie’s an extraordinary actress. She chemistry-read with Sandra and that was amazing. She can have many different looks, she’s got amazing intensity and she’s also really naughty and spontaneous, so that worked well.”

Oh says she was drawn to the project by the mixture of wit and drama in Waller-Bridge’s scripts – and early trailers for the series suggest there will be large doses of humour throughout the drama.

“I thought it was unique and I really hope that’s what comes across,” says the actor, best known for her long-running role in US medical drama Grey’s Anatomy. “The English do dark detective series very well but it’s not just that, and it’s not just a character piece or thriller piece. It’s unique and it absolutely has to do with Phoebe’s voice as a writer and her choices.

“I really appreciate the way the show handles its wit specifically to each character. It’s not just like everyone’s funny – I can’t stand that, when everyone has the same type of humour. That’s just not true in life.”

The show’s comedic elements are never cartoony, however, with Woodward Gentle highlighting the production team’s extensive research aimed at bringing realism to the scripts and the world in which the series is set. “We’ve done a lot of research into who this organisation [that controls Villanelle] could be, who they might be killing off and what their ultimate ends might be,” she says.

“As you go further on with the show, you realise they’re actually mad and their scheme is quite terrifying, but that won’t get revealed until we’re into later seasons. We’re trying to ground it as much as we possibly can – it’s not James Bond, it should feel more grounded than that. But there is this black wit that you get in real life anyway.”

For Oh, meanwhile, the chance to lead a series has been a “30-year wait” – but she believes there is still plenty to be done to increase diversity in the industry. “You have a face like mine who is the face of the show and it’s two lead women, it’s produced and created by a woman. But I still feel there’s a lot of work for us to do to encourage women and actors of colour and crew of colour both in front of and behind the camera.”

“When was the last time you saw an Asian woman as the lead of a show? It’s very important to me and that is not lost on me at all. Having said that, it is 30 years in the making. But I’m happy to be here to do it.”

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Sun, sea and animals

Writer Simon Nye talks to DQ about writing The Durrells, ITV’s hit family drama about a British family living on the idyllic Greek island of Corfu in the 1930s.

For a certain generation, Simon Nye will always be known as the creator of long-running comedy series Men Behaving Badly, a series that defined the ‘lad culture’ of the 1990s.

In fact, the writer and author has his roots firmly in the comedy genre, having written other series including Hardware, Wild West, Carrie & Barrie, Beast and Reggie Perrin.

More recently, he penned TV biopic Tommy Cooper: Not Like That, Like This, and wrote a 2010 episode of Doctor Who, with Matt Smith then in the lead role.

Today he’s still writing comedy, but The Durrells is arguably more dramatic and certainly more exotic than anything he’s written before. In fact, he wrote a BBC TV movie based on Gerald Durrell’s autobiographical novel My Family and Other Animals in 2005, before returning to the novel and its two sequels – known as Durrell’s Corfu trilogy – for the ITV drama, which first aired in 2016.

Simon Nye

Now in its third season, the series continues to tell the story of Louisa Durrell (played by Keeley Hawes) and her four spirited but unruly children who have left England for a new life in Corfu in the 1930s. It is produced by Sid Gentle Films and Masterpiece in the US and distributed by BBC Worldwide.

“I think it is our best season – I wouldn’t say if it was worse – but we’re in that sweet spot where we know what we do best and there are lots of stories to tell,” Nye says. “Corfu is still looking gorgeous.”

Nye is no stranger to adaptation, having turned his own Men Behaving Badly and Wideboy novels into TV shows. The second was known on screen as Frank Stubbs Promotes, starring Timothy Spall. He also penned a TV movie version of The Railway Children for ITV, as well as his earlier Durrells effort.

“We always try to have a story from the book in each episode but it’s getting harder so we’re branching out a bit,” he says of The Durrells. “It’s a balance between not inventing so much that it’s nothing to do with the family in the books and the family we know lived on Corfu, and the need to create stories that last the course.”

That challenge has been extended further in season three, with the episode count rising from six to eight. “Eight episodes is actually very different from writing six episodes because it’s a different rhythm, but it’s been great,” Nye adds. “Not that a fourth season has been confirmed yet, but I’m already writing the first two episodes of the new season.”

Each episode presents the challenge of finding a story for the each of the large cast, which includes Louisa and her children Larry (Josh O’Connor), Leslie (Callum Woodhouse), Margo (Daisy Waterstone) and Gerry (Milo Parker), not to mention the returning Greek characters and this season’s new arrivals.

“Initially you want to come up with a satisfying spine for the whole season,” says Nye, who adds while his storylines are informed by the books, he also has to do a lot of legwork himself. “Leslie has a long story that runs through it and we’ve got such great actors that you really want to give them something they can get their teeth into, other than just looking pretty on the terrace. That’s the real challenge, in 46 minutes, to get everyone firing. The stories do move along swiftly so it’s a question of cramming as much as we can in without making it look ridiculous. I tend to start slowly and later episodes are easier to write.

The Durrells’ cast is led by Keeley Hawes as matriarch Louisa

“We try to have a grand plan at the beginning but you find in the early episodes that your characters want to go in different directions. You just want to have an idea of what’s coming up because then you can build on what’s there and sow some seeds for later episodes. But a lot of people don’t watch the whole season, so you have to make it work on an episode-by-episode basis as well.”

At its heart, however, The Durrells is the story of a family loving one another but simultaneously at war with each other, an idea that has served as the framework for the entire series. The story opens with Louisa taking her brood to Corfu in an attempt to patch up their differences, but the Mediterranean landscape only serves to highlight their individual and collective eccentricities.

“Who wants to watch a functional family?” says Nye. “It’s got to go wrong. Not that we’re teaching lessons, but you do learn from seeing other people screw up. Although it’s set in the 1930s, they’re quite a modern family. We can’t swear, being on television pre-watershed, but their feistiness comes across. They’re quite a handful.”

While the British family’s place in Europe is at odds with the current political landscape, Nye is reluctant to pepper The Durrells with references to Britain’s vote to leave the Europe Union, despite his own staunch anti-Brexit position. But with war looming – season three is set in 1937 – the drama does serve as a reminder that Europe is not a place of harmony.

“In many ways, they’ve done it all wrong,” Nye says of the family’s efforts to integrate into their new surroundings. “They’ve got friends but they haven’t really learned the language. The real Laurence Durrell learned quite a lot of Greek, and Leslie a bit. But they’re not adverts for internationalism at all. That’s how your average Brit, me included, would be. I’ve learned very little Greek, appallingly; I should have worked harder at it. But they’ve gone for other reasons – they were falling apart as a family in Britain and are trying to heal that.”

The show is based on a real-life English family who moved to Corfu in the 1930s

Writing every episode of the series means Nye has little time to mix with the cast and crew, admitting that he spends most of his time trying to catch up with the production schedule instead of hanging around on set. “Especially with eight episodes, you’re trying to make sure you deliver them on time,” he says. But he hasn’t yet reached a point where he wants to bring other writers onto the series.

“Most writers, if they’ve got the energy and the time, would prefer to write everything themselves because it’s your own voice and, also, if somebody’s else’s episode goes wrong because they’re not as used to the characters as I am, you spend a lot of time fixing it. So as long as I can, I’ll try to write them all. But the principle of team writing is a good one and we want some of the American action and long-running series. We should be embracing that more because with a hit series, you want to be offered lots of episodes.”

Unsurprisingly, one of biggest challenges on the series is filming with the many animals that make up budding naturalist Gerry’s expanding menagerie, with the third season introducing a sloth and flamingos, which Nye says make pelicans look positively professional.

They’re the source of many jokes, however, which adds to the light-hearted nature of the series. “It’s got lots of jokes in it because that’s often the way families relate to each other, especially that family, which is full of lively minds,” Nye explains. “So humour is often the way they get through the day. When I first started doing comedy I thought you didn’t need to bother with a plot, and I quickly learned that that’s a very poor way of writing a sitcom. And it’s even more true of drama that you need to focus on it. If the plot’s working, it makes the dialogue so much easier. You just want it to be credible.”

As The Durrells heads into the sunset of its third season, Nye says there’s still more fun to be had with the eponymous family beyond a potential fourth season. “It feels like we’ve only just scratched the surface,” he says. “They were there for five years [in real life] and Milo, who plays Gerry, is growing. There is still quite a lot to say but I hope we won’t outstay our welcome. The war is looming in Corfu and Greece but certainly we want to get them home and get to know them a bit more.”

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New danger, Will Robinson

Fifty years after it left the small screen, Lost in Space is back. Writers Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless plus showrunner Zack Estrin discuss making this space adventure, a modern take on Irwin Allen’s classic 1960s series.

Of all the series that have been rebooted over the last decade, perhaps Lost in Space has had the longest journey. The classic science-fiction series originally aired between 1965 and 1968, beaming the adventures of the Robinson family into homes across America.

It was a landmark show for many reasons. Not only did it explore themes of space travel and other-worldly adventure, it put a family at the heart of the story and has since become known for the central relationship between Will Robinson, the youngest child, and the ship’s robot. On a production level, it straddled the move into colour, with the first season airing in black and white before new technology gave it a totally different complexion.

Now, 50 years since the original series came to an end after three seasons on CBS (a much-maligned 1998 feature film aside), a long-awaited reboot from Legendary Television is set to land on Netflix this Friday.

Set 30 years in the future, this modern reimagining sees the Robinson family among those selected to make a new life for themselves in a better world. But when they find themselves abruptly torn off course en route to their new home, they must forge new alliances and work together to survive in a dangerous alien environment, light years from their original destination.

A reboot of Irwin Allen’s original series has been a long-time passion project for executive producer Kevin Burns and, after several misfires, the project gained momentum in 2014 when writing partners Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless, both self-confessed sci-fi fans, signed up to work on the 10-episode series.

“I realised I have a daughter who is turning four and before she was born I think I took my first meeting on this over at Legendary,” Sharpless recalls. “They had procured the rights and I still remember the afternoon Matt and I sat down for a meeting and they said, ‘Have you ever heard of Lost in Space?’ We looked at each other and it was almost like someone saying, ‘Have you ever heard of Star Wars?’”

Burns had to be convinced that the reboot would stay true to the original series while being made relevant to a modern audience. “The thing [Burns] told us that has really been our guiding light is this is a story about a family, and a family that, if you watch it, you want to love them and you want to be part of this family,” Sazama says. “For all its quirks, the people who loved the original show loved those characters and wanted to be part of that family, and we think people are going to fall in love with the 2018 Robinsons just as much.”

While sci-fi series in general, and space-set dramas in particular, are seeing a huge resurgence (The Expanse, Star Trek, The Orville), Lost in Space stands out for its aspirational, optimistic themes of a family standing together in a strange environment, with the sci-fi elements largely window dressing for the emotional adventure at its core.

It’s a foundation the show takes from the original series, which itself was inspired by The Swiss Family Robinson. Sazama and Sharpless developed this idea until Netflix came on board in late 2015, before greenlighting a full season in June 2016. Synthesis Entertainment’s Burns and Jon Jashni are also executive producers with Applebox’s Neil Marshall and Marc Helwig.

Like the original series, Lost in Space centres on the Robinson family

The setup largely remains the same. Toby Stephens (Black Sails) and Molly Parker (House of Cards) play John and Maureen Robinson, the parents who are struggling with their relationship while trying to keep their family safe. The Robinson kids comprise Taylor Russell (Falling Skies) as strong-willed and confident Judy, Mina Sundwall (Maggie’s Plan) as quick-witted and decisive Penny, and Maxwell Jenkins (Sense8) as youngest child Will, who is smart and brave – and friends with a robot. Some characters, however, have been given a reboot of their own.

“In the original show, Maureen was doing laundry. She was not part of the action. But our Maureen is an accomplished scientist and a great mother and she becomes an action hero in her own right, not because of her physical strength, necessarily, but because she uses her brain and her courage to move the family forward,” Sazama explains. “She was the one who changed the most. Even Judy, in our version, is a doctor and a character of action and has an actual storyline of growing up. She’s 18 years old and we explore what it means to be 18 and trying to be an adult for the first time, which were things you couldn’t really talk about in the original show.”

Dr Smith, meanwhile, the villain played by Jonathan Harris in the original series, is a woman in the Netflix reboot, played by Parker Posey (Dazed & Confused). Meanwhile, the robot is given a shiny new exterior and an alien backstory.

“There are many stories to tell about Lost in Space but the one everyone knows is ‘Danger, Will Robinson,’” Sazama says, referring to the robot’s iconic catchphrase. “It’s a story about a boy and a robot. We said that if we were going to do that, the robot has to be a character that has desires and fears. That became the core of the story of season one – the robot and exactly what it is. It’s mysterious, it’s of alien origin. That allows us to tell a story between the boy and the robot you haven’t seen before.”

And what did Netflix make of the updates to the original series? “Netflix only had one thing they asked us for, which is at the end of every episode, end on something that’s so exciting that you want to keep watching,” Sazama adds.

The relationship between Will Robinson and the robot is key

Coming from the feature world, Sazama and Sharpless (Dracula Untold, Last Witch Hunter) worked alongside showrunner Zack Estrin (Prison Break, The River) to turn their pilot script into a series that has the potential to run for a decade.

