All posts by Michael Pickard

Going South

Portuguese crime drama Sul (South) places viewers in the sunlit heart of Lisbon through its stunning visuals and atmospheric soundtrack. DQ meets the cast and creative team behind the show.

A melancholic, broody soundtrack and sun-drenched, sepia-tinged lighting gives Sul (South) an instantly intriguing appearance that goes a long way towards characterising this nine-part series, one of the most ambitious ever to come out of Portugal.

Premiering at the Berlin International Film Festival earlier this year ahead of its domestic debut on RTP, South tells the story of a moody detective investigating the discovery of a series of corpses against the backdrop of the economic recession that hit Portugal and many other European countries so hard a decade ago. On top of that is a Lisbon setting far removed from the picture-postcard landscapes viewers might more readily associate with the city, which only adds to the appeal and charm of the show.

“South comes from the desire to bring a film noir narrative to the city we live in and we love, Lisbon,” explains showrunner, co-writer and executive producer Edgar Medina. “It’s a very special and cinematic place, but the series also presents the opportunity to discuss the effects of the recent financial crisis in the country and tell a story about a police inspector who is disappointed with life until he becomes interested in an apparent suicide case. It starts unravelling a story of crimes motivated by financial and economical reasons.

South stars Adriano Luz as Humberto, a detective tracking a serial killer

“It is also like a trip into the darker side of Lisbon. South is an attempt to bridge the world of cinema and TV and create a high-quality international drama that belongs to a specific place, a Mediterranean country, and a topic that is very recent.”

The show’s music is provided by Portuguese band Dead Combo, adding a folksy, western-inspired layer to the series and reflecting Lisbon’s mellow nature. It’s here that Humberto, a seasoned detective, must fight corruption and track down a serial killer over a long, hot, paralysing summer.

Set in July 2013, the show opens with the discovery of a female body on a dock beside the River Tagus. Nihilistic and socially awkward inspector Humberto begins the inquiry into her death.

As the country faces meltdown, both economically and meteorologically, and the government teeters on the brink of collapse, more young women are discovered murdered with increasing brutality. Humberto’s search for the truth leads him to uncover an economic and political conspiracy, all while facing up to his disenchantment with his job and his failure to maintain a family.

Jani Zhao plays Alice in the RTP series

Produced by Arquipélago Filmes for broadcaster RTP and distributed by Latido Filmes, the crime drama is directed by Ivo Ferreira, who previously teamed up with Medina on 2016 feature Cartas da Guerra (Letters from War), which was screened in competition at Berlinale the same year. This is his first TV series.

“I’m from Lisbon and this is a visit to a world and to a sombre country that is not seen by tourists. I was enthusiastic about the idea because we could actually work together to get an amazing cast and crew to do this,” Ferreira says. “It’s a portrait of the country on a personal level. We’re almost trying to understand who we are. It’s a detective story and it’s very Portuguese in the sense that it’s melancholic. So it was funny to touch on this in a TV series.

“It’s been very challenging. I joined the project later on but I knew Edgar and knew he trusted me. It was tough and intense but I brought some freshness to it that I wouldn’t have had if I had been working on it for two years.”

Medina, who co-wrote the series with Guilherme Mendonça, says a key reference for the series was life in Portugal during the economic crisis. “We really wanted to capture and portray some of the things we lived through – the disappointment, the way social services treated people, people getting evicted from their homes – and to meet all these new characters that live out of the crisis.”

Afonso Pimente’s Matilha is a con artists and thief

Adriano Luz, an experienced star known for roles in Raiva (Rage) and Mistérios de Lisboa (Mysteries of Lisbon) plays Humberto alongside a supporting cast that includes Jani Zhao (Alice), Ivo Canelas (Pastor Santoro), Afonso Pimentel (Matilha), Margarida Vila Nova (Mafalda) and Nuno Lopes (Inspector Rebelo).

Luz describes the inspector as an “anti-hero” with a wistful nature. “He’s not a very physical guy, he’s like a philosopher. The mood of the series brings us to a feeling of sadness that was very strong in the times of the economic crisis.”

As Matilha, Pimentel is a con artist and thief who commits crimes just to survive and goes on to provide some unexpected help to Humberto. “He steals Humberto’s car,” the actor reveals. “He’s got a very strong relationship with his car – it’s like an extra character – and at some point, Humberto and my character meet up and he uses this small-time crook to break the law to solve a crime. That’s how they start this relationship.”

Another figure in Humberto’s life – his “right arm” – is his police partner Alice. “Their relationship is something that attracted me right away because we have a big difference in age,” Zhao says of the role. “It seems weird, and it was interesting for me to explore that. I help Humberto all the time, because I work by the book and I’m young, so I want to do the best I can. I’m pragmatic and firm and strict. Humberto is an old guy – he has experience, he knows what he’s doing and he’s been doing it for a long time. He’s not a patient guy at all. So we find each other in that difference.”

With 80 locations around Lisbon featuring in South, the creative team were clear in their approach to shooting the Portuguese capital. “People will recognise the city but there’s something different,” the director notes.

South is produced by Arquipélago Filmes and distributed by Latido Filmes

Actor Pimentel adds: “Nowadays you see this public Lisbon that is very touristy, but this isn’t what you see in the series. It’s more the Lisbon that we know. For the people who live there, it’s nostalgic. It’s really organic, it’s really cool.”

But while the location might seem eerily alien to outsiders, the genre and the screen trope of the disillusioned cop are familiar around the world. South, says Medina, is a universal story that becomes unique through its sense of place and time.

“Portugal is a small Mediterranean country so the series brings out our culture, music and other small parts of life. At the same time, the show also has a very crude sense of humour. It is a serious crime drama but it doesn’t take the characters too seriously. They make lots of errors, they do silly stuff.”

That the series was screened in Berlin is proof South stands alongside the top-quality TV dramas now being produced around the world. All eyes will now be on Portugal to see whether the country can follow Spain’s footsteps in establishing itself as a storytelling force on the international stage.

“We come from a very small country that doesn’t have the institutions that are able to support these kinds of projects,” Medina says. “So it’s very hard. We’ve started bringing TV series to the international stage, but we’re not trying to make a series like [US crime procedural] CSI. The only way you can be successful in the international market is if you bring something that is genuine and unique. This is a starting point.”

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Fire starter

World on Fire aspires to be the definitive Second World War drama. DQ reveals how writer Peter Bowker has taken the global conflict and reduced it to a domestic level, weaving an emotionally tangled web of multi-national characters whose ordinary lives intersect through love, hope and tragedy.

“It sounds more complicated than it is,” explains writer Peter Bowker when he recalls the plot of his latest series, World on Fire. Described as an adrenaline-filled, emotionally gripping and resonant drama set during the first year of the Second World War, it follows the intertwining fates of ordinary people as they grapple with the effect of the war on their everyday lives.

But what makes the show stand out from other wartime dramas, such as HBO’s celebrated miniseries Band of Brothers, is the way it watches the conflict unfold from a multi-national perspective. Polish, French, German, American and British characters are at the heart of the seven-part series, as it charts the experiences of individuals and families facing the fall-out from war.

Bowker says it had never occurred to him to write a period piece about the consequences of military action, despite having penned Iraq War drama Occupation (2009). Yet when Mammoth Screen MD Damien Timmer asked him whether a Second World War drama could ever match the scale and emotional intensity of iconic documentary series World at War, an idea was planted that the writer couldn’t shake. “I turned him down a couple of times but the idea wouldn’t go away, and that’s usually a good clue that you should be writing it,” he says.

Peter Bowker

At the heart of the story is Harry (Jonah Hauer-King), a British translator who leaves home to work in Poland on the eve of the conflict. Back home in Manchester, he is romantically linked to Lois (Julia Brown) but then falls in love with Polish waitress Kasia (Zofia Wichłacz). Sean Bean plays Lois’s father Douglas, Lesley Manville is Harry’s mother Robina and Helen Hunt is American journalist Nancy Campbell.

When conceiving the idea for the show, Bowker says he was keen to avoid the ghosts of British comedies ’Allo ’Allo and Dad’s Army. One way around them was to employ a natural use of language, with characters largely speaking their native language, rather than have everyone talking English with accents. “It just looks silly now,” he says. “I don’t think you can get away with two Germans speaking English with a German accent anymore.”

The other issue he had writing the series was to avoid some of the language used by real people during the war. “I’ve read a lot of diaries in the Imperial War Museum [in London] and it’s amazing stuff, but of course the language of the 1940s is very much, ‘Gerry is on our tail again,’ which is a kind of comedy cliché now,” he continues. “It’s finding a way to make the language sufficiently of the time yet not fall into those types of clichéd tropes.”

Bowker also looked to introduce real events in a new way, such as following shell-shocked troops on the long road to the Dunkirk beaches, rather than simply meeting them on the sand. But above all, what surprised – and reassured – him the most after reading the accounts of young Polish waitresses living in Warsaw, on the cusp of the war, was learning that the hopes and dreams, fears and worries of people were just the same as they have today.

“They talk about boys, making a decent coffee, being annoyed with their parents,” he says. “Then they say, ‘Something interesting happened today. I joined the Resistance.’ It was so reassuring because nobody’s different in time. Historically, our concerns remain the same and that was exciting and felt new.”

Shepherding the project, which is produced by Mammoth for BBC1 and distributed by ITV Studios Global Entertainment, alongside Timmer has been Mammoth’s exec producer Helen Ziegler, who joined while the show was still in development.

Jonah Hauer-King’s Harry is at the centre of the World on Fire story

“What grabbed me so utterly and completely is that Pete has this amazing way of making you feel like you’re absolutely there and making it incredibly immediate,” Ziegler says. “It just felt like I had honestly never seen that perspective on the war or felt like I was living and breathing it. I was with the characters and his aim of taking these ordinary lives absolutely sung off the page of the first script.”

For the most part, filming took place in the English city of Manchester and in Prague, with the Czech Republic capital doubling for Berlin, Paris and Warsaw. Then, to distinguish the various settings, production designer Paul Spriggs, lead director Adam Smith and series producer Chris Clough emphasised their architecture. Warsaw, says Ziegler, is a beautiful, glamorous city with an Art Deco style, while the show also embraces Berlin’s strong lines and Manchester’s industry and red bricks.

“It is an epic piece but we always want it to be intimate, we always want to see it through the eyes of the characters,” she says. “One of the rules of cinematic style is to be with the people whose story we’re following and see their worlds from their perspective.

Damien Timmer

“Paul, Adam and Chris found these incredible ruins and they built part of our Warsaw set within them so that we could show, as the bombing of Warsaw starts, how the city starts to crumble, and then go into the ruins and use them. It was such a clever idea, it’s such a feat. There have been lots of different creative ways to give this piece the scale it needs.”

Bold in scale, the series is also hugely ambitious. World on Fire is designed as a multi-season drama, with each season marking one year of the war. Each episode also includes a major sequence from the conflict, with season one featuring the fall of Paris in episode one, as well as the fall of Warsaw, the Dunkirk evacuation and the Battle of Britain, among other events.

“We’re based in London but we had so many different units filming all over the place,” Timmer says. “There would be a unit filming scenes in Berlin and another in Warsaw and scenes in Manchester, and the rushes would be coming in. Sometimes you’d go from watching Lesley in Manchester to something happening in Warsaw. It did feel like the war was unfolding in real time. It was quite curious.

“There’s a lot of visual effects but we try to do as much in camera as possible. Dunkirk was at St Anne’s Beach in Blackpool. It was the end of May, beginning of June, and for complicated reasons we had no choice but to shoot it in February when we were blessed with the bluest skies, incredible sun and what could have been our Waterloo turned out to work really well. But it was massive in terms of the technical exercise.”

Confined to filming most of her scenes in Manchester and nearby Wigan, Manville plays Harry’s mother Robina, an upper-middle-class woman she describes as frosty, private and cold. Still angry at her husband’s suicide, she mellows as the drama moves forward, particularly when Harry returns with a young Polish boy who she takes into her home.

“What was really lovely to play about this character was that it’s not a complete metamorphosis, but in her own quiet way she goes on a little voyage of discovery,” the actor says. “She finds true feelings for this boy and comes to care for him deeply.

Sean Bean plays Douglas, who the actor describes as a ‘beaten man’

“She lives in this huge pile of a house, alone and doesn’t seem to have much of a life or friends. In some ways, cold as she is, deep down she’s had this desire for something to make her feel and be warm and understand things. That’s what happens. And she’s got some very dry, funny lines as well. Peter has written some choice bits of dialogue for her. It’s upmarket Hyacinth Bucket [the snobbish lead character in UK sitcom Keeping Up Appearances], in terms of the comedy. It’s not ‘ba-boom’ but it’s very dry and witty. It’s lovely. Some of the later scenes with her son are quite powerful and potent.”

Later in the series, Robina discovers Lois is pregnant with Harry’s child, while he ends up marrying Kasia to rescue her from the war. “There’s a great line from Robina,” Manville reveals. “‘If I’d know he was going to marry a Polish waitress I would have seen you [Lois] as more of a prospect.’ That’s her in a nutshell.”

Harry’s relationship with Lois also fosters a blossoming friendship with Robina and Bean’s Douglas, who Manville admits are an odd couple. “What is lovely about it is these two characters, were it not for the war and the situation of her son impregnating his daughter, they’re an unlikely match,” she says. “He’s a bus conductor and she’s a wealthy upper-middle-class woman who doesn’t work. But they certainly develop this friendship that’s really rather tender. She starts to see that underneath all the layers of class, there are people who are human beings who you can have the same conversation with. They just sound different.”

Like Robina, Douglas is a single parent, having been left along with children Lois and Tom after their mother left home. He’s also still struggling to come to terms with his experiences during the First World War. “He’s a beaten man in some ways,” says Bean. “You can still see the strong character that he once was, but he’s been battered down and demoralised by the bloodshed and the horror that he saw out there. He’s not on his own either. There were many who were seen in that way and were treated as if there was something wrong with them. They didn’t really recognise shell shock, which has such a devastating impact on so many men.”

Lesley Manville is Harry’s mother, Robina

This means that on the brink of the Second World War, working-class Douglas is a conscientious objector – a position that leaves him open to criticism from his friends and neighbours.

“He’s chosen a very hard war to be a conscientious objector in because on the surface it was quite cut and dried,” Bean explains. “He’s very brave to have done that. He gets a hard time from everyone really and when he would go out to get food, people would turn their back on him. It was a very lonely life for him and he’s just trying to do his best. He’s trying to bring his kids up the best he can and he’s still suffering, psychologically and mentally. Then he meets a woman who’s got quite a lot of money. That brings Douglas out of himself and it helps Robina as well because they’re totally different.”

During filming, many of his scenes were emotionally intense, and viewers will see Douglas fall apart when he’s left on his own. But Bean also got to spend a lot of time in a kitchen, next to a fire, having cups of tea and reading the paper, “which was great,” he jokes.

Bowker adds: “What I’m particularly interested in is informing the universal, not establishing the universal and coming down. Sean’s found me out really because all I’ve done is reduce the world to a kitchen.”

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Drama that delivers

From the writers and producer of Danish dramedy Rita comes Fred til Lands (Deliver Us), which tells the story of five people who decide to plot a murder. DQ goes behind the scenes to find out how this thriller, once developed for the US, made it to screen.

The journey to bring Danish thriller Fred til Lands (Deliver Us) to the small screen began more than a decade ago, when writers Christian Torpe and Marie Østerbye first developed the story of five normal people who, pushed to breaking point by the town bully, team up to plan his murder.

But 10 years is a long time in television, and before Forbrydelsen (The Killing) and the Nordic noir wave flooded Europe and beyond with their dark plots and moody landscapes, the writing duo were encouraged not to pitch their idea for fear viewers would find it too grim.

“Marie and I had only done comedy back then. So people just looked at us weirdly when we were talking about this show,” Torpe recalls. He had been living in LA for a couple of years by then, so took the series out to networks stateside. It landed first at Showtime and then AMC, before both cable networks passed it over.

Then when the Rita creator teamed up with that show’s producer, Jesper Morthorst, to launch Copenhagen-based Motor Productions, he bought back the rights and they took the project to Danish public broadcaster DR.

Deliver Us focuses on a town’s residents coming together to plot a murder

Torpe continues: “We knew they had an open slot in their schedule and we were like, ‘Hey guys, there’s something here that’s pretty far along in development because of its history. We have a script, we have a full bible. We know what the show is. Marie and I are available…’ and DR just jumped on board pretty much immediately.”

The story first originated from discussions between Torpe and Østerbye, who has also written on Rita, about how easy it appeared to get away with killing someone in film and television, leading them to consider how a group of people might plan and execute the perfect murder.

“There’s a natural conflict and a natural adversity that needs to be overcome that lends itself well to drama – the practical aspect of it but also the moral and ethical aspects of it,” Østerbye explains. “Then you could discover what happens to people when they cross to the dark side and they decide to take a life, and the bonds that creates. It was also fun to create characters and relationships in that sense.”

Deliver Us stands out as a risky prospect for DR, which has built its international reputation on the back of gritty and grounded crime dramas like Forbrydelsen, Broen (The Bridge) and Bedrag (Follow the Money). As well as being more heightened thematically and stylistically, through the design of lead director Louise Friedberg, it also came to the broadcaster from outside its own development system, unlike the aforementioned hits. That’s not to say it was entirely fully formed, however, with some rewriting required to transplant the plot from the US to Denmark.

“When you place it in a Danish community instead of a small US town, that does something to the show. It’s a different culture,” Torpe notes. “People have a different relationship with violence and guns and everything. So we redeveloped it for Danish purposes. That said, I do think it’s a new kind of show for DR. It’s not aiming for the realism we are used to seeing in their shows. It’s still grounded in real people in real emotional psychology, but it is slightly – maybe just 10 or 15% – heightened.

Morten Hee Andersen’s Mike (right) is the man in the crosshairs

“The story finds that extra gear that takes it away from realism, and the visual style doesn’t aim for realism either. It’s much more expressive. Louise has crafted a beautiful style. To me it has a layer of [David] Cronenberg’s A History of Violence or Eastern Promises, or The Coen Brothers’ thriller-noir world. It’s in that universe.”

