Tag Archives: Juno Temple

Ruffling feathers

Juno Temple and Yumna Marwan cross paths as two women whose lives become dangerously entangled in Little Birds, a Sky Atlantic drama set in the vibrant and intoxicating surroundings of 1950s Tangier.

If the goal of a television drama is to submerge its audience in an enticing new world, Little Birds looks set to leave viewers drowning in the dizzying array of colours, music and clothing that makes up 1950s Tangier, a place of intrigue and mystery that attracts people from all over the world.

One of the last outposts of colonial decadence, the Moroccan landscape could prove to be as much as a culture shock for those watching as it is for Lucy Savage, a troubled American heiress who lands in this international melting pot.

It’s here that Lucy must navigate the sexual, personal and political tensions of the town, all while longing for a less conventional life free from the societal cage in which she has been raised. Her fiancé, aristocratic English lord Hugo Cavendish-Smyth, is torn between his duty to Lucy and his lover Adham Abaza, the most eligible man in Tangier.

Lucy’s story is intertwined with that of dominatrix Cherifa Lamour, who is a celebrity in a town where anything goes. As she attempts to change the world around her, Cherifa’s presence enraptures Secretary Pierre Vaney, who is desperately in love with her.

Against a backdrop of hedonism, Lucy and Cherifa struggle to find their independence in a country looking to break free from its past. Their lives reveal private desires and public politics in a period drama that carries distinctly modern themes of freedom and feminism.

Juno Temple as Lucy in Sky Atlantic’s Little Birds

“Lucy’s got an incredibly powerful father who is very much in control of her life in New York, and she’s also a young woman who has a massive hunger within her for things bigger than women were allowed in the 1950s, which has meant she’s been institutionalised in her younger years,” explains Juno Temple (Dirty John), who plays the young heiress.

“When we meet her, she’s about to move to Tangier to start her dream life, where she’s going to marry a handsome English lord. But she arrives in Tangier and it is more vivid, luscious, sexual and alive than anything she could ever have imagined.

“She really falls down the rabbit hole and things start to get pretty bonkers. She meets Cherifa and they have this incredible connection. Throughout the rest of the journey, they have these palpable and important moments that truly change their lives forever. Really, it’s about two women who help each other be the best versions of themselves they can be. So there’s this wonderful and protective yet inquisitive and also inspiring relationship between Lucy and Cherifa that is really exciting and I haven’t seen before. Hopefully, we bring that to life beautifully.”

As a dominatrix, Cherifa caters to the fetishes of the expat population of the town, having made her way into sex work after growing up on the streets. “When you see her character and Lucy’s character, you feel initially they are very far away from each other. They have very different histories and come from very different places,” says Lebanon-born Yunma Marwan (The Translator), who plays Cherifa in her first English-language screen role. “But as the series progresses, you really understand that their inner struggles are very much the same.”

Yunma Marwan plays Cherifa

Meanwhile, the story begins with Hugo in a relationship with Adham as he is about to marry Lucy. “You think that’s most of his troubles, but it’s not,” jokes Hugh Skinner (Fleabag), who stars as Hugo. “There’s growing political unrest in Tangier as it moves towards independence, and Hugo unwittingly gets involved in an arms deal via his father-in-law.”

The actors are among a multinational cast that populates the six-part series, with co-stars including French actors Raphael Acloque (Adham) and Jean-Marc Barr (Pierre). The ensemble are full of praise for director Stacie Passon (The Affair, House of Cards) for creating an atmosphere that was as vibrant as the sets they were filming on. “She is so brilliant because she has this childish quality where she just wants to try everything, see everything, taste everything, know everything,” says Temple. “When your director is like that, you are so filled with joy coming to work every day because you try everything. What doesn’t work, you try again; and what does work, you get so excited for and you celebrate.