“Zack guided us in creating the tone of optimism we shared together so he helped us to make a TV language where scenes will breathe inside this adventure,” Sharpless says. “It was so ambitious. We wanted each episode to feel like a movie but the whole season to feel like a movie. That constant juggling, we felt we had never seen on TV before. We relied on Zack to help us build these episodes out so they felt the way all good TV episodes do.”

He continues: “For a lot of individual writers, there’s a lot of ego and self inside the scripts. But when you work with a writing partner, you focus not only on your idea but on the turning point or set piece you’re trying to build with a character revelation. In a good writers room, especially in the way Zack guides it, it’s always about trying to find that idea. Having everybody become selfless and open with their ideas to try to find that solution is really exciting. Honestly, it might be one of the most exciting creative think tanks I’ve ever been a part of.”

Estrin hadn’t planned to buckle up for a journey into space, instead looking forward to taking some time off. “Then I read that script and I was like, ‘Son of a bitch. I have to work now,’” he jokes, “because I read it and thought I would be so mad at myself watching this thing on TV knowing I could have done it. I was so excited about the possibilities of what it could become and what it would mean to my two young daughters to have a show that is aspirational and has great female characters.”

The showrunner drew on sources such as ET and The Iron Giant, both of feature relationships between a boy and an other-worldly creature, when it came to Will’s friendship with the robot, and admits he wants the show to hit evoke similar feelings that Stranger Things did with its 1980s nostalgia. “Even though this show feels contemporary, it’s going to tickle you in one of those places you remember as a kid, like seeing Star Wars or ET for the first time,” he says. “We hope you’ll get those same feelings because we take this grounded sci-fi approach where there are still cords that attach your radios to things. We’re not in a world of phasers and guns; we’re very grounded.”

Dr Smith’s gender has been swapped, with Parker Posey playing the role in the reboot

Lost in Space was filmed in Vancouver, both in the studio and on location. It’s a stunning feat of production design that brings together frozen glaciers, luscious forests and vertigo-inducing cliff drops. Of course, visual effects play their part, but the producers were keen to ensure the new worlds featured in the series were relatable, with the odd dust storm thrown in for good measure.

“We wanted it to feel as natural as possible,” Estrin says. “We didn’t want to create a world that looked imaginary. We didn’t want to be in a world that was so clearly sci-fi, that was clearly created on a computer. When you think of Return of the Jedi and they’re speeding through the forest where the Ewoks were, that was just a forest but occasionally you’d pop wide and see double planets in the sky. They didn’t go out of their way to make it seem like everything was a strange alien environment. We also wanted to have it feel relatable and grounded but just special enough where you feel like you’re getting some eye candy.”

Coming from a network television background, Estrin says working for Netflix has now “spoiled” him. “It’s like you’ve been a painter all your life and then suddenly someone gives you a canvas that’s five times the size and you’re painting with 40 more colours and 50 more brushes,” he says. “It’s so exciting to be able to make television in this way. When you’re doing a network show, it’s really challenging because you’re writing and doing post while you’re shooting at the same time. What’s amazing here is we can spend the time and write first, then shoot the show, and then do all the visual effects. So, yes, it takes two years but your focus is so much stronger and clearer.”

Sazama, Sharpless and Estrin are already back in the writers room plotting out the Robinsons’ next adventure, though season two has not yet been confirmed.

“Netflix is paying for 10 more scripts so, should the show be the success we all hope it will be, we’re ready to go into production for season two,” Sazama says. “We have a young cast and they get older every day, so once Netflix is confident the show is a success, we’re ready to move on that before they get any older.”

Estrin adds: “It’s all extremely exciting because we’ve been working on this thing for so long – the writers room began almost two years ago – that everyone you know is like, ‘So what is this thing you’re working on?’ To finally have it out in the world is quite exciting.”

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Home advantage

Former professional footballer John Carew teams up with Ane Dahl Torp to star in Norwegian drama Heimebane (Home Ground). They join the creative team behind the project to discuss the series, which centres on an ambitious female coach breaking into the men’s game.

Ane Dahl Torp is one of the most famous actors in Norway, having starred in series such as Kodenavn Hunter (Code Name Hunter) and Okkupert (Occupied). But she nearly turned down the lead role in local drama Heimebane (Home Ground).

She was in line to play Helena Mikkelsen, the coach of a successful women’s football team who leaves her job to become the first female coach of a Norwegian top-division men’s side. Ambitious and determined, Helena was drawn as a character willing to put a few noses out of joint to prove that women are just as good as men. To some, she wasn’t very nice.

Then in between casting meetings, the scripts were changed and Helena was rewritten to be more likeable. In turn, she was more deferential in the way she spoke, a move Torp says “totally ruined” the character.

“It upset me so bad I was shaking because I felt some man has read this and felt, ‘I don’t like her,’” she says. “Somebody has read this and said they don’t like her or I don’t believe in her or understand her, and it upset me so bad. For the first time in my life, I thought maybe men don’t like me if I don’t act like I want them to like me. So I took it personally, the whole rewriting.

Ane Dahl Torp takes the lead in Heimebane

“I didn’t know if they were going to offer me the part but I didn’t want it anymore. They ruined my dream, which is not so important, but more importantly they ruined the wonderful character for the audience. When you have a character I believe could really have a say and an impact, they killed her. So it was terrible.”

However, it was Torp’s reaction that earned her the part and forced the production to rethink the changes and revert to the original characterisation of Helena.

“When I came up with the idea, I thought we needed a woman who was going to go into this club and say, ‘I know you don’t believe me because I’m a woman but I’m the right person for this job.’ That was a key scene in the first episode, and that also informed a lot about her character,” series creator Johan Fasting explains. “She needs to be driven, ambitious and not take any compromises.

“But if you write a character like that, some people reading won’t like her because she’s unlikeable in many respects. So many of the first feedbacks we got on the scripts were she’s not likeable and you should make her more likeable. That didn’t sound like the show we were making but we tried this and softened her. It never felt right and luckily when we were casting, Ane came in and said, ‘This is bullshit, I don’t want to do this.’ We thought, ‘She’s right, what are we doing?’ We went back and said, ‘This is the character, and if that’s not the character, that’s not the show.’ And we were allowed to make the show we wanted to make.”

In the series, viewers follow Helena’s journey into a man’s world where she is not respected or listened to and attempts to overcome the ingrained bias against her.

Former Norway international footballer John Carew also stars

The biggest challenge for Torp, however, was to throw herself into the world of football, as she admits she wasn’t previously a fan. To help her become immersed in the sport, she spent a lot of time at her local club, Vålerenga IF, where she would spend days watching training and talking to the players and staff – even walking out of the tunnel with the players when they played a pre-season friendly against Manchester United last summer.

“It was really fun to dive into a new universe because so many people are interested in it,” she says. “And where I live, football is a very big part of the culture. My husband is also a fan of the local team and when you walk around everybody has these flags outside. I’ve hated it but now I have the supporters’ gear. It’s definitely a job to get to love football when you don’t.”

Torp’s co-star John Carew is no stranger to football, having played professionally in Norway, Spain, Italy, Turkey, France and the UK across a 15-year career that saw him make more than 90 appearances for Norway’s national team. So was he wary of taking his first major acting role in a drama about a world he knows more intimately than most?

“It’s much more than about football,” he says of the 10-part series, which is coproduced by Motlys and public broadcaster NRK and distributed by DR Sales. “It’s more about my personal life and my story within the story, which makes the most impact for me.”

Carew plays Michael Ellingsen, a player who is facing up to the end of his career and the issues that come with it, such as his ageing body and the fact he is no longer the darling of the dressing room, with younger superstars fighting for the limelight.

Torp was initially reluctant to take the role due her character being watered down in a rewrite that was later reversed

“He has a lot of things to deal with but if I can’t do this, I should forget about my acting career,” he says. “I was in the changing room every day for 20 years, and every year there were one or two players who were at the end of their career. I was always seeing how they would deal with certain things that changed in their life. I have a lot of football friends who couldn’t deal with it and ended up with alcohol and drug problems, no money left and broken marriages. And it’s all related to not being able to cope. So it was very possible for me to put myself in this situation.”

There are no aliens, time travel or high-concept elements to the series, but Torp still describes Heimebane as a science-fiction series, as the central premise – a woman leading a men’s football team – is yet to happen in the real world.

“It can happen at any time but today it’s science fiction,” she says. “Also it’s very rare to see a female character in film or television who has professional problems and not personal problems. You hardly see that in fiction and it’s very important for the audience to see this.”

Development on Heimebane first began in 2014, with filming taking place last year. But when executive producer Yngve Sæther first approached producer Vilje Kathrine Hagen and Fasting about making a series about a football club and its coach, they were both hesitant.

“We love Friday Night Lights and we’re not going to do it better than that, so why do it?” says Hagen of his initial reaction, referring to the seminal NBC series about a high-school American football team. But as a writer, Fasting has always put women in the lead so they started to imagine a football series with a female coach in charge.

Vilje Kathrine Hagen

“Then it suddenly became an interesting story,” Hagen adds. “I’m not interested in football at all so, for me, this is not a show about football. It’s about a woman going into a man’s world. Football is an interesting setting because I feel the development of female coaches is so far behind. So if we wanted to tell this story, it was perfect to put it into a football arena.”

Fasting put together a traditional writers room to flesh out the season, bringing together three other writers and a couple of consultants to help break down the plotlines. He would then write through each script before filming began.

He also worked alongside lead director Arild Andresen, who shot the first two episodes, to set the style of the series, which they agreed should be authentic and visceral, with lots of energy.

“What’s strong about Johan’s writing is not only that he writes great dialogue, but he’s quite selective about his descriptions so that they feel relevant and inspiring and give me ideas,” Andresen says. “He writes in a very visual way but he’s very precise and very selective, so what’s in the script matters, which you can tell as a reader.”

Filming took place both in the studio and on location in Norway capital Oslo, and the town of Ulsteinvik in the West, picked both for its stunning location among the fjords, surrounded by mountains, and its inhabitants’ passion for football. Match scenes were filmed at Ulsteinvik’s stadium and authenticity was particularly important as the show was set inside the real Norwegian Premier League, using real clubs and real players, though the club led by Torp’s Helena is fictional.

“There are so many expectations about how to show football in a believable way,” Andresen adds. “People are so used to watching games on television, so we had to invent our own language and make it character-driven more than sports-driven. It’s a lot about what you’re not showing and what you’re focusing on, and which story about which characters you’re telling at that moment. The football pitch is the stage where this specific story is taking place.”

The stage is now set for a second season, which was ordered by broadcaster NRK before season one debuted in March. Season two is already lined up for a January 2019 debut.

“The world [of this show] lends itself really well to several seasons,” Fasting concludes. “Every season would just follow a new football season and there are millions of stories – you can never run out of inspirational stories. I could just keep going.”

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Hunting season

The true story of Italian prosecutor and ‘Mafia hunter’ Alfonso Sabella is dramatised in Sicilian crime thriller Il Cacciatore (The Hunter). Executive producers Michele Zatta and Ferdinand Dohna reveal the story behind the series.

It’s a story that has all the hallmarks of a classic Mafia drama. Rival families fight for control of the streets of Sicily until an ambitious young prosecutor proves he is willing to stand up for the many innocents caught up in decades of bloodshed.

Yet the premise of Il Cacciatore (The Hunter) is one entirely based on fact. Based on prosecutor Alfonso Sabella’s book Cacciatore di Mafiosi, it charts the author’s real-life war against the Mafia bosses and the period known as “hunting season” that led to more than 300 arrests.

Set in Palermo in 1993, the war between two Mafia clans is spiralling out of control when Saverio Barone, a young prosecutor played by Francesco Montanari (Romanzo Criminale), uses his distinct skills and a succession of brilliant hunches, spectacular raids and front-page arrests to return law and order to the city.

The 12-part series is produced by Cross Productions and distributor Beta Film in partnership with Rai Fiction, which airs the series on Rai Due. It has its international premiere as part of CanneSeries this week.

“It started from the book, written by Sabella. He is a fantastic prosecutor,” explains Michele Zatta, commissioning editor at Rai Fiction. “He’s one of our superheroes. He personally caught hundreds of Mafiosi at the time when there was a war between the Mafia and the Italian state. It was a civil war with hundreds of dead.”

Sabella faced reprisals and intimidation during his campaign, and at one point had a bomb planted in front of his house. It all makes for an intoxicating story that is perfect material for a long-form television drama.

The development began when Rosario Rinaldo, head of Cross Productions, took Sabella’s book to Eleonora Andreatta, the director of Rai Fiction. “She found that not only was Sabella a fantastic prosecutor but he was a fantastic storyteller so she fell in love with this book,” Zatta says. “Sabella had two young writers, Marcello Izzo and Silvia Ebruel, who were attached to the project and they’ve never written anything before. They brought a 40-page treatment, we read them and thought they were fantastic so we developed it together with Cross Productions and these two writers. So it got started two years ago.”

Zatta describes the writing process as rapid, with scene outlines quickly followed up by fully formed scripts. Other creative talents were also brought to the project, including writer Fabio Paladini and directors Stefano Lodovichi and Davide Marengo, who helmed six episodes each.

