Tough call

Tough call

May 16, 2024

In production

As British drama The Night Caller launches in the US, executive producer Sam Tipper-Hale explains how themes of loneliness and the power of influence are explored in this story of a taxi driver who becomes obsessed with a late-night radio talkshow.

When a lonely taxi driver starts to become a regular caller to a late-night radio show, so begins a psychological thriller that draws two people together in unlikely circumstances.

The Night Caller stars Robert Glenister as Tony, a down-and-out cabbie who forms an unhealthy obsession and twisted sense of world view while listening to talkshow host Lawrence (Sean Pertwee) as he ferries passengers around Liverpool.

When Lawrence unexpectedly gets into Tony’s cab one night, their meeting leads them both down a dangerous path.

Produced by Story Films, the series (fka Black Cab) debuted on streamer Acorn TV in North America on Sunday and will air on Channel 5 in the UK soon. Distribution is being handled by All3 Media International.

Here, Sam Tipper-Hale, executive producer at Story Films, sets the scene for this four-part drama and discusses filming in Ireland and managing a filming schedule dominated by night shoots.

Sam Tipper-Hale

Introduce us to the story of The Night Caller.
The Night Caller is about a lonely taxi driver, Tony, who has a growing obsession with a late-night radio DJ. As Tony’s world starts falling around him, he gets increasingly attached to the DJ, who he thinks is the one person who can help him. One night, by chance, Lawrence gets into Tony’s cab. The initial excitement about the meeting takes a turn when Tony realises this DJ isn’t the man he purports to be.

What are the origins of the project?
Inspired by films such as Taxi Driver and Play Misty For Me, we developed the idea in-house initially before discussing it with Paramount commissioners Paul Testar and Sebastian Cardwell, who were really interested in exploring the idea of the loudest voice often affecting the most vulnerable. We then approached writer Nick Saltrese, who really brought the show and series arc to life.

Why did you partner with Nick?
Jake Lancaster, head of development at Story Films, and I had seen Nick’s film Prayer Before Dawn and we were blown away by it. It’s such a visceral character piece housed in a gripping thriller, and that is what we wanted to do with The Night Caller. At Story Films, we’re always interested in making shows that examine the human condition but we also want the shows to be commercial and accessible. In Nick, we found the perfect writer for that.

Robert Glenister plays lonely taxi driver Tony in The Night Caller

Why does the series stand out as a psychological thriller?
I think it’s really bold and original. Our protagonist is a bit of an antihero who audiences will feel conflicted about at varying stages of the series. The moral questions at the heart of the show feel opaque and challenging, something that you see more in films than in TV in the current landscape. Ultimately, it’s an exhilarating thriller audiences won’t want to turn away from.

Were there any particular themes or topics you wanted to discuss through the story?
We wanted to discuss the idea of loneliness and the power of influence some people have over those who are vulnerable. I think especially after Covid, people realised that you can live in a city surrounded by millions of people but feel completely alone. Often people in these situations are more susceptible to those who have the loudest voice, regardless whether they have their best intentions in mind.

What can you tell us about Tony? Why is he drawn to this radio DJ and the ‘world view’ he latches on to?
Tony’s life is crumbling around him. He’s isolated and devoid of any self-confidence. He used to be a respected teacher who people listened to and relied upon, but we find him without a voice. In Lawrence, the radio DJ, Tony thinks he has found someone who has given him his voice back; someone who listens to him again and respects him. Lawrence hails Tony as a local hero, a man of the people and a true friend. But when they finally meet, we realise Lawrence isn’t the man he purports to be.

Tony becomes obsessed with radio host Lawrence, played by Sean Pertwee

Why do you think this is a particularly relevant story for TV viewers today? What warnings can we take from the drama?
With the proliferation of social media and media in general, we are increasingly exposed to those with seemingly strong, sincere world views who claim they are acting on behalf of the population or a segment of the population. When these world views are presented and accepted without scrutiny, it can be quite dangerous. This is definitely something we wanted to explore in The Night Caller.

How does this series fit into Story Films’ drama slate and the kinds of stories you want to tell?
It’s a really good example of the shows we want to make: authored, distinctive drama that is both entertaining and thought-provoking.

What kind of visual style did you want for the series and how did you achieve this with director Diarmuid Goggins?
We really wanted to get a sense of the midnight economy, exploring the lives of people who mainly operate in this world. But we also wanted it to feel accessible and never gloomy, which is no easy task when you’re shooting 90% at night. But Diarmuid is a brilliant director and instantly knew how to bring that world to life. He cleverly used lots of neon lights and filmed parts of the city that made it feel sleepless, energetic and exciting.

The Night Caller has already debuted on Acorn TV in the US, with a UK launch set to follow

Why did you to decide to film the series in Ireland, and how does it double for Liverpool on screen?
We went to Ireland because they have brilliant talent both on and off screen – it is our third time filming there and we would go back in a heartbeat. Aesthetically, it doubled really well for Liverpool as it has a lot of similar architecture. If you visit both places, they also have a similar vibe, their people are exceptionally open and welcoming and the cities both have a real energy to them, which I think comes across on screen.

What production challenges did you face?
Shooting that many nights is not only expensive but also incredibly taxing for the cast and crew. Again, we have to thank Diarmuid for his endless energy and positivity. He really leads from the front, and cast and crews acknowledge and respect that.

With the series launching on Acorn TV in the US, why might it appeal to international audiences?
Its central themes of loneliness and the power of influence are universal and something we can all relate to. Alongside that, it’s an exhilarating thriller that can entertain audiences globally.

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