All posts by Shannon Power

Out of the woods

Welsh noir Craith (Hidden) finds new shades of light and dark in a fresh urban setting for its second season, but with new terrors to uncover, the crime drama promises to be as menacing as ever.

Much of the success and allure of gloomy Welsh crime drama Craith (Hidden) comes from the fact the show reveals the murderers very early on.

In fact, the killers are revealed in the first episode of the second season of the breakout drama, allowing its creators to explore why people commit such heinous crimes rather than distracting the audience’s attention in trying to solve the crime throughout the season.

“Using the ‘whydunnit’ as opposed to ‘whodunnit’ mechanism allows audiences to delve into these characters’ lives and to understand why they have done these really terrible things,” Craith producer Hannah Thomas tells DQ. “Once that baggage is removed from the audience, it can free them to really dive into the story, the nuance and to explore the world we’ve created.”

A ‘whydunnit’ mechanism allows audiences to delve into characters’ lives

The BBC Wales and S4C series, which debuted last year, again follows detectives Cadi John (Siân Reese-Williams) and Owen Vaughan (Siôn Alun Davies) as they try to solve the gruesome murder of an elderly man in North Wales. Craith’s second season picks up nine months after the first installment ended, with both major characters having gone through life-changing events.

Cadi is dealing with the aftermath of her father’s death and going through the grieving process, but she has also received a promotion to detective chief inspector ¬– a career move, she is told, her late father would have been proud of.

The character has become such an iconic and popular protagonist that producers brought on Reese-Williams as a consultant much earlier in the production phase this time around so she could contribute her ideas to the drama’s progression. The show’s directors, Gareth Bryn and Chris Foster, were also invited to contribute to development in earlier stages than season one.

Siân Reese-Williams as Cadi John

“Siân is such an integral character and I can really trust her opinion and her instincts,” Thomas says.

In the meantime, Owen’s coping with life as a first-time father as he and his wife struggle to adjust to their new lives with a newborn baby.

Thomas explains these “profound changes” have reshaped the characters not only personally, but also professionally. “They’re both more empathetic and compassionate because of going through these life changes, which will have some kind of impact and change you.”

Once again produced by Severn Screen with backing from distributor All3Media International, Craith’s latest season has moved away from the previous backdrop of the scary isolated house in the middle of the woods but is still based in rainy North Wales in a town called Blaenau Ffestiniog. While there is more light and shade this season as it is set in different locations around the town, the fact that the events unfold amid a backdrop of mountains and slate quarries adds to the grim feeling of the series.

Detective Owen Vaughan played by Siôn Alun Davies

The constant rain and short days made it very challenging to shoot, especially for continuity. But the apocalyptic feel of the series helped set the tone for the brutal murder and subsequent investigations.

“It’s really jagged and austere, and it suffocates you because the mountains are all around,” Thomas says. “What’s really interesting is, in North Wales you are in some places that are extremely beautiful but then telling a dark story like this one against that backdrop is quite incongruous and it really stays with you.”

Another on-set challenge is the fact that the series is shot back-to-back in English and Welsh, with S4C airing the Welsh version and BBC1 Wales and BBC4 airing a bilingual cut. Young actress Annes Elwy (Little Women, Philip K Dick’s Electric Dreams), who plays the troubled teen Mia Owen, expected the transition between languages to be far more complicated, except for when it had been a long day on set.

“Sometimes if you’re really tired you get confused… and you see the other actors’ faces and you can tell you’ve probably gone for the wrong language,” she says.

Her character also has a different backstory in the Welsh and English versions purely because of the language choices. But Elwy admits there is a different approach to the same scenes because of nuances in the languages and for the actors it can have a completely distinct feel.

Annes Elwy plays troubled teen Mia Owen

One example is that in the Welsh version, she attends a Welsh school and speaks Welsh at home and with friends. But in the bilingual edition, “Mia comes from an English-speaking home and goes to a Welsh school but chooses to socialise in English with people who do speak Welsh,” she says. “So it’s quite fun to play those different versions.”