“You would walk from the make-up trailer into this room that you never wanted to leave. It was dripping neon colours and it felt like a world that would kill you if you didn’t leave it, but one you never wanted to leave. It was also a safe space to let our freak flags fly, and Stacie encouraged that. She’s a brilliant, brave and truly extraordinary director I would do anything for.”

Exec producers Ruth McCance and Peter Carlton, from Warp Films (The Last Panthers), are similarly effusive about Passon. “We kept trying to give her more time to do things but she wanted to meet the schedule so she was fantastic at driving things and keeping the energy high on set,” says McCance. “The show is so strange and seductive. We were all giving it so much, so there was a real will within the crew. It was quite humbling.”

Peter Carlton

“What Stacie’s got is the confidence to be open, to say when she doesn’t know and to receive other ideas. But because she’s confident, she will know whether it’s right for the show,” Carlton continues. “What was amazing was you got this openness and very light feeling on set because people felt really trusted and felt they were in very safe hands. It’s that wonderful thing of artistic freedom without indulgence. Everybody rose to that. People really followed her.”

Little Birds is inspired by the collection of 1940s erotic short stories of the same name by Anaïs Nin, with the series penned by writer and filmmaker Sophia Al-Maria. It began as a one-page treatment for an anthology series, with each episode written by a different writer, before the producers sat down with Al-Maria to explore her bigger idea of taking the spirit of Nin’s stories to 1950s Tangier.

“It felt like trying to [set] Anaïs Nin now would be quite weird because it is period, so that’s why the series started as period. Her stories felt like they needed to stay there,” Carlton explains. “That great idea to be in Tangier in the 50s gave us somewhere where everything was shifting, which felt very contemporary, looking at gender identity and racial identity, power and sex, and it was, ‘Bingo, we’ve got something that could be sci-fi, although it’s technically in the past.’ It’s not Downton Abbey.”

Broadcaster Sky and distributor ITV Studios Global Entertainment backed the series throughout its changing development, with the project becoming “weirder and more bonkers” as it went on, according to McCance. The production was even paused for seven months while they waited for the “incredible” Temple to become available.

Ruth McCance

“It’s a melodrama and it’s period, but Warp isn’t really in the business of [traditional] period drama and Sky didn’t want a period drama either,” she says. “So we weren’t looking for someone who looked good in bonnets, necessarily. [Temple] just has this contemporary, fresh vibe and people get the idea of the show being a bit more rock ‘n’ roll when you mention she’s the lead. She brings an identity to it that we thought was really fresh. That’s why we wanted her.”

The show’s story and “technicolour” production design also helped the actors to understand their characters, the Warp exec continues. “It’s almost a little bit comic book, in that it’s heightened and it has big ambition and big emotions, but it all feels true at the same time. We were in pursuit of emotional truth more than anything. The look is very distinctive but it’s not about verisimilitude. It’s not English Patient-levels of recreating the world. The stylisation is very much built in; it was part of the original conception, so the performances had to be honest.”

The stylised production was inspired by 1950s melodramas of the kind directed by Douglas Sirk and Rainer Werner Fassbender. Exterior scenes for Morocco were filmed over six weeks in Tarifa, Spain, before the production completed interiors at Space Studios in Manchester, England. Unusually, however, director of photography Ed Rutherfood and production designer Anna Pritchard started out working on their designs for interior scenes that would be filmed in a studio, before then matching them to locations that could be dressed in Tarifa. In most cases, studio sets are built to match exteriors.

McCance says the approach was down to “necessity being the mother of invention,” adding: “Anna and Ed brought so much to it and worked brilliantly with Stacie to realise this mad world. With our costume designer Jo Thompson and make-up designer Jacqueta Levon, they were all on the same page.”

“It’s like having a jazz band,” Carlton says. “Everybody knows the basic melody and everyone’s doing their own thing but making sure it complements the other. That creates an incredibly strong identity for the whole, even though what each person is doing is quite individualistic and has a strong flavour.”