Fans of Rita, the story of an unconventional teacher and single mother, may also recognise elements of dark comedy in Deliver Us, which distributor Dynamic Television has already placed with Germany’s ZDFneo. “The whole idea of ordinary people finding out they want to kill someone has a sort of absurdity to it,” Østerbye notes. “This doesn’t happen [in real life]. I don’t think Christian and I can work without any type of comedy in our scripts, but we both also wanted to do something that was more dramatic.

“As I remember it, there was a bit more religion and a bit more church-going in the American pilot – we had an opening scene where the whole town was at church. You don’t get that in Denmark, so that was something we had to change for the new setting.”

The story follows the citizens of a fictional small town who band together to plan the murder of troublesome resident Mike, who is terrorising and tormenting them in different ways. It also focuses on the human cost of such a plan, exploring why each member of the group decides to kill and how that choice affects them.

The ensemble cast includes Claus Riis Østergaard (Norskov) as town doctor Peter Dahl, who is still grieving the death of his son, Aksel, who was deliberately run over by Mike. The villain gets away with murder by claiming it was an accident, leaving Peter to take justice into his own hands.

Series creators Christian Torpe and Marie Østerbye

Lene Maria Christensen (Pros & Cons, The Legacy) plays Bibi Lorentz, who desperately wants a child but whose husband has stopped having sex with her. Bibi doesn’t know why until it is revealed that Mike is physically and psychologically torturing him. “So the guy is ruining her life not by directly threatening her but by stopping her from achieving her dream,” Torpe explains. The cast also includes Dar Salim as Milad Aziz, plus Anders Juul (Peter’s brother Martin Dahl), Mads Romer (John Nielsen) and Marijana Jankovic (Anna Nielsen).

So far, Mike sounds pretty despicable, but it was important to the writers that the character, played by Morten Hee Andersen (Ride Upon the Storm), didn’t just appear as a pantomime villain. As such, they had extensive discussions about how to ground the character to ensure he still felt real and relatable to the audience.

“I’ve been using the words sociopath and psychopath but we actually stay clear of that when we talk about him on set and with Morten because we want him to have some traces of humanity,” Torpe explains. “We talked about him as a broken human being who never learned any kind of emotional language whatsoever. Then, throughout the season, things happen where we slowly see him becoming a human being and we start adding different flavours and grey zones to him. That’s going to be a fun part of the show – to start having the audience see him in different ways. We get to see where he’s coming from and we get an idea of what shaped him, what his environment is and how he became who he is.”

Writing the series was really an exercise in justification, with Torpe and Østerbye devising reasons that would lead this band of disparate characters to want to team up to kill Mike – and, most importantly, to make the audience get behind them. “So it started off with a morbid brainstorm about what this guy could have done that would make your audience want to root for our group,” Torpe says. “Based on that, we started developing relationships and characters with the wants and needs that Mike was somehow hindering. Sometimes he’s a very physical threat; in other cases, he’s more of a mental roadblock.”

The eight-part psychological thriller reunites co-showrunners Torpe and Østerbye, who have known each other for 20 years, first partnering on comedy Maj & Charlie before working together on Rita.

Deliver Us is set to premiere on Denmark’s DR

That shared history has created a shorthand between the pair that has carried them from the writers room to the editing suite. Both admit they are spending more time overseeing the edit than might be traditional for Danish drama writers, but with three directors working across the series, they see it as an important part of their role in delivering a shared vision for the series.

“There are a lot of decisions going on in the edit, where you can suddenly decide to do a scene without the dialogue because the actors give you what you wanted without saying anything,” Østerbye says. “There are also a lot of discussions around pace, mood, music and all kinds of things you can’t really imagine when you’re writing. We have to discover the tone of the show, and we have often changed the point of view of the scene in the editing room. We sometimes decide to tell it through another character, and we can do that because the directors capture a lot of material and shoot the scenes from different angles. So we’re able to kind of make these changes as we go along.”

Throughout the story, however, the one constant is a single underlying question: even if you get away with murder, how do you live with your actions?

Speaking to DQ as filming is about to begin on the third block, Torpe says: “The thing we’re still working on is finding the appropriate mix of hope and despair in the show, because the characters need to be in deep despair to commit – or attempt to commit – something so radical. But at the same time, we need to have hope for them that they will actually get better, otherwise the audience will become disengaged. So the main challenge in this show, and what makes it fun and interesting, is finding that mix of light and dark – finding little moments of humour here and there, finding hope for the characters.”

Behind the scenes, producer Morthurst was tasked with identifying the perfect setting for Deliver Us. Filming has subsequently taken place entirely on location, with the show’s fictional town made up of three places on Funen, Denmark’s third largest island, located south-west of Copenhagen. The setting takes the name of one of those towns, Ebberup.

“We only have one set, which we built into a cafeteria. Everything else has been shot at authentic locations,” Morthurst says. “That’s a lot of work when you’re shooting for six months in places where people are living. It’s a big logistic puzzle.”

The decision to create a composite fictional town for the series goes some way to making sure the programme portrays a recognisable yet distant place where this exploration of human behaviour can play out.

“Deliver Us is completely realistic in its exploration of how it is to be a human being and how people relate to each other in small communities – and what we do with that one person who is fucking things up for everybody else,” Morthorst adds. “That’s not something we are used to seeing in Danish television. We are doing our best to get the audience close to the characters and the drama.”

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Upholding the Law

My Life is Murder star Lucy Lawless, famed for starring in Xena: Warrior Princess, tells DQ about her first lead role in an Australian drama and putting an entertaining spin on the evergreen crime genre.

At home in New Zealand, Lucy Lawless is busy planting trees. Her family are the newest owners of a tree farm and she is currently spending her time digging up the ground or discussing tractors – work that sits comfortably alongside her profile as an environmental campaigner and activist.

It’s a welcome change of pace for the actor, who is best known for playing the lead in fantasy drama Xena: Warrior Princess, having spent five busy months across the Tasman Sea earlier this year filming 10-part Australian crime drama My Life is Murder.

From her first talks about the project with producer Claire Tonkin to wrapping the production, 18 months passed by in a blur. The series subsequently debuted down under on Network Ten in July before its US launch on streamer Acorn TV. It arrives on UKTV’s Alibi channel next week.

The show was made at an “unbelievable” pace, Lawless tells DQ on the phone from New Zealand. “For me, it’s unheard of because at that point [of the first meeting], we didn’t even have a script. It was just an agreement with two women going, ‘Let’s do this.’

In My Life is Murder, Lucy Lawless (right) plays Alexa Crowe

“Then it went into development hell and eventually all the blockages cleared. We found the right writer and he was forced to write it in just 10 weeks, and then we were off to the races. It was just a magical, serendipitous thing that I would hate to do again under such rushed circumstances, but sometimes that’s how things come together.

“To come up with the idea, sell the idea, put together the production team and get it written and produced, it was remarkable. That’s all credit to Claire, [producer] Elisa Argenzio and [head writer] Tim Pye. I hitched my wagon to some really great horses.”

If it hadn’t been for the persistence of Tonkin – who was then producer CJZ’s head of drama development and is now its head of drama – Lawless might never have taken on the role of Alexa Crowe, a former police detective who is reluctantly coaxed back into investigation work to help her former colleagues solve some of their trickier cases.

The executive had sent Lawless some scripts for the show and though she thought it was a good idea, she put them aside and forgot about them. Then when the actor was in Australia to attend Sydney Pride, Tonkin sought her out again.

“I didn’t think much would come of it but we met and she was just such a pocket dynamo,” says Lawless, a true-crime fan who feasts on the many books and podcasts the genre has to offer. “She presents like a charming wallflower; she’s happy to sit back but she is a Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in the best possible way. I just saw so much unlimited potential in this woman and thought I was going to nab her for myself.

“I was really intrigued by it. And also, at this time in my life, I don’t want to be selling mayhem and destruction anymore. I’ve done quite a lot of it and I’m very attracted to justice. The world is pretty grim these days, so I want to give people a good time. I want to do something just because it’s fun and gorgeous, and we’re cleaning up the universe in a metaphorical way. It’s a beautiful thing to entertain just for the hell of it.”

A former cop, Alexa is drawn back into investigation work

Described as a contemporary murder mystery, My Life is Murder is a classic case-of-the-week crime drama featuring Lawless as Alexa, a complex, fearless and charismatic former cop who, despite some setbacks in her private life, can’t put down a good case when her help is called for. Through the series, her investigations take her across a picturesque Melbourne and into the worlds of male escorts, nightclub owners, high-flying business CEOs, celebrity chefs, clairvoyants and cosmetic surgeons.

Produced by CJZ and distributed by DCD Rights, the show marks Lawless’s first Australian lead. She previously had a part in Oz conspiracy thriller The Code and has also starred in US series such as Spartacus, Ash vs Evil Dead, Salem and Parks & Recreation.

“She is a sleuth but she’s a very perverse human being,” Lawless says of Alexa. “She’s not afraid to tell a lie to get to the truth. She’s apt to bend the truth, which is really fun.”

Alexa is assisted through the series by Madison Feliciano, a police data analyst played by Ebony Vagulins, and DI Kieran Hussey (Bernard Curry), who seeks unorthodox Alexa’s help when he becomes stumped by some unusual cases.

The show offers a glimmer of Alexa’s private life by suggesting in the first episode that she is still coming to terms with the death of her husband. But Lawless says the series never becomes maudlin. “You do see her in some quiet moments and when she’s alone, but she’s fortified. She has to rely on herself,” the actor says. “But she learns she’s not an island because these gorgeous people keep forcing themselves into her home and her heart and won’t leave her alone. They bring her back to life.”

Meanwhile, Lawless’s involvement in the project from the outset signals her significant role behind the scenes, with My Life is Murder also providing the star with her first executive producer credit.

Ebony Vagulans and Bernard Curry are among Lawless’s co-stars in the Australian drama

She says it’s a “mind-bending” extension to her acting job that was fine in the beginning “but at the end, the wheels have come off and I’m just trying to not trip over my tongue because the words are completely mixed up in my head.”

“It’s a pretty intense acting workload but that’s great. It’s magnificent to be challenged at this time in my career because it could be really boring if all I was doing was acting.”

Lawless is also grateful to take on a character who can live without wearing a corset, having spent six years in Xena’s iconic get-up from 1995 to 2001.

“I just want my character to wear the same trousers,” she jokes. “Give me seven of the same pants; I don’t want to change for one scene and then for another. That is the most irritating part of my job, which is really a pretty good problem to have. But there was a lot of love going around the set, a lot of respect and care. I just couldn’t be happier. I’m very grateful.”

Having spent so much of her career working in the US and at home in New Zealand, where Xena was filmed and which largely follows the industry machinations of the US system, Lawless says she was particularly conscious of learning the ropes on an Australian set.

“Australia is it’s own ball of wax. It’s not like the UK and not like America,” she explains. “The way they structure a production – people have different jobs, and job titles don’t mean the same thing, so it’s about trying to understand the flow of information. Because we were doing it in such a rush, we were scrambling more than we would have liked. But that also gives an energy, and then something fabulous accidentally happens that might not have done had you been in more control.”

When Lawless says she’s fascinated by crime and justice, she really means it. Not satiated with books and podcasts, she can often be found in a courtroom watching events unfold, whether in New Zealand or while working abroad. The actor has attended hearings in New York and Louisiana, and even went to the bail hearing of Jeffrey Epstein, the billionaire sex offender.

“All human beings really like the idea of justice and finding the bad guy or girl. That’s just a human desire to protect the innocent and find justice for them,” she says. “What you learn about is the community you’re in. It’s largely about socioeconomics and how incidents of violence touch normal people’s lives. You learn about what poverty and abuse does to people.”

My Life is Murder treads a lighter path, however, with Lawless promising “the funnest romp through secret worlds.” She continues: “We go into these worlds that are opaque for most of us and get inside and solve a tasty little murder mystery in that juicy world.”

Between planting trees on her new farm and continual talk of a Xena reboot – “It would be fun to reprise it in some way. It ain’t dead yet” – the actor is also looking ahead to a potential season two of My Life is Murder. “I’m certainly thinking about it and always sending off bad ideas to the head writer,” she adds. “It’s on my mind.”

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Interview technique

The stakes are high in Netflix’s international cat-and-mouse crime drama Criminal, with each episode comprising a single police interview. DQ interrogates the cast and creative team about the series.

If there’s a single series that demonstrates the scale of Netflix’s global ambitions, it might just be Criminal.

The crime drama has a unique premise in that each 45-minute episode takes place entirely during a police interrogation, focusing on the intense clash between detective and suspect, while the cameras are confined to the interview room, the adjoining observation room and the corridor that links them.

But what really makes the series stand out is that this 12-part procedural is set in four European countries, with three episodes each from the UK, France, Germany and Spain. Each batch is recorded in the local language, starring, written and directed by talent from the same country.

Produced by Idiotlamp Productions and launching on September 20, Criminal is overseen by British showrunners George Kay and Jim Field Smith, who wrote and directed the UK episodes, respectively, while also supervising the other countries’ creative teams.

Jim Field Smith (left) and David Tennant on the Criminal set

Kay developed the concept after enjoying the constraints of writing a monologue called Double Lesson for Channel 4’s First Cut strand, while also taking inspiration from an interview he watched with a man accused of killing his stepdaughter.

“During the interview, I changed my mind [about whether he was guilty] about three or four times,” he recalls. “Jim and I have worked together since school and we’ve always loved police stuff, true crime and crime drama, and then the show kind of built out of that.”

George Kay

Kay then wrote an initial script, but the premise – which goes against the grain by being extremely intimate rather than high-concept or lavish – meant it was tricky to find a home for the show. That’s where Netflix came in, with the streamer taking the potential scale of the show in a different direction by turning it into an international format.

“Initially, we were trepidatious,” Field Smith admits. “But it’s been the most amazing adventure.”

Although the project has been five years in the making, production moved at an incredible pace once Netflix came on board. Shooting began in January and wrapped in April, with each episode filmed over a week in the same studio set at the streamer’s production hub at Ciudad de la Tele, Madrid.

“We shot 12 hours of drama in four months,” Field Smith says. “That’s never happened ever, anywhere. So we went from this long period of trying to get the thing away to suddenly all guns blazing.”

Serving as a “pilot block” for the whole series, the English episodes were filmed first, featuring a core cast that includes Katherine Kelly, Lee Ingleby, Nicholas Pinnock, Mark Stanley, Rochenda Sandall and Shubham Saraf. Guest stars appearing in single episodes include David Tennant, Hayley Atwell, Youssef Kerkour and Clare-Hope Ashitey. Kay wrote all three of the English instalments, with Field Smith behind the camera, each working with the heads of departments to create the world of the show.

Captain America’s Hayley Atwell guest stars in one of the UK-set episodes

That then became the model for the German, French and Spanish versions that would follow, each inheriting the rules, style and tone set out by the original.

They were led by writer/director Frederic Mermoud and writers Antonin Martin-Hilbert and Mathieu Missoffe from France; director Oliver Hirschbiegel and writers Bernd Lange and Sebastian Heeg from Germany; and Spanish director Mariano Barroso and writers Alejandro Hernández and Manuel Martín Cuenca.

The lure of Netflix and the short-term commitment of a limited series meant the project was able to snare some of each country’s top acting talent, such as Nathalie Baye from France, Germany’s Peter Kurth and Inma Cuesta and Emma Suárez from Spain, in addition to the aforementioned British talent.

“It’s almost like a sort of theatrical engagement,” Field Smith says. “How many opportunities do you get as actors, writers and directors to do a show where it’s entirely about the performance? Yes, there are all these ‘constraints,’ but those constraints are there to be embraced and, actually, actively encouraged. So we were able to say to David Tennant, for example, it’s essentially more of a theatrical play experience than it is a big drama where you might be shooting two or three days across several weeks and there’s a lot of sitting around and a lot of waiting. We told them, ‘We’re going to be shooting 12 pages a day, so you better come prepared.’”

Each of the show’s four batches was shot in Madrid (Spanish version pictured)

It was during the scriptwriting process that Kay and Field Smith began discussing the rules for the world that would become integral to the dynamics between the characters, their behaviour and the way the series would later be filmed.

They made an early decision that the corridor between the observation and interview rooms would be a safe space where characters could tell the truth. “So after being in this ‘theatre,’ they come out the door and would be able to say, ‘Oh, so and so’s getting on my nerves,’ or ‘I really think he did this.’ It’s just true feelings,” Kay says.

The use of CCTV footage or flashbacks and reconstructions was ruled out, while the duo were also keen to ensure the camera never left the set. “The strength of the show is that we are enclosed,” Field Smith notes. “One of the directors wanted to put the camera outside the window and see one of the detectives looking outside, but I said, ‘You can’t do it because you’ve immediately broken the rule of the space.’ So the rules emerged organically as we were making the show, rather than from us sitting down at the beginning with a list.”

Field Smith points to the second UK episode, in which Atwell plays a woman accused of murdering her sister’s boyfriend. The fact that there’s no physical evidence, crime scene photographs or any other visual aids pointing to her guilt, or otherwise, means viewers must rely on the conversation between the accused and the detective and work out themselves who is telling the truth.

The production was able to attract high-profile talent including Tennant (Doctor Who, Good Omens)

“That’s when the shows is at its strongest,” the director continues. “If you’re doing a standard crime drama, the interview room scenes are often used to get as much information as possible so we can get back out on the road and have a car chase. We’re the opposite. Our car chase is in the room; our pyrotechnics come from physicality and body language and a pen simply falling off the table. We’ve both done big, flashy shows and films, and it was a really fun challenge to go the other way.”

With four variations of Criminal, Kay and Field Smith had to be wary of customs and procedures that might be different from the way things work in a UK police station. But when the show is boiled down, each episode follows the same structure – a suspect brought in for questioning by police about a crime they may or may not have committed – no matter what country it’s set in.

“That was the nub of it. So as soon as we can cut to that, finding the truth about that suspect, the grammar of it [across different countries] became pretty similar,” Kay says. “To labour on the on the differences between them was not something we wanted to do for any dramatic reason. So it all became quite a universal story.”

Field Smith picks up: “We didn’t want it to be super-real because that would, in itself, not be interesting. So we created this slightly theatrical, slightly heightened environment. On a script level, the show is technically very accurate; but on a visual level, we wanted to create our own space. We tried not to get too bogged down in what a police station in Germany would look like.”

