Tag Archives: Imogen Cooper

Three’s no crowd

Pushing the boundaries of traditional relationship dramas, BBC series Trigonometry explores the polyamorous dynamics between a couple and their lodger. As the producers and cast explain, it’s sure to be a conversation starter.

It’s possibly the sexiest thing to happen inside a grimy-looking laundrette since Nick Kamen took off his Levi jeans back in the 1980s. Three people, all in love with each other, are flirting underneath the newly washed bed linen. There are giggles. There is stroking. Lips are licked, glances are cast.

Outside the West London laundrette, it’s pouring with rain; inside, it’s steamy as hell, despite the director, cameraman, lights and sound crew all being there too. This is Trigonometry, set to be one of the most controversial dramas the BBC has ever screened. As the name suggests, it focuses on a threesome – three 30-somethings who fall in love with each other and decide to live together.

“It is a big love story told in a completely different way,” says producer Imogen Cooper of the series, which has been made by House Productions for BBC2. “It is all the things you get in a traditional love story but everything is presented differently.

“It is hopeful, romantic and funny but also messy in the way that life is messy. We don’t shy away from showing what happens when three people fall in love, and in lust, with each other. There is a huge amount of chemistry between our cast and the heat of it all is shown on screen.”

Filming started soon after the same channel hosted a documentary by Louis Theroux about polyamory, the idea that people can have a three-headed or even four-headed relationship. But while Theroux’s doc focused on the sadness of some of those who seemed to have been forced into sharing their partner, this drama, written by real-life couple and playwrights Duncan Macmillan and Effie Woods, looks at how it can work – even if it is not without teething problems.

L-R: The three characters in Trigonometry’s unconventional central relationship are played by Thalissa Teixeira, Ariane Labed and Gary Carr

“It has been written in a way that our characters are as equal as we can make them; we didn’t want this to be about one person making a huge compromise, as we feel these three have got something special,” says Cooper. “It is a controversial subject matter but we are portraying it in the least shockable way – it is relatable. We don’t shy away from examining how these things aren’t easy. People have been talking about living this kind of life for many decades – about open relationships and that sort of thing – and it’s still something that hasn’t really caught on.

“There are no role models for this kind of relationship, so they are working out the rules as they go along. We examine how there is some jealousy but also how being in this kind of structure means the relationship is less intense – when someone is at odds with someone else, there is help in smoothing the situation. We show the beauty of this relationship but also the trickiness. Lots of people around them don’t understand it and immediately disapprove.”

The show centres on paramedic Kieran, an ex-soldier played by Gary Carr (The Deuce), and restaurateur Gemma, played by Thalissa Teixeira (The Musketeers), who have been dating for seven years after meeting on holiday. With work commitments meaning they barely see each other, they have long been aware that something needs to change in their relationship and are contemplating marriage. However, the change ends up coming from an unexpected source after the introduction of another person into their lives.

When Gemma’s first restaurant puts a strain on the couple’s finances, they take on a lodger, Ray, played by French actor Ariane Labed (The Lobster). The three quickly become close friends, and the couple gradually find that they are both falling in love with her.

“Ray is an ex-Olympian, a synchronised swimmer, whose life has changed after an accident that forced her to give up her career,” says Labed, who went through several weeks of synchronised swimming training before she started rehearsals. “She is almost starting from zero when she moves in with Kieran and Gemma, as she has only ever lived at home. But she is open to new adventures.

Lead director Athina Tsangari (left) on set with the leading trio

“The first evening she moves in, she kind of invites herself out with them. And from the start, there is this amazing chemistry and something special happens between the three of them. The way she enters their life feels very genuine – she never feels like an interloper. For quite a while, none of them can put into words quite how they are feeling.”

Carr adds: “There is an instant admiration but everything else is quite a slow-burn thing. They both just love being with her; they like her newness and the way she has thrown everything aside to start afresh. Kieran and Gemma are at a point where they need to kickstart their relationship, and they see something amazingly courageous in Ray. In some ways, through her admiration for them, they see their relationship through new eyes and it’s quite beautiful. Gemma and Kieran start to see all the things Ray adores about their partner as a new thing again.”