Fleabag’s Hugh Skinner is Hugo

Filming in the coastal town of Tarifa wasn’t a stroll on the beach, however, with the crew soon discovering why it is known as the windsurfing capital of the world. “Sometimes you would be bent at 45 degrees and you couldn’t walk forward,” Carlton says of the challenging shooting conditions. “Anna would have dressed a set and you’d come in the next morning and nothing would be there because it had all blown away in the night. It is one of the windiest places in the world. It was like filming in a wind tunnel. After five weeks, it drives you mad.”

Before Little Birds debuts on Sky Atlantic on Tuesday, thoughts have already turned to what a second season may look like and whether it would continue the stories of Lucy and Cherifa or pick up a new band of characters in another glamorous world.

“Having delved into it, there’s so much richness,” Carlton says. “With some of these characters, you want to see what happens to them a few years later and you’d want to see another situation that was similarly glamorous and similarly turbulent with a new story in a slightly new era. That’s something we’re really interested in. It feels like there’s more to tell in that Nin-inspired world.”

“We’re all suckers for melodrama,” adds McCance. “We want audiences to have a good time and think, ‘Is this the best way to live?’ which we think is a very contemporary question. It’s very much why this resonates.”

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Ones to Watch: Actors

DQ casts its eye over a range of upcoming series from around the world and picks out 20 actors to tune in for, from Zoë Kravitz in Hulu’s High Fidelity to Marcel Rodriguez in German series Dignity.

20. Kai Ko
The Taiwanese actor and singer is making his television debut in what has been dubbed Taiwan’s most expensive drama ever. Described by producers as an ‘Asian Constantine,’ fantasy crime thriller Agent from Above is based on the book of the same name and tells the story of supernatural crime-fighter Han Jie, who is serving as a heavenly agent on Earth and must defeat demons and solve crimes in order to atone for his sins. The six-part series is expected to cost NT$30m (US$1m) per episode.

19. Ólafur Darri Ólafsson
Recognisable from Icelandic drama Trapped and countless English-language series, including The Widow, NOS4A2, Emerald City and The Missing, Ólafsson is now set to star in Icelandic political drama The Minister. He plays Benedikt Ríkhardsson, a politician with a unique approach to politics as he rides a wave of discontent to become the country’s prime minister – all while hiding the fact he suffers from bipolar disorder.

18. Shira Haas
With credits including Harem and The Conductor, Israeli actor Haas takes the lead in Unorthodox, a four-part miniseries from showrunner Anna Winger (the Deutschland series) in which a young ultra-Orthodox Jewish woman in New York flees her arranged marriage and religious community to start a new life in Berlin. The series explores female emancipation, identity and sexuality through the experience of a unique young woman, Haas’s Esther.

17. Anthony Mackie
Television appearances are few and far between on Mackie’s CV, but 2020 is going to be different. First, the actor stars in the second season of Netflix’s Altered Carbon, set in a future where a person’s memory and consciousness can be transferred between different bodies, known as ‘sleeves.’ He plays Takeshi Kovacs, a character portrayed by Joel Kinnaman in season one but with Mackie now serving as the character’s host body in its second run. Meanwhile, following his success as Sam Wilson (aka The Falcon) in Marvel’s Avenger films, Mackie will reprise the role in Disney+’s upcoming series The Falcon & the Winter Soldier, which picks up after Sam was handed Captain America’s shield at the end of Avengers: Endgame.

16. Sian Clifford
The Emmy-nominated actor starred in Fleabag alongside Phoebe Waller-Bridge, bringing to life the title character’s tense, uptight and high-achieving sister Claire with a performance that was one of the best things about the series. Having previously appeared in period drama Vanity Fair, Clifford will next be seen in Quiz, a three-part miniseries that dramatises how Charles and Diana Ingram (Matthew Macfadyen and Clifford) attempted to cheat their way to the top prize on gameshow Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?. She will also star alongside Game of Thrones’ Maisie Williams in Sky comedy Two Weeks To Live, about a daughter who steps away from her mother’s life of seclusion and survival techniques and sets out into the real world.

