Tag Archives: Kudos Film & Television

Star turn

Twists and turns abound in Tin Star, Sky Atlantic’s Rocky Mountains-set drama that sees Tim Roth play a small-town police chief attempting to escape his demons. DQ hears from the star and writer/director Rowan Joffé about pushing the limits in this 10-part series.

Tim Roth isn’t exactly known for playing the quiet type.

Perhaps most famous for appearing in several Quentin Tarantino movies – including Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction and The Hateful Eight – the actor has a knack for portraying menacing characters with a simmering intensity, with other memorable villainous turns in 2001’s Planet of the Apes and 2008’s The Incredible Hulk.

So when the early stages of Tin Star, his new series for Sky Atlantic, see Roth as a level-headed family man and police chief in the peaceful surroundings of rural Canada, it’s safe for viewers to assume that things are going to go south – and fast.

Rowan Joffé

The 10-part drama, which launches in the UK on September 7, stars Roth as former London copper Jim Worth, who has upped sticks along with his family to escape a troubled past by beginning a new life in the Rocky Mountains.

All seems to be going swimmingly at first, with the new police chief – a former alcoholic – spending more time catching fish than criminals in the sleepy fictional town of Little Big Bear. But things soon take a dark twist as the arrival of a shady oil company coincides with a past that refuses to fade away, and an attack on his family turns Jim into a one-man wrecking ball on a quest for revenge.

Coproduced by Endemol Shine-owned firm Kudos Film and Television alongside Amazon Prime Video in the US, Tin Star is distributed by Sky Vision.

The show marks Roth’s first lead TV role since his only other major venture into the medium, Lie to Me, came to an end in 2011 after three seasons on US network Fox.

However, the actor reveals the decision to return to the small screen was not premeditated. “I wasn’t looking for a TV show,” he explains. “I put my feet up in the kitchen and I read a couple of [Tin Star] scripts, and I thought they were bonkers.

Tin Star’s cast is led by Tim Roth as troubled police chief Jim Worth

“That immediately gets my attention, and then the next question is, ‘Where the fuck does this go?’ And then I found out, and it’s interesting. So I thought, ‘I fancy this.’ Then you call [the producers] and tell them that, and they pay you shit-loads of money!” he jokes.

Roth says he was captivated by the “very, very anarchic story,” adding: “The minute I thought I knew what was going on, it was something different – we always got it wrong.”

Filmed on location in and around Calgary, Alberta, Tin Star makes full use of the region’s natural beauty, with sweeping shots of mountain ranges and rivers providing stark contrast to the ugliness that unfolds between the characters on screen.

Yet while one might think filming in such a place sounds like an actor’s dream, Roth offers a different view. “Having worked in Calgary, I have to say I wasn’t keen to go back,” he admits. “It’s nothing against Canada, but you’re talking about ‘Trumpland’ in Canada. It’s all flourishing – the oil and the corporations, the invasions of the local culture. It’s just there.”

The show centres on Jim and his family’s attempt to start a new life in the Rocky Mountains

It’s a view echoed by Rowan Joffé, who wrote and directed every episode of the series. “Canada looks like this wonderful, impeccable, clean place – and it is, until you look at what they’re doing with the tar sands out there,” he says, referencing the controversial oil extraction that has been gathering pace in the country. “It’s pretty horrific in many ways.”

Best known for writing 2007 horror sequel 28 Weeks Later and for penning and directing 2014 feature Before I Go to Sleep, Joffé became the latest in an growing band of contemporary movie directors to try their hand at TV drama when he signed up for Tin Star, his first major TV project.

The chance to take charge of what he describes as a “10-hour movie” proved irresistible to Joffé, who says: “Sky were always true to their word, which was, ‘You can author the show.’ And so we just ran with it.

“We thought there was absolutely no point in doing this unless we felt like we were taking risks. The opportunity to write what I wanted to write and to be able to collaborate with actors who I really admire, and for no one to tell me no at any point… It’s just been amazing.”

The show also features Mad Men star Christina Hendricks

Joffé’s affinity for his cast – which also includes Mad Men’s Christina Hendricks as oil rep Elizabeth Bradshaw and Genevieve O’Reilly as Jim’s wife Angela – is clear, with the director revealing that they played an important role in shaping the plot.

“The story began to change and morph around the actors,” he says. “Without doubt, many of the best moments on screen – particularly in Tim’s case – were ad-libbed. Tim brought a level of wit and comedy to it that was way beyond my ability as a screenwriter.”

Joffé was “free with us and let us be free at the same time,” adds Roth, who particularly relished the chance to really get under the skin of a character across 10 hours.

He describes the experience as “much more satisfying” than working on network television’s standalone episodes – such as in Lie to Me – which he calls a “much harder job.”