Lee Ingleby (Luther, Line of Duty) plays a detective in the UK episodes

UK actors Ingleby and Sandall are both aware of the dramatic tension police interview scenes can create, having both previously appeared in a series famed for its interrogations, BBC drama Line of Duty.

In Criminal, they play DI Tony Myerscough and DC Vanessa Warren, who each get the chance to put Tennant’s Dr Egdar Fallon and Atwell’s Stacey Doyle through the wringer in an attempt to get to the truth.

“I thought it was interesting how you don’t have any background. There are no flashbacks or preamble leading up to it – you get the information in that room,” Ingleby says. “And the writing, it’s very rare you get a scene that runs and runs – you get like two or three pages of the scene at the most. That was really thrilling for me.”

Filming in the interview room would take place in the morning, before the scene was reset to be shot from the perspective of those in the observation room.

“It’s very intense. That is the show,” says Sandall. “It’s in the third episode that you see Hugo Duffy [played by Mark Stanley] rehearsing what he’s going to do in the interview, so that feeling of immense pressure would be put on these characters because they are putting on a show. It added to the intensity of it.”

Rochenda Sandall (left), another former Line of Duty star, in Criminal

Owing to the nature of the format, the police investigations take centre stage, leaving little time for actors to develop their characters beyond their work persona. Even so, they have still managed to create power dynamics and even a hint at a romantic relationship between two officers.

“With Myerscough, I suppose he plays it by the book,” Ingleby says. “He’s very methodical compared to somebody like Paul Ottager [Pinnock], who throws the cat among the pigeons. He’s on fire in the room, but slightly less confident in his own skin.

“They’re a team and they work as a team. They have a routine. Some people, you know more about their personal life than others. But you have the work banter, which we thought was good to have going through it.”

The constraints of the series aren’t just limited to the set design or camera movements but the actors’ movements as well, with most of the sitting behind desks the majority of the time. “I do think there’s a real integrity in truth and stillness,” Sandall explains. “It’s a very brave choice to make but, as actors, obviously you’re paranoid, thinking, ‘Oh gosh, is this going to be interesting?’ But there’s a real truth in stillness. It’s a different format – it’s great.”

“I suppose at first, I thought, ‘How interesting can this be?’ But I enjoyed it,” Ingleby admits. “After the nerves of learning a massive amount of lines, you get into the rhythm. For that first week of filming, when it was Rochenda, Katherine and Hayley in the interview room, that was their world, this [observation room] was ours and then we’d swap it around for the next episode.”

Both actors are also excited by where Criminal could go beyond its first season, dreaming up new countries the show could be set in and even crossovers that could bring different countries into the same investigation.

“The ideas that could go beyond this season are huge. There is so much potential in the programme and crossovers,” Sandall adds.

With a format that carries inherent tension and the ambition to apply it to different countries, Criminal is a fascinating and thrilling exploration of the cat-and-mouse relationship between suspects and detectives, and one that Netflix has the capacity and resources to adapt across its global footprint in the years to come.

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What lies beneath

Executive producer Liza Marshall, writer Mark O’Rowe and actor Mark Strong open up about the making of Sky1’s emotionally complex Temple, which is based on Norwegian drama Valkyrien.

Liza Marshall, head of Hera Pictures, and her husband, actor Mark Strong, had sat down together to watch their latest boxset, a Norwegian drama called Valkyrien. Forty-eight hours later, they were enjoying the sights of the country’s capital, Oslo, while they discussed with the show’s creator their ambition to remake the series for English-language audiences.

The result is Temple, an eight-part drama commissioned by the UK’s Sky1 that is set deep beneath London Underground station Temple, where an illegal clinic has been set up in an abandoned network of tunnels.

Strong plays Daniel, a talented surgeon whose world is turned upside down when his wife (Catherine McCormack) develops a life-threatening illness. When conventional options for treatment run out, he partners with obsessive yet surprisingly resourceful misfit Lee (Daniel Mays) to start the subterranean clinic.

They are soon joined by medical researcher Anna (Carice van Houten) to treat a variety of increasingly desperate and highly dangerous patients as Daniel’s morality is tested to the limit in a story that asks how far he is willing to go for love.

Although based on Valkyrien, Temple is less of an adaptation than it is a blend of that show’s central premise and spirit with writer Mark O’Rowe’s dynamic use of character and dark humour. Hera Pictures produces, with Sky Vision distributing internationally.

Mark Strong as surgeon Daniel in Temple, which is named after the London Tube station

Marshall, who says O’Rowe comes from the “Martin McDonaugh [In Bruges] school of writing,” agrees Temple is not a straightforward copy. “Because Mark is such a singular writer, in a way it’s a jumping off point. We’ve taken the concept and Mark’s made it his own,” she explains. “As the show develops, we’ve introduced new characters and we take Daniel, our doctor, in a slightly different direction. So both series can sit side by side. In the past, some remakes have been made almost like a translation, a very faithful remake. Ours has the spirit of the original but is something quite different.”

Temple marks playwright O’Rowe’s first TV series, having previously made films including Boy A. “It was a really brilliant piece of work and I’ve wanted work with Mark ever since,” Marshall says of the 2007 movie. “So once I got the rights to the show, he was an obvious choice because I thought his sensibility and tone would really suit the material and he really just got it and wanted to write it.”

O’Rowe describes Valkyrien as “crazy,” with a lot of story crammed into its eight episodes. However, gaps in the plot and new avenues he wanted to explore gave the writer the opportunity to create more complex and conflicted characters.

“We felt the template of the setup, who the characters were and their relationships with each other were the main things to stay close to and, at a certain point, we would have to diverge from the story of the original because there was too much packed in there,” he says.

The writing process began with a writers room designed to assist O’Rowe in the storylining, before he went away and penned all eight scripts. Another writer, DC Moore, also collaborated on the final script.

The Sky1 drama follows Daniel as he sets up an underground clinic after his wife (Catherine McCormack) becomes gravely ill

“In the beginning, there’s a deadline for the shoot – so whether I got there or not, the shoot was happening. I was under a huge amount of pressure but also inspired by the work and running on creative fuel,” O’Rowe says. “I would be writing episodes while people were sending me cuts of earlier episodes so I definitely had to keep ahead of the shoot as we came to the end of the process. As the earlier episodes were filmed and cut together, certain things we had decided on proved not to be what we wanted and we thought we’d taken a step too far. So the last couple of episodes changed the most during the writing.”

Having predominantly starred in movies during his 30-year career, with roles in Hollywood hits including Kick-Ass, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Zero Dark Thirty, Strong had been looking for a  new television series to dive into following his recent appearance in Fox Networks Group action thriller Deep State. “I was definitely looking for something in the TV world to grab hold of and run with, so if we were lucky enough to get a second season of Temple or even a third, it would be a wonderful thing to work on,” he says.

What attracted him to playing Daniel, Strong says, is that the character is an upstanding member of society who, by a series of increasingly desperate decisions, finds himself in a world he doesn’t understand.

“Surgeons don’t get more upstanding. He has a very happy life. He’s married, he has a daughter. They’re all very content. Life is good. Then his wife falls ill and he makes a decision to open the clinic and find a cure for her, which means he finds himself suddenly in cahoots with bank robbers, preppers [survivalists], disgruntled research people and a world he’s not been used to. So his whole world is turned upside down.

“As a character, what you’re watching is someone make a series of decisions that sometimes are ethically and morally unsound, and you have to work out whether this guy, who is essentially an everyman, cope with the most extraordinary decisions to keep his head above water.”

Daniel Mays plays Lee, who partners with Daniel to set up the clinic

According to O’Rowe, the character of Daniel marks the biggest departure from Valkyrien. In the original, Ravn (Sven Nordin) has set up a illegal clinic and is also trying to find a cure for his wife. In Temple, van Houten’s character Anna is given a beefed-up role to help Daniel. “We’re not trying to sell the lead character as this amazing medical mind, but rather have him as a normal professional up against extraordinary circumstances,” the writer says. “He’s a little less capable in this than in the original.”

Meanwhile, Marshall says Mays (Line of Duty) was her “number-one choice” to play Lee, who has an “odd couple” relationship with Daniel, while van Houten (Game of Thrones) brings an enigmatic quality to Anna, with whom Daniel shares a dubious past.

Wunmi Mosaku (Damilola: Our Loved Boy), Craig Parkinson (Line of Duty), Chloe Pirrie (The Victim) and Ryan McKen (The State) also appear. But the most interesting casting choice is Tobi King Bakare, who plays young bank robber Jamie. “He’d never acted before,” Marshall says. “We found him in a drama group in West London. He had never been on a set before he turned up for his first day at work. He’s really great. He’s now got an agent and he’s in a Netflix show [Cursed]. He’s such a nice man – he’s totally brilliant and a real discovery. [Casting director] Jina Jay did a really great job. Lily Newmark [as Eve, Daniel’s daughter] is great as well.”

Valkyrien took its name from the Oslo train station beneath which Ravn sets up his clinic. Transplanting the story to the UK, there are few better alternative locations than London, with Temple station lying on the northern embankment of the River Thames. The city is well known for its labyrinthine network of tunnels, and some that have been long abandoned and disused were reopened for the show’s production team.

“We shot a lot of the show in the closed Aldwych Tube station,” Marshall says. “There are two platforms that were once in use but beyond them are all these unfinished tunnels. They built three lift shafts and they only ever used one. So there’s all this crazy stuff under London, and the history of the city makes it a really exciting place to set the show.”

Game of Thrones’ Carice van Houten also features in the series, much of which was filmed in disused parts of the London Underground network

When not filming in the real tunnels, production designer David Roger was tasked with recreating the clinic in a disused warehouse in Southall, West London. Marshall marvels at his achievement, describing the set as a faithful recreation of every curve and corner of the London Underground system.

Strong was among those who came to call the set a second home. “When you make movies, you have your nominated days, you go in, you play your scenes and you know that you’re going to be in and out,” he says. “With Temple, I was consistently shooting pretty much every day for five months. But leading a show is a real privilege and the cast we had was amazing. We all got on incredibly well, as we did with the crew, but it’s hard work, waking up at 5am and getting back home at 9pm. The days accumulate. It was tough but incredibly rewarding.”

The actor is not afraid to play a variety of characters, having also starred as “the big bad guy” in superhero movie Shazam and as a First World War officer in Sam Mendes’s upcoming feature 1917.

He’s now also stepping up his role behind the scenes, working as an executive producer on Temple. “Having done a fair bit over the last 30 years, I suddenly realised I do have a useful opinion on certain matters,” Strong says. “I was able to help out with casting and was also able to help out with dialogue a little bit, just to make it sit a little more comfortably in the mouth.

“But the most interesting thing was really realising how much work goes into these things; how much work behind the scenes. Often, as an actor, you’re brought on set to do your job and you’re not aware of how hard everybody else is working. But there’s an incredible amount of organisation required to tell a story like this, and it was a privilege to be to be able to see how is all put together.”

Strong believes Temple contains the best type of storytelling, where viewers will not be sure which way the story is heading or how they feel about the protagonist. “You judge whether what he’s doing is morally unsound or not and, hopefully, if I played it right, and if the story works properly, you’ll feel a little bit of both. You’ll get where he’s coming from and then, at other times, think what he’s doing is beyond the pale.”

Marshall sums up the series, which is already in development for a second season, by describing it as a morality tale. “It’s not a medical drama, it’s not a thriller. It’s about how far will this man go for love and, by the end of the eight hours, how many lines will he have crossed?

“Basically, quite a lot! It’s a genre-defying, rich character-led drama, and that’s what we always wanted to make.”

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Conversation starter

Ahead of the world premiere of Black Bitch, star and executive producer Rachel Griffiths takes DQ inside the themes and issues behind the Australian political drama.

It might be considered pure folly to contemplate writing a political drama in today’s unpredictable and tempestuous climate. But in Australian series Black Bitch, issues of race and gender are placed front and centre in a show that has been more than 20 years in the making.

The story introduces Indigenous woman Alex Irving (played by Deborah Mailman), who becomes a national hero when she drags a woman to safety from a gunman. She quickly comes to the attention of embattled prime minister Rachel Anderson who, besieged by infighting, opposition attacks and bad press, overrides her party to draft Alex into the Senate.

However, the political novice soon finds herself at odds with the PM, who might have a hidden motive, the party and the entire government machine. Determined to be more than a political stunt and intent on making a difference, Alex realises she will have to bring down the system from the inside.

The ABC series was co-created by actor Rachel Griffiths (Muriel’s Wedding, Six Feet Under), who plays the prime minister. She says the idea – and the provocative title – first came to her when she was 27 and has been evolving ever since, inspired by two real-life events.

Black Bitch actor and executive producer Rachel Griffiths flanked by star Deborah Mailman (left) and director Rachel Perkins

The first concerned an Aboriginal woman she met while working on a documentary, who was involved in a native land title claim but received abuse for her cause and had ‘black bitch’ graffitied on her house. The second involved another Indigenous woman, an elite athlete called Nova Peris, who was encouraged to stand for election to the senate and similarly received torrents of racial abuse.

Griffiths describes herself as a “kind of big constitutional and parliamentary process wonk,” and she clearly has an extensive knowledge of and interest in politics in Australia and around the world. She has closely followed US politics since living and working there, and more recently she has been keeping an eye on the UK since the 2016 Brexit referendum. The actor also studied gender issues and representation at university and has examined the role of women in government.

“Back in the day when I first had these ideas, this was a parliamentary thriller with intrinsic themes of race and gender,” she says. “I had the title and it was about an Indigenous senator who is helicoptered into the senate and brings down a government. That was my pitch, and it’s only gotten more relative. Our Conservative party here has barely increased its female reach, particularly in pre-selection [of candidates], and when women have been helicoptered in – able women with life experience over the apparatchik machines – they’re not always welcome at the table. So that’s all where it came from.”

Griffiths initially thought Black Bitch might be a feature film and pitched it to various people with that in mind. Eventually it landed with Blackfella Films, Australia’s “key Indigenous content creators,” responsible for films and series including Redfern Now and Deep Water.

“When I pitched it to [Blackfella co-MD] Darren Dale, they had aspirations to do a show with Indigenous leads set in the political arena,” she recalls. “It’s not something they had done before. Australia generally hasn’t really done political shows that are quite biographical. But when I pitched it, it was very much on fertile ground. It has a female lead and the title gave it a tonal pitch that was very different. Darren just loved it and he pitched it to our national broadcaster and they loved it. And here we are.”

The series is inspired by two real-life events concerning racism against Indigenous women in Australia

Griffiths says her character is motivated by a genuine desire to see change and bring about a more diverse political party, rather than simply using Alex’s appointment as a cynical ploy to remove some of the heat from her own position.

“But she’s definitely embattled by a rising right flank and is trying to head that off and surround herself by allies she feels she can rely on,” the actor explains, noting that the series also explores some of the double standards women politicians are held to.

“We show that in the constant sense that she is not legitimate, and that entitled men who are intellectually inferior to her feel that she is doing their job,” she continues. “She doesn’t come from a place of self-promotion. Women often get there through the much harder work of building consensus and bringing people along with you.”

In contrast, Alex is fighting against a parliamentary system that she discovers is slow and often painful, with big changes taking a long time. Griffiths highlights this by recalling the Australian parliament’s decision not to legislate for marriage equality but instead hold a plebiscite in the form of a voluntary national postal survey that gave Australians a say on the issue. When 61.6% of respondents supported a change to the law, a cross-party bill was subsequently passed in December 2017.

Examples such as this, as well as the instability of having five prime ministers in less than a decade, are touched on throughout the series. “But underneath that, it’s quite an impassioned plea for democracies to become more reflective of the societies they represent, to be careful with fast change, to be careful of the power of the personality-driven outsider, and it’s a cautionary tale to people spitting out the dummy when they don’t get their way first time around,” says Griffiths, who last year starred in crime drama Dead Lucky.

Griffiths with producer Miranda Dear (left) and Blackfella Films’ Darren Dale

Viewers will walk in Alex’s shoes through the drama, witnessing the political experience from her perspective as Indigenous issues such as status and land rights are also explored. “I’m definitely the antagonist,” says Griffiths. “We observe the octopuses I’m wrestling with, but it’s [Alex’s] heart, her life, her journey from outsider to insider. That’s what makes it so powerful.

“I just think it’s so exciting and relevant and interesting and goes beyond any political tropes like a [Netflix series] House of Cards. Not that that wasn’t an absolutely wonderful show, but that was done so well – we’re not making our version. This is about the underrepresented, the historically disenfranchised and badly done-by.”

Playing Alex is Mailman, the award-winning actor whose credits include Offspring, The Sapphires, Jack Irish and Mystery Road.

“She has won more actor awards down here than any other actor next to Judy Davis [Husbands and Wives, Mystery Road] and has never had a lead,” says Griffiths. “It’s such a thrill that she finally had a role that illustrates not only her tremendous breadth of talent but also using the fact that she’s one of our most likeable actors. When you have an actor you just love, people are more prepared to emotionally go further and cross into worlds with that particular actor than they thought they would go though.

“She’s got an extraordinary range but also this intimate lovability. You just love her; you feel what she’s feeling and you go with her through all her mistakes and challenges. She’s pretty extraordinary.”

Director Rachel Perkins on set

Behind the camera is director Rachel Perkins (Bran Nue Dae, Mystery Road, Redfern Now), co-MD of Blackfella Films, who Griffiths describes as one of Australia’s most important Indigenous storytellers. Her father, Charlie Perkins, is an Indigenous statesman, “a true legend and national treasure,” so she was able to bring her own experience of Australian politics to the six-part series, which is distributed by Keshet International worldwide and in partnership with Endeavor Content in the US.

“It’s a world she knows. I think it’s almost impossible to quantify that,” Griffiths explains. “There’s nobody else who would have understood the bridge between the worlds and the balancing act that you do as an Indigenous woman director in a very male and very white-dominated industry down here. Visually, she understands the landscape and the contrast between coming from the warmth of the country into these cool Canberra, putrid, mechanistic environments.”

Filming took place in Queensland and the capital Canberra, where scenes were shot in public areas around government buildings, while some studio sets were also built in Sydney.