Her co-star and chief protagonist, Reese-Williams, agrees. She says memorising a four-page interrogation scene in two languages can be difficult, but that challenge keeps it fresh for her as an actress.

“There’s a different vibe to the two languages, which I think is imperceptible onscreen. There’s a different flow to the people you’re playing and it’s quite exciting,” Reese-Williams says.

Thomas points out that the English version is actually bilingual as viewers will get to see characters converse in their first language as well as English, arguing it accurately reflects how the Welsh use language every day.

“Craith is obviously the Welsh version and Hidden is the bilingual version and it’s lovely because it’s reflecting the makeup of Wales and how we actually speak the language,” she says.

The cast and producers clearly have a good relationship that translates onscreen, especially for the two detectives who have a respectful and honest professional partnership. It was important to foster good onset chemistry to help each other through filming under extreme weather conditions, while portraying some very morbid story lines.

Thomas believes the strength of Craith lies in the fact it doesn’t judge any of its characters, but rather the show allows viewers into their lives.

“Exploring every character in depth and their motivations shows nothing is black and white in life –I don’t think there’s such a thing as a good person or a bad person,” she adds. “We’re all various shades of good and bad. That’s what’s great about this show – it explores those nuances.”

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Yes we Can

In just a few short years, Turkish actor Can Yaman has become a global star on the back of the rising popularity of the country’s drama series. He tells DQ about his approach to acting and why he’s a fan of rom-coms.

In a matter of weeks, Turkish heartthrob Can Yaman will lose the gorgeous locks that have stolen the hearts of women the world over.

Yaman’s iconic top knot will get the chop and he will have to go clean-shaven to complete his obligatory military service. For 21 days in January, Yaman will undergo basic army training in case he is called up to serve his country.

Can Yaman believes improvisation is a key part of his acting technique

The 29-year-old seems disappointed about the style overhaul, particularly because he fought so hard for the look in his recurrent role in global smash drama Daydreamer (Erkenci Kuş). Having a big say in the styling of the characters he plays is a deal breaker for the star who insists on dictating a character’s looks.

“I have to deepen the character and I help with the styling because it’s important to the character. I choose his hair and what he wears. That’s not written in the script,” he tells DQ at Mipcom. “The way I do things is really hands-on.”

Yaman started his professional life as a lawyer before becoming a model and then only four years ago turned his attention to acting. In that short time he has become one of Turkey’s hottest exports, starring in dramas such as Daydreamer and as a clean-cut businessman in Bitter Sweet (Dolunay). This year he won the Best Foreign Actor Award at the Murex D’or in Lebanon and E! News named him TV’s Top Leading Man, a title he wrested from Supernatural’s Jensen Ackles, a four-time winner of the title.

Yaman was hard to miss at Mipcom

But Yaman’s international fame is not simply off the back of Daydreamer’s success, it’s also down to the rise of Turkish drama globally.

Produced by Gold Film and distributed by Global Agency to territories such as Spain, Greece, Israel, Croatia, Bulgaria, India, Iraq, Ukraine, Poland, Czech Republic and Lithuania, the show is about a troublesome daydreamer, Sanem (Demet Özdemir.), who falls in love with the free spirited photographer Can (Yaman).

Daydreamer has made an A-list celebrity of the star. A giant, multi-storey billboard depicting Yaman kept a watchful eye over Cannes’ Croisette during Mipcom in October and the star couldn’t go anywhere without being followed by fans and paparazzi.

As the face of Turkey’s growing drama presence, Yaman credits his industry’s work ethic as the reason why everyone loves drama from both sides of the Bosporus.

“I would really love to see Turkey grow faster than this,” he says. “We produce a lot [of television] because we have a lot of channels in Turkey. When we make one episode it runs for, like, 140 minutes and can be cut into three episodes, so it’s a paradise for anyone who is buying it.”

Turkey’s high turnover of content may have garnered it international praise, but it has taken a toll on Yaman, who is looking forward to his military service as a welcome break from the gruelling shooting schedule.