“Theatre is where actors really exist, as opposed to film, which is the director’s world. But [television now] is very similar to the stage experience, especially now that there are so many good writers and so much rich talent involved.

Genevieve O’Reilly as Jim’s wife Angela

“For us as actors, it’s incredible. We get to play more with television now – to invent, change, metamorphose, have fun and be challenged.”

Playing Jim was made more difficult by the increasing presence throughout the series of his dangerous alter ego, Jack, who Jim has learnt to keep at bay – as long as he remains sober.

Indeed, as the show progresses, Jack increasingly comes to the fore, simultaneously ratcheting up the violence and taking the show to “dark, shocking places,” according to Joffé.

“We went far; I wouldn’t have wanted to do it if we didn’t. It was just anarchy on the page,” says Roth, who credits Joffé for creating a character that tests audience sympathies.

“We take you to a very dark place, but the audience is supposed to be my ‘mate’ – they’re part of the fun too. On the one hand you enjoy the journey with this guy, and on the other you hate him.”

As for the suggestion of a second season, it seems Roth would jump at the chance. “In a hypothetical world, if we got to do another 10-hour movie, I’d be happy with that. I’d like to chip back at and fuck with this character again.”

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Creating Capital

Airing at the end of 2015, Capital told the story of residents living on a single London street transformed by soaring property prices. DQ finds out how the BBC drama was adapted from novel to screen.

When it was first published in 2012, John Lanchester’s novel Capital was described as an astute observation of London during the 2008 financial crash.

Set in a single south London street, it tells the story of the residents of Pepys Road, which has been transformed by rising property prices. They include an investment banker and his shopaholic wife, a Polish builder, a Zimbabwean refugee illegally working as a traffic warden and a pensioner who has lived her entire life in the same house.

Lanchester’s novel has since been adapted for television by Peter Bowker and production company Kudos Film & Television (Humans, Broadchurch), with an all-star cast including Toby Jones (Roger), Rachael Stirling (Arabella) and Radoslaw Kaim (Bogdan). Also appearing are Wunmi Mosaku (Quentina), Adeel Aktar (Ahmed) and Gemma Jones (Petunia).

Bowker and Kudos’s Derek Wax executive produced the three-part miniseries with the BBC’s Lucy Richer. It was produced by Matt Strevens (Cucumber) and directed by Euros Lyn (Happy Valley).

DQ spoke to Lanchester, Wax and Strevens to discuss how the show was brought to life for BBC1, which began airing the series in November last year.

Three London streets were used to recreate Pepys Road
Three London streets were used to recreate the setting of Pepys Road

John, how would you describe your book, and did you ever think it would be made into a TV series?
Lanchester: No, I didn’t. It never crossed my mind. I set out to write what I thought of privately as my big fat London novel, as I was very interested in the condition of London and the way it has changed. I’m very interested in the way people live private parallel lives in London and have neighbours who don’t really know each other. So it’s a novel about a community that isn’t really a community – people living in close proximity who have separate lives, separate agendas and separate concerns, and there’s a plot that brings them together when they start getting anonymous postcards through their doors saying, ‘We want what you have.’ That’s the trigger for the story.

It’s been described as a ‘state of the nation’ story. What was it that you wanted to say about society?
Lanchester: George Orwell once said the hardest thing to write about is the thing that’s immediately in front of your face. I became very interested in what was immediately in front of my face – the extent, the speed and the scale of the change in London. I’ve lived in London nearly 30 years and it’s changed astonishingly. That struck me as a really interesting thing – not to sermonise about or have a theory about, but just to describe. That was the plan.

How did Kudos win the rights to the book?
Lanchester: A number of people were interested in it. I talked to some people but I knew it would always be Derek. I particularly liked that he saw the book in the same way I did, and I trusted his sense of tone. Tone is the most important thing in some respects – if you get that wrong then nothing else really matters. I had a strong sense that we saw it the same way; that was the crucial thing.

A narrative strand centring on a young footballer was removed from the story to ease the transition to TV
A narrative strand centring on a footballer was removed from the story to ease the transition to TV

Derek, what did you see in the book that would make a good TV show?
Wax: The book captured my imagination straight away. John has an extraordinary insight into people, which makes his work very real and authentic. Many novels with a sociopolitical dimension seem like they’re trying to illustrate some political point, whereas there was an ambiguity and ambivalence about Capital’s characters that made you feel there was something much richer and more complex going on. The fact we live these parallel lives with people who are often our neighbours felt very true to life. There are some people living on the same street who don’t even know what’s happening next door. And it’s not just about the neighbours, there’s an unbridgeable gulf at some level within families as well.

