International football

International football

February 19, 2021


Actors Teo Yoo and Yuriri Naka discuss their roles in The Window, a German/Japanese scripted drama that plays out in the world of professional football and follows the battle to control a potential superstar.

Described as House of Cards set in the world of professional football, The Window is a landmark scripted series that brings together partners from Europe and Japan.

Developed and produced by Berlin-based Boogie Entertainment and coproduced with Japan’s Fuji TV, Germany’s ZDF Enterprises and Belgium’s Velvet Films, the 10-part suspense drama was created by James Payne (The Musketeers), who writes with Chris Gill (The Hive) and Mark Greig (Bulletproof).

Blending drama and thriller, The Window goes inside the world of elite professional football and the business that surrounds it, focusing on an ensemble of players, agents, club owners, administrators and journalists to explore the off-field machinations of the beautiful game.

Across 10 episodes, the series follows Jordan Burdett, a humble 17-year-old starlet who finds himself on the wish list of every major club in Europe. But what starts out as a tug of war over his first professional contract becomes entangled with a bigger, darker, criminal conspiracy.

The show is directed by Adrian Shergold (Mad Dogs), Claudia Garde (Tatort) and Pieter van Hees (Versailles), with a cast that includes Mel Raido, Tommy Bastow, Samuel Jordan, Lynn Van Royen, Jodie Tyack and Carole Weyers. ZDF Enterprises and Fuji TV share distribution rights to The Window, which is due to premiere later this year.

Here, fellow actors Teo Yoo (Vertigo) and Yuriri Naka (Safeguard) speak to DQ about their roles, how the series shines a new light on football and their experiences filming across Europe.

Teo Yoo

Who do you play in The Window and how do they fit into the story?
Yoo: I play Cho Jae-Yeon, the heir to his father’s business empire, Silverstrand in Korea. The show starts with Jae-Yeon in England. He is taking care of the family-owned Manchester Football Club [MAFC] and its prodigy Jordan Burdett while dealing with Burdett’s agent, MAFC’s manager and the league’s CEO. Having a chip on his shoulder, Jae-Yeon faces various obstacles and prejudices to show his worth, but in the end he will have to face his demons.
Naka: I play Noriko. She is an assistant at Sceptre Sports Agency. She has a unique sense of humour and, in an office where people seem to dislike each other, somehow everyone likes her, which is nice! She befriends Kieran and others with her quirky charm, and has a bit of a romance later on in the story.

What was the appeal of playing your character?
Yoo: It is rare to come across an Asian role with a good character arc in a Western series, especially when it is the character himself that is involved in the plot and not his ethnicity. Dramatically, it creates equal opportunities and smashes stereotypes. So thanks to a superbly written script by James Payne, I was excited to have been cast as one of the lead ensemble members.
Naka: The fact Noriko is not just a ‘Japanese girl,’ she’s multi-dimensional and has her own story. In my career, the characters I have played have sometimes been limited to fulfilling something Japanese – where being Japanese was the whole point of the character’s existence. Although I appreciated them, I couldn’t help feeling frustrated at times.
Noriko is a girl who works in the agency like everyone else. Her being Japanese is not at the forefront of her story, which makes her more grounded as a character and gives me an opportunity to explore her in more depth.
She’s smart, cool and has got a very particular – or peculiar – sense of humour, which I think is very important for the show, as her scenes often provide comic relief and some breathing space in a rather intense and thrilling drama.

Yuriri Naka

Why were you drawn to the series?
Naka: Simply because the story is so good. I must confess, I’m not a big football fan, but it doesn’t matter. When I read the script for the first time, I could not put it down. The plot is so unpredictable and complex, you just can’t wait to find out what happens next. And it has interesting and vivid characters.
As the story goes on, each character reveals different sides to them that will totally surprise you. It’s pretty impressive to have such a wide variety of strong characters and have them all work together beautifully.
Yoo: My first childhood memory involving sports was playing football. My father is a semi-retired FIFA agent, so I had a broad knowledge of and interest in the content.
Coming from a multicultural background myself, it was also of great interest to participate in an Asian-European coproduction. Having German and Japanese producers, with the content playing out in England, it will be interesting to observe which audiences will react to our show.

How does the story shine a new light on the world of professional football?
Naka: Although it’s about football, it focuses on what goes behind the scenes during the transfer window. What’s interesting is that it touches on things that perhaps haven’t been shown as much in football dramas before, such as corruption within the organisations, the involvement of global businesses and the tension that comes with it, women in power, mental illness, loss of an individual’s happiness despite fame and monetary gains, plus the human side of the drama – families, friends, romances and so on.
I love the fact that there are some strong female characters that drive the story. It’s refreshing to see women in power and making big changes, especially in the male-dominated world of football. I think that really opens the appeal to a wider audience.

