Wolf pack

Wolf pack

By Michael Pickard
July 28, 2023


As the antagonists in BBC drama Wolf, Sacha Dhawan and Iwan Rheon form a decidedly deadly duo. They tell DQ why this series pushes the boundaries of the crime genre, and discuss their eccentric double act and operatic lip-syncing.

Before starring together in BBC crime drama Wolf, actors Sacha Dhawan and Iwan Rheon had never met. Yet it was their shared interest in mixing up the kinds of roles they play and their ambition to surprise audiences, and themselves, that meant they were both drawn to starring in the six-part thriller.

Based on the Jack Caffery novels by Mo Hayder, the series centres on DI Caffery (Ukweli Roach), a man obsessed with the neighbour he believes murdered his 10-year-old brother in the 90s, while trying to right the wrongs of others. Meanwhile, in an isolated house in Monmouthshire, the wealthy Anchor-Ferrers family find themselves trapped and terrorised as they fall victim to a psychopath’s cruel games.

In the early stages of the series, the two narratives appear to be completely disparate. But as the true picture emerges, Caffery is drawn into a deadly race against time and a case that involves a devastating double murder five years earlier.

Dhawan and Rheon play Honey and Molina, two men who introduce themselves as police officers when they first arrive at the grand Anchor-Ferrers property, home to Oliver (Owen Teale), Matilda (Juliet Stevenson) and their daughter Lucia (Annes Elwy). However, they soon reveal themselves to be a pair of sadistic, vicious and cruel captors who take the family hostage and threaten them with torture.

To say any more would spoil the story, but it’s safe to say Dhawan and Rheon steal the show with their eccentric double act – a bickering and bantering, mismatched couple that transform into monsters in the blink of an eye.

“I always look at the last character I’ve played and then I am always looking for the next character to be something completely different, something that’s going to challenge me,” Dhawan tells DQ. “Honey certainly did that. Also, it’s the blend of genre [in Wolf] as well that’s really appealing to me in terms of it’s a heightened world of crime, there’s horror in there and then there’s a strain of sickly humour, which is the stuff I love watching and the stuff I love playing. There’s just so much for me to get my teeth into.”

“It’s nice to have a variety of stuff. It just keeps things interesting,” says Rheon, best known for playing the similarly sadistic Ramsay Bolton in Game of Thrones and now filming gladiator drama Those About To Die. “Wolf in particular, I was reading it and I just love how it changes throughout. It’s always moving very quickly and the dynamics between the characters are always changing. It’s really thrilling and there are little surprises and twists and turns that come and you don’t expect them. That’s a really cool thing.”

Both actors quickly got a sense of Honey and Molina’s partnership after reading Megan Gallagher’s scripts. And after meeting up in London, they talked a lot about the fact that they’re quite like a comedy double act.

“One of them is a bit stupid and doesn’t really understand what’s going on, and the other one thinks he’s a lot of cleverer than he is but is also an idiot on a different level,” Rheon explains, describing his character as hapless and “absolutely infuriating” for Honey.

Molina, he says, “never quite gets it right. He’s the naive clown.”

Sacha Dhawan (left) and Iwan Rheon in Wolf

“One day I was like, ‘We should always be standing in the same formation, like Ant and Dec,’ so I always made sure I was on Sacha’s right side. Me and Sacha got on really well and we clicked quite early doors. We understood the dynamic and what we needed to do in order to make these real, because at times it could almost be too much and unbelievable. We wanted to keep it within the realms of believability.”

Dhawan was also drawn to the dark humour injected into Gallagher’s writing, and immediately wanted to know who would be playing Molina opposite his Honey.

“When they said it was Iwan, I was so overwhelmed and happy because I’ve been such a fan of his work and he’s just utterly brilliant,” the actor says. “I was just hoping he was nice, and he was. He’s such a generous and caring actor. So it meant we didn’t have to talk too much. He knows his craft and we just got on with it and the dynamic just worked, really. Hopefully the comedy landed. He’s really funny in it.”

If Molina is the naive, slightly dim villain – at one point he imagines buying property near the Anchor-Ferrers home once events in the series blow over – Honey is a charming psychopath.

“I knew I needed him to be intimidating, but I never wanted it to feel generic,” Dhawan says of playing the character. “I did spend a lot of time prepping the character, building a full picture of who this guy is, because, yes, he does these really crazy things. He’s quite chaotic and unpredictable. But as the series unfolds, you realise there’s a very clear intention to what he’s doing.

