Making a Point
As the BBC serves up restaurant drama Boiling Point, star and executive producer Hannah Walters tells DQ about its journey from short film to the small screen, and how she and husband Stephen Graham are telling stories through their own company, Matriarch Productions.
For the cast and crew of Boiling Point, the launch of the four-part restaurant drama marks the pinnacle of a remarkable journey that has seen the project evolve from a short film to a feature film and now a television series.
“It’s been such a journey to get here, but a beautiful journey,” says Hannah Walters, who has starred in all three iterations. “It’s like we’ve gone from being an infant to a teenager and now we’re into adulthood. That’s how it feels. We’re seeing the baby through until it’s gone off into the big, wide world.”
The short film debuted in 2019, capturing a snapshot of a busy London restaurant in full swing in the build up to Christmas and revealing how all is not as it seems behind its flashy façade. That idea was then expanded in the 2021 feature, which further explored the relationships between talented head chef Andy (Stephen Graham) and some of his team, most notably sous chef Carly (Vinette Robinson), pastry chef Emily (Walters), Camille (Izuka Hoyle), Freeman (Ray Panthaki) and Jamie (Stephen McMillan).
The BBC series, which debuts on Sunday, now continues that story, picking up eight months after Andy suffered a heart attack at the end of the film. Carly is now head chef of her own restaurant, Point North, and working with many of her old team amid the ongoing battle to win new customers, keep the business profitable and manage the dramas in their private lives.
As Walters recalls, the short film was originally devised as a way to secure director Philip Barantini an agent. When the short was well received, enough financing was then secured to make the film.
“When we were doing it, we knew we were doing something special,” Walters tells DQ. “It had never been done before – it was a one-shot, in a working kitchen. You’ve got 15 staff in the kitchen, 15 staff out the front, 30 customers – there’s a lot going on – and it became like a piece of live theatre, which was exciting and petrifying in the same instance. Then from the film, the TV series was born. It just made sense.
“Even though it’s predominantly about Andy and Carly, there were so many peripheral characters that we touched on. It made sense for us to explore that and go further with it because it was a character-driven piece itself, an ensemble. Why not take that world and put it into a different format?”
Part of what made the films stand out is that they were shot in a single take, heightening the chaotic atmosphere of a restaurant as the camera moves between the kitchen and waiting staff. While episode one opens with another breathless, extended one-shot sequence, Walters jokes that the cast were relieved when they discovered the series wouldn’t be filmed entirely the same way.
“But we do have some nice lengthy shots,” she continues. “That’s our DOP Matt Lewis. He’s got his way, and you can feel that instinctively. Even when we come out of that one shot in that first episode, you’re still in Matt’s world. It’s very voyeuristic, like the film.”
Walters also praises production designer Adam Tomlinson, who created the show’s working kitchen at Space Studios in Manchester. Previously, the film had been made at real Dalston venue Jones & Sons, but repeating that approach didn’t prove practical for the series.
By creating a purpose-built set, false walls could be assembled and then removed to get up close to the actors at their various cooking stations and create a deeper sense of intimacy with the characters. “Much like the film, it’s not just about the subject matter, it’s the fact you feel like you’re in it,” Walters says. “[After watching the film] people said they felt like they needed a lie down. We let you relax occasionally.”
Like most of the characters in Boiling Point, Walters’ Emily can be seen on screen, even when they’re not the focus of the camera as the restaurant staff constantly come in and out of shot. In the film, it’s clear Emily provides a motherly touch to the kitchen, not least when she shares a tender moment with Jamie, who reveals he has been self-harming.
Now the series will dive deeper into that relationship and the friendship between Emily and Andy, as Walters shares the screen with real-life husband Graham. They also recently starred together as a screen couple in BBC prison drama Time.
“This friendship really becomes quite a reliable one [for each character] and one that they each need. But it is purely a platonic relationship, which is what’s really lovely,” the actor says of Emily and Andy. “And it’s really lovely to be in scenes with Stephen. We just love working with each other because we’ve done it a few times, but we’ve always played it where the chemistry is very different [from our own].”
The series also takes time away from the restaurant and follows different characters home – with part one highlighting the difficult relationship Carly has with her mother.
“So for each episode, we let one of those characters float to the surface so you get to learn a little bit more. Then they’ll float back down, and in your next episode you have another couple of characters that float a little bit,” Walters notes. “It’s a really nice, lovely, character-driven drama, which is the best drama, right? You want to be part of their world.”
Despite her on-screen profession, however, Walters has no desire to become a chef, as she says it’s just as exhausting playing a chef as it is for viewers watching the drama unfold at home.
“I get all the terminology wrong, like quenelles and all that,” she says. “But I’m not bad. I make a good curry and a linguine, and in lockdown I baked a bit of bread and thought, as did everybody, ‘Maybe I can open a shop.’ What, because you made one loaf in lockdown?”