15. Eve Hewson
Irish actor Hewson will already be familiar to US viewers after starring in medical period drama The Knick. This year she joins Eva Green in The Luminaries, based on Eleanor Catton’s Man Booker Prize-winning novel. Hewson plays young adventurer Anna Wetherell, who begins a new life in New Zealand, set against the backdrop of the 1860s gold rush in a story of love, murder and revenge. She will also appear in Netflix psychological thriller Behind Her Eyes, about an unconventional love triangle that reveals a dangerous web of secrets.

14. Otto Farrant
After an extensive casting search that scoured agents, schools and drama groups, Farrant was chosen to step into the shoes of Alex Rider in a small-screen adaptation of Anthony Horowitz’s novels about the young spy. Some 14 years after Rider appeared in movie Stormbreaker, Farrant brings energy and charm to this story, based on the novel Point Blanc, of a schoolboy who discovers he has been secretly trained as a spy and is then sent on undercover by a shadowy government agency.

13. Zoë Kravitz
In a cast that boasted Hollywood heavyweights such as Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Laura Dern and Meryl Street, arguably the breakout performance in HBO’s hit series Big Little Lies came from Zoë Kravitz. Her career has been built on film roles in Mad Max: Fury Road, X-Men: First Class and the Divergent series, while she will soon play Catwoman in upcoming movie The Batman. For now, though, she is starring in High Fidelity (pictured top), the Hulu series based on Nick Hornby’s novel that flips the lead character’s gender to introduce Kravitz as Rob, the owner of a record store who revisits past relationships through music and pop culture, while trying to get over her one true love.

12. Joanna Kulig
Polish star Kulig takes centre stage, literally, in The Eddy, Netflix’s vibrant Parisian drama about the titular nightclub from director Damian Chazelle (La La Land). As Maja, the singer of the house band and the on/off girlfriend of club owner Elliot (Andre Holland), Kulig’s conflicted performance gives an extra edge to the drama as Elliot’s personal and professional worlds quickly begin to unravel.

11. Russell Tovey
Tovey has grown up on British screens, notably starring in the History Boys stage show and its subsequent movie adaptation and then supernatural drama Being Human. Last year, he was a key member of the cast of Russell T Davies’ dystopian family saga Years & Years, while in 2020 he has already appeared in Flesh & Blood, playing one of three siblings suspicious of their widowed mother’s new love interest. Tovey’s character shines a light on toxic masculinity, addiction and the struggle of a father separated from his wife and children. Later this year, he will take the lead in Because the Night, a four-part story about a man trying to escape his past, written by Neil Cross (Luther).

10. Juno Temple
The English actor’s film credits include Killer Joe, Black Mass, The Other Boleyn Girl and Atonement, as well as US TV series Vinyl and Dirty John. This year she will headline Little Birds, a visually enticing Sky Atlantic series set in the hedonistic environs of 1950s Tangier. Temple’s character, New York heiress Lucy Savage, is given the chance to flee her gilded cage and embark on a moving and provocative journey towards freedom and independence.

9. Marcel Rodriguez
Having played roles in 7 Days Berlin and Der Barcelona Krimi, Rodriguez now fronts political thriller Dignity, the first original drama for fledgling German streaming platform Joyn, which is inspired by the true story of German sect Colonia Dignidad in Chile. He plays federal prosecutor Leo Ramírez, who is tasked with bringing the group’s elusive leader and former Nazi soldier Paul Schaefer to justice – though his mission is clouded by his own secret history with Colonia.