Il Cacciatore stars Francesco Montanari

“This fits perfectly with the new editorial line of Rai Duo. It’s pushing the borders and trying to have young blood, young talent, that speaks to an international audience,” Zatta explains. “The director of the first six episodes, Stefano, is a highly talented director who has never done television before. He’s just done two feature films. This is how much we believe in newcomers – they have a lot of talent. But to be appealing to a young audience, it’s good to have a young staff that’s involved in the organisation.”

From the coast to the countryside and the city, Il Cacciatore mixes the luscious landscapes of Sicily with dark, brooding settings and bloody violence to stunning effect. Describing the filmmaking style as “innovative,” Zatta says: “The first episode is stunning. The photography, the acting, the directing… You might say, ‘Again a Mafia story,’ but this story has never been told before.

“It’s different from other Mafia stories because it’s told from different points of view. Alfonso Sabella had such an insight into the Mafia, unlike anybody else, and we also tell this story from the Mafiosi point of view and we show their domestic lives, their love stories and what is going on between them.”

Other leading characters include Leoluca Bagarella (played by David Coco) and brothers Giovanni and Enzo Brusca (Edoardo Pesce and Alessio Praticò, respectively).

The story is based on a real-life ‘Mafia hunter’

“The other thing is that our prosecutor is a hero, obviously, but he’s not the usual kind of prosecutor you would expect,” Zatta says. “He’s very arrogant, he thinks he’s the best and the story starts with him wanting to take his superior’s job. He comes and says, ‘I’m better than you, I take your chair, I take your desk.’ So he’s not nice a guy, he’s very arrogant and full of power, but we love him nevertheless because he’s on the right side.”

Set entirely on location in Sicily, the backdrop also separates the series from other mafia dramas that usually set the action on the mainland. “The Sicilian Mafia is more rural than the Neopolitan Mafia, which is more cosmopolitan,” notes Ferdinand Dohna, Beta Film’s head of production and coproduction. “Here they are all living in little houses in the countryside. They come from a very rural background and you see the shepherds and countrymen. We see a lot of Sicily because it’s all shot on location.”

Zatta continues: “We will see the dark heart of Sicily. You don’t see the sea, you see the woods, the inner landscape and you see places of Sicily you’ve never seen before. The story takes place in these parts of the island because the Corleonese Mafia were not living by the sea, they were living in the interior parts of Sicily. They were shepherds, they had a strong relationship with the land. And you see this from episode to episode.”

Like fellow Mafia drama Gomorrah, which is set in Naples and uses a strict Neopolitan dialect different to Italian, Il Cacciatore also employs an extreme Sicilian dialect, which adds another layer of authenticity. Then there’s the violence.

Il Cacciatore was filmed on location in Sicily

“It’s quite violent,” Dohna admits. “Not every five minutes but when it’s violent, it’s very violent.”

Zatta agrees: “By Italian standards, it’s very violent. But on the other side, if you want to depict the bad, you have to show it as it is. This was part of the job so you have to tell it. I’m happy to do it; we have to push boundaries and I think this younger, more educated audience is used to it because they all watch Netflix and Amazon and they know what we’re talking about. We want to tell the truth in this case. Violence belongs to that.”

Il Cacciatore is the latest Mafia drama that is set to draw international interest, following the success of Gomorrah, Suburra and Maltese, which have all helped to push Italian drama further into the spotlight alongside other series such as Medici (also distributed by Beta), 1992 and sequel 1993, My Brilliant Friend and forthcoming historical drama The Name of the Rose.

It also outlines the dual approach Rai is taking to television drama, with broader fare airing on Rai Uno and more challenging, boundary-pushing series on Rai Due. On bigger series, Rai is also keen to work with international partners, such as Frank Spotnitz (The X-Files) for Medici.

Ultimately, Il Cacciatore stands out because of its focus on not just the Mafia but the personal sacrifices Barone makes in the series (and Sabella in real life) to get the job done.

“You not only have to work day and night but you have to be a very peculiar personality to do this job, you have to be even more crazy than the Mafiosi themselves,” Zatta adds. “You can’t afford a normal life anymore if you do a job like this. In some ways, you may become worse than the Mafiosi you are hunting.”

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Double take

Flemish drama De Dag (The Day) puts an innovative spin on the contemporary crime genre, with each episode showing a new perspective of a hostage situation. Its writers and producers tell DQ about the challenges and opportunities presented by this approach.

De Dag (The Day) is bang on trend with its central premise. Like Danish dramas Greyzone and Beneath the Surface and international coproduction Ransom, the Flemish series centres on a hostage situation and the law enforcement officials working to end it.

But where it stands apart is in its unique 12-episode structure. Set across a single day, each episode bounces back and forth between the different perspectives of those involved in the bank siege. The odd-numbered episodes present the police point of view as they attempt to end the crisis, while the even numbers focus on those barricaded inside the bank – the hostages and the perpetrators.

More precisely, each pair of episodes (one and two, three and four and so on) reflect events during the same time period. It means an odd-numbered episode cannot be trusted on its own, because the next instalment turns what you think may have happened on its head, ensuring a thrilling, compulsive ride to the end.

Jonas Geirnaert, who wrote The Day with Julie Mahieu, says the idea to tell the story from different perspectives emerged during their very first brainstorming session almost 10 years ago. “We first thought about the hostage situation, and what’s good about it is it has a very clear division between inside the bank and outside,” he says. “The first time you see outside, you don’t know what’s going on inside, and then you see the same events through the eyes of who’s inside. And the thing about a hostage situation is it creates immediate tension. You want to know how it ends. People are in constant danger. It’s a really good way to make your audience sit through your show.”

The Day uses two-episode blocks to tell one part of the story from two different perspectives

With an €8m (US$9.8m) budget – big by Belgian standards but tiny compared with those handed to US series – the writers knew their scripts needed to stand out and were happy to take their time to get this complex puzzle right. Across each two-episode block, events from one angle are revealed to be completely different from another perspective, but in a way that doesn’t leave the viewer feeling tricked. Instead, it simply fuels the desire to watch more than one episode per sitting to understand the true nature of what is going on.

Geirnaert wrote the odd episodes and Mahieu picked up the even ones, though everything except writing the scripts was done in partnership. Any changes in one script also meant linked episodes needed to be rewritten to ensure events and reveals matched up.

“We did all our homework before we started writing,” Geirnaert explains. “Once we knew it was going to be a hostage situation in the bank, we knew what the perpetrators were going after and then we worked on the characters. It happened organically. As you make the story, you know which characters are going to be prominent in each episode. The ones that were most interesting to us, we tried to weave throughout the series.

“The first two months before we started writing the series, we were standing by a whiteboard with the whole scheme of the 12 episodes mapped out and a different line for every character to see what their evolution was throughout the series. It was interesting to see. It wasn’t that you had the story and you had to push the characters in the story; sometimes the character forces your story to go a different way because it feels right.”

The drama centres on a hostage situation as part of a bank robbery

At the start of the second episode, which is the first to show events from the bank robbers’ perspective, we are also introduced to many of the people who will become hostages by the time the credits roll. Geirnaert says it’s crucial viewers get to know them before they are thrown into the extreme circumstances that follow, increasing empathy and providing an element of backstory than can also be referred to later on.

“You have to give them a baseline, so we show how they act normally in their families, having breakfast, couples having an argument,” he says. “You have to install your characters in a normal way and then you see how they behave while the hostage situation is taking place and you can see that difference. If you start with them in that different situation, you don’t get to know them in a normal way. We tried to keep it compact because we want to go to where the drama happens but it was quite important to have those scenes.”

The series, which debuted on Belgium’s Telenet last month, premiered at Berlinale in February. It comes from Flemish producers FBO and Woestijnvis and is distributed worldwide by Dynamic Television. International buyers include Germany’s ZDFneo.

The Day was first pitched in 2012 to executive producers Hilde de Laere and Michiel Devlieger, who were instantly won over by the concept.

Michiel Devlieger

“It’s not just a police drama but a very human drama, which means it’s not just another cop show,” says Devlieger, head of drama at Woestijnvis. “That combination worked for us. Then it took some time for them to work on it, so it was a question of supporting them and giving them time and space to work it out. It was a great challenge because it’s such a complex puzzle. But you don’t want the viewer to have the feeling they are looking at a puzzle.”

The producers also faced several hurdles when pulling the show together. In particular, finding the main square where the bank is located – and which later becomes the scene of the police operation to free the hostages – proved to be a major challenge.

“It was quite a big search to find the perfect location,” Devlieger says. “We filmed it in Bruges, but it could have been anywhere – it’s a square. But even then, because of how it was written and what we wanted to happen, it was quite a challenge to find the right place. It took quite some time. We had to adjust some things in the screenplay to make it work but it was a very good location.”

“That was always our intent when we were writing it and thinking about it to make something that would appeal internationally,” Mahieu notes of the show’s nondescript location. “We thought about that both in the story and image-wise. It’s a story that could be told anywhere. It’s about people, bad guys, police; it’s not typically a Belgian story. That was always the incentive, to make it a very universal story.”

Due to The Day’s winter setting and the fact events take place in a single 24-hour period, three film crews were assembled to shoot simultaneously, “which was possible because there are actors who never meet,” adds FBO’s Hilde De Laere.

International broadcasters to have picked up the show include Germany’s ZDFneo

On set, Geirnaert and Mahieu also worked as showrunners of their particular episodes. “Since we wrote the story, we knew what was going on so we made sure everyone knew what they had to know,” Mahieu explains.

Working alongside directors Gilles Coulier and Dries Vos, the writers took inspiration from the likes of British drama Southcliffe when it came to achieving the grey, misty atmosphere they wanted to portray on screen. Real-life details were also important to the creators, such as the search for a mobile phone charger in episode one.

“That was the approach for the whole series,” says Devlieger. “We wanted it drenched in reality. That’s where the researchers came in because they really researched not what is the most exciting way but how such things actually happen. When this situation occurs, how would negotiators do this? In our feedback from people who work in the field, they really appreciate that and recognise the reality of it.”

Hilde de Laere

The writers were also surprised at the tactics used by the negotiators to build relationships with hostage-takers over the phone. Their research found the usual way to answer a call from them would be to simply say, ‘Good morning. How are you?’

“That’s what you have to do, you have to calm them down,” Mahieu says. “You have to build a connection. You have to create a feeling of trust and although it’s a very odd situation, you have to make sure that they want to speak to you, that they have a feeling that there’s somebody there they can talk to. It’s their job, that’s what they have to do and they do it in a lot of different ways. Never forget, it’s still a human being on the other side, no matter what they’re doing.”

The authenticity of the action adds an extra layer of quality to a series that ultimately stands out because of the way the story unfolds from alternate viewpoints. Devlieger sums it up when he says the series was written “to get viewers addicted.”

He adds: “You can really install red herrings in the odd episodes and surprise the viewer in the even episodes with how they thought it would be and how it actually was. That worked very well. In that way, they did a really good job in the writing. When you see an odd episode, you’re really curious to see what is happening on the other side and, at the end of a block, you just want to know where it’s going next.”

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In Deep

The stars of Fox Europe and Africa’s first original drama, Deep State, tell DQ why this isn’t just another espionage thriller – and why actors are well suited to playing spies.

Inside a conference room overlooking the central London set of Deep State, actors Joe Dempsie and Karima McAdams are engaged in a wordless conversation with producer Tom Nash. Uncertain looks and nods are exchanged as they determine what they can and can’t say about the eight-part series ahead of its launch. State secrets would be easier to extract than any potential spoilers.

What can be said is that the story centres on Max Easton (played by Mark Strong), an ex-spy whose past comes back to haunt him when he’s summoned away from his new life in the Pyrenees by George White (Alistair Petrie), head of covert MI6/CIA team The Section.

White convinces Max to return to the field to avenge the death of his estranged son Harry (Dempsie). But the stakes are soon raised when Max finds himself at the heart of a covert intelligence war, immersed in a widespread conspiracy to profit from the spread of chaos in the Middle East. So begins a dangerous game in which Easton must determine who he can trust, what the truth is and how can he uncover it.

Produced by Endor Productions and distributed by Fox Networks Group Content Distribution, the show’s creative team also includes executive producer Hilary Bevan-Jones, showrunner and director Matthew Parkhill, co-creator and writer Simon Maxwell and director Robert Connolly.

Deep State stars Mark Strong as former spy Max Easton

When the series opens, Dempsie’s Harry and Leila, played by McAdams, are both members of The Section, together on a posting in Tehran where their mission is to assassinate five prominent Iranian nuclear scientists.

Harry’s fairly green to this spy game, recently given his licence to kill, while half-British, half-Moroccan Leila is a linguistics expert with her feet in both the Arab and Western worlds.

“They’re on a job together in Tehran, a deeply religious place, so they have to go undercover as a couple working in an English-language school,” says McAdams, who has also starred in Vikings. “That’s where it becomes interesting because spies essentially don’t trust anyone so the idea of a relationship is incredibly complicated. But you can’t help your human instinct. They have a journey with each other and whether it’s real or not, you explore that with them.”

It’s a relationship Dempsie believes spies and actors have in common. “Harry and Leila are having to play this part so they find themselves in this fairly confusing situation where the lines become blurred, as it sometimes can on a film set. Then you have the added layer of the mistrust of everyone around you and that adds a fascinating element to their relationship.”