Coming off the back of directing feature film Ride Like a Girl, Griffiths has immersed herself in making the series, both in front of and behind the camera in her dual role as actor and executive producer. “I’ve been very involved in breaking what the show would look like, character arcs and what we’re trying to say,” she says. “I had great access to members of parliament and senators. Many women were quite open about their stories. We had a wonderful early story room with a lot of different people coming in and talking, which was just fabulous. And now we’re just starting to do that again for season two.”

With the series premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival, talk of a second season is premature, but Griffiths imagines a three-season arc to the story. “I’m sure it’ll start a conversation, or a few conversations,” she adds. “It hasn’t been designed to be a social-impact service. It’s just speaking to the zeitgeist as a conversation of the time. Democracy is never something we can take for granted, and people are really awakening to that.”

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Is seeing believing?

BBC drama The Capture imagines a ‘post truth’ world where a soldier must fight for his freedom in the face of apparently damning CCTV footage. DQ visits the set and speaks to writer/director Ben Chanan.

In the brick-walled basement of a Central London property, computer screens flicker in unison. Dozens of CCTV monitors are relaying images from all parts of the city, while laptop and computer screens atop industrial-style metal desks variously display more camera footage, detailed maps or pages of complicated coding.

Nearby, a row of interview rooms are covered in soundproof cladding, with low lighting adding to the veiled atmosphere.

This is a safe house belonging to a CIA ‘dark ops’ unit, with US intelligence officials operating covertly on the streets of Britain. In the main surveillance room, Hollywood actors Famke Janssen (X-Men) as Jessica Mallory and Ron Perlman (Hellboy) as Frank Napier can be seen in an upstairs office, rehearsing an upcoming scene in front of yet more screens and computer cabinets filled with wires and flashing lights.

The setting, constructed inside a studio in West London, teases many of the themes and ideas behind The Capture, a six-part BBC1 drama described as a surveillance conspiracy thriller that examines ‘fake news’ in a world where the power and influence of the security services touches every aspect of modern life.

The show sees Callum Turner (War & Peace) play soldier Shaun Emery, whose conviction for a murder in Afghanistan is overturned because of flawed video evidence. Returning to life as a free man with his young daughter, he must soon fight for his freedom once again when damning CCTV footage surfaces after a night out in London.

The Capture centres on Callum Turner’s Shaun, who is implicated by damning CCTV footage

With DI Rachel Carey (Holliday Grainger, pictured top) brought in to investigate Shaun’s case, she quickly learns that the truth can sometimes be a matter of perspective.

“We’re all a bit fascinated by this surveillance world we live in and feeling a little uneasy about how it impacts our lives,” explains executive producer Rosie Alison. “This is a show about how you interpret what you see. It’s very much about the world of fake news, post-truth and people having different perspectives on what truth is.”

“We’ve been really influenced by what’s going on in the world around us, particularly in the last two years, and this show is a response to that,” adds producer Derek Ritchie. “The public are asking questions, so we wanted to ask questions as well. We want to encourage that debate about how we think about surveillance and digital technology and how it changes us and our perspectives of ourselves.”

In a competitive situation, series coproducers Heyday Television (The Long Song) and NBCUniversal International Studios (Hannah) snapped up the The Capture when it was being shopped around, having previously explored the idea of a surveillance thriller but having come up short when it came to finding an original idea or a book on the subject that could be adapted for television. Writer/director Ben Chanan’s pilot script, however, fitted the bill.

“In came this script and I couldn’t believe my luck. Ben had been sitting on his own, coming up with a brilliantly worked-out conspiracy thriller. I rang the agent and got Ben in and love-bombed him with passion,” Alison recalls. “We said Heyday was interested in this area and it was clear he had done something brilliant, so we’ve been enablers and caretakers of Ben’s brilliance. I was very passionate from the start.”

Hollywood stars Famke Janssen and Ron Perlman play a pair of CIA agents

Tom Winchester, president of Heyday Television, picks up: “I remember thinking at the time there was a slightly fantastical element to it because it felt a little bit like one step into the future. Two years later, it just feels this is the world we inhabit and it feels incredibly current. It’s one thing writing about what’s happening now but what Ben’s done is write about what could be happening in two years’ time. That’s the magic of The Capture.”

On screen, Grainger’s DI Carey proves to be the audience’s entry point to the story as she works her way through a moral maze to discover if Shaun is guilty or innocent. But it is Shaun viewers will relate to as the everyman caught up in circumstances that run wildly beyond his control.

Fellow executive producer Tom Coan likens Shaun to Harrison Ford’s character Richard Kimble in 1993 thriller The Fugitive. “He’s that guy who could be any of us and is relatable and accessible,” he explains. “He’s not a superhero or outside the realm of everyday life. That makes it more compelling, but scarier. It could be any one of us who finds ourselves in this position.”

Filming took in a range of locations in London across 81 shooting days that ran from October last year to April. With the producers seeking a gritty-looking London over a stylised, fake or glossy appearance to ensure the series remained rooted in authenticity, sites included housing estates, prisons and playgrounds. A counterterrorism advisor was on hand during production, while Military specialists Bare Arms also provided support. In addition, the cast all spent time with police. Grainger shadowed a detective, while Turner undertook army training for his role.

“As a producer, London is pricing itself out of filming. It feels like it’s becoming prohibitively expensive,” Ritchie says. “It’s a shame because it’s an amazing place to film. As a city, it’s getting very pricey. But the personality of the city is key to the series. London’s rich pageantry is there in The Capture.”

Janssen chats with exec producer Rosie Alison between takes

Back in the CIA bunker, CCTV footage continues to roll across the room’s copious screens. But rather than use incidental stock footage, every frame has been specially filmed for the series by Mark Doman (Spooks), who spent six months creating the surveillance world around the drama.

Ritchie says Doman’s expertise lies in framing, crafting CCTV that doesn’t capture anonymous people or the show’s protagonists in the centre of the camera but often in random positions, replicating the nature of real surveillance footage.

“There are key moments that are caught on CCTV and Mark is with us filming all of that, so he works with the main units and independently of it,” he says. “When we cut to one of those shots or see it in the background, the feeling of verisimilitude you get from it has got to be perfect. That comes down to Mark’s work on the texture and feel of the images, how they feel different from the conventional drama around them. It’s been a vital creative part of the puzzle.”

While water-cooler television might largely be a thing of the past, last year’s pulsating thriller Bodyguard (another BBC series) proved drama still has the power to bring viewers together. That’s certainly what the team behind The Capture hope will happen as they open up the debate about surveillance culture.

“In this post-truth world, where we’re being constantly bombarded by information, you have sensory overload – but the one thing we feel we can believe in is what we see. That’s the last bastion,” Winchester argues. “It’s just throwing that up for conversation. How much of what you see can you trust? For me, that’s fascinating.”

Ritchie adds that the denouement to the series, which is distributed by NBCUniversal International Distribution, is by no means clear-cut. “We want the audience to have different opinions. At the end, there’s a moral question posed and I would love it if the audience has different views on that. Everyone has a multitude of motivations and self-doubt. We’re trying to open it up for debate.”

With The Capture promising a great deal of twists and turns, viewers will do well to question whether they can believe what they see as this modern thriller unfolds.

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By Karolina Kaminska

Ben Chanan with The Capture star Callum Turner

In a world where video manipulation is becoming sleeker and fake news more prevalent, the themes of The Capture are increasingly relevant . But writer and director Ben Chanan hadn’t realised when he formulated the idea for the series that it would turn out to be so topical.

“The origins of the story go all the way back to my time in documentaries,” says Chanan, who won a Bafta in 2013 for The Plot to Bring Down Britain’s Planes. “I made a couple that involved quite a lot of CCTV footage and video evidence. I made a doc where I was filming the Metropolitan Police; I made another doc where I was filming with some counterterrorist operatives in London and Washington and I became aware of just how integral video evidence was to our justice system.

“At the same time, I was increasingly aware, through working in TV, that video manipulation was becoming better, cheaper, easier and faster, and I started to think surely those two developments would one day collide and that would be a really interesting world for a drama to be set in.

“So that’s where it started to percolate years ago. It just took me this long, probably nine years, to actually turn that thought into a narrative and get it made.”

During those years, the concept of fake news began to enter public consciousness, but Chanan says he came up with the idea for the series much earlier.

“The funny thing about fake news in terms of how it relates to this idea is that I hadn’t really heard the term, or at least not in the way we use it now.

“When I started developing the idea – in fact, when I started writing it – suddenly Trump was elected and fake news was a big thing. It’s weirdly timely in that it certainly wasn’t designed to coincide with it; I certainly didn’t hear all the talk about fake news and then get the idea. I guess it’s a lucky coincidence.”

In light of the show’s themes, Chanan says the aim of the series is to raise the issue of what might happen if people no longer trust video evidence.

“We still tend to believe what we see on camera, but what happens if we don’t believe that anymore? What happens to the justice system? What happens to video evidence? What happens to news? Are we going to have to develop ways, like the equivalent of a watermark on a £10 note, to verify video?” the director says.

Given the relevance of the show’s themes in today’s society, will The Capture return for a second season? “I have no idea,” says Chanan. “I have to finish this one first and then take a break and see how we all feel about it.

“It certainly is a contained story. We don’t leave the story of what’s happening to Sean and why it happens and where he gets to unresolved.”

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Wolf’s pack

With six series on air, veteran writer and producer Dick Wolf talks to DQ about the changing television industry and reveals why he would tell aspiring producers to go into a different line of work.

For someone who currently has six series on air, Dick Wolf is remarkably modest. With a screen career spanning four decades, the esteemed writer and producer created the long-running Law & Order series and has had a hand in developing the ever-expanding Chicago franchise. He has also won numerous awards, including an Emmy, and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Dick Wolf

Yet Wolf describes himself as “the luckiest guy in the lower 48 states of the US,” believing his success has been as much about good fortune and timing as his continued backing of evergreen network procedurals at a time when streaming platforms and serialised storytelling are hogging the limelight.

“My timing was very fortunate. I got the best of it,” he says, speaking to DQ at the Monte Carlo Television Festival. “It sounds terrible, but the crumbs are left. They don’t want anybody to make money but them, which is understandable but not invigorating.”

Wolf is referring to the on-demand giants that are busy signing up some of the biggest and brightest talents in television. Netflix has snared Ryan Murphy (American Horror Story), Shonda Rhimes (Grey’s Anatomy) and David Benioff and DB Weiss (Game of Thrones), while Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan (Westworld), Lena Waithe (The Chi) and Sharon Horgan (Catastrophe) have moved in with Amazon Prime Video. But though these overall deals pay big up front, there’s little reward further down the line.

That doesn’t sit easily with Wolf, who has been rewarded over the years for the longevity of his series and their repeatability in US syndication and overseas.

“My advice [to a young producer] would be, ‘Do you have anything else you want to do?’ This business is essentially over in terms of people being able to come in, make a hit show and make a lot of money,” he says. “The streaming services want to know exactly how much [a show] is going to cost forever. So far, the deals are pretty uninteresting. So to give people advice, I’d tell them that to go and do something where there is a concrete ceiling, rather than a glass ceiling, is difficult now.”

Not tempted to move online, where a season of a network show that clocks in at between 22-25 episodes a year could mark the lifespan of a single series on Netflix or Amazon, Wolf is doubling down on his commitment to network drama.

Law & Order: SVU,  the longest-running live-action series in the US

Heading into its 21st season, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (SVU) is now the longest-running live-action series in the history of US TV, while Wolf’s other series on air include Chicago Fire, Chicago PD and Chicago Med, plus FBI (pictured top) and its new spin-off FBI: Most Wanted. He is also hopeful a reboot of his 1990s crime drama New York Undercover will get picked up this year.

Wolf says there’s no secret formula behind his work, noting that Law & Order was taken from the headlines while FBI is much more “ripped from the zeitgeist.” The series – which centres on the unique work undertaken by the agency’s New York field office and returns to CBS for its second season this month – comes from Universal Television in association with CBS Television Studios and is distributed by CBS Studios International.

“It’s about what’s going on in the world, rather than a specific case. That’s the biggest difference between them,” Wolf continues. “Law & Order truly was ripped from the headlines. When I sold it to NBC, [then network president] Brandon Tartikoff said, ‘What’s the pitch?’ I said, ‘The front page of the New York Post.’”

Whatever his method, viewers certainly approve. “The numbers are ludicrous,” he says of the viewing figures his shows attract. “SVU, off network, draws 93 million people on the various reruns, and the reason to me is pretty apparent: closed-ended stories. We have serialised elements but the secret of the success we’ve had is audiences know you can tune in and get a complete story with a beginning, a middle and an end and know the bad guy is probably going to get caught. It’s going to be emotionally satisfying.”

Chicago Fire is one of three shows in Wolf’s Chicago franchise

Strong writing has also been key, Wolf notes. “It’s always the writing. It doesn’t matter if you’ve got Laurence Olivier [in the cast]. If the words aren’t good, the show isn’t going to work. It really is the overwhelming element of success.”

Another reason Wolf’s shows work so well are the ensemble casts that lead them – and the opportunity to continually refresh them by introducing new characters.

“Law & Order was a six-person ensemble and, for the 20 years it was on, there were 29 actors who were regulars,” he says. “On SVU, the only one who was in the original cast that’s still there is Mariska [Hargitay, who plays Detective Olivia Benson]. So I usually see recasting as an opportunity, not a burden. But it’s never easy. People aren’t thrilled by the news [they’re being written out].”

Speaking to Wolf, it’s apparent that he plans to be in the TV business for many more years, if only to clear his head. “There are so many shows bouncing around in there,” he adds. “There could be a third FBI show that is totally different, and bringing back New York Undercover is going to be a lot of fun. I only do things I like watching.”

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Blind ambition

Swedish actor Julia Ragnarsson talks to DQ about financial thriller Fartblinda (Blinded), in which she plays a journalist tasked with investigating her married lover.

After appearing in one of the biggest films of the summer, Sweden-set horror Midsommar, Julia Ragnarsson is now leading the cast of eight-part drama Fartblinda. That the series is launching hot on the heels of director Ari Aster’s film reflects the way the two productions were filmed back-to-back, with Ragnarsson jumping from one to the other over an intense eight-month filming schedule.

In Fartblinda (known as Blinded internationally), she plays financial journalist Bea Farkas, who, in pursuit of her next scoop, detects irregularities in ST Bank’s trading department – a matter made more complicated by the fact she is having an affair with the bank’s CEO Peder Rooth (Matias Varela), a married man.

It’s in this ethical and moral malaise that much of the drama takes place, with Blinded placing financial thriller and relationship saga side by side. Ragnarsson’s Bea is a compelling character through which to follow the story, while her white blonde hair marks her out as an edgy, perhaps rebellious figure within the straight-laced newsroom.

The actor, best known for playing police trainee Olivia Rönning in Swedish drama Springfloden (Spring Tide), joined the Blinded cast just days before heading to Budapest, Hungary, to film Midsommar after she was invited to audition for the show. Filming for Blinded then began less than two weeks after Midsommar wrapped.

In Blinded, Julia Ragnarsson plays financial journalist Bea Farkas

“It was strange. I just jumped on a train and went into the audition room but I did not know what this was and hadn’t read the script. I didn’t know anything!” Ragnarsson admits of the audition process. “Matias was already cast and then the day afterwards, they said I’d got the part. It was an extremely quick process. Everything happened so fast, so I was a little nervous when we started filming. I was like, ‘Am I prepared enough for this?’ I don’t really remember a lot about the first couple of weeks, it’s just like, ‘Which country am I in? What am I doing? Why’s my hair white?’ It was very quick but extremely fun.”

Bea’s hair makes her stand out immediately, marking a stark change from Ragnarsson’s usual brunette look. To ensure continuity, a hairdresser visited the set every three weeks to ensure the actor’s natural roots didn’t begin to show through.

“It’s rare you do a big change like that. I’ve always had pretty long hair that’s a natural brown colour,” Ragnarsson says. “This was an opportunity to make a big change, but at one point my hair started falling out – it just melted. So it was interesting! But it helps a lot for a character to make a drastic change.

“I feel like in Swedish cinema and TV, you have to look like a very common or average person. We don’t do anything to stick out. They want it to be very plain, normal, low key, like it could be anyone. But in this case, they wanted to go the opposite way, which was refreshing and fun. Also, with my clothes and styling, it could be something different. There are so many shows being made, you want it to feel a bit different.”

Bea finds herself tasked with investigating her lover, bank boss Peder Rooth (Matias Varela)

The series has been adapted from economics journalist Carolina Neurath’s book of the same name, which is based on real events. However, Ragnarsson says she didn’t read the book before shooting in order to avoid that story clashing with the plot of the show. Instead, she worked alongside directors Jens Jonsson and Johan Lundin to build Bea’s character based on the scripts by Jesper Harrie, Maria Karlsson and Jonas Bonnier.

“I had the opportunity to try different things on set and was very free to try something new,” she says. “They’re extremely generous when it comes to that sort of thing. That’s what’s fun about what I do; even though it’s hectic, you have some time to play, which I think is very important.”

Produced by FLX (Quicksand, Bonusfamiljen) for Nordic streamer C More and Sweden’s TV4, Blinded also represents the first major investment in the region’s drama by distributor All3Media International. Ragnarsson believes the show has a fresh style that will make it stand out.

“It’s not a cop show, which it tends to be if you look at [other Swedish series such as] The Bridge and Wallander,” she notes. “Not a lot of people really know what is going on in the financial world. It’s very closed and secretive, even for journalists. You have to start digging to find out what’s going on.

Director Jens Jonsson (left) on set with Varela

“This is about a private, niche bank but we’re starting to see now there’s a lot of weird shit going on with bigger banks, and I think the setting is interesting. It’s about tons of money, good-looking people, greed and how far [people will] go for the sake of money, or how far you go not to get caught. It’s just as intriguing and exciting as a cop show when there’s a serial killer on the loose, but we’ve seen that many times before.”

The most interesting aspect of the show is the internal conflict troubling Bea, who wants to do her job but is also in a relationship with the person she must investigate. Flashbacks reveal the origins of the relationship between Bea and Peder, showing that their affair is not simply a short-lived fling and that they have feelings for each other – to the detriment of Peder’s wife, Sophie (Julia Dufvenius).

“So do I fuck him over and potentially reveal a huge scandal that will take my career to a whole other level, or am I going to stick with this person, even though I don’t really know if he’s lying to me or not?” Ragnarsson says. “She decides to find out if he’s lying. It’s a very thankful thing for a character to have that conflict. It’s a suspense thriller but it’s also a love story and a relationship drama. It’s not just about the bank and the newspaper and the war between them; it’s also a war between these two people who are in love and might end up hating each other.”