“It can be devastating,” he says. “You’re working 16 hours a day, every day. So you have to love what you’re doing, love your character and love the people you are working with.”

Demet Özdemir stars alongside Yaman in Daydreamer

The relationships amongst cast and crew is critical to not only surviving long days on set but to also giving the actors space to improvise. “We are laughing or joking on the set because we have a good relationship; if we didn’t have it would be very hard,” Yaman says.

On improvising, which is essential to his process, he adds: “Some characters have to be by the book and stick to the script. But I can’t do that, I hate it and I have to improvise.”

Romantic comedies are also more conducive to improvising, which is just one of several reasons he is keen to film as many as possible in the coming years.

Conscious his 30th birthday is looming, Yaman’s future is weighing heavily on him. He wonders whether he can continue in the genre and is now eyeing action roles.

“There’s a romantic side to me which women love. But when I’m 35 or 40 I may not be able to make rom-coms, so my producer and I are talking about switching gear,” he says. “People also want me to do action, but a lot of actors can do action, while not many can do rom-coms. Rom-coms make you go deep into a character and you have to help people be connected to the character.”

Make no mistake, Yaman is a man’s man who reveres some of the most alpha-male characters in recent TV history, from Walter White in Breaking Bad to Californication’s Hank Moody and Barney Stinson from How I Met Your Mother. They also inform his acting method and his desire to spend a lot of time curating and developing the characters he plays.

Yaman plays a free spirited photographer in Daydreamer

“I like shows that are character-driven. I can like the show only if the characters are strong,” Yaman says. “I have to be able to relate to the character and they have to inspire me.”

One thing he knows as he contemplates the rest of his career is that he is far more interested in acting than moving behind the camera to direct.

“What I love most about acting is when you finish something you can bring your friends and family together and have about 20 people in your lounge watching it together,” Yaman says. “I don’t know if there’s any other profession where you can share what you love and do with others. That’s what makes our profession so special. I love sharing and I love what I do.”

With Daydreamer now having wrapped after more than 160 episodes, Yaman has a couple of months off before his military obligations at the beginning of next year. Other than coming to terms with entering his fourth decade, the actor plans to use the time to catch up on some much-needed rest.

“Right now I’m enjoying my freedom. I’m going to stay calm and relaxed before I have to go to the military,” Yaman says.

But he promises his producer is searching for the next script that will let Yaman sweep more women off their feet on his return.

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Facing the truth

A father’s desperate attempt to uncover the truth about his daughter’s death takes Danish drama Forhøret (Face to Face) beyond the traditional Nordic noir tropes.

It might seem hard to imagine how shooting intense scenes in a small room as one character interrogates the other about the possible murder of his daughter could ever be funny. But as director Christoffer Boe says, Forhøret (Face to Face) isn’t your standard Nordic crime drama

The Danish director has teamed up again with executive producer Jonas Allen of Miso Film to create a show they promise will blow the lid off not only the Nordic noir genre as we know it, but also crime drama in general. The duo previously worked on the critically acclaimed scripted drama Kriger (Warrior), Boe’s first foray into TV after a celebrated career in filmmaking.

Going beyond the basic whodunnit premise of many crime dramas, the Copenhagen-set series sees police officer Bjørn (Ulrich Thomsen) not only investigate his daughter’s death but also question his reality and what kind of man he was to his daughter and ex-wife.

Christoffer Boe

Distributed by Fremantle, the eight-parter opens with Bjørn going to the coroner with a dental card to identify a young woman. But he is left reeling when he discovers it’s his own daughter lying on the autopsy table. Her death is recorded as suicide, but Bjørn believes otherwise and begins to look into her life. His investigation sends him on a whirlwind journey through the city’s underbelly, where he encounters a variety of characters who meant something to his daughter and uncovers a tangled web of truths, lies and criminality.

So far, so noir – but don’t refer to it as such in front of Boe, who bristles at the suggestion, even though Nordic noir dramas such as Wallander and Forbrydelsen (The Killing) put the region on the global drama map.