Game of Thrones actor Joe Dempsie plays Max’s son, Harry

Dempsie describes showrunner Parkhill’s script as “a real page-turner” that juggles politics, espionage and familial themes in settings that include the UK, the US, Iran, Lebanon and France.

“I was guilty as anyone of watching a TV show but also half flicking through Instagram or whatever at the same time,” the Game of Thrones actor admits. “This is something that demands your full attention. At the heart of it, it’s very character-driven and that’s what hopefully might make this stand apart from other spy dramas or thrillers. You get to see these characters in a familial setting and you explore their interpersonal relationships in a way that you don’t often see. It’s not all about the action. They’re not just these highly trained machines. There are layers to this.”

The script also stood out to McAdams, but for a different reason. “There were so many scripts being bandied about at that point that weren’t sitting right with me because there was so much gratuitous nudity,” she says, adding that Leila is an incredibly private woman struggling with an undisclosed horror from her past. “She’s vulnerable but, within this group of people she’s working with, she’s incredibly capable. There is no difference between man and woman in this group and I think that’s incredibly refreshing. They don’t ever refer to her as a sex symbol, she’s never thrown into a job because she’s female. Matthew has written a character that is very different from what I’ve been seeing.”

At the emotional centre of Deep State is Lyne Renée, who plays Max’s wife, Anna. Living happily with her husband and their two children, Anna’s world is shattered when she discovers Max’s secret past and the fact he has another son.

Lyne Renée, who plays Max’s wife Anna, is at the emotional centre of the drama

“Anna comes to new truths and realities that were hidden from her, and she goes to look for them as well,” the actor says. “She’s not just the mother with the two children. The beauty of this part is how certain strengths come with that. With everything that comes to light, she has to remain strong. Anna is a lioness and you’ve got to be very careful because when you come across a lioness with two cubs and she’s hurt, you are in deep trouble because they become stronger.”

Anna is very different from the character Renée played in a similar drama, Sky1 and Cinemax copro Strike Back, a Mossad agent who was in the thick of that show’s political storyline. “Here my character has nothing to do with the political side of the world,” she notes. “All the consequences happen to everyone but my position is not political. It’s the domestic side, the emotional side. I haven’t been running around with guns or working undercover, so that is the biggest difference.”

The strain on Anna is one Renée faced every day on set as she imagined herself in her character’s overwhelming situation. “I was a little worried about how I was going to pull this off,” she explains. “It’s so intense what happens to Anna. All the things that happen to her have never happened to me before so I really had to think, ‘What are the implications? What happens to a person who has to go through all that?’ But by letting it go, I created the freedom to step into each moment every day. I felt like I pushed my own boundaries and succeeded in showing these emotions, which was not easy. I need to do a comedy after this!”

Also among the cast is Alistair Petrie, who recently starred in fellow spy drama The Night Manager. He plays George White, the head of The Section who brings Max back into the fold – a reunion on and off-screen, as Petrie and Strong previously worked together on 1996 period drama Emma.

The Night Manager’s Alistair Petrie as spy boss George White

“There’s an alchemy to making a television show. If you bottled it and poured it onto a script, everybody would be doing it but it’s a difficult, nuanced thing to do,” he says, highlighting the importance of writer, cast, director and crew. “You put all the elements in place and you’ve got a really good chance, but it starts with the script. As soon as I read it, I thought it was fantastic.”

Petrie says every character in Deep State faces moral dilemmas through the series, something he believes sets it apart from the usual spy/thriller/action shows. “Where drama can be so successful is that its job is to hold a mirror up to society,” he explains. “We take a good look at ourselves. A really successful drama works on a lot of those levels and it doesn’t matter what that genre is.

“What Deep State does rather brilliantly is every character has all got very familial moral dilemmas they have to confront. A lot of it is based on truths and lies about protecting family and what you do to protect your family. That’s why drama is so successful on television and film; we’re given stories and then we’re given choices and we’re given moral dilemmas, brilliantly wrapped up in an exciting piece of television. If you can engage an audience like that and create well-written characters with fantastic foundations, you can take an audience anywhere.”

With a second season already confirmed ahead of the launch of the series, which debuts in the UK tonight, Fox clearly believes Deep State has found the formula for that elusive alchemy.

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Bochco’s enduring legacy

The legacy of producer and writer Steven Bochco, who has passed away aged 74, goes far beyond his body of screen work. He changed the way television drama was made – and for that, every viewer today must be truly thankful.

Long before Breaking Bad, Mad Men and The Sopranos, the series that arguably marked the start of this current golden age of television, there was Steven Bochco. The writer and producer, who died on Sunday aged 74, is widely – and rightly – acknowledged as changing the way television was made as he led some of the biggest shows in US television during the 1980s and 1990s.

Series such as Hill Street Blues, LA Law and NYPD Blue (pictured top, with Bochco second from left) pushed the boundaries of television drama, and particularly crime drama, as it was then, injecting serialised story strands and multiple character arcs in a way that previously hadn’t been seen on primetime television.

This would become a blueprint for almost every television series that followed and, as such, Bochco’s fingerprints can be found on almost any drama series on TV today. Another series, Murder One, laid the roadmap for shows such as True Detective by taking a whole season to investigate one crime.

He was rewarded during his career with 10 Emmy awards for three shows. Following its launch in 1981, Hill Street Blues (created with Michael Kozoll) was nominated for 27 Emmys in its first year and went on to score 26 Emmys during its seven-season run, which introduced a sprawling, fast-paced world of flawed heroes and a unique documentary camera style.

Steven Bochco (left) with director Paris Barclay, who won an Emmy for an episode of NYPD Blue

Bochco went on to create LA Law (1986, with Terry Louise Fisher), Doogie Howser MD (1989, with David E Kelley), NYPD Blue (1993, with David Milch) and Murder One (1995, with Charles H Eglee and Channing Gibson), among many others, while his screenwriting credits included episodes of Delvecchio, Ironside, The Twilight Zone and Columbo. His most recent series was Murder in the First (co-created with Eric Lodal), which aired on cable network TNT between 2014 and 2016.

Other series, such as Bay City Blues, about a minor league baseball team, and Cop Rock, which mixed police drama with song and dance routines, were less successful.

But it’s not just his body of work that makes Bochco stand out among his peers. It’s also that his peers, many of whom have paid tribute to the producer, regard him as among the greatest television talents of all time.

Former X-Files showrunner Frank Spotnitz said: “Anyone who loves drama owes a massive debt to Steven Bochco. He changed television storytelling forever with Hill Street Blues and enriched our lives with so many other great series. A giant in the industry is at rest.”

National Treasure and Kiri writer Jack Thorne described Murder One as “the most bingeable show I’ve ever seen, and it came before any streaming service.” He added of Bochco: “A true great of screenwriting who changed the way that crime worked on TV, and by doing so changed TV.”

Beau Willimon (House of Cards) recalled: “As a kid, Hill Street Blues and LA Law were rituals in my house. All of us who grew up watching great TV and have benefited from the ground he broke [and] owe pioneer Steven Bochco a debt of gratitude.”

“Steven Bochco was a TV legend whose work influenced a generation,” said Jed Mercurio, creator of Line of Duty. “That he was a genius goes without saying. I was fortunate enough to work with Steven over a number of years and found him humble, polite, generous, warm and funny.”

Bochco co-created the highly influential Hill Street Blues

Director Adam McKay (Anchorman) reserved particular praise for Hill Street Blues: “[It] changed everything when it came on TV in 1981. Heart-breaking, gritty, funny, real… It inspired me in a giant way.”

Fellow director Jon Cassar added: “He was a game changer. Hill Street Blues was very influential to me in how I saw the camera move on a TV drama.”

Actors have also shared superlatives to describe Bochco, with many crediting him for their first screen roles.

Viola Davis landed her first series regular role on City of Angels, where she also met her husband, Julius. “He was a fearless pioneer,” she said of Bochco. “A risk taker. A rule breaker. A visionary. He saw me. Rest in peace. Well done, sir.”

Will & Grace’s Debra Messing noted: “So sad to hear of Steven Bochco’s passing. He was a pioneer, a gentleman, and gave me my first job in primetime TV. Rest well, sir. You will be missed.”

Blair Underwood added: “Steven hired me on LA Law and changed the trajectory of my life and career. There are opportunities available to me today because he took a chance on a kid like me, long ago. I’ll forever be grateful to him.”

LA Law ran for eight seasons from 1986 to 1994

Then there is Bill Brochtrup, who starred in more than 150 episodes of NYPD Blue. “It’s so sad to contemplate a world without Steven Bochco,” he said. “It’s difficult to adequately express the depth of the love, gratitude and respect I have for him. Steven absolutely changed the course of my life and career. A truly great man.”

With NYPD Blue, Bochco also set out to redefine the levels of acceptable language and nudity on broadcast television, going head-to-head with then ABC Entertainment president Bob Iger, who is now CEO of Walt Disney. “Today our industry lost a visionary, a creative force, a risk taker, a witty, urbane storyteller with an uncanny ability to know what the world wanted. We were long-term colleagues, and longer term friends, and I am deeply saddened,” Iger said at news of Bochco’s death.

The Americans co-creator Joel Fields summed up Bochco’s passing: “Big picture: TV drama wouldn’t be what it is without his genius; little picture: I wouldn’t be who I am without his support.”

As television mourns the loss of one of its greatest pioneers, Bochco’s legacy will remain on screen for years to come.

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Hunt for a killer

Cops and criminals collide in Dead Lucky, a four-part drama that weaves several storylines around the hunt for a dangerous murderer. Muriel’s Wedding and Six Feet Under star Rachel Griffiths tells DQ more about the series and her ambitions behind the camera.

Sometimes it seems like actors have the best jobs in the world. Spending months filming in exotic locations such as Caribbean island Guadeloupe (Death in Paradise), Corfu (The Durrells) or Sri Lanka (The Good Karma Hospital) surely can’t seem like working at all.

For Australian actor Rachel Griffiths, however, paradise was much closer to home. “Shooting October and November in Sydney is heaven, really,” she says. “I felt guilty getting a pay packet. It’s so gorgeous.”

The state capital of New South Wales serves as the location of SBS crime drama Dead Lucky, with iconic backdrops such as the Sydney Opera House on show from the very beginning of the four-part miniseries. Created by Ellie Beaumont and Drew Proffitt, the show follows a number of interlinked storylines, centred around two feuding detectives and their hunt for a killer.

Grace Gibbs (Griffiths) is obsessed with catching the armed robber who murdered her junior officer. But Charlie Fung (Yoson An), her new trainee, blames Grace for the death of his best friend. Meanwhile, a group of international students living in a shared house think they have found paradise and a couple of greedy convenience store owners resort to deadly measures to defend their business, all while a violent fugitive is hiding on the outskirts of the city. Set across one week, Dead Lucky sees the paths of these characters collide, leaving two people dead and one missing.

Rachel Griffiths as Grace Gibbs

Directed by David Caesar, it is a Subtext Pictures production and will air on SBS in July. DRG is handing international distribution.

With so many Australian dramas mining classic IP – including remakes and spin-offs of Picnic at Hanging Rock, Romper Stomper, Mystery Road, Wolf Creek and Wake in Fright – Dead Lucky stands out as an original tale packed full of contemporary issues.

“I have worked with these writers before and we had that thing where we went, ‘It would be really good to do something else together,’” Griffiths says. “Well, that’s what I thought and thankfully they felt the same. I like to play on old tropes – who doesn’t like a buddy cop film? And then I loved that it’s a bit new Australia, old Australia, but it’s also within the context that this woman [Gibbs] has had to break the same perceptions, misconceptions and prejudices that this young guy will, in the same profession. It’s a great, interesting common ground.

“I also loved the idea of this girl in a mid-life crisis point. Her career is not where she thought it was and she’s at a critical moment. Does she hang in there until she gets to retirement, or does she find her mojo again and find a way to keep believing in what she’s doing? I found that great.”

Gibbs is also very angry. Grieving the loss of her partner, both personally and professionally, she is forced to attend anger-management sessions that only serve to fuel the fire within her. “For people who work on the front line, like ambulance drivers or first responders, they can go for years and then, one day, something sticks and they can’t move on,” Griffith says. “I guess it’s that whole PTSD thing where it’s so trite to be sent to a counsellor who has no idea what’s required to do those jobs. The fact is you can’t get all internal and ‘snowflakey’ because you’ve got to go back out into the war zone. And yet, if you don’t do the interior work and acknowledge you have experienced trauma, you will get to a point where that work is no longer possible.

“But she’s also angry because the guy she needs to catch is out there. At that point, it’s her motivator, so to reduce your anger would be demotivating. From the cops I talk to, they have open cases where they know who’s out there and justice hasn’t been served. Anger is a motivator.”

With so many TV serial killers on the loose, it’s also notable that the murderer in Dead Lucky has no motivation or back story. Put simply, he is a senseless maniac with no apparent reason for his crimes. “We thought it was interesting following not the arch serial killers of The Bridge or the noir shows but the ordinary drugged-up psychopath who just ruins so many lives with no masterplan, just his random acts of inhumane violence,” Griffiths explains. The showrunners learned from police that such criminals “impact on society much more than these clever serial killers we’ve all been following,” she adds.