How did you prepare for your role?
Yoo: I grew up with a father who was a FIFA players agent and although real life events weren’t as dramatic as in our show, I had a pretty good understanding about the dramatic business environment involved in the game of football.
Naka: I felt quite close to my character in general. I live and work in London and have worked in an office before. Noriko speaks English fluently, which is brilliant. I often play characters that speak only in Japanese or broken English, so it was great that I could just speak as I normally do.
I believe I got the role for my natural quality being genuinely similar to the character, so I intentionally played it really close to myself. However, I was aware my character was important in providing comedy, which is often reflected in the quirky remarks she makes – and I think the humour is very English, interestingly. I was very careful to get those right, and I hope I did.

The Window takes a dramatic look at the business of professional football

Where did you film and how was your experience on set?
Naka: We filmed mainly in Antwerp, Belgium, and spent three weeks in Malta. I know some bits were shot in England as well, but I wasn’t there. I’d never been to Belgium before, so I was delighted. What was so great was that everyone on set was excited to be working on this amazing project and always gave their best. Working on a show that people are genuinely enthusiastic about is a blessing. It really affects the mood on set, and good work can only come from a happy, safe and supportive environment.
We had three different directors working on the show. Each had their own distinctive style in terms of camera angles, the number of takes they wanted and how they communicated their ideas with others. It could have been tricky, but they worked very well as a team, and I really enjoyed it because each of them gave me different ideas and perspectives on my character and how I work with the material. The excursion to Malta was very fun too – we were shooting in this big hotel, so we all worked, ate and slept there.
Yoo: I shot most of my scenes in Antwerp with a short location visit to Liege and Malta. It was wonderful to see and feel each location’s culture and have it affect my work. It was a good experience to work with three different directors on one show because each director’s style would give me fresh energy, while James Payne was my blueprint master on set to whom I could always turn for guidance.

Teo Yoo plays Cho Jae-Yeon, heir to a business empire that owns a UK football club

Did you have any challenging or memorable moments?
Yoo: It was a challenge to maintain my character’s arc because Jae-Yeon goes through so many different emotional transitions and genres during the course of the story – his third act in the series will neatly tie up the show. I gave it my best to make the character as sympathetic as possible, so the final scene in the last episode was my most memorable one.
Naka: Definitely my first day on set. On top of meeting everyone for the very first time, which was nerve-wracking anyway, I had a behind-the-scenes filming crew following me around with the producers visiting from Japan. Then I had my lines changed on the spot. I tried not to think, ‘If I can’t do this, they are totally going to replace me!’ But luckily, everyone was so nice on set that I felt at ease quite quickly and managed to prove that I was the right choice after all. It was definitely a memorable welcome to the project.

How was the shoot affected by Covid-19? What was it like filming during this time?
Yoo: The production was heavily affected by the global lockdown back in March [last year]. We had a two-month delay. Fortunately, the excellent work of our producers under strict sanitary guidelines gave us the opportunity to pick up and finish our shooting schedule by the end of the summer. I felt privileged to have been able to work under these circumstances.
Naka: As Covid-19 cases became serious in Europe, we eventually had to stop shooting in March. We only had one month to go until the wrap, so it was a little frustrating. I’m sure everyone felt the same, but the shock and the uncertainty of the whole situation made me feel quite nervous.
What kept up morale was the group WhatsApp chat we had between all the cast members and crew. We shared some funny pictures and videos to keep cheering each other up. It was nice to feel part of a strong and devoted team that cared for each other, and I think it shows in the series.

Much of the German/Japanese copro was filmed in Belgium

The series promises lots of cliffhangers. How does the show try to hook viewers into the story?
Yoo: The writing never suffers any lack of excitement. The ensemble players cover a broad spectrum of genres and emotions. We have action, explosions, chases, love, drama and tragedy. There will be something for everyone at any given moment.
Naka: The story has many twists and turns. It starts with one incident and that leads to another and then another. I’d be surprised if anyone could guess what actually happens at the end.

Why do you think the series will appeal to viewers around the world?
Naka: It centres on football. If you like football, surely you’d be interested. But it’s not about football matches or footballers, it’s about the power struggle behind the scenes. It gives you an insight into how those big decisions are made, and how individuals’ stories influence them. Everyone has their own ambitions and greed in the business while dealing with families, friends and love, which is human drama we can all relate to, whether you are a football fan or not.
Another thing is that this is a unique international project. It’s coproduced by ZDF, a German broadcaster, and Fuji TV, a Japanese broadcaster, and written in English, set in England, yet filmed in Belgium, and people who were involved in this project were from all different countries. This great collaboration has given a unique quality to the visuals and feel of this series. I am really looking forward to this fast-paced, gritty drama bringing a lot of entertainment to people across the world.
Yoo: Football is the greatest unifying sport in the world. Besides the World Cup, it will be appealing to watch a dramatised version of the political business side behind the game. You’ll get some insight into who makes a football star, how money flows in the organisation and how it all boils down to human personalities.

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