Despite bucking industry trends with a running time of just four hours, Face to Face still manages to get under the skin of a city, unravel a family’s hidden secrets and paint a picture of a man coming to terms with his guilt as a parent and husband.

Boe wanted to keep the aesthetic very simple, believing that the naturalistic feel helps the show to get into Bjørn’s psyche. “I’ll be intrigued if people try to call this a Nordic noir crime series… it’s something you haven’t seen in a Nordic noir drama,” he says.

Face to Face provides no backstory or flashbacks, creating “a new stylistic structure, and it’s a strict structure,” says Boe, with each of the eight episodes centering on Bjørn’s interrogations of the people connected to his daughter. The filming process pushed all involved to their limits, often shooting up to 15 pages of dialogue a day, but Boe says there were many light-hearted moments.

For example, on one of the first days of production, a character was required to smoke a cigarette. “Nowadays, we have to use these safety cigarettes that don’t contain any nicotine but still produce smoke,” he says. “We noticed after a while that the actor’s voice began to sound a bit funny, and he admitted, ‘When I smoke these things, I sometimes lose my voice.’”

Ulrich Thomsen plays the lead role of Bjørn in Face to Face

The actor did eventually lose his voice, but the show had to go on and he somehow managed to get through his 12 pages of dialogue. “You just have to laugh at the situation,” says Boe, who managed to find a silver lining: “His raspy voice gave something completely new to the character, so it ended up a good thing.”

And while the desire to make something unique put the cast and crew under pressure, Boe says a sense of levity on set was crucial: “We wanted to use all the tricks of the trade to try to make it interesting and dynamic, but it also needed to be playful. We needed the characters to have fun together so that it’s more than just an interrogation, it’s also developing the characters and their relationships.”

The pressure was intensified by the production’s quick turnaround, with just one week allocated to film each episode. As such, there was little room for error or any tweaking of scripts.

Working alongside Boe on those scripts was acclaimed playwright Jakob Weis (Fred til Lands), who jumped at the opportunity to join the project after being sought out by Miso Film’s Allen. Weis’s theatre background was critical to not only enhancing the concept, but also ensuring the dialogue felt as natural as possible.

“He was able to use his theatre background to write these long dialogues. To keep it dynamic and keep the characters fascinating, we really needed to have that kind of scriptwriter,” Allen says.

Other Danish acting heavyweights among the cast include Trine Dyrholm

Boe adds: “Jakob told me, ‘If you can provide me with the crime elements, I can make it interesting, no problem.’”

This dream team of writers and producers was able to also attract the very best of Danish acting talent. Ulrich Thomsen (The Blacklist, Counterpart) leads the cast as Bjørn, alongside fellow high-profile Danes including Lars Mikkelsen (pictured top), Trine Dyrholm, Nikolaj Lie Kaas and David Denick – an ensemble Boe believes will blow viewers away.

“It’s intense and fun because it is something none of us had tried before, and I think the actors are trying something different too,” says Boe, who won the Camera d’Or at the 2003 Cannes Film Festival for his first feature, Reconstruction.

The director had Thomsen in mind for the lead from the outset. “Bjørn is particularly sculpted and made for Ulrich,” he says. “When you see what he does with that role, it’s so obvious we made the right choice.”

Meanwhile, having worked with Boe on Kriger, Allen immediately said yes to Face to Face, which Boe first pitched a few years ago and has been developing ever since. “The beauty of Face to Face was not only the story, but there was also the challenge for the director to innovate crime drama, which was fascinating and gripping,” Allen says.

“There was this very strict portrayal of only one character, but we also wanted to reveal layers of his character, plus the daughter’s secret past and the layers of the investigation. These are not the same interrogation scenes you might see in a traditional detective show, but a dad interrogating suspicious people about his daughter’s death,” adds Allen, who founded Copenhagen-based Miso Film with Peter Bose in 2004.

“You have Thomsen going up against Lie Kaas and then, in another episode, Ulrich versus Lars. That is the power of the show.”

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