Caesar previously directed Griffiths in 1993 TV movie The Feds, about the police hunt for a couple suspected of fraud. She describes him as a “great stylist and a real Aussie bloke, who has lovely insight and compassion yet he’s very ballsy.” The director oversaw two weeks of rehearsals for Dead Lucky, during which Griffiths was put through cop training, while she and her on-screen partner An spent time together to build up their ‘buddy’ relationship.

Griffiths alongside her Dead Lucky co-star Yoson An

“My very first job with this director was also as a cop,” she says. “I’m not a natural street cop but the detective stuff, as I’ve become a more mature actor, felt much more right.”

Griffiths also praises the collaborative nature of making Dead Lucky, revealing that the creators brought her into the fold a year before shooting. “They wanted my input at that point,” she says. “It wasn’t huge but I kept trying to nail the thesis of the show, and that’s where we got to this female mid-life crisis, which is not explored very much. Often it’s the man at the middle of his career and his drinking.”

Drama characters are now more layered and complex than ever, but it was Griffiths’ experience starring in HBO’s Six Feet Under that opened her eyes to the possibilities television offers.

“In the early days of quality premium cable, it was really illuminating to discover the joy of finding layers and layers, and to do that over several seasons was a privilege I never expected,” she explains. “The two casts that I did five years on [Six Feet Under and ABC drama Brothers & Sisters], coming back for the next season was so wonderful because you start with fresh storylines and fresh momentum but your relationships are much deeper. I’m loving that on Game of Thrones and The Crown and Broadchurch. There’s a certain comfort that comes over time, which is really great. We were just hitting that at the end of episode four [of Dead Lucky].”

Griffiths is also stepping up behind the camera. Having directed three episodes of Nowhere Boy season two, she is now in pre-production for Ride Like a Girl, a movie about Michelle Payne, the first female jockey to win the Melbourne Cup.

Griffiths is also well known for starring in HBO drama Six Feet Under

“I love the problem-solving and I love telling stories,” the actor says about her approach to directing. “I’ve always seen myself as a storyteller as much as an actor and I think we’re in a really exciting moment for the stories that are being told and the perspectives they’re being told from. And I love working with the crafts people in my industry and harnessing their collective brilliance.

“I don’t come from an auteur place; I’m very much about listening to the best idea in the room and I love problem-solving in real time. I’m not one of those directors who just gathers this stuff and discusses it in the editing room and can’t wait for the shoot to be over. I like being out there in the mud and dealing with the advancing Russian army. One hour at a time at the moment.”

But for a certain generation, Griffiths is still best known for starring as Rhonda in comedy-drama movie Muriel’s Wedding. The 1994 film maintains a cult following, with Muriel’s Wedding: The Musical opening in Sydney in November 2017.

“I couldn’t stop crying the whole way through the show,” she reveals of watching the musical. “It was kind of embarrassing because the audience kept turning to watch me crying. It was very emotional but it’s a fantastic show, it’s sold out down here. I’m hoping that, like Priscilla [Queen of the Desert, the hit musical], it will go global and I think it delivers everything people are going to want from it.”

Now 24 years on from its original release, Muriel’s Wedding still stands out as a story about female friendship, principally between Rhonda and Toni Collette’s Muriel, who dreams of being a bride. Griffiths credits its success to creator and director PJ Hogan, who chose not to view women through the male gaze.

“It was so much about women finding themselves and friendship being at the core, rather than romantic love,” she notes. “A bit like My Best Friend’s Wedding, which he went on to make, it shifted the object within that romantic comedy genre. When coming-of-age films really capture the torture and the joie de vivre, the audience can relate to that moment and carry the film with them as a personal reference.”

For Griffiths, stories about female relationships are sorely lacking, except for recent Oscar nomineee Lady Bird, written and directed by Greta Gerwig, which focuses on the relationship between a mother and daughter.

“It truly is a woman’s most significant relationship and it can ruin you and it can make you, and to see that explored on film is incredibly rare,” Griffiths adds. “Whereas father-son relationships have been seen since The Godfather because men know how important that relationship is for men. It’s only now women are making films that they think, ‘Well this is the most interesting relationship to make a film about.’”

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Bunting and blood

Long-hidden secrets are revealed in Ordeal by Innocence, a murder mystery that shatters the perfect image of a 1950s family. DQ hears from stars Bill Nighy and Morven Christie and writer Sarah Phelps about the latest Agatha Christie adaptation coming to the BBC.

When Ordeal by Innocence airs on the BBC, there’s one person who definitely won’t be watching. “I’m not particularly fond of the sight of myself, or the sound of myself,” reveals actor Bill Nighy. “It’s weird. But it’s the acting, because you know what you had in mind and you know, therefore, how far short it falls from what you had in mind.

“I’m much better now because I realise people just like stuff and if they like it, it’s fine. I used to think it was some conspiracy to make me look stupid. I was a mess and I used to get very paranoid. But now you realise people just want to watch a story. The minutiae of my performance is not really their concern.”

However, there was some concern that nobody would get to see Ordeal by Innocence, the latest Agatha Christie adaptation from writer Sarah Phelps and producers Mammoth Screen and Agatha Christie Ltd, following And Then There Were None and The Witness for the Prosecution.

Originally due to air on BBC1 at Christmas 2017, the three-part miniseries was pulled from the schedules after allegations of sexual assault were made against Ed Westwick, who had been cast as Mickey Argyll. He denies the claims.

Bill Nighy pictured in a break between filming on Ordeal by Innocence

But after director Ridley Scott reshot scenes from All the Money in the World, replacing Kevin Spacey with Christopher Plummer, the production team decided to follow suit and reshot 35 scenes in 12 days with Christian Cooke replacing Westwick.  Ordeal by Innocence will now debut on April 1.

At the time, the producers said: “While the allegations against Ed Westwick remain under investigation – allegations that he strenuously denies – the producers of Ordeal by Innocence have decided to reshoot parts of the series with another actor.”

The setup of Christie’s story, first published in 1958, remains the same. It opens with the murder of wealthy philanthropist Rachel Argyll (played by Anna Chancellor) at her family estate, Sunny Point. Her adopted son, Jack Argyll (Anthony Boyle), a young delinquent, is then arrested for her murder, despite protesting his innocence.

Eighteen months later, mysterious scientist Dr Arthur Calgary (Luke Treadaway) arrives at Sunny Point claiming to have the alibi that can prove Jack’s innocence. But Jack died in prison before the case could come to trial, and the Argyll family is reluctant to dig up the secrets of the past.

Rachel’s widower, Leo (Bill Nighy), is about to remarry his secretary, Gwenda, and none of Rachel’s other adopted children – Mary, Mickey, Tina and Hester – nor longstanding housekeeper Kirsten, are willing to reopen that most horrendous chapter of their lives. However, if Jack is innocent, then someone else must be guilty.

Morven Christie plays housekeeper Kirsten

With every member of the family fearful of these new revelations, what makes Leo a suspect? “He lives and breathes in an Agatha Christie novel,” Nighy jokes. “You’d have to go some way to invent him as shady; he pretty much behaves impeccably. The only thing about him is – and it’s never specifically stated – I don’t think he’s got any money. The money is his wife’s. Therefore, that might make him suspicious in some way.”

As Kirsten, an adopted daughter who is also the family’s housekeeper, actor Morven Christie (The Replacement, The A Word) stands out as a member of the family who may be the closest thing to an outsider.

“It’s a lot more to do with status,” Christie says. “She’s part of the family but she’s out of the family. They can argue over the breakfast table, she wouldn’t interject, but part of that is just her character. She is holding a lot of things inside her that come out through the story. She’s an incredibly controlled, together woman until she’s not.”

Don’t be fooled into believing the maid did the dastardly deed, however. “When I first read the script, I got two pages in and was like, ‘Clearly this maid did it, because otherwise they wouldn’t cast this face. I have a resting bitch face. They’re trying to deceive you by the casting,” Christie says.

Playing Kirsten also provided the actor with a role different from the more outspoken parts she is used to playing, with the housekeeper largely silent and speaking through expression. But having previously worked with Phelps on Oliver Twist, the actor and writer spent several phone calls talking about Kirsten. “There’s no element of a character’s history she doesn’t know so I always want to check it with her,” Christie says. “So it becomes a proper collaboration, and not every writer’s up for that. Sarah really is. But she’s not prescriptive in the slightest. Sarah’s quite an extraordinary individual. She’s magic.”

Anthony Boyle plays Jack Argyll, who finds himself accused of murder

Despite this being her third Agatha Christie adaptation – and with a fourth, Poirot mystery The ABC Murders, on the way – Phelps has never been a “Christie aficionado,” admitting she had never read the crime novelist’s books or watched one of the countless other adaptations of her work.

But reading And Then There Were None for the first time, her impressions of “nice, safe, queasy nostalgia” were blown away. “It was so brutal, remorseless and so savage and completely unexpected,” she says of the story, which sees 10 people gathered together on a remote island and killed off one by one.

She found more freedom in The Witness for the Prosecution, a short story set in the mid-1920s, while adapting Ordeal by Innocence was a very different prospect.

“It is all about something that happened a very long time ago,” she explains. “Nobody really gets killed. Everybody just sits around in a hiatus talking about things and nothing really happens. Somebody goes to London and goes out for dinner, and that’s about it.

“So it’s much more of a contemplative piece of writing. But with a murder mystery, there’s got to be a murder and there’s got to be a mystery. And there’s got to be something that compels you through. So I just basically took the idea of this really fucked-up family and thought about the 1950s a lot and then – probably to the horror of the [Agatha Christie] devotees – I changed the ending. I’ve changed quite a lot and I’m lucky the [author’s] estate are generous enough to go, ‘You’re mad but we’re just going to let you do it.’”

Sarah Phelps

Phelps began writing the miniseries by thinking about “the bunting and the blood of the 1950s,” a period just a few years removed from the horrors of the Second World War and a time of great tradition but also of motherhood and womanhood, with a young Queen Elizabeth II on the British throne. And at its heart is the story of a ‘perfect’ family, except it isn’t perfect at all.

“For loads of different reasons, it took a great deal of time to burrow away at it and actually find the real spirit of it,” the writer says of Christie’s novel. “I was thinking about the 1950s and street parties and also conspiracy and silence – I wanted those two things to be the mood of the book. I wanted this sense of people smiling but, underneath, just screaming with fury and rage and all the lies that families keep.

“The thing I kept thinking about was perhaps there’s a way of telling the story of the 20th century through murder mysteries that tells us where we are in the 21st. So that’s kind of what I’m into doing – we’ve had the late 1930s [in And Then There Were None] and the mid-20s [for The Witness for the Prosecution] and now we’re having the mid-50s, and the next one [The ABC Murders] will be the early 30s.”

For Phelps, the appeal of a murder mystery is not ‘whodunnit’ by ‘whydunnit.’ “That’s what’s exciting to me, picking away at the characters and going, ‘Why are you doing this?’ Not how you did it with a poker or whatever, but why? What is making you do this?”

Phelps is well versed in family tension, having written dozens of episodes of long-running BBC soap EastEnders. Now in Ordeal by Innocence, distributed worldwide by IMG Global, the residents of Sunny Point find there is no one to trust. “There is a murderer under this roof and they smile and they get away with it,” she adds. “It’s one of those things that puts a shiver up your back.”

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Jack of all trades

As British drama Kiri makes its US debut, writer Jack Thorne tells DQ about penning the four-part miniseries and his approach to writing, with upcoming projects including The Eddy and His Dark Materials.

Widely regarded as one of the busiest people working in television, Jack Thorne hardly has a spare moment. So it’s no surprise that when DQ catches up with him, the writer is in New York combining promotion of his four-part miniseries Kiri with preparations for the Broadway transfer of his West End play Harry Potter & the Cursed Child.

Having worked on Skins and the Bafta-winning The Fades, Thorne is best known for collaborating with Shane Meadows on miniseries trilogy This Is England, as well as The Last Panthers, feature film Wonder and an episode of dystopian anthology series Philip K Dick’s Electric Dreams.

More recently, he penned National Treasure, which sought to examine the fallout from a public figure being accused of historical sexual assault. But his most recent television outing is Kiri (pictured above), which launches on Hulu on April 4 and examines the disappearance of a young black girl (Kiri) who is soon to be adopted by her white foster family, and the trail of lies, blame, guilt and notoriety that follows.

Jack Thorne

Central to the drama is social worker Miriam (Sarah Lancashire), who arranges for Kiri to have an unsupervised visit with her biological grandparents, leading to her abduction. The series reunites Thorne with National Treasure producer The Forge and distributor All3Media International.

“It was quite stressful,” Thorne says of writing Kiri. “I was so happy with National Treasure and I feel very confident now in it in terms of what it said. So I was very anxious Kiri had something to say and what it had to say was something worth saying. The first draft of Kiri was one of the worst drafts I have ever handed in. [Executive producer] George Faber took me to dinner to say, ‘This is brilliant but a mess.’ He was being nice by saying it was brilliant but there wasn’t anything brilliant about it. Then started a long process of excavation.”