All three actors hope the story will open up conversations about love, and how we live as humans, among the audience. “Gemma, Kieran and Ray are making up the rules as they go along,” says Teixeira. “But the idea of a relationship like this is really ancient. I am surrounded by friends who have tried all sorts of ways of being with each other, and one key point is honesty.

“The interesting thing is how it rubs up against conventionality. There is an episode where they introduce the idea to their families, who are shocked. That perspective might be echoed in what the audience thinks, but the story is written with so much care that I think it will help people open up about their own feelings. Quite often, we hide things – but maybe it is best to be honest. Sometimes it can take courage to speak up about who you love.”

The three points in Trigonometry’s triangle are fairly unknown actors – a risk Cooper admits she was surprised BBC2 took with this new drama. “They have been incredibly supportive of all our cast, who all have loads of experience but aren’t that well known yet,” she says. “The casting process was quite tricky because we had to ensure there was chemistry between the three of them and they all lived in different places.

Trigonometry was written by real-life couple Duncan Macmillan and Effie Woods

“If the dynamic was wrong, the whole thing would feel wrong. But we feel so much confidence in the three of them together. There was a spark from the start and that has grown into something special, as they have to really trust each other on a show like this. They have a chemistry you want to watch.”

Taking the lead director role is Greek filmmaker Athina Tsangari – whose 2015 film Chevalier was named best film at the BFI London Film Festival – in her first British television job. “She’s never worked in this country before, but she’s helped make the whole thing just magical,” says Cooper. “Our first day’s filming, which is normally quite a difficult day, was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had in this job. On the night they go to the pub, there is a drag night and we had 30-odd drag queens in this pub, which was just fantastic. We are showing a very authentic London in all its glory.”

Tsangari has given the series a cinematic look and has also encouraged the actors to improvise. “We don’t know what it’s going to look like when its finished, but Athina has encouraged loads of ad-libbing,” says Teixeira. “Because we are all comfortable with our characters, she will often leave the cameras rolling after we’ve done a scene to see what else she can get from us. There is so much going on in every line – jealousy, confusion, frustration, lust – and it’s fun to play around with it.”

However, some scenes were planned in great detail, including the first three-way sex scene. “I knew there was going to be a sex scene but I had seen Athina’s work and felt comfortable she would do it well,” adds Teixeira. “It was choreographed like a dance or a moving sculpture.On the day we did it, we ate cheese and drank wine. We all felt fine about it because it is very beautiful but also very funny; there are moments where one of us can’t get our trousers off. It is agonising and awkward, just like it is for everyone.”

The eight-part series, distributed by BBC Studios, will follow the threesome as they navigate everything from getting a mortgage together and finding a big enough bed to being married in a world built only for couples. There are hopes that, if Trigonometry performs well enough, a second season could follow.

“These characters go through an enormous story arc and it does have an ending that doesn’t leave things dangling,” says Cooper. “But this is also a story that could run and run; how they navigate things and this relationship going forward is always going to be interesting.”

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Break-in bad

A real-life multimillion-pound heist was the inspiration for Hatton Garden, a new ITV miniseries about the elderly gang behind the ‘crime of the decade.’ DQ goes on set to meet the cast and producer.

Two well-mannered, smartly dressed elderly gentlemen are being shown around the notoriously impregnable vault at Hatton Garden Safe Deposit in central London. These would-be clients are very courteous and are wearing suits so sharp you could cut your finger on them – but appearances can be deceptive.

These well-groomed and seemingly sophisticated pensioners are in fact Brian Reader and Terry Perkins, a pair of ruthless career criminals. They are in the vault to scope it out in preparation for what would become known as the ‘crime of the decade.’

The Hatton Garden robbery, an audacious heist in which a band of superannuated crooks stole jewellery and cash valued at an estimated £200m (US$267m), caught the public imagination in April 2015.

Hatton Garden stars Timothy Spall (left) and Kenneth Cranham

Over the Easter bank holiday weekend, the gang of criminals led by Reader drilled through the 50cm-thick wall of the vault and made off with the swag. It is thought to be the largest burglary in English legal history.

However, the crooks were unable to resist blabbing about their blag and they were soon arrested and convicted. Despite the fact that they had committed such a terrible crime, the pensionable age of the felons continued to fascinate people. The press even called them ‘Diamond Wheezers.’