Filming was split between Riga, the Latvian capital, and Stockholm. But despite the rapid production process, Ragnarsson says walking the right line through the Bea’s morale maze was the most challenging aspect of filming the series.

The drama airs on C More and TV4

“I wanted the audience to understand how Bea makes this decision to start investigating and basically screw the person that she loves, and how her work and her profession are just as important as, or maybe more important than, this married man,” the actor adds. “So there are so many things that make it difficult. My challenge and my responsibility as an actor was to try to portray that.

“We’re going to see different sides to Peder, too, not just his flattery. It will be interesting to see what people think and if they’re rooting for us as a couple or they hate us both.”

Fartblinda launched with its first two episodes on C More earlier this month, before entering a weekly release schedule. TV4 will debut the drama on Monday.

“I hope this will be a nice mixture of a relationship drama together with this financial world, the investigation stuff and also the thriller elements,” Ragnarsson adds. “It gives the show some extra spice. It’s always fun to watch people in love.”

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Guest of Honour

Swedish thriller Heder (Honour) is breaking new ground in front of and behind the camera. DQ was invited to Stockholm to spend the day on the set of this women-led project.

Swedish law firm Heder is under attack. A ridiculous number of plants has been delivered to the firm’s Stockholm office in the hope of creating chaos. And unfortunately for Maria Nohra – who plays officer manager Leila in this Viaplay drama, also titled Heder (Honour) – she is the one left to clean up the mess.

The unorthodox invasion is the latest wave in a rising tide of threats and obstruction against the staff of the all-female company, which positions itself as a voice for victims of sex crimes, with lawyers who fight for justice for those who need it most. But the firm’s four partners – played by Swedish actors Alexandra Rapaport, Anja Lundqvist, Julia Dufvenius and Eva Röse – have another battle on their hands as they try to keep a fiercely guarded secret from their past that threatens to undermine their work and would spell the end for Heder should the truth be revealed.

When DQ visits the Swedish capital on day 34 of the 80-day shoot in October to watch the eight-part series being filmed inside the law firm’s offices, it’s clear the partners are upsetting the wrong people, hence the strange delivery that is confusing business that day.

But Heder’s stars aren’t just partners on screen. In fact, the series – described as The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo meets Sex & the City – is unique in that it was created by Rapaport, Lundqvist, Dufvenius and fellow actor Sofia Helin (The Bridge), who are also all exec producers. Together, they have been integral to the development and production of the series, working on the scripts and overseeing the entire project together with producer Birgitta Wännström and exec producer Calle Jansson. The show is produced by Bigster, the firm set up by Wännström, Jansson and Rapaport following their collaboration on another Swedish drama, Gåsmamman.

L-R: Heder stars Eva Röse, Anja Lundqvist, Julia Dufvenius and Alexandra Rapaport

Filming on Heder began at the end of last August and has now moved to the office sets that take up the space behind Bigster’s headquarters. As Leila tries to explain the plant deliveries, Rapaport’s Nour is not amused. But as soon as head writer and lead director Richard Holm calls “cut,” she breaks into a smile. Holm is similarly relaxed, his shirt sleeves rolled up to his elbows and headphones around his neck, as he talks to members of the crew.

In another scene, Nour, Elin (Dufvenius), Janni (Lundqvist) and Karin (Röse) are in their glass-walled central office – which comes complete with a panic room – discussing how to release some important information they obtained illegally.

Sitting on a bench outside the doors to the Heder office, Rapaport says she is “happy and excited” at how the shoot is going. “It’s really overwhelming and unreal, because we created this and it’s happening, and people are working and they get paid! It was all in our head a year ago and now it’s here. We have all eight episodes and they’re really good.

“It’s much more of a thriller than a legal drama. It’s all in there because it’s funny sometimes yet it has this big mystery. It has a heavy drive forwards. There are no dead spots. It’s really smart.”

Nour, she explains, is all about surface. “She’s quite shallow because she’s afraid of her own darkness, so she hides where she comes from, which is part of the mystery in the series. Who is she? What is her secret? She’s fighting for good, and I like that the bottom line of all this is who’s the victim and who’s the perpetrator?”

Birgitta Wännström

Rapaport says the driving force behind the show was the desire of a group of friends to work together and with other women actors in the Swedish television industry who had rarely met before on screen. “And if we do meet,” she adds, “we always talk about a man or something relating to men. Now we’re relating to each other, and we’re not talking about our feelings. We’re real human beings. We’re alive.”

Now that filming is well underway, Rapaport also reflects on a tough year bringing the show into production. “We’ve been working our asses off and there have been ups and downs,” she says. “It’s not been a smooth path. But now it’s all coming to us. We struggled so hard together and got to know each other so well. Eva is fitting into this group like a hand in a glove,” she adds of Röse, who was cast later in development.

With its focus on defending the sexually abused, the drama is also extremely topical, coming as #MeToo and Time’s Up are at the forefront of the global film and television industry. Sweden has had its own movement, #Tystnadtagning (#SilenceAction), and Rapaport says there are lots of parallels between the series and the actors’ real-life experiences. For example, in the panic room, there is a wall covered with ‘dick pics’ the characters have been sent on social media.

“I’ve got dick pics on my Instagram so I said they could have one of mine,” the actor adds. “That’s the harassment we’re used to. There are a lot of parallels to real life. But not all the women in the series are nice and the men are not all bad. It’s not black and white. It’s about human beings. This is for everyone.”

There’s a sense of celebration in the air when news spreads on set that the eighth and final script has been locked down. The actors, together with writers Linn Möller, Kararina Ewers, Anna Ströman Lindblom, Katia Juras and Peter Arrhenius, the directors and Wännström have all been involved in the process, and their quest for perfection has meant ongoing discussions over the fine details of the scripts until this point. “We know if we can make it better, we have to do it, even though it upsets everyone in the crew,” Wännström says. “It makes more work for them but if it’s going to be better, it’s worth it.”

Constantly moving back and forth between the set and the Bigster offices, Wännström says that while Heder is a thriller, there’s also a deeper message hiding in plain sight. “It should be exciting, scary sometimes and very entertaining, but the issue is also there. We started way before #MeToo and it was so strange [when it happened]. It was strange that we started this project before but it was also a feeling of ‘finally,’ because it’s such an important thing for not only women but the whole of society.”

Julia Dufvenius is caught on camera

Back on set, Leila can be seen arguing with a courier in the hallway outside the Heder office when a large brown box spills out of the delivery man’s hands and opens on the floor, sending dozens of pink sex toys rolling onto the carpet – the latest malicious package to be sent to the firm.

Then, in preparation for the next scene – a pivotal moment when the four main characters realise why they have been receiving threats – all four stars can be found deep in conversation with director Holm as they discuss changing the lines they are about to record.

Holm was working with Rapaport and Wännström on Gåsmamman when they began talking about Heder. “When I heard about the cast and these four great Swedish actresses, I didn’t really know the story but I was very interested to see what they had come up with,” he says. “When we sat down and Sofia presented her idea, it was too good not to be involved in and to evolve the story with them. It’s been a great process.”

The visual style of the series, which is distributed internationally by Eccho Rights, aligns with the characters’ moods. The first three episodes were filmed using tripods, dollies, steadicams and cranes as the lawyers are introduced. But when the central plot begins to unfold and the tension rises, the camerawork becomes increasingly unsteady thanks to a switch to handheld cameras.

Working with actors who are also exec producers and have been involved throughout the production has been a boon for Holm, who says the leads have been incredibly prepared for each scene. “You don’t have to take the time to set them in the mood. They come in and they know what the scene is about, which means you can have more time to work on the guest actors and other people around it,” he explains. “It’s great because they know their characters and we’ve developed them together. Sometimes we end up in script discussions but, since three of them are also producers, they are very keen to move it forward.”

Director Richard Holm in discussion with Alexandra Rapaport and Dufvenius

With women making up 60% of Heder’s crew, female viewpoints permeate the drama. “It’s been scary to dive into a show with a female perspective and hear what they go through,” Holm adds. “We did a scene with Nour walking home and she has her keys as a knuckleduster, fearing she is being followed. A lot of women on the crew said they had done that too, and the men said, ‘Really?’ It’s been an eye-opener in a totally different way.”

Dufvenius plays Elin, a tech genius and hacker who is fearless but reckless; a recovering alcoholic wife and mother who struggles to balance the conflict between work and family. “She’s new for me, I’ve never done anything like this,” the actor says. “If a Swedish casting director had cast me, I’d be Karin because that’s mostly what I’ve been doing, those upper-class, reserved characters. She’s more warm and flips out sometimes. So she’s new for me. That’s really exciting.”

Dufvenius says working on Heder has been a “blessing,” having first worked with Lundqvist on comedy projects and a podcast. “We have to create different parts for women,” says the actor, who had also previously discussed potential collaborations with Helin. “It’s so modern, what we are doing, and I’m so happy. I thought my idea about a new area for women would end up in the theatre, so I’m so happy and surprised it’s in the TV business.

“I want it to give women a bigger arena for them to work in and behave. In the very first scripts with the writers, the women were hugging each other and we were like, ‘Do we always hug each other?’ It’s a cliché. We could just throw them away and make something different in a witty way, in a smart way, with a lot of humour. Hopefully we will entertain the public.”

Calle Jansson

In between scenes, Röse can be found singing, laughing and joking with other members of the cast and crew until the next take is ready to roll. The star of Swedish crime drama Maria Wern, she auditioned for the part of Karin as she was intrigued by the storyline and inspired by the opportunity to work with her friends. “It’s very seldom you can work with your female colleagues, because there are always men everywhere,” she says. “Me, Alex and Anja went to theatre school in the same years so we’ve been following each other since we were in our 20s, but we’ve never really worked together.

“I also know Sofia, so when I found out that I got the part, we were talking together and she gave me her blessing. She’s been very supportive and super cool. I felt very welcomed when I joined.”

Karin is a strategist and social mastermind, who finds herself hampered by her upper-class upbringing and the fact Heder is part of her mother’s own legal empire. “She’s also interesting because she’s married and she has a kid, but she doesn’t see him because he’s at boarding school. Why did she leave him like that? Why does she have all these lovers? Why is she in an open marriage? How did they get that to work, or why? She has this appearance in the office and with her posh husband, a politician, but then she has a secret life.”

Meanwhile, as Janni, Lundqvist finds herself playing the more physical member of the Heder team, with her character taking it upon herself to go after criminals while unafraid to use psychology or her sexuality to get what she wants. “She’s the doer,” the actor says. “She’s the one who goes out in the night with a torch and can open locks and has connections on the street. Usually I do more typically female characters and comic things. Janni is not so emotional – I often get very emotional parts because I’m very good at crying!”

Beyond her on-screen role, Lundqvist says making Heder has been “much more scary” than her usual jobs, as it’s the first time she has worked as an executive producer. “There’s more self-doubt but it’s much more fun,” she explains. “I’ve been longing for this, to be able to have more power and to decide what story we will tell.”

When Holm calls cut on the final scene, it brings to a close a particularly long day. On-set discussions and script changes have meant proceedings have overrun by 90 minutes, causing cast and crew to hurry home. Not everyone is quick to leave, however, as Wännström and Jansson return to the office to prep for the next day’s shoot and take a moment to watch the first trailer for the series.

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Counting Billions

It took something special for movie star Paul Giamatti to sign up for his first leading role in a TV drama. As Billions heads into its fifth season, he tells DQ about making the show and working with the “geniuses” behind it.

As one of America’s most versatile actors, Paul Giamatti has enjoyed a diverse and varied film career. He was nominated for an Oscar for sports biopic Cinderella Man and won Golden Globe for comedy drama Barney’s Version, among a list of credits that include Sideways, American Splendor and 12 Years a Slave.

Giamatti went on to earn awards and plaudits for playing John Adams, the second president of the US, in a 2008 HBO miniseries chronicling his political life and role in founding the United States. He’s also enjoyed bit-part roles in several TV series, such as Downton Abbey, 30 Rock, Homicide: Life on the Streets and NYPD Blue, in which he played a character credited as ‘Man in Sleeping Bag.’

But it’s Billions, the Showtime drama that started in 2016 and plunged viewers into a game of power politics set within the world of New York high finance, that has provided the actor with his most settled and stable period on screen.

For four seasons, he has played Chuck Rhoades, initially the US attorney for the southern district of New York but later the attorney general for the state. Ruthless and with a dislike of wealthy individuals who buy their way out of trouble, he continually clashes with hedge fund boss Bobby ‘Axe’ Axelrod (Damian Lewis) when he is asked to investigate Bobby’s firm Axe Capital – where his psychiatrist wife Wendy (Maggie Siff) also works.

In Billions’ fourth season, Giamatti’s Chuck forms an alliance with ex-enemy Bobby (Damian Lewis)

However, season four, which launched in March this year, saw the former enemies join forces in an uneasy alliance designed to take out their rivals, including Grigor Andolov (John Malkovich), Taylor Mason (Asia Kate Dillon), Bryan Connerty (Toby Leonard Moore) and Waylon ‘Jock’ Jeffcoat (Clancy Brown). Created by showrunners Brian Koppelman and David Levien together with Andrew Ross Sorkin, Billions has been renewed for a fifth season to air in 2020.

“I’ve never really done a TV show. It’s curious,” he tells DQ at the Monte Carlo TV Festival. “It’s like, ‘Wow, it just keeps going.’ It’s really interesting. But these guys [Koppelman and Levien] are able to vary the thing in a really interesting way. It keeps changing, so I don’t ever feel stuck in a rut. With a lot of people, you’re really just doing the same thing over and over again.”

Giamatti says that, prior to Billions, he had always been interested in doing a TV show. But the scripts he received – mostly comedies and sitcoms – never quite piqued his interest. Then Billions landed on his desk and, after reading the first few scripts, “I thought it was kind of cool,” he says. “It was a weird, psychological crime show. It was like a chess game crime show. There was no chasing each other with guns; it was all guys in offices on phones and in restaurants making deals. But I thought it was an interesting approach to a crime show and I thought it was interesting dealing with this kind of world.”

Now, after 48 episodes, that initial cat-and-mouse chase between Chuck and Bobby has subsided for an altogether more complex, tangled relationship where characters are neither good nor bad, each residing somewhere in the large grey expanse in between. Giamatti believes this is key to the show’s success, with the writers continually pushing the story forward and not having it fall back to the dynamics laid down in episode one.

“This season was interesting and it’ll be different again next season,” he continues. “It’s a different scenario next season, but you’d have no idea where it’s actually heading. We could end up being buddies again or something. I don’t know. You never know.”

Billions has already been confirmed for a fifth season on Showtime

After so many seasons playing Chuck, has Giamatti found elements of himself starting to emerge in the character? “That’s what’s interesting; you do start to worry that there’s something about you in this character,” the actor jokes. He has enjoyed playing out the relationships between Chuck and his powerful, wealthy father, and between Chuck and Wendy, with their adventurous sex life seeing him become her ‘slave.’

“He operates in a lot of different places. The sexual stuff was interesting, actually, and I liked that he is so smart and that he’s generally more effectual than characters I usually get to play. He actually manages to get stuff done. He manages to shape his world in a way that guys I usually get to play don’t. I get to play guys who fail to do that. This guy actually does, and that’s sort of nice. He tells somebody to do something and they do it. That’s really kind of cool. I like power; I like coming in and being able to order people around, it’s sort of fun.”

If Giamatti’s roles are notable for varying in genre, period and style, that’s entirely on purpose. He says he never knows what his next move will be or what he will find appealing, adding that story is always the deciding factor.

“It sounds like a bit of a cliché, but it is true that the story has to interest me more than anything,” the actor explains. “I don’t want to be in a boring story because all that really is going to matter is the movie. And if the movie’s no good, it doesn’t matter what kind of character you played or even how good you were in it. The movie itself has got to be good, so the story has got to be interesting. That’s the main thing.”

Behind the scenes on Billions, Giamatti leaves the heavy lifting to Koppelman and Levien, who have a singular vision for the series that he doesn’t want to disrupt. “The writing is very specific. You can’t really mess around with it. That’s great, because it gives you so much that you don’t want to mess around with it. They have things plotted so carefully on this show, they don’t want to mess around either. They know what they’re doing.”

Giamatti has appeared in films such as 12 Years a Slave

Giamatti is more involved in Lodge 49, an AMC series currently in its second season, on which he is an executive producer through his company Touchy Feely Films. The show is set in Long Beach, California, where ex-surfer Sean ‘Dud’ Dudley (Wyatt Russell) joins a fraternal lodge – the Ancient and Benevolent Order of the Lynx – with the promise of beer and camaraderie that may or may not help him rediscover the idyllic life he lost following the death of his father.

It’s clear Giamatti is immensely proud of the series, and he laments the fact it has not been more widely seen despite drawing critical acclaim. “It’s an awesome show. But it’s very different from Billions. It’s not dark – I mean, it gets emotionally dark, but it’s a very optimistic show and it’s terrific. It is odd, but I think it has a really wide appeal. It’s about people in a secret society like a Masonic organisation, who don’t seem like the sort of people who would be in a Masonic organisation, but it’s really fun. It’s a lovely show.

“I do enjoy the producing side of it. My partner Dan [Carey] deals with all the less pleasant parts of it, but I got to deal with looking at the scripts, looking at the dailies, doing the casting and stuff. I got to do the fun stuff. I love to do it. He and I are very interested in genre stuff and the show is a weird genre show. I don’t know what genre it is, but it’s definitely a genre show! I enjoy science-fiction stuff and I enjoy spy stuff, so we try to get stuff like that made. We’ve got some really weird crime things and some weird science-fiction movies, so that’s what we’re interested in.”

Giamatti also executive produced WGN’s Outsiders, alongside numerous film projects, and agrees there isn’t a better time to be in the TV business, with no end of potential broadcasters or platforms eager for new content that will help them stand out from the crowd.

“It’s crazy,” he says. “But I wouldn’t say TV is easier now, or whatever TV is anymore. We used to make independent films and that was nearly impossible. It was very hard to distribute the things. This is easier to do. They’re way more open to stuff.”