Writing Kiri was particularly troublesome because it was so personal, Thorne explains. His mother was a social worker, while he and his wife have looked into the adoption process, so transplanting those experiences and memories into a television drama proved to be a “scary process,” particularly when the transracial element opened up even more avenues to consider.

He continues: “All you have got to do as a writer is tell the truth but sometimes telling the truth is really tricky, and on Kiri it was. You’re dealing with a wasp’s nest of issues and that wasp’s nest is full of other people’s scars. Episode two sent me mad.”

Faber was also instrumental in helping solve the conundrum of the story’s structure, which shifts perspective between several different characters in a narrative method known as a relay race. “I thought about how to structure it and that idea came about, which is what Abi Morgan did brilliantly with [BBC drama] Murder. If I’ve got another show that can be my model, that makes me feel better,” he says.

Kiri stars Sarah Lancashire as social worker Miriam

Thorne says he works out a lot of knots in the storyline by writing through the problems, though he admits he needs to know the end of the story and what he thinks about it before he turns out a script. National Treasure proved to be an exception to the rule, however, when it came to deciding the courtroom verdict.

“I remember the moment when we realised [central character] Paul was not guilty as being quite late on, but we were talking about how we felt about him all the way through. He was guilty for a long time. It was just in that moment, going, ‘It’s a drama about someone who’s going to be found not guilty,’ and what that means and what that says.”

“In Kiri, it was about who did it and what that means. When it became clear it was about someone’s indignation that someone else wasn’t grateful for what they’d given them and that psychopathic anger inside him, we thought, ‘OK, that’s the truth we’re getting to, so how does every episode ask a question that leads to that ending?’”

Like National Treasure, the themes of blame and responsibility and the role of the media run through Kiri, so although it wasn’t billed as such in the UK (where both shows aired on Channel 4), the two miniseries form the first two instalments of a planned trilogy. In the US, it will air under the title National Treasure: Kiri.

Robbie Coltrane in National Treasure, the first part of a trilogy from Thorne that includes Kiri and an as-yet-unrevealed story

“Hopefully we’re going to get a chance to do a third one, and hopefully [the link] will become clear,” Thorne explains. “It was always in my head as a trilogy of different things. Season one was gender, season two was race. Season three I know what it is but I don’t want to curse it [by revealing too much] and hopefully it will all join together in a way that makes sense for people. I’ve got a story but I’m trying to work out how to make it function.”

Work only seems like work when you’re not enjoying it, and that’s certainly the view Thorne takes, admitting that he takes on so many jobs simply because he likes writing. He points again to Morgan who, speaking on the Royal Court podcast, describes the moment she realised she had taken on too much work was when she had 14 projects on her slate and felt like she was constantly having affairs with each one, forcing her to strip back her workload.

“I don’t feel I’m quite in that place,” Thorne admits. “But I recognise the danger and it’s important not to overexpose. I’m also working out how, in an age when inclusivity is becoming increasingly important, to use my voice to make things better, rather than just propagate a world that is over-dominated by white men. I’m doing a lot of thinking about that at the moment. Visibility has always been very important to me and my logic has always been if I can get those faces and stories on TV, then I’m doing alright. I’m just working all that out.”

For television, Thorne is now developing The Eddy, a musical drama for Netflix with La La Land director Damien Chazelle, and the highly anticipated adaptation of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials triology of novels, first announced by the BBC back in 2015. Thorne came on board in April 2016. Season one, based on the first book, Northern Lights, introduces Lyra, an orphan whose search for a kidnapped friend uncovers a sinister plot involving stolen children, all set in a parallel universe where science, theology and magic are entwined.

Thorne also penned The Last Panthers

“We’ve been together working on it for so long now. I’ve written all eight episodes of the first season and am rewriting them now,” Thorne says. “It’s been joyous so far, working out how to do it to make it work.

“There’s huge pressure. My job is to tell Philip’s story as well as I can. In doing so, I have to make decisions [about what to keep or cut out]. There are constant battles in how we tell these stories as well as you possibly can, but we’ve got a lot of time to tell them as well. Hopefully we can please everyone. That’s the aim but I’m tremendously scared.”

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Horrible history

Jared Harris and Tobias Menzies lead a perilous journey into the frozen unknown in historical horror The Terror. The actors, director Edward Berger and co-showrunners David Kajganich and Soo Hugh tell DQ about making the 10-part event series.

No one survived the Arctic expedition led by HMS Terror and HMS Erebus to chart the Northwest Passage, that much is certain. More than 100 men – officers and crew – died when their ships became ice-locked in the frozen waters, leaving them to fend for themselves in the inhospitable and unforgiving environment.

Inspired by this true story, and Dan Simmons’ book on the doomed exploratory voyage, US cable network AMC imagines those aboard the ships fighting for survival against the treacherous conditions, their fellow sailors and a mysterious predator in 10-part event series The Terror.

The drama stars Jared Harris (Mad Men) as Francis Crozier, captain of HMS Terror and second in command of the expedition behind Sir John Franklin (Game of Thrones’ Ciarán Hinds).

Tobias Menzies (Outlander) also stars as Captain James Fitzjames, with Paul Ready (Cuffs) as Dr Harry Goodsir, Adam Nagaitis (Suffragette) as Cornelius Hickey, Nive Nielsen (The New World) as Lady Silence, Ian Hart (Neverland) as Thomas Blanky and Trystan Gravelle (Mr Selfridge) as Henry Collins.

Jared Harris in as Captain Francis Crozier in The Terror

Filmed in Budapest, The Terror comes from co-showrunners David Kajganich (True Story, A Bigger Splash) and Soo Hugh (The Whispers, The Killing), who executive produce with Ridley Scott, David W Zucker, Alexandra Milchan, Scott Lambert and Guymon Casady. The series is produced by Scott Free, Emjag Productions and Entertainment 360. AMC Studios is the distributor.

Kajganich had been “obsessed” by the real events behind the story and scored an advance copy of Simmons’ book, hoping to adapt it as a feature film. Looking back now, though, he admits it would have been “drastic” to cut so much from the story to ensure it fitted a two-hour running time.

“It’s such an amazing combination of character drama and genre, and you don’t get those projects very often,” he says. “Even in Hollywood, it’s rare a book this good and this spooky and wonderful and a weird mix of genres comes along. There are certainly things in the book that were unfilmmable but what we found is where there’s a will, there’s a way. Everything we wanted to shoot we found a way to do it. People came to this knowing it would exhaust them but it would be fun in the most enjoyable, aggressively creative way.”

But when the project crossed over to television, Kajganich knew he couldn’t do it on his own. “When I met Soo, I knew in 25 seconds this was the best I could hope for,” he says. Hugh jokes: “We got married knowing very little about one another but it worked. We missed the courtship.”

Working with four others in the writers room, they broke stories together and split up the episodes. But as present-day excavations uncovered more secrets about the fates of the Erebus and Terror, the scripts continued to evolve right up until they were committed to film. That meant the showrunners found themselves doing a lot of rewriting, long after the other writers had moved on to other projects.

The AMC drama was shot in Budapest

Kajganich says: “We talked a lot about every character and when is the moment that they realised they’d stepped from a high adventure story into a horror movie. It’s different for every character and some characters never cross that line, either because they never see the world that way or they refuse to. And that speaks to the warmth of these people. They thought they were going to live, most of them until the very end. They brought with them their ingenuity, their humour, their humanity. We wanted those things to be more important than any plot demands of a horror show, so we wanted to make sure the characters were driving the genre elements of the show, that it didn’t get out of hand and start leading the characters around.

Hugh adds: “A lot of the horror elements, aside from the creature, are fact. We knew there was scurvy aboard, we knew there was at least some blood poisoning, we knew there was botchalism, so in terms of the horror foundations, it was all there. We didn’t have to make that stuff up, it’s real.”

Directing three episodes is Edward Berger (Deutschland 83, Patrick Melrose), who says he was immediately fascinated by the script, which portrayed a world he knew nothing about.

“I read it and thought, ‘This is great. How in the hell do I do this?’” he admits. “I knew we would do everything in the studio and then to figure out how to make it was really difficult, challenging and scary.

“I remember in July 2016, we flew to Budapest and stood in this black-hole studio. This was where they were supposed to die and eat each other but there was nothing there. It’s just scary because you don’t know how it’s going to look.”

The historical horror also stars Game of Thrones duo Tobias Menzies (left) and Ciáran Hinds

Meetings followed between his DOP Florian Hoffmeister, production designer Jonathan McKinstry and costume designer Annie Symons, after which Berger retreated to spend two months designing storyboards. Then when he returned to Budapest, the world of The Terror was starting to take shape.

“Suddenly there’s a ship in the studio and there’s ice all around it,” he says. “There’s 100 people sewing costumes and you suddenly realise it’s becoming a reality.”

Budapest is well regarded among filmmakers for its good crews, support system and tax breaks, but the location also held a special significance on The Terror, as it was also where executive producer Scott directed The Martian.

“The Martian is basically the same idea [as The Terror] – a guy on Mars, all shot in a studio, and we said OK, it worked for Mars, let’s do it for the Arctic,” says Berger, who describes Scott as the “godfather” of the series.

“He was the inspiration for a lot of things, starting with [1979 sci-fi classic] Alien. It’s a similar story to Alien – a movie that very much inspired this down to quotes or certain scenes. There’s a scene in the beginning where one of the sailors spits blood and so it’s a homage to Alien. So he’s the spiritual godfather for Dave, Soo and I for this in terms of story and script. But he was very hands off in production. He left us to it.”

The slow-burn story unfolds across 10 episodes

The series, which airs outside the US in 28 territories on Amazon Prime Video, is presented with a desaturated, bluish look to heighten the sense of cold and loneliness felt by the sailors stranded in the Arctic. But early in filming during the Hungarian winter, relatively few effects were needed to portray the cold surroundings, owing to the frosty temperatures inside the studio.

“In the beginning it was freezing cold,” recalls Harris, who describes the crew as the “rock stars” of their day. “They saved themselves a lot of money because our breath was misting up as it would come out. Those ships looked amazing and each of the decks was its own separate set, on its own sound stage, and the ice stage looked amazing so it was exciting to be there. They would have shot in the Arctic if the cameras wouldn’t have frozen.

“We also had an understanding of the claustrophobia. You start to imagine they would have spent all this time in this one space, locked in the ice for a year-and-a-half but on board these ships for between five and seven years.

Menzies adds: “Often there was no acting needed because once you got a crew and all the actors in, it was absolutely jammed. And one of the things the creators of this show have done brilliantly is really evoking a lot of those details of what it was like to be close to each other, the physical realities. Imagine the smell! If we can take an audience some way into what that would have been like, it’s going to be a rich experience.”

That experience will be all the richer if viewers stick with the show through its entire run, with cast and crew highlighting the slow pace of the series, which focuses on the characters and their increasingly strained relationships as they come to terms with the perilous situation they find themselves in.

“The pacing of this show could not have existed five or 10 years ago, because we are standing on the shoulders of some great television that really has taught audiences to wait and you will be rewarded,” Hugh says. “The last three episodes, thankfully, AMC supported us so they’re longer than the traditional format and when you see them you’ll understand why. It’s a different experience. It almost feels like a standalone movie. It’s an epic.”

Menzies agrees. “I’m very excited by the slow-burn nature of what we’ve made,” he says. “It will reward attention and people staying in it – and I feel, story-wise, that reaches deeper places than if it’s too ‘surface’ and too quick and too cokey in its rhythms. But that’s the kind of storytelling I like so I tend to be drawn to those projects.”

Ultimately, Berger says The Terror is proof of what can happen when writers are allowed to dream. “What I learned from the American writing is almost anything you can imagine, anything you can write, you can also film,” he says. “Growing up in Germany, you’re limited in your resources. So these kinds of ideas you never dare to dream. You just shut them out of your mind. So that’s why when I read the first script I thought, ‘How am I going to do this? How do you shoot that?’ I’ve never read something like that in Germany. It’s not as liberated or free in terms of fantasy.”

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Sound the alarm

Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water, mermaids and humans are set for a battle to control the ocean in Siren, which launches on US cable channel Freeform next week. DQ dives into the series with showrunner Emily Whitesell.

Long before the cameras began rolling on Humans, the sci-fi coproduction from Channel 4 and AMC, the group of actors cast to play the androids at the centre of the show spent weeks in rehearsal perfecting every movement and gesture. For Freeform drama Siren, which debuts next Thursday, the starring ensemble went through a similar process – only this time they were playing mermaids, and they were underwater.

Emily Whitesell

Visual effects, the final piece of the jigsaw put into place ahead of Siren’s debut, will help to create a realistic look for this fishy tale. But when it comes to movement, that’s on the actors.

“We’ve done a lot of work in the water because we wanted everything to look as authentic as possible,” says showrunner Emily Whitesell when asked how much of the show was shot on camera. “These actors are unbelievable, they are diving into the freezing water off the coast of Vancouver [where Siren was shot]. Then for anything under the water, we have a giant tank and underwater cameras, and they’re in suits that mark them up in a way so that, afterwards, the visual effects people can add something. But as for the actors, the more they can move as these creatures, the better off we are once we get to visual effects.