8. Sonoya Mizuno
The Japanese-born British actor has become a regular cast member in Alex Garland’s beautifully shot and realised sci-fi dramas. Having appeared in the writer/director’s movies Ex Machina and Annihilation, Mizuno now leads audiences through the complex themes of Garland’s BBC and FX series Devs, a thriller set against the backdrop of a giant tech company and its messianic leader. In an emotionally taut and nuanced performance, she plays Lily, who is investigating the apparent suicide of her boyfriend.

7. Aaron Pedersen
The Aboriginal actor became one of Australia’s biggest stars on the back of roles in shows such as Jack Irish, The Circuit, City Homicide and The Code, with recent credits including period drama A Place to Call Home, political thriller Total Control and supernatural mystery The Gloaming. But it’s his towering performances as Detective Jay Swan with which Pedersen has become most synonymous, first in films Mystery Road and sequel Goldstone and then in the Mystery Road series that bridges the two movies and brings Indigenous stories to a mainstream audience. Season two airs this year.

6. Josefin Asplund
Swedish actor Asplund has a list of credits familiar to many international viewers, from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Vikings and Arne Dahl to Ingen Utan Skuld (Conspiracy of Silence) and Sanctuary. Next she will star in Top Dog, a series based on Jens Lapidus’s novels, as lawyer Emily Jansson, a hard-working careerist who comes together with ex-criminal Teddy Maksumic (Alexej Manvelov) to solve a mysterious disappearance.

5. Tahar Rahim
Rahim broke into television in European crime drama The Last Panthers, before playing a CIA agent in Amazon drama The Looming Tower. This year, he stars in Netflix music drama The Eddy as Farid (right), one of the struggling nightclub’s owners who may be involved in some questions practices, before leading the cast of BBC drama The Serpent. The latter is based on real events and sees Rahim play Charles Sobhraj, the chief suspect in the unsolved murders of young Western travellers across India, Thailand and Nepal’s ‘Hippie Trail’ in 1975 and 1976, who repeatedly avoided capture to become Interpol’s most wanted man.

4. Gugu Mbatha-Raw
The UK-born actor began her career with appearances in British series such as Spooks and Doctor Who, before a breakout performance as Kelly in acclaimed Black Mirror episode San Junipero. More recently, she played a pivotal role in Apple TV+’s standout series The Morning Show, portraying the show-within-a-show’s head booker Hannah, a character whose traumatic experience goes on to shape the series’ powerful #MeToo storyline. From one new streaming service to another, Mbatha-Raw’s next television series will be Loki, the Disney+ drama based on the Asgardian villain from the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

3. Laura Smet
From the team behind Dix Pour Cent (Call My Agent) comes La Garçonne, in which French star Smet (Les Corps Impatients, The Bridesmaid) plays Louise Kerlac. In Paris in 1920, Kerlac witnesses the murder of a relative by government agents who want to blame her. She subsequently poses as a man to join the police under her brother’s identity as a means to investigate the killing, drawing her into the dark underbelly of high society and bohemian Parisian nightlife.

2. Adam Pålsson
Stepping into the shoes of police officer Kurt Wallander, a role already made famous by Rolf Lassgård, Krister Henriksson and Kenneth Branagh, is no easy task. But that’s next up for Swedish actor Pålsson, best known for roles in The Bridge, Moscow Noir and Before We Die, who will appear this year in Netflix original series Young Wallander. Inspired by Henning Mankell’s detective, the English-language series is set in contemporary Sweden and sees the young Wallander investigate his first case as a recently graduated police officer in his early 20s.

1. Yvonne Strahovski
The Australian actor is best known as Serena Joy in the harrowing adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale. She can now be seen on screen with an equally emotional and complex performance in six-part Australian drama Stateless. Strahovski plays Sofie, an air hostess who, after fleeing a performance cult that initially captivates her before leaving her on the brink of a breakdown, surfaces at an on-shore detention centre. Under a new German identity, Sofie’s experience is shown alongside that of an Afghan refugee, a prison guard and a bureaucrat who all come under unprecedented pressure.

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