Heading back into production on Billions, Giamatti is looking forward to seeing where the writers will take Chuck next. And that, he says, is the show’s greatest strength.

“They are geniuses at plotting,” he adds. “They have kept the plot alive. I don’t watch a whole lot of TV but I hear they have not suffered an off-season. It’s like they haven’t had that, ‘Oh, second season didn’t go well, fourth season didn’t go well.’ I know I feel like the show just keeps getting better, so they’ve been genius for rearranging a plot.”

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Keeping it real

Oscar-winning actor Patricia Arquette talks to DQ about portraying real people in Escape at Dannemora and The Act, transforming herself for roles and her directing ambitions.

Five years ago, Patricia Arquette blew away the awards competition with her performance in Richard Linklater’s coming-of-age movie Boyhood, winning a Bafta, an Oscar and several other accolades.

This year, the actor has been swept up in the awards chatter once again – but this time it’s her small-screen work that’s earning plaudits.

Her role as Joyce ‘Tilly’ Mitchell in Showtime’s 2018 limited series Escape at Dannemora has already earned her best actress prizes at the Golden Globes, the Critics’ Choice Awards, the Monte Carlo TV Festival and the Screen Actors Guild Awards.

That role has also seen her nominated for outstanding lead actress in a limited series or movie at next month’s Emmys, where she is also in the running for outstanding supporting actress in a limited series or movie for her part as Dee Dee Blanchard in Hulu original drama The Act.

That both shows are based on true stories is just a coincidence, according to the star, who has previously appeared in TV series including CSI: Cyber, Boardwalk Empire and Medium. Arquette’s movie credits include True Romance and Stigmata, having made her screen debut in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors in 1987.

Patricia Arquette with the Oscar she won for Boyhood

“It’s just the way these things happen,” Arquette tells DQ in Monte Carlo ahead of the Golden Nymph Awards ceremony where she would subsequently triumph. “These roles just fall into your lap. It wasn’t a plan at all. In fact, I thought I would probably take a break from doing anything that heavy again [after Tilly], but The Act was fascinating material. I wanted to do it.

“I don’t usually want to play something that’s exactly like what I just did, because that’s boring. When I look at a script, first of all, it’s got to be well written in whatever genre it is. That’s important to me. And right now, I am being picky about roles, just because it’s a lot of energy expense working, especially like that, and I’m kind of tapped out. So I have to work on something that’s going to give me a lot of energy.”

The Act, which launched on US streamer Hulu in March, is an anthology series that dramatises startling, stranger-than-fiction crime stories. In the first season, Joey King plays Gypsy Blanchard, a girl trying to escape the toxic relationship she has with her overprotective mother Dee Dee (Arquette), but her quest for independence opens up a Pandora’s box of secrets that ultimately lead to murder.

The story is based on a 2016 BuzzFeed article written by Michelle Dean titled ‘Dee Dee Wanted Her Daughter To Be Sick, Gypsy Wanted Her Mom To Be Murdered,’ which recalls a seemingly model parent who appeared to be taking care of her gravely ill daughter. Only she wasn’t sick at all, and Dee Dee was later found to be suffering from Munchausen by proxy, a condition characterised by a parent exaggerating or causing illness in their child.

Meanwhile, eight-hour miniseries Escape at Dannemora, directed by Ben Stiller, dramatises a 2015 prison break in which two escapees, both convicted murderers, were helped by a married female prison employee who reportedly had affairs with both men. Their breakout from Clinton Correctional Facility, known as Dannemora after the local town, led to the largest manhunt in New York State history.

In Escape at Dannemora, Arquette played prison employee Tilly

Benicio Del Toro plays Richard Matt, an anomalous yet powerful force within the prison who masterminds the escape, while Paul Dano is his co-conspirator, David Sweat.

Arquette co-stars as Tilly, a working-class wife and mother who, after becoming sexually involved with both men, assists them in their escape, hiding hacksaw blades in frozen hamburger meat and agreeing to be their getaway driver.

Talking about her approach to playing real people, Arquette says she avoids any attempts at impersonation. “I definitely didn’t want to do an imitation, and it really bothers me when I see people playing people. It’s not enough to just do their physical reality,” she says. “You have to dig in deep and have something human that you’re holding on to. I don’t think you can really ever play anyone – like, really be them. You’re always playing some version of them. But my job is to kind of anchor it in some kind of real person; some structure or mechanism that makes sense.”

As for The Act, Arquette says there were “a lot of weird layers” to the controlling, manipulative Dee Dee, requiring significant research in preparation for the role.

“Even unrelated to Dee Dee and Gypsy’s story, I found this amazing documentary about a woman who had Munchausen by proxy and she was in prison because her kid died,” the actor says. “I would just watch her and she’d seem OK, and then she’d just go in and out of these fugue states. I thought, ‘Oh my God, she’s really mentally ill.’ Then I ended up on chat rooms with people with Munchausen and listening to kids digging really deep about their parents who had it. So there was a lot of different research that I think helped me.

“There are a lot of layers of self-deception, and there are a lot of subconscious mechanisms and emotional underpinnings that are pushing people to make certain decisions, and that helps me to know that process. My mom was a therapist and my dad was an actor, so I think I use a lot of those elements to build people.”

Arquette alongside Joey King in Hulu drama The Act

Having piled on the pounds to play Tilly, Arquette began to lose the excess weight once filming finished – but then had to stop when she landed the role of Dee Dee. “But Dee Dee was 120 more pounds and I was like, ‘I’m not gaining 120 pounds. I will be dead on the ground,’” she says. Instead, she wore padding or extra clothes to bulk up her appearance, which also gave her the chance to escape the character when she took off her costume every evening.

After playing Dee Dee, Arquette says she has more empathy for the struggling mother. “Having said that, I don’t think it’s excusable what she did. I don’t like her. But I do think she’s seriously mentally ill and I don’t think we understand this condition at all.”

By comparison, the star says Tilly’s character is much more on the surface in terms of how she tries to manipulate both Matt and Sweat and is in turn manipulated by them. “It’s much more obvious what she’s doing, but for Dee Dee, it’s way more subterranean and self-deceiving in a whole different way. She really has such complicated mechanisms and I think she’s just mentally ill, which adds several different things.”

Escape at Dannemora, which debated on Showtime in November last year, also gave Arquette the chance to reunite with Stiller, alongside whom she starred in 1996 feature Flirting with Disaster. She describes the reunion as “awesome.” But while it was “so fun” acting with him, Stiller was “so different as a director,” she says. “He really made space for us to explore things and was really patient and was really conscious of everything – the look, the sound, the sets and the wardrobe. He was all-in all the time.”

Arquette comes from a family of actors. Her grandfather was Cliff Arquette (Dragnet) and her father Lewis Arquette (The Waltons), while her siblings include Rosanna (Desperately Seeking Susan), Alexis (Pulp Fiction), David (Scream) and Richmond (Zodiac).

The actor’s other TV credits include HBO’s Boardwalk Empire

After an early screen career dominated by feature films, she landed the lead role in NBC supernatural drama Medium in 2005, playing Allison DuBois, a medium employed as a consultant by a Phoenix district attorney’s office. The show ran on NBC for five seasons, before transferring to CBS for a further two years, and the role earned Arquette two Emmy nominations and three Golden Globe nods. But unlike today when actors can switch easily between the two formats, Arquette’s decision to move to television came at a time when the small screen was still considered second class to the cinema.

“People were like, ‘What the hell are you doing? You’re not going to work anymore in film,’” she recalls. “But I was already seeing that it was becoming harder and harder to get parts in films because they were stopping making them. They just weren’t making mid-budget movies.

“I also thought it was a cop-out. I was like, ‘Why can’t we do good work on television?’ I think that’s lame, we should be doing good work on TV. Because especially for network TV, all you have to do is watch some commercials and you don’t have to pay for it. So if you’re an elderly person, or you’re a person living in an old folks’ home or something like that, they basically get free entertainment, and why shouldn’t we be doing good free entertainment for older people or housebound people?”

Having directed two episodes of Medium, Arquette is increasingly positioning herself behind the camera, with a couple of film projects in the works. She won’t reveal the details just yet, however.

“That’s exciting, because I love other actors and I want to help them have good parts and be good in them and dig deep,” she says. “A lot of times I’ll watch things and I get really mad at the directors. I’m like, ‘Why did you keep your camera on that person’s face for so long?’ They’re uncomfortable, I can tell what they’re thinking. They’re like, ‘cut, man, cut.’ I don’t want to be seeing that when I’m watching the show. They’re not invested in this last 30 seconds of this shot or whatever. So I’m excited to get to be part of the visual language of setting something up [and overseeing] its storytelling, and that’ll be fun.”

Until then, momentum is firmly behind the star. And with two chances to bag a long-awaited Emmy at next month’s ceremony, Arquette looks certain a sought-after star in TV and film for years to come.

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Just add Diesel

Canadian police procedural Hudson & Rex is filming a second season after becoming CityTV’s highest-rated drama for four years. Lead actor John Reardon talks to DQ about joining the series and his budding partnership with canine co-star Diesel vom Burgimwald.

For 25 years, the story of a police officer and his canine partner has entertained audiences across Europe. Kommissar Rex (Inspector Rex) first aired in Germany and Austria in 1994, before going on a four-year hiatus in 2004, after which it was revived in Italy for a further eight seasons. The series has also been adapted in Poland (Komisarz Alex), Russia (Muhtar’s Return) and Slovakia (Rex), and has spawned spin-off Rex: Special Unit and TV movie Rex: The Early Years.

Now a Canadian remake has proven to be equally popular. Hudson & Rex debuted on CityTV in March and was quickly renewed for a 16-episode second season that will debut this fall. More than 2.5 million viewers tuned into the show’s first six episodes, making it the network’s highest-rated drama since 2015.

The action-packed procedural sees Charlie Hudson (John Reardon), a cunning major crimes detective for the St John’s police department, team up with an unusual partner in the form of Rex (Diesel vom Burgimwald), a former K9 German shepherd whose heightened senses keep Charlie hot on the trail of his suspects. During the series, they investigate an array of crimes, from a kidnapping to an art theft that results in murder.

From producers Shaftesbury and Pope Productions and distributor Beta Film, Hudson & Rex also features Mayko Nguyen (Killjoys) as Dr Sarah Truong, Kevin Hanchard (Orphan Black) as Superintendent Joe Donovan and Justin Kelly (Wynonna Earp) as tech analyst Jesse Mills.

John Reardon (right) poses alongside canine co-star Diesel vom Burgimwald

Getting his big break on The Chris Isaak Show in 2001, Reardon has landed parts on series such as Tru Calling, Eureka, The L Word, Hellcats and Girlfriend’s Guide to Divorce. He has also played recurring roles in Van Helsing and The Killing.

Now a leading man, Reardon admits it’s tiring work, “but good tiring. It’s great,” he says. “There’s kind of a momentum when you’re really busy because you sort of just hit your stride. In our first season, we were only supposed to do eight episodes and then we ended up doing 16. So we were just going and going and going, but the network really loved it and immediately ordered more.

“It was great because I felt like every episode got a little bit better as we were shooting, and there was more and more action. So it’s been fun.”

The Nova Scotia native had just moved to LA when he first heard about Hudson & Rex, but passed it over as shooting for the series was taking place in St John’s, Newfoundland – a 4,000-mile, nine-hour flight away from his new home on the very eastern tip of Canada, a comparative stone’s throw from where he grew up. But a recommendation from his wife, fellow actor Meghan Ory, and spot of serendipity changed his mind.

“I just didn’t think it was a good fit at that time, but that was before I read the script,” he tells DQ at the Monte Carlo TV Festival, where his canine partner-in-crime Diesel is also in attendance with his handler, Sherri Davis. “My wife read the script when I was out running some errands. I came back and she said, ‘I think you should read this. Your character’s name is Hudson’ – our son’s is too.”

After reading the script, Reardon was hooked. Unable to attend an audition, he sent the producers a short film featuring several scenes and some footage of him with a dog that he recorded at a local animal shelter.

Hudson & Rex is based on Kommissar Rex, which first aired in 1994

“It was just so they knew I was comfortable with dogs,” he explains. “It was all from a distance, though, so I think everybody was a little bit like, ‘Fingers crossed John and Diesel get along.’ We hit it off.”

Diesel, a three-year-old German shepherd, has pedigree with Kommissar Rex as he is related to Elch vom Trienzbachtal, the great-grandfather of the original show’s star. The series marks his first leading role on television and he was subsequently awarded an honorary firefighter diploma by the St John’s Regional Fire Department in recognition of his calm demeanour and temperament during filming for scenes that involved fire and explosions.

It’s a remarkable achievement considering that before production began, Diesel had never received any specific training for performing stunts or hitting marks. He had to learn verbal commands and hand signals for the show, many of which Reardon has also picked up.

“Sherri is so great. She just walked us through it and got us to spend as much time as we could together when we were on set not working. So we hang out a lot,” the actor says. “Then, every now and again, I’ll take him for a drive or something so he’s comfortable with me alone. We spend probably 12 hours to 15 hours a day together a lot of the time, so we’ve become two buddies.”

It’s clear Diesel is treated as more than just an animal sidekick on set. He could simply have been left to hover around the principal actors but, instead, the camera is specifically trained on him to capture his reactions and other shots.

The show also stars Mayko Nguyen as Dr Sarah Truong

“I had filmed with animals before and have actually shot with a polar bear, a pig and a few other dogs as well,” Reardon reveals. “Normally, in those circumstances, you’ll shoot the actors, and then you turn around and just shoot the animal, but the animal is not necessarily in it with you the whole time. With Diesel, he’s so good at what he does, he’ll be on set with us for the vast majority of the time. The show’s unique in that way. We really integrate him in if he is there with us the whole time, and we get some really great moments because of that.”

While the show follows a case-of-the week format, it also gradually reveals more about Charlie’s backstory, his dedication to the job and his lack of a personal life. That’s where Rex comes in.

“The first episode begins with straight action, so we don’t give any any backstory at all,” Reardon says. “But about halfway through the episode we talk about how he had a partner, a canine officer, who had been killed. As a detective, I got called to the scene and Rex was protecting the body. If nobody in the police department takes the animal of a deceased canine officer then the dog is euthanised. So I took him home for a couple days to find a new home and then just kept him. And when I meet Rex, Charlie is recently divorced. So it’s kind of fate that they found each other.”

It’s that central relationship that makes Hudson & Rex stand out from the plethora of other police procedurals on television, with Diesel proving to have as much presence on screen as he does in real life. Reardon is quick to emphasise, however, that it’s more than just him and his four-legged friend that make the show work.

“What I like about it is the relationship because it’s a full team, there’s a team of a team of five of us [in the main cast]. So it’s myself and Diesel and then we have a tech specialist, a forensics specialist and our superintendent. The difference between our show and the original is it really follows an ensemble cast; we always work as a team to solve the case.”

With the success of the format already established and viewers’ steady appetite for procedural dramas continuing, Hudson & Rex can expect to solve many more cases together in the future.

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Reid between the lines

Reid Scott, best known as one of the stars of HBO’s political comedy Veep, tells DQ about his latest role in darkly comic drama Why Women Kill, which comes from the creator of Desperate Housewives.

After seven seasons starring in HBO’s awards-laden comedy Veep, Reid Scott is swapping politics for polyamory.

In dark comedy-drama Why Women Kill, he plays writer Eli, who enjoys an unconventional, open marriage to lawyer Taylor (Kirby Howell-Baptiste). But when Taylor brings home her lesbian lover, Jade (Alexandra Daddario), everything changes.

Taylor and Eli’s story, set in the present day, is one of a trio of tales that weave their way through the 10-part limited series, each detailing the lives of three women living in different decades and dealing with infidelity in their marriages, examining how the roles of women have changed but how their reaction to betrayal has not.

In the other strands, Ginnifer Goodwin plays 1960s housewife Beth Ann, while Lucy Liu is 1980s socialite Simone. The supporting cast includes Sam Jaeger as Beth Ann’s husband Rob and Jack Davenport as Simone’s husband Karl.

Coming off such a successful, long-running series such as Veep, in which he played US vice-president Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus)’s highly ambitious and ruthless deputy communications director Dan, Scott would be forgiven for feeling daunted about what might come next.

In Why Women Kill, Scott plays a man in an open marriage with Kirby Howell-Baptiste’s Taylor

But he says ending the show earlier this year felt like the right decision, while the opportunity to join Why Women Kill – which comes from Desperate Housewives creator Marc Cherry – was a risk worth taking.

‘It was so different from anything I’ve done recently but I guess that’s always kind of a point, to move outside of your comfort zone,” he tells DQ. “I read the script twice and obviously was well aware of Marc and his reputation. Then they started to build this really phenomenal cast. Ginnifer had come on board while I was reading the script, and then Lucy joined. I came on next, so I really felt great about the world they were building.”

“When I met with Marc and his team, it’s not Veep, it’s a different show. But these people are really dialled into something special.”

While Veep was often built around the exploration of ego and “how these horrible, despicable self-centred people move through their professional lives and what makes them tick,” Why Women Kill is the complete opposite, focusing on the emotional heart of each relationship. Viewers will get to learn something of the professional side of each character, but Cherry keeps the show’s lens on the nuances and intricacies of life for each couple.

In the case of Taylor and Eli, Scott says it’s a very complicated coupling, offering insight into a relationship dynamic that is becoming more socially acceptable. “I thought that was important,” he says. “I also like that, in the specific chemistry between my character and his wife, there’s a bit of a gender role reversal. He’s very much the beta to her alpha. I thought that was something that was important to portray, and it’s been fun. He’s a total departure from Dan, but that’s not to say he’s without his darkness. We get into some stuff. As the series evolves, you realise he has a very dark past and he has very specific demons that come back to haunt him. But overall, he’s a good guy, whereas Dan is not a good guy.”

The show focuses on couples in three different eras, including and Jack Davenport and Lucy Liu’s 1980s duo Karl and Simone

The conflict and the ensuing fallout between Taylor and Eli comes from the fact they take a wrecking ball to their own marriage, the actor says. “You get that this is a good guy who loves his wife very much. But they throw a wrench into their own relationship and then they have to deal with it. Where the story goes, they’re forced to take the wrong path over and over and over and over. But that happens in life, because sometimes you can’t really see the forest for the trees. And before you know it, you’re in the quagmire.”