What were some of the challenges you faced bringing the book to the screen?
Lanchester: The main omission compared with the book is a narrative strand about an African footballer called Freddy Kamo who comes to London aged 17 and has just started to play first-team football. There’s a whole story and set of characters around him but within 30 seconds of saying hello for the first time, Peter (Bowker) and I agreed it couldn’t be done on TV. The fact is, you put football on television and for some reason it always looks a bit shit. So that was a very thorough and painless surgical incision that happened right at the start.

Did you work alongside Bowker in the script phase?
Lanchester: It’s Pete’s baby. There were various points at which we had talks, particularly at the beginning when we discussed structure and shape, and then there were a couple of specific points to do with the City of London that Pete wanted to talk through.

The producers faced a challenge in exploring so many characters in a three-part miniseries
The producers faced a challenge in exploring so many characters in a three-part miniseries

Was it always destined to be a three-parter?
Wax: The person we should mention is Lucy Richer at the BBC because she’d read the book at the same time as I had and also loved it. Whether these things are discussed in internal meetings at the BBC as to how much they can stretch episodically for literary adaptations, they’d decided three was the number. I think we could have stretched it to four or maybe more. We did have to reduce some of the characters a little bit more. Losing the footballer was a very good decision because he’s coming to play at a Premier League football team so you’d have had a completely fictional football team with all these extras playing football. If it’s supposed to be Chelsea, how could you possibly make it feel real? The ambition was always to make it feel completely authentic and real.

How was the show put together considering it’s set on a street that doesn’t exist in real life?
Strevens: The terrifying thing was maintaining the authenticity of it – it’s multi-stranded and we had only seven weeks to shoot it, so we had to work out how you service all those stories and afford to shoot in London. London is hugely expensive and you can’t move around it. Wherever you put your base, it can take half an hour to move a few streets. We did look very briefly at the idea of using general views of London and then filming somewhere else, but we scotched that straight away. It was very important to us that London was the central character. Trying to double anywhere else as London wouldn’t quite cut it, so we went looking for places in London. Where John had set it, even though he wasn’t specific, it felt like Clapham (a district in south-west London). There were two or three streets John had in his mind when writing, but even he had ‘cut and shut’ Pepys Road – it was an amalgamation of a few streets. That’s what we had to find. But we couldn’t find a street with the right mix of gentrification that also had a corner shop. We also didn’t want to be on one street for too long because there’s a lot of noise and vehicles, and we didn’t want to disturb the locals too much. In the end, we used three streets for Pepys Road. The gift was Petunia’s house. The exterior you see has the same interior as that on screen and the way it’s dressed in real life is pretty much the way you see it on screen. We found a lady whose story matched Petunia’s – she had lived there since the 1950s. We were really lucky. The difficulty was the amount of story that had to be told in such a short schedule.

Wax: We should pay huge tribute to Pete Bowker. He was confronted with eight different strands and it would have been very stylised to have introduced the different characters via captions on screen. But in one of the first scenes, you see the characters on the Tube and the baton being passed from one to the other, allowing viewers to get to know them slowly and gradually but very organically – that was a mixture of Pete’s writing and Euros’s direction. You gradually start to absorb these characters into your bloodstream.

Lanchester: In a novel you can just say, ‘here’s another character,’ but it was very interesting, from a novelist’s point of view, to see how rigorous purely visual storytelling is. If you don’t see it, it didn’t happen.

Author John Lanchester describes the adaptation process as 'entirely positive'
Author John Lanchester describes the adaptation process as ‘entirely positive’

Was it a risk to introduce so many characters right at the start and hope the viewers stuck around to find out about their individual stories?
Wax: It was a challenge because you want to have enough depth to allow viewers to get into those characters and to feel you’re offering a substantial meal, not just a snack. We only had three or four stabs at Roger in the first episode because of the challenge of all the other stories.

Lanchester: With just three episodes, you do leave a lot out. The novel is 175,000 words, so the actors knew more than they let on. The actors knew quite a lot about the characters and their back stories and I definitely feel they brought something to it. They inhabited them.

Wax: We were very lucky with casting. Some actors were quite well known and some were discoveries to us. The novel had this wonderful Dickensian opening chapter and we probably thought more about that opening chapter than anything else, because it describes this world in which this street was once full of detached homes that were not worth very much money but that have become gentrified houses over generations. They’ve become characters in their own right. We showed that partly through a three-minute backstory on Petunia , telling her life story at the beginning of episode one, which I think was a way of trying to visually do what John described in the book. For me, that opening chapter rivals Bleak House as a piece about where we live now and how things have changed, but through the lens of just one street.