“Invaluable” training for the actors working in the kitchen came from consultant Ellis Barrie, while a home economics team was tasked with making all the food seen in the series. “They did such a good job of doing stuff that looks like it’s edible that we had to be told a lot of the time, ‘Please don’t eat it. That might look like cream but it’s shaving foam.’ It was good though, I really enjoyed it.”
But Walters’ role on Boiling Point isn’t confined to acting. She and Graham are also executive producers through their Matriarch Productions banner, which produces the series with Ascendant Fox and Made Up Productions. The show is written by James Cummings, while Barantini directs the first two episodes and Mounia Akl helms episodes three and four. BBC Studios is the distributor.
Walters and Graham had been execs on the film, but more on the creative side. Then when it came to the series, they became fully involved through Matriarch.
“I’ve loved it,” she says. “It’s been something I’ve wanted to do for many years. Before we got Matriarch, as actors we would be involved in the script editing and the casting to the point where we’re going, ‘Well, we’re actually doing an executive producer job here.’ So it was always there. It was a timing issue.”
Walters went to performing arts college and drama school, having always wanted to become an actor. But as Graham’s career took off, she began teaching drama and theatre studies to ensure the couple had a steady income. She also wanted to spend time with their two children as they were growing up. But now they are older, Walters has been increasingly dipping her toes back into screen acting with roles in shows such as This is England ’90, Time and Malpractice.
“Funnily enough, I was told at drama school, ‘I don’t think you’ll work until you’re older.’ It’s a bizarre thing to say to somebody, right, but I kind of understand it now,” she says. “It’s because of my sensibility and knowing what I can bring to the roles I do now. There weren’t those roles there for a 20-year-old in terms of emotional depth or people who have lived life and seen things.
“It feels now like I’m just starting, which feels a bit strange but actually exhilarating and really wonderful. It feels like I’m ready now.”
Through Matriarch, Walters and Graham are now looking to help aspiring actors who may not have the means to attend drama school get a break in the industry. One example of their eye for talent is Shaun Fagan, who met Walters on the set of ITV medical drama Malpractice and now appears in Boiling Point as Bolton, a loud-mouthed chef hiding his insecurities behind humour and bravado.
“I fell in love with him,” she says, “and I thought, ‘This actor needs to be given an opportunity to shine.’ It’s really hard for somebody who’s just been doing bit parts in dramas to then get that next step, so to be able to go, ‘We’re going to give you this chance’ is everything to us, and the BBC were hugely supportive with that.”
That ethos also continues on another Matriarch project currently in production. Disney+ drama A Thousand Blows is a 12-part series written by Steven Knight (Peaky Blinders) and set in the world of illegal boxing in 1880s Victorian London. Walters and Graham both exec produce the series, while both also have on-screen roles too.
“We’ve got an incredible training scheme that is bringing people in from places like Fully Focused and The Big House and giving opportunities and experience to people who wouldn’t normally have them – because how do you get jobs without experience?” Walters asks. “It’s hard to get that experience because it’s hard to get your foot on the ladder.”
Matriarch is also developing further projects and has signed a development deal with Warp Films (Little Birds, The Virtues). “But we’re so busy at the minute, we have to take a breath because it can be all-consuming,” Walters says. “I don’t like doing things by halves, so it’s like, let me just do one thing at a time. We’re just waiting for Boiling Point to settle and then A Thousand Blows is a continuing thing until December.”
The couple’s work will always reflect the kinds of shows they want to watch, diving into untold stories with an ambition to hold a mirror up to society. “That’s what we like to do,” she acknowledges. “We like to make people feel slightly uncomfortable, but we’ll touch their heart at the same time. But we’re not just going to pigeonhole ourselves to that. We’ve got other things that are quite out there that I’ve suggested to Stephen and he’s gone, ‘That doesn’t sound like you,’ and I’ve said, ‘Well, let’s give it a go.’ It’s just what excites you. If you’re excited, then you can put all your passion and enthusiasm into it. If it’s not exciting, what’s the point?”
With a husband-and-wife team leading Matriarch, it’s no surprise that Walters also wants her shows to foster a strong community feeling on set. “We’re very family orientated when it comes to the workplace,” she adds. “It’s about creating a family environment and wanting to come to work for everybody and just feeling safe and happy. It’s a jigsaw, and without one piece of the jigsaw, you can’t have the finished picture, so everybody should be included and treated with the same kind of respect. That’s really important.”
Though their characters in A Thousand Blows won’t meet, Walters is now waiting for the right project where she can work on screen with Graham again after a handful of shared scenes in Boiling Point. “There is something out there and I think it will be incredible,” she says. “It’s not come yet, but it’ll come.”