Scott, Howell-Baptiste and Daddario quickly became friends on set. But with the Spanish-style house in Pasadena in which all three of the show’s central couples live being the sole link between the stories, they would only see other members of the cast during the table reads for each episode, or if more than one of the storylines was being filmed on the same day.

As well as containing plenty of comedic moments, Scott’s storyline also called for some intimate scenes. “It’s a bit uncomfortable but it’s all very choreographed and we really trust each other, so we didn’t have too much trouble doing that,” the actor notes. In fact, he considers the biggest challenge making the series to be the fact this is the first season, with cast and crew still working out the show’s tone and style.

“But this is a collaborative art form,” he says. “You’ve got 150-plus people working on this thing, and everyone’s trying to figure themselves out and how they fit into the overall matrix of this production. There’s a lot of stumbling and false starts, but everyone really believes in this project and really comes together and gets it done. Part of the exciting thing about starting a new project is that you try to hit the ground running and move forward from there, and I think we’ve done a pretty good job.”

With projects such as Desperate Housewives and Devious Maids, Cherry has built a reputation for domestic stories with a wickedly dark sense of humour, striking a balance between comedy and drama. Scott says this continues with Why Women Kill, which blends lighter moments with thrills and scares.

“You can’t say it’s a comedy, you can’t say it’s a drama. Just when you think you might laugh out loud – bang – something else happens and it draws you back into the dramatic side,” Scott explains of Why Women Kill, which is produced by Imagine Television Studios and CBS Television Studios for US streamer CBS All Access. “It’s an interesting way to work and it’s really fun. One of the challenges was to make sure that we kept it reined in. You never want to go too darkly dramatic, you never want to go too over-the-top comedic with it. It was trying to strike that balance, and it’s hard work but, ultimately, I think it works.”

As for the title, is it a signpost to where the series is heading? “The audience is going to be very satisfied,” Scott teases. “The title definitely delivers. But there’s a twist. The murdered as well as the murderers are not necessarily who you think at the beginning. That’s part of the fun, trying to figure that out.”

Launching on HBO in 2012, Veep won numerous accolades, including three consecutive Emmys for outstanding comedy series and six for Louis-Dreyfus’s performance as the embattled Meyers. It’s little wonder that Scott describes working on the political satire, created by Armando Iannucci, as “the greatest job ever.” He continues: “I have a whole new family out of it. We grew so close to one another over seven seasons.”

He knew Iannucci’s work from equally sweary British political comedy The Thick of It, on which Veep is based, and film spin-off In The Loop. But despite becoming one of the must-watch programmes on US television, Veep was just a small show at first, says Scott.

“There was a different style of humour that we all believed in, and we just had fun doing it. Armando’s such a genius; he invented ways of shooting and he invented ways of editing. The way Veep was shot was unique and it was just a process that was really special. It’s never going to be repeated. There’s no chance you’re going to assemble that murderers’ row of incredible comedic writers, comedic actors and comedic directors and get that to happen again. But I’m so glad to have been there when that lightning struck.”

Scott alongside Julia Louis-Dreyfus in Veep

The process Scott alludes to involved plenty of creative freedom afforded to the show by HBO’s executive team, while Iannucci would fly the cast to London for intense rehearsals where the cast would go over and over the scripts, before casting them aside and improvising the scenes. The writers would then edit the scripts using some of the material created by the cast.

“Then we would do it all over again,” Scott recalls. “So it was a very collaborative process. That’s how we found the characters. That’s how we found what worked. None of us had ever worked that way before but, from an actor’s standpoint, it’s great because you really become the custodian of your character. Between each season, Armando would contact us and say, ‘Here’s some ideas I have for next season. What do you think?’ That never happens in television – no one does that. It really bolsters you and gives you this ownership of the character that makes you very excited to go back to work.”

That working method also proved to be a shock for the numerous guest actors who joined the show. “I remember when Gary Cole [senior strategist Kent Daviso]  and Kevin Dunn [White House chief of staff Ben Cafferty] showed up for the first time. They were like, ‘What the fuck is going on?’ They’d never worked that way. We were like, ‘Oh yeah, we’ve been doing this for three years now. We’re sort of used to it.’ Once you work that way, once you get used to it, it’s so hard to go back.”

On Why Women Kill, which is distributed by CBS Studios International, the script wasn’t quite ripped up and reassembled like it was on Veep, but Scott says Cherry did offer the cast the chance to offer their own thoughts.

“I was like, ‘I want to mix it up. I want to like tear the script apart and play with it.’ You should see the looks on the writers’ faces! Marc’s been very open to letting me play around with it,” he adds. “There’s certainly not as much improvisation as there was in Veep, but he’s been very encouraging and let me push Eli around a little bit – and Kirby’s a phenomenally wonderful improvisational actress too. So when they let us off leash, we really get to run. It’s pretty fun.”

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Terror strikes again

The second season of US drama The Terror lands in 1940s America, where a Japanese-American community is confronted by horrors both human and supernatural. Showrunner Alexander Woo tells DQ about the real-life experiences that influenced the programme.

Through stunning set design and special effects, standout writing and stellar performances, the first season of anthology series The Terror transported viewers to 1846, telling the story of an Arctic expedition led by two British naval ships and their crews’ fight for survival against inhospitable conditions, their fellow sailors and a mysterious predator.

Alexander Woo

That the horror story was rooted in reality, based on the true story of a voyage led by HMS Terror and HMS Erebus to find the Northwest Passage, might be one of the few elements that link it to season two, which tells a brand new story set within the Japanese-American community during the Second World War.

“If you’re a fan of season one and loved all the wonderful writing, performances and the gorgeous storytelling, you’ll be blessed,” showrunner Alexander Woo tells DQ. “But we have a completely different cast, crew and team of writers.

“However, our season shares a good deal of DNA with season one, certainly in the theme of the anthology, which is telling a historical story using a [horror] genre vocabulary. Both stories are about a group of people who are aliens in an unfriendly land, in a place where they are not welcome and what becomes of them and how much the horror is as much a human horror as a supernatural one.”

Season two, subtitled Infamy, centres on a series of bizarre deaths that haunt a Japanese-American community living in California and one man’s journey to understand and combat the malevolent entity responsible.

Most striking is the parallel story that depicts the internment of Japanese Americans following the 1941 attack by Japanese forces on the US naval base at Pearl Harbor, which led to hundreds of thousands of people – both immigrants and US citizens – sent away to camps, which are recreated for the screen in meticulous detail and astonishing scale.

“The story of the internment is one of the most painful and under-told parts of our American history, so if we were going to tell a story of Americanness and what it means to be an American then the story of 125,000 Japanese Americans, two thirds of whom were citizens and born in this country, being suddenly incarcerated by their own government would seem to be as poignant and relevant a story as you could find,” Woo explains. “Beyond that, the strategy of the show from the beginning was to use the genre vocabulary, the vocabulary of Japanese kaidan (ghost stories) and Japanese horror movies like The Ring, The Grudge and Dark Water as an analogy for the terror of the historical experience.”

The Terror: Infamy’s cast is led by Derek Mio as Chester Nakayama

With the current state of US politics and the White House’s hardline approach to immigration as a backdrop, Woo admits there are obvious similarities between the experiences depicted in The Terror and life today. “We never make any reference to it because obviously no one in 1941/42 would know what the world would be like in 2019,” he continues. “So we concentrated on telling that story, but the echoes to the present day are there for anyone who wishes to hear them.”

An AMC Studios production in partnership with Scott Free, Emjag Productions and Entertainment 360D, the new season entered development 18 months ago when co-creator and fellow executive producer Max Borenstein (Godzilla, Kong: Skull Island) first pitched the idea US cable network AMC, which was looking for a follow-up story to season one. But when Borenstein’s schedule didn’t allow him to write the pilot or run the show, Woo, who was developing his own shows separately with AMC, was asked to look at Borenstein’s “fantastic” series treatment.

“I will confess to a little bit of hesitation at first because I’m not Japanese American. I’m Chinese American. However, after spending time with it and doing a rather deep dive into the history, I realised that although this was the story of Japanese Americans, it was not necessarily only a story for Japanese Americans,” says Woo, a playwright whose theatre work has often touched on themes of what it is to be American.

“It’s a story for anyone whose life has been shaped or touched by the immigrant experience and that, in the US at least, is just about everyone. You don’t have to go back very far in anyone’s family to find someone who has made sacrifices to come to this country and make a better life for themselves.”

Star Trek legend George Takei also features among the cast

At the centre of the story is Chester Nakayama, played by Derek Mio (Greek), who considers himself entirely American and rejects the cultures and beliefs of his parents, who emigrated to the US from Japan. He feels he fully belongs in the US, until the day his country tells him he doesn’t.

“He has to come to terms with this very quickly,” Woo says. “On the one side, in the literal, historical sense, he, along with all the other Japanese Americans in the country, are imprisoned. They are labelled as ‘enemy aliens,’ even though in Chester’s case and in the case of most of the people who were interned, they were citizens of the country and had shown no sign of being an enemy of the people in any sense.

“Then, on the supernatural arc, he has to come to grips with the realisation that these spirits, these unquantifiable entities that his parents keep talking about, may very well be real, and he is not going to be able to keep those he loves safe unless he comes to grips with the notion of their existence. So that requires a paradigm shift in his thinking that those old-world ways may not be so backward.”

Casting has been key to the show. Alongside Mio are Kiki Sukezane (Lost in Space) as Yuko, a mysterious woman from Chester’s past; Miki Ishikawa (9-1-1) as Amy, a Nakayama family friend; Shingo Usami (Unbroken) as Henry Nakayama, Chester’s father; and Naoko Mori (Everest) as Asako Nakayama, Chester’s mother. Woo says it was crucial that The Terror had a core cast of Japanese-American actors and others of Japanese descent, which led to searches in Tokyo, LA, Hawaii, Australia, the UK and Vancouver, where the series was filmed.

“One of the things I’m proudest of is that 100% of our Japanese characters in our show are played by actors of full or partial Japanese ancestry, which is not an easy thing to do,” the showrunner says. “We had to search the entire planet. But I’m so proud of the cast we had.”

The drama is built around the internment of Japanese Americans in the US

As he discovered, many of the cast were able to bring their own experiences and stories of the internment to the series and their performances. Mio is a fourth-generation Japanese American. He plays the son of a fisherman from Terminal Island, on the outskirts of LA, when in fact his own grandfather was a fisherman on Terminal Island who was sent to the Manzanar camp after Pearl Harbor.

Co-star George Takei, famous for his role as Sulu in Star Trek, was imprisoned in two camps as a child following the outbreak of war. He plays Yamato-san, a former fishing captain and community elder, and also worked as a historical consultant on the series.

Links to this period of history aren’t limited to the cast, however. Director Josef Kubota Wladyka’s grandfather is a survivor of the atomic bomb attack on Hiroshima. Fellow director Lily Mariye’s grandfather died in camp due to poor medical care, while her mother’s family were interned at Tule Lale, a high-security camp notable for housing ‘radicals.’ Her father came from Hiroshima and lost his whole family when the bomb hit.

“So many Japanese Americans have been touched and affected by this experience that almost no matter who you cast, there is a connection to the internment,” Woo says. “It really did make it special, much more than I could have even imagined.

“Right after we had wrapped, one of the background actors told me his parents were interned as young children and were detained at the very same racetrack where we shot our racetrack scene in episode two, where some of the Japanese-American community are being kept while the camps are being built. Working on our show, he was there with two suitcases getting ready to board a bus and at that moment; he was walking quite literally in the same footsteps as his parents and understood what they had gone through. That’s why this is so special.”

Kiki Sukezane plays Yuko in the second season of the AMC anthology

Having worked alongside Six Feet Under creator Alan Ball for five years on vampire drama True Blood, Woo says his approach in the writers room is not to flesh out every detail, instead leaving the individual episode writers the freedom and flexibility to bring their own ideas to the story.

Filming, which kicked off in January this year, took place over 86 days in Vancouver, which was transformed into, among other locations, 1940s wartime California, New Mexico, South Dakota, Japan and the South Pacific.

“It was an unusually cold winter. We had one day of shooting where it was supposed to be June 1942 and it was snowing buckets – we ended up not shooting anything that day because there was no way we could possibly make that snowstorm feel like it made any sense in the South Pacific in June,” recalls Woo, who champions the work of production designer Jonathan McKinstry, cinematographers John Conroy and Barry Dunleavy and costume designer Tish Monaghan in creating the world of the series, which is distributed internationally by AMC Studios Content Distribution.

“It was such a treat for the eyes, far beyond anything I could come up with in the little theatre in my mind. But also our our visual effects department were able to build out all the things we were not practically able to complete ourselves. An internment camp is hundreds upon hundreds of structures, and you cannot practically build that. It would be pointless to do so, so we built a section of the camp, but a large amount of it is done in CG to make it resemble a facility that is made up of buildings and people as far as the eye can see.

“There is a moment in our season where Chester goes up into the guard tower and, for the first time, he sees just the scale of this place, which he’s never able to from the ground, and it’s breathtaking how large it is. That, of course, is the down to the visual effects department.”

Between the supernatural and historical stories in play, there are plenty of ways viewers can enter the world of The Terror. “But whichever way one approaches the show, I hope what we do through the atmosphere and the scares is build a real empathy for the people who lived through this experience,” Woo adds. “Maybe, by extension, viewers will feel something for the people who are suffering this plight today too.”

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Heroes without capes

Missy Peregrym and Zeeko Zaki tell DQ about starring in Dick Wolf’s CBS procedural FBI and explain why they’re keen to represent the often hidden work of the law enforcement agency.

After six seasons starring in Canadian police drama Rookie Blue, Missy Peregrym was looking for a change of scenery – and uniform. Reading scripts, she found herself turning away from procedurals and even looking to try her hand at comedy.

Cameos in series such as Motive, Hawaii Five-0, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and Saving Hope followed, before Peregrym landed recurring roles in mystery drama Ten Days in the Valley and sci-fi fantasy Van Helsing.

But the lure of law enforcement – and working with Law & Order creator Dick Wolf – saw the actor return to the front line in the veteran producer’s latest series, FBI.

“Clearly I’m attracted to crime shows because I said yes,” she tells DQ at the Monte Carlo TV Festival, “and I care to represent the FBI. I take that as a great responsibility to do that properly, because we never hear about them unless something terrible has happened. They save us from so much stuff, things that I’d rather not know about. But I do know and I have to be positive about that. We’re dealing with really heavy content – sex trafficking, terrorist attacks, bomb threats, shootings – the threats are never just going to go away. So we need these people to protect us from this stuff happening, and I’m proud to represent that as closely as possible because I think it’s a really hard job.”

FBI, which launched on CBS last September and will return for a second season this autumn, is described as a fast-paced drama about the inner workings of the New York office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. It is produced by Universal Television in association with CBS Television Studios and distributed by CBS Studios International.

CBS drama FBI stars Missy Peregrym and Zeeko Zaki as a pair of the bureau’s special agents

Peregrym plays Special Agent Maggie Bell, who is deeply committed to the people she works with and protects. Her partner is Special Agent Omar Adom ‘OA’ Zidan, a graduate from West Point Military Academy who spent two years undercover for the Drug Enforcement Agency before being cherry-picked by the FBI. Working with a crack team of analysts and investigators, they face down all manner of threats, from terrorism and organised crime to counterintelligence.

Peregrym says it was a “big deal” to take on the role, noting the real-world parallels to the show’s stories and situations and the people she would be portraying.

“It’s not a sci-fi show. It’s not weird and made up. These things happen. That’s why I have to be careful even reading the news because I see things and I can’t stop thinking about them,” she explains. “Obviously, a death of a child is such an intense thing to start a show. It’s so heavy.

“As a cop, you don’t really know what you’re walking into. You get a call but you don’t know what you’re really going to meet. As an FBI agent, you’ve been doing so much research, you know exactly who you’re chasing. So to live with that information is a very different thing, to know that these [criminals] are out there.”

With the series filmed in New York, the first episode was particularly poignant as the opening scene sees a child die when a building is blown up in a cloud of dust, echoing the still-startling images of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the city.

Peregrym is known for TV roles in shows such as Reaper and Rookie Blue

“All I could think about was 9/11 or people around the world who are in devastating situations like this,” Peregrym says of filming the scene, “and this [filming a TV show] is this is nothing compared with the trauma other people have gone through. There was a woman who was there, she was really upset. She lost somebody on 9/11 and this brought up some things for her. I was like, ‘You can cry. It’s OK.’ I got her some tissues and I was like, ‘If you need a minute, no problem. That is so much more important than what this is right now.’

“That’s why I think there’s a huge responsibility that, when we do things like that, we do it correctly and we’re not glamorising it, because these experiences are too close to home for a lot of people. It’s good to talk about, but what’s the end narrative? For us, I hope it’s hope, and that we believe in these people looking after us.”

Peregrym says she is particularly proud to be playing a character that can inspire viewers, having previously received letters from women who joined the police after watching her in Rookie Blue.

“I just want young girls to be really proud of who they are because, no matter what, we’re gonna have to deal with the bullshit. Everybody deals with bullshit,” she says. “Everybody deals with insecurity. Everybody deals with rejection. It’s everybody’s own personal work to find their worth, and if I can help anybody do that then I’m so happy. I also hope I can be a teammate and inspire somebody else to be their best self and feel like they’re worth exactly what they are.”

Peregrym’s co-star Zaki landed the role of Zidan at a time when he had less than US$200 in his bank account and was looking at taking real-estate classes to help him get a job that could supplement his acting career. Until that point, he had scored recurring parts in action series 24: Legacy, Six and Valor, but FBI represents the actor’s breakout role.

Zaki landed his part in FBI when he had just $200 in his bank account

The show, he says, takes Wolf’s tried and tested case-of-the-week format but sets it within an organisation that takes a path with which viewers are less familiar.

“It’s just really exciting to see what goes on behind that veil,” he says of opening up the inner workings of the FBI. “We get to bring that to light. It’s nice and important to give these people some representation – and hopefully we get to represent them in a positive light. We get to see why these people are superheroes in the real world and they sacrifice what they sacrifice – family time and relationships and everything. Our job is to bring that to the people.”

The actor admits some of the storylines used in the series are “terrifying” because they are based on or inspired by real-life incidents. But he also takes pride in the fact that people can see an Egyptian American leading a US network primetime drama.