How was the money put together to produce the show? Was it a complicated process?
Wax: It was a licence fee deal from the BBC, essentially. It wasn’t a big coproduction, we didn’t have a coproducer on it. Miniseries are quite hard to fund these days, and this one was especially as it’s a three-parter. There was also a question over whether the show was just about London and Britain (and therefore lacked international appeal). But I didn’t think it was. You always have to challenge that limited thinking. When you make something location-specific, that’s when you make it universal –  shows that are set in general, non-descript places that could be anywhere, they actually create a sense of unreality for me. It was just a straightforward BBC deal and FremantleMedia International has distributed it.

Toby Jones was chosen for his acting chops rather than any physical similarity to his character
Toby Jones was chosen for his acting chops rather than any physical similarity to his character

There was some comment about Toby Jones being physically different from his character in the book. How did you change the character for the series?
Wax: It was a genuine choice, a choice we all stand by. We’re all thrilled. The fact Roger is written as 6’3″ in the book allows you to envisage him in a particular way. But in essence, this is a man who is adrift in life, he’s not happy despite all his apparent wealth, he’s searching for something and he can’t quite articulate what that is, even to himself. You need a really brilliant actor to find those depths and it’s about casting the right person, not just the physical type, and Toby is just one of the best actors in the country.

Lanchester: He’s a different person from Roger in the book but he’s a very real person. I had more people wondering about the casting before they’d seen it than afterwards.

John, would you want another of your books adapted in the future?
Lanchester: I’d happily have it done by Derek, Peter and Matt again. Writers love complaining but I’ve had an entirely positive experience. If there were a writers union, I’d be expelled for saying that!

Will adaptations continue to make up a lot of worldwide drama?
Wax: Drama is always about great stories, great characters and original insights into the world. As long as producers want to option and adapt books they really love, that’s the best reason to do it. When you see someone doing Jane Eyre again just because it hasn’t been done for a while, that sort of reason is never great and you feel it’s about the bottom line and getting business going. It should be about how much you feel for the book, and you should really want to spend a lot of time investigating it.

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Dan Isaacs

Daniel Isaacs, chief operating officer at Kudos Film & Television, shares his six favourite drama series of all time with DQ; shows that have inspired and informed his creative vision down the years.

Bodies (BBC2)
The Hat Trick produced series written by Jed Mercurio based on his book for BBC2, was blackly comic, and totally shocking at the same time. Almost entirely set in a hospital ward, it told the story of a junior doctor (Max Beesley) who decides to turn whistleblower on his incompetent consultant (Patrick Baladi). An antidote to the slickness and scale of ER, it managed to be both intimate and epic. One of the best dramas about doctoring and hospital life ever made.

Our friends in thenorthOur Friends in The North (BBC2)
This series launched the careers of Daniel Craig, Mark Strong, Christopher Ecclestone and Gina McKee and so deserves to be on the list for its casting alone. Written by Peter Flannery, it expertly mixed fiction and true life events. This epic saga seen through the eyes of four friends from Newcastle covered four decades during the economic, social and political changes from the 1960s to the 1990s. Utterly compelling and unforgettable.

crackerCracker (ITV)
ITV drama at its best. Written by Jimmy McGovern and Paul Abbot at the height of their powers, the series anchored by Robbie Coltrane’s central performance as the flawed anti-hero criminal psychologist ‘Fitz.’ Crime stories told with a real twist and emotional complexity that stays with you. Intelligent, popular and beautifully produced, acted and directed. The episodes around the Hillsborough disaster featuring Robert Carlyle were totally devastating.

Life on marsLife On Mars (BBC1)
Slight obvious bias as this was made by Kudos, but you can’t beat it for originality, entertainment value and sheer bravado. Created and written by three amazing writers, Mathew Graham, Ashley Pharoah and Tony Jordan, it mashed up crime, nostalgia, sci fi and comedy to create true water-cooler TV. Great cast led by John Simm and Phil Glennister and with an amazing soundtrack too.

Cops (BBC2)
World Productions two time BAFTA-winning series was highly controversial in its depiction of policing. Shot hand held throughout, it was a raw and gritty portrait of the lives of local cops in a fictional northern town. It featured a totally unknown cast of local actors, giving it a true authenticity and poignancy, which combined with a fine tuned and expertly written script to create a highly memorable series. It broke so many rules with its storytelling, making a show in which the crimes were so mundane but the emotional impact was extraordinary.

Bron (SVT/DR)
The first series of the original Swedish/Danish series blew me away when I watched it. From the haunting opening credit music to the cliff-hanger ending of each episode, Bron took the hunt for a serial killer across national borders with amazing performances from Sofia Helin and Kim Bodnia as the two mismatched cops. The first authentic, creative and commercial high quality returnable series international coproduction.

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