As such, it’s no surprise that this inherently dramatic robbery has attracted a lot of interest from filmmakers. It has already inspired four movies: Hatton Garden the Heist!, One Last Heist, The Hatton Garden Job and Night in Hatton Garden.

Now the theft is being given its first TV dramatisation in the form of ITV’s Hatton Garden. This engrossing four-part series is co-written and co-executive produced by Jeff Pope (Little Boy Blue, Cilla) and Terry Windsor (Hot Money, Essex Boys). Made by ITV production arm ITV Studios with Jonathan Levi from Renegade Pictures acting as a consultant, it is directed by Paul Whittington (The Moorside, Mrs Biggs).

The show dramatises one of the UK’s most famous robberies

On the set of Hatton Garden, the aforementioned dapper gents, 76-year-old Reader and 67-year-old Perkins, are played by the compelling duo of Kenneth Cranham (Shine On, Harvey Moon) and Timothy Spall (Auf Wiedesehen Pet), respectively.

The series also stars David Hayman (Crime & Retribution) as 61-year-old Danny Jones, Alex Norton (Taggart) as John ‘Kenny’ Collins, 75, and Brian F O’Byrne (Little Boy Blue) as their mysterious and never apprehended associate ‘Basil.’

Meanwhile, the vault – complete with 50cm-thick walls, ready for drilling by the cast – has been meticulously recreated at West London Film Studios in Hayes.

O’Byrne, who has also appeared in Prime Suspect USA, Mildred Pierce and FlashForward, emphasises how the Hatton Garden robbery struck a populist chord on both sides of the Atlantic.

The actor recalls driving around LA, where he lived until just recently, outlining the premise of the drama to his family. “I started telling my wife about it. I said, ‘There was this huge heist in London. They thought it was going to be this crack team assembled from around the world, and it turned out it was all these old guys.’

All but one of the real-life Hatton Garden robbers were apprehended

“And from the back of the car, my nine-year-old daughter goes, ‘Oh, it’s the granddad robbery!’ I couldn’t believe it. I thought, ‘Wow! Obviously, there’s something about it that captures people’s imaginations.’”

The production team would dearly like to have filmed in the real vault, but Imogen Cooper, the producer of Hatton Garden, explains why that was just not possible. “We’ve recreated all of it here [at the studio]. We will film in Hatton Garden, on the street. We will also use the actual corridor that comes out onto Gregory Street, where the gang’s van arrives and where Basil gets into the main building and lets them in through the side entrance. We would have loved to do more, but unfortunately they’ve now got works in the building, so we can’t access any more.”

The other reason the show could not be filmed at the actual location is that the section of the wall that was drilled is going to be exhibited in a museum – yet more evidence of the way this crime has grabbed attention.

However, Cooper continues, the cast and crew were able to go on several very useful recces at the original building. The producer, also responsible for Quacks, Yonderland and Horrible Histories, says these visits were very productive.

The series debuts on December 11

On one such trip, Hayman was even able to emulate what the slender Jones did during the actual robbery. “David did delight in slipping through the hole they had drilled when we were in Hatton Garden!” Cooper notes.

The drama also depicts the sheer hard slog that the crime entails. Spall reflects: “It’s about real graft. What you’re seeing are men getting tired doing physical labour. So if you turn the sound off and you just watch it, you think, ‘These are just poor geezers, a load of old construction workers, who are having to work in their 60s, down a hole in a vault.’

“These blokes are old and knackered, you know. So that is a big part of what you’re seeing in this process. And that side of it, I think, makes us intrigued. It’s old-fashioned, isn’t it? That’s the human quality of it because it’s not about pressing a button and just taking 10 billion quid off someone. It’s an analogue crime in the digital age.”

For all that, the producers are quick to point out that Hatton Garden, which begins on ITV on December 11, makes no attempt to glamorise the criminals. Viewers will be left in no doubt about the catastrophic effect of their robbery on the people who owned boxes in the vault.

Pope says it was vital to stress that this crime was in no sense “victimless,” adding: “The research threw up some fascinating detail and blew away many of the misconceptions about this story,” he explains. “It was not about a bunch of ‘loveable old blokes.’ Many box holders lost everything in the raid, and we reflect that.”

So, having played a robber for several weeks, does Spall think he could have made a successful criminal in another life? “Unlikely,” deadpans the actor. What criminal attributes is he lacking, then? A pause. “All of them.”

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