“It’s just been crazy to be able to have a kid see himself in a hero on a TV show, and think, ‘Oh, I can do that. I can be that,’” he adds. “It’s kind of like when Black Panther came out and how African Americans finally had a superhero they could become, because otherwise you had to be the black Superman or the black Batman. With that sort of shift in the representation narrative that’s happening in today’s world, it’s an honour to be at the forefront of it and I’m really excited about being a part of it.”

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Being Berlin

La Casa de Papel (Money Heist) became one of the most talked-about series in the world when it dropped on Netflix. DQ speaks to star Pedro Alonso about the unprecedented success of the Spanish thriller and the fate of his character, Berlin.

When Netflix announced early last year that Spanish heist thriller La Casa de Papel (Money Heist) had become its most watched non-English-language series ever, the chance to bring the show back for another outing was unsurprisingly too great to pass over.

The story, originally intended as a limited series told over two parts, followed the attempts of the mysterious Professor and his handpicked gang of criminals and thieves to infiltrate Spain’s Royal Mint and escape with €2.4bn (US$2.65bn).

Before the first footage of Parte 3 arrived, a familiar face was expected to be missing from the new season. Andrés de Fonollosa – better known by his codename, Berlin – was killed in the conclusion to the second part of the series – but his appearance in the trailer created fresh questions over the character’s role in the eight new episodes that were made available on Netflix worldwide last month.

When DQ meets Pedro Alonso, who plays Berlin, at the Monte Carlo TV Festival, the actor will not be drawn on his character’s involvement or any of the events that take place in season three. All that is known is that this time, rather than a bank heist, the group are out to rescue one of their own.

Pedro Alonso’s Berlin (centre) appears in the latest season of Money Heist despite his apparent death at the end of the third instalment

When Rio (Miguel Herrán) is captured, a distraught Tokyo (Úrsula Corberó) turns to the Professor (Álvaro Morte) for help. Armed with a bold new plan, they reunite the team to save him.

Before Netflix picked up Money Heist, which was created by Alex Piña (Vis a Vis) and first started airing on Spain’s Antena 3, there wasn’t even a plan for a third part. “It was basically a surprise. It didn’t do so well in Spain; it was average. It became a success with Netflix,” Alonso says of the show, whose first nine episodes launched on Antena 3 in May 2017, followed by a further six episodes in October that year. Money Heist was then acquired by Netflix, which edited and reformatted it, expanding it from 15 to 22 episodes that were also split across two parts. Part three was then commissioned by the streamer last year.

Nobody could have predicted the buzz around the series after it landed on the US streamer, says Alonso, describing it as an “incredible and amazing situation.” He continues: “If Alex had had the idea before, he would have created a formula to repeat it. It was amazing because the reception in Spain at the beginning was normal; the first chapter had a good reception but, after that, we went down with the public and the thing ended there. Then it went ‘boom’ in a really unexpected way.

“Today we are still seeing the size of the phenomenon. I have travelled for the whole year [promoting the show] and it’s difficult to put into perspective. We need more time to put into perspective what happened, but I am very thankful, for sure.”

The show launched on Spain’s Antena 3 before being picked up by Netflix

Berlin stands alone among the Professor’s motley crew as arguably the most sadistic, psychopathic criminal on the team. So it’s testament to the quality of Piña and co-writer Esther Martinez Lobato’s scripts that, by the end, viewers’ sympathies lay firmly with him as he went out in a blaze of glory, sacrificing himself to allow the rest of the Salvador Dali-masked gang to escape with the money.

“He’s a bad guy, he’s a sociopath, he’s dangerous but, on the other side, he’s honest, he’s funny and he’s authentic,” says Alonso, who has also starred in fellow Spanish dramas La Embajada (The Embassy), Grand Hotel and El Ministerio del Tiempo (The Ministry of Time). “He’s able to cross the door of taboos and do what he wants to. He does things that in ordinary life we cannot do. For me as an actor, it has something really exciting. It’s amazing for me to see the complicity the public has with him. I love working with these kinds of contradictions. When I am going to be a sweet guy, I am terrible. With Berlin, you can go deep with this kind of game and it’s a privilege to play him.”

Watching Money Heist, it’s difficult to imagine any other actor portraying Berlin, so it’s not surprising when Alonso reveals he played a part in shaping the character. He praises Piña for listening to the actors when they made suggestions and the directors for taking risks on set.

Álvaro Morte as the Professor, who leads the show’s band of thieves

“I remember one day I said to the first director, ‘I am going to improvise a bit. We can play safe with this role or take risks and provoke what will happen between the cast and the extras [who played the hostages].’ I pushed the expectations of Berlin as a character and when we opened this door, we began to enjoy it very much.”

Having been in the dark over his character’s fate when he signed on to the show, Alonso says one of the key revelations about Berlin and the Professor’s relationship was also something that developed during filming. “At the beginning, the Professor and I weren’t brothers. This was a conversation that started one day between Álvaro Morte and me. It was Álvaro who said we could be brothers. We rehearsed it and the energy was deeper, the possibilities were deeper and we mentioned it to the director. He said, ‘Forget it! Speak about it with the writers.’

“It was so clear to us that we said we were going to play it like we were brothers. Then this thing began to grow and one moment, they said, ‘OK, you are brothers.’ At the end of the season, I only said, ‘I love you little brother.’ But in this moment, all the crew were a family in some sense. This is proof of the surprises of the writing – but I didn’t know I was going to die.”

When it came to that final scene, all guns blazing as armed police finally infiltrate the Spanish Mint and chase down the thieves, “it was all very tense,” Alonso recalls, explaining that it was filmed at the end of an eight-month shoot. “As an actor, it was draining. It was very, very tough. There was no time to really think about how we would do the ending. We were suffocating; we were really drowning with all the extra work. I wish we would have had twice as long to do that scene, which we didn’t have unfortunately.”

However, Alonso believes the stress and strain of production on the ensemble cast brought them all together. “From the very beginning, it was very difficult to get along with each other. But we were all engaged,” he says. “We knew we had to cooperate, considering the job we had at hand. We’re all very different people but we were really enjoying it and having fun. It was very tough work, but engaging and fun. Then finally, at the end, love came out, so there was huge affection between all of us and everybody was very caring, and I think people felt that we all got along very well.”

With a fourth season of Money Heist now being geared up for production, bets are off as to Alonso’s continued involvement. “We had no expectations whatsoever that this was going to continue [this far], so I’m very happy, very thankful and grateful,” he adds. “We will see what happens next.”

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The God life

Ricky Whittle is enjoying his time leading the cast of fantasy drama American Gods. He talks to DQ about filming the series, working with Neil Gaiman and why he’s excited for the upcoming third season.

At a time when Amazon Prime Video is pushing for more Good Omens, another series based on a book by Neil Gaiman is gearing up for its third season. But while Omens, which Gaiman penned with the late Sir Terry Pratchett, can be boiled down to the story of an angel and demon who form an unlikely partnership to halt Armageddon, American Gods is harder to define.

“That’s why I like it,” says Ricky Whittle, who takes the lead in the Starz fantasy drama as Shadow Moon. “You know, it’s not one thing, it’s not the other. It’s a unique show and that’s why it’s out there, because it’s not sitting in the pack. There are still love stories, there are still struggles for power. We’re still telling recognisable stories, but in a very different way. So along with the huge budget we spend on the best ensemble on TV, it’s a unique show that has to stand out because it is so different and very hard to describe.”

American Gods centres on Whittle’s Shadow Moon

Based on Gaiman’s 2001 novel of the same name, the show revolves around Shadow Moon, who is released early from prison following the death of his wife Laura (Emily Browning). On his return home, he meets the enigmatic Mr Wednesday (Ian McShane), who offers him a job as his bodyguard and assistant. Shadow then becomes exposed to a hidden world of magic and is embroiled in a war between the Old Gods, who fear they are becoming irrelevant, and the New Gods such as Technology and Media.

The series launched in 2017, with a third season due to enter production this autumn. Whittle, whose credits include British soap Hollyoaks, the US remake of British mystery drama Mistresses and sci-fi show The 100, says he has never worked on a show so meticulous, with as few as two scenes being shot on some days on set.

“This is just a monster and you’re very aware of that,” he says, speaking at the Monte Carlo TV Festival. “Actors want to work on the show because they are given time to breathe; they’re allowed to just stay in the moment, which is great for an actor. Directors are told, ‘Whatever toys you want, have them. If you need cranes, camera lenses, whatever you want, it’s all yours, just finish by this time.’ So everyone wants to work on the show.”

Ian McShane stars alongside Whittle as Mr Wednesday

That American Gods is broadcast around the world on Amazon Prime also adds to the appeal of working on it, as do the source material and its creator. “It’s already a product that everyone knows people are fans of, and a lot of our crew beg to be on the show because they were that passionate about the book,” the actor continues. “So it’s very weird, but you’ve got a whole crew and cast who are excited by what they’re doing because they were already fans.”

Gaiman, an executive producer on the series, is readily available to the cast when they want to discuss their characters, though his time became particularly precious while he was also showrunning Good Omens, a passion project that he wanted to make in Pratchett’s memory.

“He didn’t feel like he needed to answer to the fans. He didn’t need to answer to the studio or the network. He was like, ‘I don’t care if you like it. This is my gift for Terry.’ And that’s a beautiful place to be,” Whittle says of the author. “But it also meant he wasn’t able to be with us as much [on season two]. But we love him to death. He’s an incredibly humble guy. He’s very trusting, because he says, ‘They’re not really my characters anymore. They’re your characters; you know your character more than I do. I know where your characters going to go, but now the vehicle is yours. And if you choose to go a certain way, I trust you to do it.’ You can only be grateful for that kind of leadership.”

Making American Gods hasn’t been without its ups and downs, however, with four showrunners in three years. Michael Green and Bryan Fuller developed the novel for television alongside producer Fremantle, but they left the project after season one. They were replaced by Jesse Alexander, who stepped down from the position just seven months later, leaving director Chris Byrne and line producer Lisa Kussner to bring season two to its conclusion. Charles ‘Chic’ Eglee has now come on board to steer the series through season three.

Neil Gaiman with actor Yetide Badaki on the American Gods set

Whittle dismisses reports of “turmoil” surrounding the show, pointing out that changes to the creative team “happen in every show.” He continues: “It’s what normally happens when the creators want to spend this much money and the business people are going, ‘Yeah, but we can probably do it for this,’ and then you have to try to meet in the middle. When you get people who don’t want to budge, something has to move, and unfortunately that’s why we lost Bryan and Michael.

“But it doesn’t affect us, because we’re responsible for our own characters. We know our characters. And if Bryan and Michael went through all three seasons, season three was going to be very different anyway. It’s a very different part of the book and it’s a very different experience [for me] now because Chic’s bringing me behind the camera working with him and then listening to the writing team. You really feel that intelligence, that experience, that creativity. It’s phenomenal and it’s gotten me crazy excited for season three.”

Brought up a Catholic and raised by nuns for a period of his childhood in Manchester, Whittle says that these days he simply believes in good people and bad people, destiny and that what is meant to be will be. “So I don’t worry about projects and auditions that don’t go well. I’m like, I was meant for something else,” he says. “Everything happens for a reason and now we’re here living the good life.”

With the story of American Gods only now nearing the mid-section of Gaiman’s book, it seems Whittle can look forward to enjoying that good life a little longer.

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Bad girls

Sharing the screen together in action crime drama LA’s Finest, stars Gabrielle Union and Jessica Alba reveal the origins of the Bad Boys spin-off, their involvement in the creative process and why the show aims to showcase the titular city.

In the 16 years since Bad Boys II first hit cinemas, Gabrielle Union has gone on to become one of the biggest US actors and producers on screen. Roles in Friends, City of Angels, Ugly Betty, Flash Forward and Night Stalker cemented her screen presence, which had begun in the 1990s with roles in shows such as Moesha and Saved By The Bell: The New Class.

Gabrielle Union (left) returns as Syd Burnett to partner Jessica Alba’s Nancy McKenna

She is best known for playing a talkshow host in BET’s long-running series Being Mary Jane, which debuted in 2013 and concluded this year, while also starring in a host of feature films. Meanwhile, Union has also stepped into production, shepherding TV movie With This Ring and features Almost Christmas and 2018’s Breaking In, in which she also stars as a woman who fights to protect her family during a home invasion.

Yet it is the character of Syd Burnett, last seen alongside Detective Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence) and Detective Mike Lowery (Will Smith) in Bad Boys II, that inspired her latest television series, action-crime drama LA’s Finest.

Produced for US streaming platform Spectrum, the Bad Boys spin-off sees Union reprise her role of Syd, who leaves her complicated past behind to become an LAPD detective. Now partnered with Nancy McKenna (Jessica Alba), they take on the most dangerous criminals in the city while skirting the rules and confronting their equally complex personal lives. After debuting earlier this year, the series has been renewed for a second season. It is produced by Jerry Bruckheimer Television and 2.0 Entertainment in association with Sony Pictures Television.

Union and Alba (Sin City, Fantastic Four) both attended the Monte Carlo TV Festival, where LA’s Finest had its premiere screening, and DQ later heard from the stars how they teamed up on the series, their roles behind the scenes as executive producers and their love for the show’s location.

LA’s Finest was based on Union’s desire to find out what happens to Syd after Bad Boys II.
Gabrielle Union: I was in this very iconic movie that was globally loved and all the time I get, ‘Oh my God, you’re Bad Girl or whatever!’ But I was thinking, ‘You have no idea what happens to my character except she has this high-powered job as a DEA agent, she goes undercover and then gets in over her head and her brother and her lover have to save her.’ I was like, ‘Screw that, I’m sure Syd is very capable. Let’s create a show where Syd gets to be capable and save her damn self.’”

Union: “All the time I get, ‘Oh my God, you’re Bad Girl'”

Like the Bad Boys universe, her ambition was to create a whole new world full of mythology. She just needed a co-star and found one in Alba.
Union: I wanted to partner up with somebody who has an equally large life and an equally large platform and a woman of colour and who is an OG in the action space – she’s Dark Angel, dude! She’s a James Cameron kick-ass chick! If we can come together, we are so much stronger and I think people might want to see us.

Union’s experience producing was also proof that audiences want to see female-led stories.
Union: I did a movie last year called Breaking In. We literally shot it for a bag of Doritos. We did this one location on no money. The last I checked we were 12x budget [in revenue]. Just because you’re giving me a smaller budget and less screens, I’m still kicking ass, so if we actually give women a platform with a budget and empower them, holy shit, people are going to come, so let’s do it! Jerry Bruckheimer was like, ‘You are on to something.’ There was no way in hell I wasn’t going to make that show. It’s not only the right thing to do, creating a piece of art in the action genre that has been underserved, but we have the opportunity to empower not just us but so many people in front of and behind the camera. Don’t let me in the room and give me a seat at the table because I’m holding that door wide open and I’m letting in as many people as possible, and then I hope those people hold the door open and bring in more people. So we’re just trying to be the change we want to see and create the shows we want to binge.

As well as fronting the series, Alba and Union have been involved extensively behind the scenes alongside creators Brandon Margolis (The Blacklist) and Brandon Sonnier (The Blacklist).
Jessica Alba: We are always sitting with the guys who created the show and we all sit down and agree on the storylines, the characters and how you’ll see their storylines go throughout the season. We do a notes round on the scripts, usually during a lunchtime, two episodes before we shoot it. Then the day of, every time before we start our day, Gab and I will sit with whoever is the producing writer of that episode, the director and our other co-creators and we go through the day. We tweak things with them. We’re very involved.

Alba (pictured) and Union were closely involved in the creative process during the shoot

Union: I think earlier in our career, and generally speaking in Hollywood, we like talent to just be talent, like, ‘Shut up and just be pretty!’ We feel like not having talent as a part of the full creative process does a disservice to the process. The more seats at the table and the more eyeballs on a product, the quicker you catch bogeys and the quicker you are able to identify maybe some problematic areas. You have more voices on something to fix things, to shape things, in a way that’s going to be the most enjoyable for the audience. Sometimes when you create art in a vacuum, there are so many blindspots that you see episodes air and you see social media explode and you think, ‘How did you miss that?’ That’s because you’re alone in this process. But sometimes you’re not the best person to point out your own mistakes.

Alba’s character, Nancy, is a stepmother, which provided the actor with a new relationship dynamic to dig into during the series.
Alba: You just haven’t really seen it before. The way you’ve typically seen that relationship is either it’s very competitive or really extra and weird, like the step-mum says, ‘I’m your mother now.’ I was really sensitive to it. Gab created it and was really inspired by her own life as a stepmother to kids and her navigating that relationship dynamic. It was actually really fun thing to play.

The explosion of streaming platforms like Charter Communications-owned Spectrum is providing actors with more opportunities to show what they can do on screen.
Union: There’s so much more demand for content that needs to be filled, which means there’s so many more opportunities for amazing actors who have been toiling away all over the world to have a chance to show what the hell they can do. It’s just more opportunity to enjoy content as a family or see actors that would never be called ‘stars’ in the previous system because they’re just able, but not a double-O or the previous generation’s idea of what a star was. But it’s great to actually see capable, dope, amazing talented artists on a global level. It’s amazing.

LA’s Finest made its debut on Spectrum this year and has been renewed

But at the heart of LA’s Finest is the city itself, to which both stars have a strong affinity.
Union: I love that you can get from the mountains, you can ski and get to the beach within two hours. I love the diversity that exists throughout LA County and the surrounding communities and that’s what we want to show. We wanted to bring tax dollars, opportunities and jobs to underserved communities in LA, which is why our sound stages are in Pacoima. It’s not a city most people recognise with filmmaking but it’s a rich, amazing, dope city with amazing, capable individuals. We wanted to spread the wealth.

Alba: I grew up in the suburbs of LA and I’ve been acting since I was 12 so I’ve been coming to LA my whole life; I live there and my family is there, so it’s home. What makes LA so cool is we have generations of minority communities that grew up in LA and have melded together, so you have a really interesting Mexican-Korean community where they both influence each other’s cultures. We have a really cool Japanese community that also has influence with the Latino community. There’s a huge South-East Asian community. It’s a really rich city and we really wanted LA to be a character as we are in the show. So as the series goes on you unfold and unpack all these really cool, interesting textures inside LA.

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