“Eline Powell, who plays the mermaid Ryn [at the centre of the story], must be partly mermaid! She’s such a physical actor; she takes on the life of this thing and moves in such a way that it’s so authentic. Our main actors are so into it, they’re really embodying these creatures. We just have to keep them safe [in the water] and try to make their movement as close as possible [to a mermaid] so we can minimise the visual effects.”

Siren is set in Bristol Cove, a coastal town that, according to legend, was once home to mermaids. And when the arrival of a mysterious girl (Powell’s Ryn) proves this folklore to be true, there begins a vicious battle between man and sea as these predatory beings seek to reclaim their right to the ocean.

The drama is based on a story by Eric Wald and Dean White, who executive produce alongside Whitesell, Brad Luff, Nate Hopper and RD Robb. Disney Media Distribution is handling international sales.

Siren stars Eline Powell as Ryn

Whitesell’s reluctance to lean too heavily on her effects team also extended to a desire to avoid the pattern of shows such as 1970s/80s series The Incredible Hulk, in which viewers would see Bill Bixby’s David Banner transform into Lou Ferrigno’s Hulk each week. “We really tried throughout the first 10 episodes to vary what you’d see in terms of transformation,” she explains of the mermaids’ differing states between land and sea.

“Part of the mythology we’re using – we got to make up a whole mythology of our own – is when mermaids come onto land, they become more adaptive each time, so they can stay longer each time. So for a couple of episodes we can have a different transformation or tell a different story about what it means to be a mermaid. In every episode you see something cool as far as a transformation or visual effect, but we only do the actual transformation in visual form several times throughout the first 10 episodes.”

As a writer and producer, Whitesell’s credits include Homicide: Life on the Street, Roswell, Party of Five, American Dreams and, most recently, MTV teen drama Finding Carter, on which she was also showrunner.

“I got so lucky,” Whitesell recalls of becoming involved in Siren, which was originally titled The Deep. Her agent passed her the script as production was ramping up for the pilot, and despite initially hesitating at the prospect of a mermaid drama, she agreed to read it.

“I’m not a mermaid girl but I read the script and I could not believe the quality of it and the level it was being worked at,” she says. “I’d never seen a story like this on TV. As a producer and a writer, you’re always looking for new things to explore, and it rang all these thematic bells about things I love to write about in terms of the ‘others’ in the world and acceptance of people – very deep themes that I always care about.”

Wald and White wrote the pilot, before White left to continue his directing career and Whitesell stepped in to help Wald polish the script. Scott Stewart then directed the pilot before Freeform, the cable channel formerly known as ABC Family, greenlit a further nine episodes in April 2017. Production began in July.

Despite not being involved in the story’s conception, Whitesell says she feels fully invested in Siren, having joined at such an early stage and having taken charge of casting and the writers room. Her partnership with Wald has also blossomed.

“I know you hear all kinds of crazy stories about people not getting along but Eric, because he’s not done television, is such a collaborative and creative person and he’s been fascinated by the process,” she says. “Some of the compromises you end up making in your initial vision or what you thought of when you were writing and then how it actually plays out, he’s been fascinated by watching that happen. He has such a great film eye so he always starts from a very elevated place, and together we’re able to say, ‘Here’s the compromise.’ He has been absolutely riveted and the relationship has gotten better and better.

The show centres on mermaids that can venture onto land

“He naturally loves to work on visual effects and that is such a labour-intensive process. I am much more about how we’re telling the story and the arc of the story. I’ve taken the reins in that way and we both have different strengths, so that has been fantastic.”

Asked about her showrunning mentors, Whitesell lists peers such as Marshall Herskovitz, Ed Zwick (both Once & Again) and Party of Five’s Christopher Keyser and Amy Lippman, noting that beginning her career on the lowest rung of the writing ladder meant she could reflect on different ways of doing the top job and how she might one day approach it herself.

“Nowadays, showrunning is such a big job in terms of casting and writing, and you’re responsible for every aspect [of the show]. Where are we shooting, what are we shooting, what does it look like, how are we lighting it, what stories are we telling, how are we casting? When I consider all the jobs that happen every day, I can’t think too much or my head will explode.”

Ensuring her head stays intact comes down to delegation, with Whitesell surrounding herself with talented people and letting them do what they’re good at. “You shouldn’t be threatened by really talented people, they can help you. It’s all good and you should try to elevate everyone. That helps people invest in the show.”

Fola Evans-Akingbola and Alex Roe also feature

Producing a series for teen-skewing Freeform, Whitesell is aware of the seemingly unstoppable tide carrying her target audience away from traditional television and towards YouTube and other streaming platforms. How they watch Siren, however, doesn’t concern her, as the showrunner’s focus remains locked on the type of show she is making.

“This show on FX or another network would be completely different and yet I think Freeform really wanted to take some risks with it and push some darkness and some interesting things,” Whitesell notes. “They also believe younger viewers are so savvy – not just technically, but they have great taste and they’re used to seeing visual effects and things that look good. It needs to look good.

“I do not concern myself with the idea of trying to make a hit and grab an audience. I leave that to the network to figure out. Creatively, it’s the wrong place to operate. You have to think about what you’re trying to say and the quality of what you’re doing. Beyond that, I have no control so I don’t spend much time thinking about it.”

What Whitesell has been thinking about, together with Wald, is the future direction of Siren, which the showrunner says could run to five seasons and beyond. “We always say television eats story so quickly so some of the stories we thought were going to be five years down the line, we’ve moved up already,” she explains. “But Eric does have a long-term vision for the show, which is why I think the network was so excited about it. He was really able to talk about where it was going to go, so we’ve continued that conversation and we’re so much on the same page at this point that we’re pitching the same stories for future seasons.”

Across the TV drama landscape, it’s sink or swim as hundreds of competing series look to grab enough viewers to keep their heads above the water. As a show about mermaids, creatures rarely given their own platform on the small screen, Siren has a good chance of staying afloat in 2018.

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Moral dilemma

Scandinavian expats lose their minds and their morals in Danish drama Liberty, which is set in 1980s Tanzania. DQ chats to creator Asger Leth, director Mikael Marcimain and stars Connie Nielsen and Carsten Bjørnlund about filming Jakob Ejerbo’s celebrated novel of the same name.

As is so often the case with literary adaptations, the road to making Danish drama Liberty was never without its bumps. But despite the challenges they faced, head writer Asger Leth, director Mikael Marcimain and producer Karoline Leth found a way to turn Jakob Ejersbo’s acclaimed novel into a five-part miniseries for DR.

Set in Tanzania in the late 1980s, the show centres on a group of Scandinavian expats. The story follows two families – the Kundsens and the Larssons – as they struggle to adapt to a new culture, and explores what happens when the idealism that brought them to Africa turns to corruption, lies and deceit.

In particular, the Larsson’s son Christian and local man Marcus each seek what the other has – an African identity and a European future.

Mikael Marcimain

The series, produced by DR and distributed by DR International Sales, debuted in February, following its premiere at the Berlin International Film Festival. But in some ways it’s a minor miracle it was made at all, with the novel being held in such reverence that many previous efforts to adapt it had fallen by the wayside.

“People wanted to do this but it’s a very big book, especially in Denmark,” Asger says. “It’s like the equivalent of the great American novel but from a young Danish writer, about heavy subjects. It was very mature in terms of writing. It was incredibly well crafted – it’s a masterpiece.

“Everything is seen through the boys’ point of view; even the adults [are described] from a distance. There’s a lot of youthful condemnation of the fuck-ups, the hypocrites and all that stuff. But you have to lift it up and make it a drama series. When I read the book, I started in my mind developing these stories, putting together the blanks in the adults’ lives. So we’re developing [those characters and their stories] and taking them seriously as characters.”

Asger began working on the project more than two years ago, planning out a six-part series that featured “an important death” at the halfway point. “But I was given five [episodes], so it was a big rewrite, much bigger than you can imagine,” he says of the DR commission. “It was difficult, but I think we got away with it.”

Marcimain signed on after reading the first three scripts and headed straight into the casting process, which brought together actors from Denmark, Sweden, Finland and different countries in Africa. “I liked the topics about aid workers and corruption. It’s a dark fairybtale and has a web of characters,” he says. “I really responded to that. It was irresistible.”

Liberty stars Connie Nielsen as matriarch Katrina Larsson

“I was a fan of the books ever since they came out but I never thought they would be able to make them into films or series,” says actor Connie Nielsen, who plays Katrina Larsson, the matriarch of the series who is happy to turn a blind eye to her colonialist husband Jonas (Magnus Krepper)’s schemes if it means keeping the high standard of living she is accustomed to. “I just didn’t see how they were going to tell the story. When I was sent the script, I was really stunned that Asger had succeeded in finding a way to give a filmic language to this book.”

Katrina is the friendly face of the expat community in Tanzania, welcoming new arrivals to her home with regular dinner parties, all while her husband cheats on her and embezzles Swedish funding into his sawmill business.

“My character has no morals,” admits Nielsen, who made her name in the US on the back of films such as Gladiator and The Devil’s Advocate and recently appeared in the hit Wonder Woman movie. “Actually, I think their morals and ethics are tested in Africa and whatever seemed OK [in Scandinavia] keeps on getting pushed further and further away. My character and her husband are wondering when [their behaviour] is no longer OK. Where is the limit? My character has a very extreme experience and it’s been very exciting to play her.

“A big part of what we wanted to show is what happens when white people go to Africa. What are we doing there and how do we know what we’re doing there is OK? How do we treat the people in places we go to help? And just how clean is our whole reason for being there?”

Charlie Kamuri as local Marcus

Adding that she has worked with non-governmental organisations in the region, Nielsen continues: “I really wanted to do this because, with my own eyes, I’ve seen that while so many people do so many wonderful things and want to help, there’s also so much unintended damage that we need to ask ourselves hard questions about – is this a form of new colonialism that we’re actually doing? This is, to a large degree, what Jakob Ejersbo set out to try to seek. Who do we think we are? I think that’s what he asked himself.”

It’s through the eyes of Niels Knudsen, played by Carsten Bjørnlund, that viewers see the damage created by those with good intentions. The first episode opens as his wife Kirsten (Sofie Gråbøl) and rebellious son Christian (Anton Hjejle) come to join him in Africa, where Niels is rallying a group of local farmers to the idea of the Danish cooperative movement. But as the two halves of his life come together, the realist in him discovers corruption could threaten his project.

“He has challenges and the challenges grow as the series progresses,” Bjørnlund teases. “His morals are going to get tested. The series shows what happens when you take yourself out of your environment and the moral set you’re used to having, in this case in Denmark, and then you move and you lose your moral compass and things start to slide.”

Filming took place in South Africa, and Nielsen reveals that the cast came to know each other intimately as a result of the close confines in which they found themselves during the production.

Carsten Bjørlund’s says his character faces a test of his morals

“We had a very small budget, so I know what kind of underwear Carsten uses,” she jokes. “We were standing on dirty rags somewhere in a field just getting changed. The pool we had to dive into had serious hygiene issues. It was as far from Hollywood as you could get, but it was also such a great experience. I got to work with these great Danish actors and we had such a great time. We froze out asses off sometimes [in the pool] and then we’d be sweating like crazy.”

For Asger, the biggest challenge was the time pressures he faced, with DR setting the show’s February launch before production started. “So we were under pressure all the time, which is very much like the usual showrunner style in the US,” he says. “For a miniseries, the whole thing has to be finished up front with a fixed date and that’s a little hairy. But a lot of the right decisions were made up front so we could take it and run with it. Because of the pressure, it could have gone wrong but hopefully we succeeded.”

Marcimain continues: “There was a lot of work to do because there are a lot of actors involved and strong wills. Also, it’s difficult to boil everything down – what do we choose? We even shot more than you see because there were more scenes in the script. You’re also under pressure because you have this amount of time to shoot it, this amount of time to edit. We had to make fast, intuitive decisions.”

But while the Nordic region is now known worldwide for a certain type of crime show, Liberty is as far from Nordic noir as you can get, both geographically and stylistically.

“Everybody in Scandinavia is continuing to develop [new series] and this is just one more step on a development scale,” Nielsen says. “It was extremely courageous of the producers to try to do something that is rather international and not just having the belief that people would want something that is Danish. They went completely away from that genre and I feel really proud to be a part of it.

“I also feel the fact we’re doing this is challenging Danish viewers to say Denmark is more than these fjords and cities and people. There are Danes around the world and they are doing incredible and interesting things and we should be watching them. We shouldn’t be turned inwards. There’s a big world out there.”

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Mr Ice guy

Under new showrunner Ed Bernero (Criminal Minds), US drama Ice is back for a second season.

In this DQTV interview, star Jeremy Sisto previews the show’s return and talks about its feuding families, who will fight tooth and nail for control of LA’s underground diamond business.

He reveals Ice’s expansive locations for season two, which debuts in the US on March 28, with the cast and crew spending time in Venezuela and South Africa, as well as on location in LA.

Sisto also discusses his approach to acting and past characters he has played, including roles in HBO’s Six Feet Under and Law & Order.

Ice is produced by Entertainment One (eOne) for AT&T’s Audience Network and distributed by eOne.

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All in The Detail

Angela Griffin and Shenae Grimes-Beech team up to star in Canadian detective drama The Detail. They tell DQ about playing cops and the chance to join a female-led production.