Rheon is best known for his role as the sadistic Ramsay Bolton in Game of Thrones

“Then you’ve got the dynamic with Molina, and it’s pretty obvious from the beginning that Molina really grates on Honey, and in these complete polar opposites is where the comedy lies. We made a very clear intention that Molina would be quite dirty. He’s smaller framed and does all the dirty work. And Honey is the delegator, he uses Molina like a servant. He’s very clean, a bit in love with himself. He’s quite vain, shows off his body and wears Matilda’s silk dressing gown. He’s enjoying it a bit too much. As the series unfolds, you’ll see even Molina becomes slightly terrified of Honey.”

Produced by Hartswood Films and APC Studios for the BBC, Wolf’s split narrative meant Dhawan, Rheon, Teale, Stevenson and Elwy filmed their scenes almost completely in isolation from those featuring Roach’s Caffery. They were shot over two months on location in south Wales, while the filming schedule called for little jumping between scenes from different episodes.

“What I’m doing at the minute, I’m shooting episode two in the morning and episode 10 in the afternoon, so we were quite linear [on Wolf],” Rheon explains. “It was all in that one location. It was a really nice place to be. I had a really good time.”

“Being in every day, it certainly lent to the performances and the drama of it all because we were just literally living there,” Dhawan continues. “Poor Juliet, Owen and Annes were held hostage for that time. They were handcuffed, bruised, shouted at. They were threatened. It was probably more exhausting for them than it was for me.”

Dhawan himself was chiefly responsible for keeping his fellow actors on edge, as his intention was to scare them in every take of every scene, leaving them unaware as to what  Honey would do next.

The Anchor-Ferrers family find themselves trapped in their own home and terrorised

“I wanted them to be genuinely terrified of me in the sense that they’re not quite sure what I’m going to do next,” he says. “Am I going to flick a knife? Am I going to come up to them in their face? Am I going to be odd? Am I going to be intimate? All this really kept them on their toes because I thought if they’re feeling slightly uneasy, then the audience will as well.

“In terms of the camerawork, [directors] Lee Haven Jones and Kristoffer Nyholm were really great about the longer scenes and just not locking me into a position. They would go where I was going to go and it gave me a really brilliant sense of freedom, unpredictability and spontaneity.”

Anyone who saw Dhawan’s recent turn as The Master in Doctor Who, which included a dance routine to Boney M’s Rasputin, will be familiar with the physicality and performance the actor brings to his roles. He brings a similar presence to Wolf, with one of the standout moments from the series – teased in the trailer – featuring Dhawan performing an unhinged lip-sync to Rossini’s Largo al factotum aria from The Barber of Seville.

“Well, it was written in the script, and I was like, ‘Oh, wow, this is fantastic,’ because it’s so unusual,” he says. “I’ve never quite seen something like that in a scene before, where the psychopath who is about to potentially kill someone is singing opera. It’s great to tap into that energy and, across Honey’s arc all the way through the show, there’s so much range for him to play with.”

For the scene, Dhawan worked with movement director and choreographer Polly Bennett (Bohemian Rhapsody, Elvis), with whom he had previously partnered on historical comedy The Great. “She kindly came to Cardiff to spend a bit of time to bust out some moves,” he jokes. “A bit like the Rasputin dance, I just go with it on the day and see what happens. If you know you’re entertaining the crew in some way, then it’s great. But I wanted to make sure there was still an element of darkness as well. He is potentially about to kill someone.”

The series debuts on BBC One on Monday

“It was pretty horrible because Juliet’s hanging upside down and that’s actually uncomfortable for her,” Rheon says of the scene. “But Sacha really went for it and it was incredible to see. I’m just standing there, watching him go. It was phenomenal.”

Is there a similar moment in store for Molina? “I do a little dance routine later on,” Rheon teases, adding: “It’s fabulous. I’m known for my dancing.”

The scene is further proof that Wolf, which launches on BBC One on Monday, is a crime drama in name only, blending horror and comedy to create a show that is completely unpredictable.

“I like the idea of audiences sitting down thinking they’re going to see one thing and then the rug is pulled from under them,” Dhawan says. “That’s a real joy for me as an actor but also as an audience member. I like being kept on my toes.”

Rheon agrees that the series – distributed by APC – pushes the boundaries of the genre, describing it as bonkers. “It’s a hell of a ride,” he says. “It’s a suspenseful crime drama, but with a whole other element to it of bizarre twists and turns that you just won’t expect.”

“What’s happening at the moment, which I think is really exciting, is this kind of genre-bending, genre-twisting, genre-mixing [in television],” Dhawan adds. “You look at Beef on Netflix, it’s really fascinating. I wouldn’t define Wolf as just a crime drama. It’s a perfect blend of genres – a heightened world of crime, horror, sickly dark humour. Then you’ve also got these two unique narratives that will collide – and that collision is thrilling. It’s nail-biting and often quite surprising as well.”

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