The Detail could not be more timely. As the fallout from Hollywood’s sexual harassment scandal continues, alongside the #MeToo and Time’s Up campaigns and the row over gender pay inequality, this Canadian crime series stands apart as a female-led production.

Starring Angela Griffin, Shenae Grimes-Beech and Wendy Crewson, the story details the messy realities of cop life – both on and off the job – for detectives who work tirelessly to solve cases while navigating the complicated demands of their personal lives.

Behind the camera, female writers, directors, producers and consultants drive the series, which is described as depicting topical stories through a distinctly and unapologetically female lens. Key personnel include executive producer and co-showrunner Ley Lukins, who also developed the series; executive producers Ilana Frank, Linda Pope, Sally Wainwright, Nicola Shindler and Jocelyn Hamilton; co-executive producer Sonia Hosko; consulting producer Kathy Avrich Johnson; and writers Naledi Jackson, Sandra Chwialkowska, Katrina Saville and Sarah Goodman. Directors on the series, produced by ICF Films and distributed by Entertainment One, include Jordan Canning and Sara St Onge.

Other creative talent includes co-showrunner Adam Pettle and co-executive producer director Gregory Smith, writers Graeme Stewart, Joe Bernice and Matt Doyle, and directors Kelly Makin, Grant Harvey, John Fawcett and James Genn.

Shenae Grimes-Beech (left) and Angela Griffin in The Detail, which is led by women in front of and behind the camera

When DQ sits down with Griffin and Grimes-Beech, it is seven months since filming wrapped on the eight-part series, which launches on Canada’s CTV on March 25 and will air on ION TV in the US. But Griffin explicitly remembers her excitement at the first read-through for the show.

“It felt like the start of something really special,” she says. “There was such a good vibe about the whole job, which stayed for the entire job. There was such a good energy about it. It’s exciting being in a room full of women, I’ve got to say. Being sat around a table where I’m not the girlfriend or the wife was super cool. And then you’ve got all these great female directors and producers.

“I think it’s amazing but I also think, ‘Yes, it should be.’ I almost don’t want to big it up too much because that should just be the norm, but I’m really proud to be part of the show and part of something that is getting it right.”

Grimes-Beech picks up: “That’s one of the things I think we all loved about the show so much. It’s never, like, the female boss. It’s never something that is punctuated. It just ‘is,’ because why the fuck wouldn’t it be? Why shouldn’t women be treated as complete equals? It’s a laughable concept to think that’s not a reality for a lot of people.”

Griffin, best known for her long-running role on UK soap Coronation Street, plays Detective Stevie Hall, an experienced interrogator dealing with a thorny family life. Grimes-Beech, meanwhile, is Detective Jacqueline ‘Jack’ Cooper, a street-smart rookie with a personal life that threatens to eclipse her day job.

The Detail will debut on Canada’s CTV later this month

That work-life balance is a key element of the series, which sees procedural crime-of-the-week storylines play out against the backdrop of the detectives’ individual family lives and examines how the cases they face impact their home life.

It’s what makes The Detail stand out for Griffin, who says she wants to see characters on screen juggle the daily demands she faces in her own life. “And I actually really like it when people don’t handle it, because it is impossible,” she admits. “I thoroughly enjoy watching imperfect lives because it makes me feel better about my own. It makes me feel like I’m not a complete failure. Certainly for Stevie, she doesn’t get it right all the time when it comes to that balance. Going forward, I’d like to see her struggle more with it, because sometimes she does manage to pull it out of the bag. I’d like to up that ante a bit more.”

Grimes-Beech, meanwhile, prefers the crime element of the series, which she says she finds fascinating. “I don’t often watch dramas that are strictly about people’s personal lives but when I watched our preview back, I enjoyed the personal stuff because it really gives you something to fall in love with your character for. People are going to fall in love with the characters as well and that will keep them hooked.”

That’s not to say that the police element wasn’t important too. “I loved it,” Grimes-Beech says about the opportunity to play a cop. “One of my favourite moments was where we were busting into a trailer and we had our army dude on set with us and he was walking us through how to do it properly. It was so cool, it makes you feel so official.”

For Griffin, the opportunity was amped up by the chance to have a gun, something British crime dramas notably lack in comparison to their North American counterparts.

UK viewers will recognise British actor Griffin from such shows as Coronation Street and Lewis

“I have wanted to be a cop with a gun for ever,” the actor says, noting that the only props she was allowed as DS Lizzy Mannox in ITV drama Lewis were a notepad and pencil. “As an actor, it doesn’t get much better for me. I’ve got personal stuff, I get to cry in a corner, I get to shoot people, I get to shout at people, I get to be a mum. Some people don’t want to do that; for me as an actor, it’s everything I have ever wanted.”

That wasn’t the only difference on set for Griffin, who is used to a vastly different production schedule on British shows such as Brief Encounters and Ordinary Lies. “It’s bizarre that two countries that speak the same language, that have similar-sized industries, could work in such different ways,” she muses. “The unionisation of the industry in North America as a whole makes it massively different. So certain people can’t do other jobs or double up on things – even the drivers have to be from the drivers’ union. You can’t just nip in a car with an AD [assistant director]. And they have hair and make-up – two people. In the UK, the make-up does the hair and that’s just really normal. It differs on so many different levels but I like both ways of working.”

In contrast, it was a much shorter shoot than usual for Grimes-Beech, who is more used to the year-long effort needed to produce a 22-episode season of a US network drama, such as The CW’s 90210. After five years on that show, and a five-year stint before that on DeGrassi, she’s since mixed things up with a range of feature and TV films. But with the small screen stronger than ever, the actor is happy to return to a potentially long-running series that affords her some security and the chance to pick up other projects on the side.

“While there’s no stability for an actor, I feel like a TV show is as close as it gets and I have so much appreciation and gratitude for a job like this that I didn’t have when I was young,” she says. “When you fall in love with a character and a show as much as I have with this one, you wish it will run forever. That’s not often the case.

Shenae Grimes-Beech starred in The CW’s 90210 for five years

“Back in the day, like five years ago, we all wanted to break out and do movies so badly that an Oscar was the ultimate dream. Now you’ve got Oscar winners on TV shows all the time – look at the cast of Big Little Lies. Are you kidding me! It’s mind-boggling and that’s not something anybody in the industry would have said would happen five years ago. With film, unless it’s a Marvel movie or whatever, no one’s making any money. Those are passion projects and TV allows you to fulfil those passions on the side without having to worry. It’s a different climate in the industry.”

For Griffin, it’s not lost on her that she has had to cross the Atlantic to find a leading role, following in the footsteps of other black British talent such as Damson Idris, Idris Elba and Oscar nominee Daniel Kaluuya. “There’s some great stuff being made [in North America] and a lot of our British, particularly black British, talent is scoring really well out there,” she says, adding that there’s a simple way to ensure more black and ethnic minority talent can pick up leading roles. “Just see people for the parts,” the actor concludes. “It doesn’t have to have the word ‘black’ before it to have someone audition for it. You just open up your casting for everybody and you let everybody come.

“I love the fact I’m doing this show, I absolutely love it and it’s so exciting to be in Canada and I feel really lucky to have it. It would be quite nice to do a series in the UK where I can be one of the leads and see my children every single night and have the same depth, and I’m slightly sad I’ve had to go across the pond to do it.”

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InBetween two worlds

Australian director Nash Edgerton makes his television debut with Mr InBetween, a dark comedy-drama about a hitman juggling his personal and professional lives. He tells DQ about the battle to get the series made, 13 years after the film that inspired it.

When it airs later this year, the debut of Australian dark comedy-drama Mr InBetween will mark the end of a long journey for director Nash Edgerton and writer Scott Ryan.

In 2005 they worked together on The Magician, a mockumentary-style feature about a Melbourne assassin who is both ruthless and caring, played by Ryan, who also wrote and directed the film. Edgerton was a producer.

Thirteen years later, a long-championed television follow-up, Mr InBetween, sees Ryan return as Ray Shoesmith – father, ex-husband, boyfriend, hitman. This time Edgerton is behind the camera.

Nash Edgerton

“We spent years developing scripts,” says Edgerton. “We got close a few times to getting it up within the first few years after the movie. But there weren’t as many avenues in TV at that time, especially in Australia, so it got to a certain point and it didn’t happen.”

One reason why the project kept stalling was Edgerton’s loyalty to Ryan in the face of executives who would have preferred to cast a more recognisable name in the leading role. “I just kept saying, ‘I’m only going to make it if Scott’s going to be in it,’” Edgerton recalls. “Because as far as I was concerned, he was the guy and the reason I was interested in doing it. So I just kept holding out until I got to make it with him. But for me, it was worth the weight to do it with him in that key role and I think the show’s better for it.”

For Edgerton, Scott’s performance in The Magician was one of the highlights of the movie, and he notes that despite the actor/writer’s absence from the screen for more than a decade, Scott could have passed for a seasoned actor on set. “He seems so comfortable in front of the camera. He’s so watchable and enjoyable, to watch him bounce between these two worlds in his life, his personal life and his work life,” he explains.

Scott certainly brings to life the languid, laconic Ray, a man who drifts between his visits to his brother’s home and looking after his daughter to walks in the park with his dog, where he meets potential love interest Ally (Brooke Satchwell). He also finds time to negotiate his day job. One notable incident involves making a man dig his own grave before Ray fires the trigger.

“He’s quite reserved but he has his own clear moral centre – it’s a little left of centre than most people’s but he has a code that he navigates his life by,” Edgerton says of the main character. “He cares about his family and his friends. What’s interesting to me about the show and what drove Scott to do it is he’s read all these books and autobiographies on real-life killers and realised that, as much as that’s their job, they’re still regular people. They still have the same things going on in their lives that anyone else has. It just happens to be that their job is killing people for money.”

Edgerton on set with Mr InBetween star and writer Scott Ryan

Edgerton kept himself busy during the long hiatus between movie and series by directing short films and making his debut Hollywood feature, Gringo, which stars Charlize Theron, David Oyelowo, Amanda Seyfried and the director’s brother Joel, and is out in cinemas today. In fact, Edgerton was shooting Mr InBetween while in post-production on Gringo, providing him with a stark illustration of the differences between making a film and a television series.

“I shot it like a three-hour movie but I edited it like six short films,” he says of the 6×30′ Mr InBetween. “As much as the episodes connect to each other, they’re all still different. The work is contained, they all have their own thing. I actually found that a lot easier to edit than I did the movie because with the movie, you’re trying to sustain almost two hours of a story; but with the TV show, you’re sustaining 25 minutes at a time. Having not done TV before, I wasn’t sure what that was going to feel like but it was somehow more manageable and a quicker process to edit because of that.”

Made for just A$3,000 (US$2,300), The Magician was “super lo-fi,” Edgerton says, describing the film as a buddy movie between Ray and the Italian film student who is holding the camera but whom the audience never sees.

The series focuses on a hitman as he moves between the different worlds of his personal and professional lives

“I wanted the series to feel very natural, light, handheld – I was trying to recapture the feeling the ‘documentary’ gave me, so I was trying to film it that way, just to give more authenticity to the scenes and moments in the show,” he says. “TV is a lot faster [than film]. I had almost 50 days to shoot Gringo, which is one hour and 50 minutes, and then I shot three hours of television in 30 days. So in that way, it was much more of a machine with a much smaller crew but, because I’d never made TV before, I actually blocked it like a movie, so I shot it like a movie. All I’ve made is films and short films, and some music videos, so that was the only way I knew how to make it.”

As well as working behind the camera, Edgerton also had some input during the scriptwriting process, offering suggestions to Ryan. In particular, this manifested itself in terms of Ray’s interactions with his daughter Brittany, which would be based on Edgerton’s conversations with his own daughter, such as a debate over the existence of Santa Claus and Brittany’s insistence that Ray’s friends abide by her swear-jar policy.

In fact, it was casting Brittany that Edgerton says was the biggest challenge, but he didn’t have far to look to find the right actor. His brother Joel isn’t the only family member he has directed – now he can also add daughter Chika Yasumura to the list. And it turned out to be “one of the best directing experiences I’ve had,” Edgerton says.

Ryan alongside his co-star Chika Yasumura, who is Edgerton’s daughter

“Leading up to it, I was quite nervous because she won’t clean up her room when I ask her to, so how am I going to direct her? But she turned out to be so great. My younger brother [Joel], I’m used to telling what to do but Chika was a whole other ball game. I’d auditioned 50-something kids and none of them were getting what it needed to be. My wife suggested throwing her in. She’d never acted before and it turned out to be such a great thing to do.”

Mr InBetween has already received positive reviews after it was chosen to be the only non-US series to be screened at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year. Originally commissioned by FX in Australia, it is now set to air on Foxtel’s Showcase channel later this year. It is produced by Blue-Tongue Films and Jungle Entertainment and sold internationally by Fox Networks Group Content Distribution.

“I never dreamed of doing TV until Scott presented the idea for this series, so I can’t say I’d never do it again,” Edgerton concludes. “I’d totally do another season with Scott. Ultimatel,y I love filmmaking and storytelling so it’s all about if it’s the right project and if it’s the right medium to do it. I still love making short films but, after Gringo, I want to make another movie.”

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