THE ENDEAVOUR INTERVIEWS 2018: Russell Lewis Part III

DAMIAN: Russ, before we start the interview, I’ve been thinking that we’ve mentioned The Beatles, Tony Hancock and Carry On films quite a bit over the years and perhaps, well, maybe we should mention them a little less from now on. Would that be alright Russ?

RUSS: As you please.

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INT. COWLEY GENERAL – NIGHT 1 (22.56)

Night lit. An empty corridor. One bulb flickers.

Mantovani’s Strings playing ‘Charmaine’ fills the air. The sickly sweet scent of putrefaction in three-quarter time.

We float through the deserted galleries.

Operating theatre. Instruments laid out ready for use.

Another empty corridor. A staircase. SIGNS point the way to…

HOUSE OF PAIN

An exclusive ENDEAVOUR interview

With Russell Lewis

Interview copyright © Damian Michael Barcroft 2018

~~~

With very special thanks to Gilbert Taylor

& Denys Coop

~

DAMIAN: The exterior shots of Cowley General Hospital looked remarkably familiar, where might we have seen the location before?

RUSS:  Ho ho.  Well, it’s Maidenhead Town Hall – which, as some eagle eyed viewers correctly deduced, was the hospital exterior in Carry On Doctor, Carry On Again Doctor – and I believe appeared briefly in Carry On Camping.  Sadly, the frontage has had a bit of a make-over in the intervening years – so we couldn’t have ambulances pulling up outside, but enough of it survives that it’s still recognisable.

DAMIAN: I had terrible trouble with my ears as a child and was in and out of hospital on regular occasions throughout the late seventies and early eighties so on the one hand, I recognise the kindness, good humour and cheerfulness of kind doctors and nurses, the saucy winks and ding dong mentality of some of the male patients evoked so wonderfully in your script, but what particularly resonates is that dreaded moment when visiting time is over, Mum has to leave you with just a kiss, a copy of the Beano and the ‘obligatory grapes in a brown paper bag’ to see you through the long night ahead. Then, lights are replaced with shadows and strange, unfamiliar noises – much humming and distant footsteps constantly marching back and forth. We recently spoke about department stores as palaces of wonder and delight, but also of those inherent dark corners and backstairs worlds. It’s the same with hospitals isn’t it?

RUSS:  Absolutely.  Yes – Battersea General – long gone – was my childhood house of pain. Known by locals as the ‘Anti-viv’ or ‘Old Anti’ — because it was against animal experiments/vivisection. Pretty building. 1890s. Sort of Italianate style. Right by the Park. Closed in the early 70s.  But yes — hospitals after dark…  can be quite spooky.  I’d like to have included a few more of those empty corridors for atmos — but the schedule was very tight.

DAMIAN: We see Nurse Monica Hicks return briefly in this film but, as we’ve mentioned in the past, the potential of her character was never really fully explored. So it was with some interest regarding female characters on the show, that in my interview with Dakota, she said that ‘When I first auditioned for Endeavour I was sent an episode to read in which Trewlove had only four lines. I was promised that the character would grow and develop into one of the gang as the series went on’. To what extent do you think you’ve succeeded in keeping this promise?

RUSS:  Jim Strange’s move across to CID left us without a uniform presence – Bright notwithstanding.  But obviously Strange was much more a rank and file foot-soldier – whereas Bright is brass.  So – in all honesty – there was no need to have a regular uniform constable at all.  We could have had a roster of rolling PCs – but it’s nice to have some continuity, a recurring character the audience can readily identify.

In terms of plot – as often as not it’s uniform who are first on scene.  One can either have their findings as reportage via one of the CID regulars, or first hand from a uniform.  I was interested in looking at a woman’s place in a pretty boysie environment, hence Trewlove.

If you consider INSPECTOR MORSE and then LEWIS there were very few recurring characters beyond the central duo.  With ENDEAVOUR we have around ten.  Screentime across 89 minutes is at a premium, so all our characters have to punch above their weight, always.  I try with all of them to provide a moment or two in the sun – as the story allows.  I think the affection in which Trewlove is held by the audience suggests that she has punched through.

DAMIAN: Dakota also said that she ‘didn’t know anything about the character – what sort of a person she was, where she came from or where she might end up’ and that ‘Trewlove was something I had to figure out on my own’. Given the delightful detail in which you’ve previously talked to me about some of the influences and inspirations for Trewlove, why didn’t you share these with Dakota?

RUSS:  Mmm.  Those details are useful from a casting point of view — and inform what I put on the page.  Beyond that, it’s for the director to convey to the actor what they want from a performance — hopefully in service of the writer’s intent, which is something we’ll have discussed before they get on the floor.  Beyond that — I’m always available to discuss further if there are things an actor is bumping on in the script.

The whole notion of ‘character’ – not to be confused with ‘back-story’ – is a much bigger conversation – and one we don’t really have room to go into it here.

DAMIAN: I loved the warmth and beauty which you gave to the scenes with Trewlove watching over Bright at the hospital but what was Anton Lesser’s reaction to being confined to bed and unconscious for most the episode?

RUSS:  He took it lying down.

Anton is a joy to write for.  His instincts are flawless.  He just gets it.  Every time.  I don’t think he’s ever baulked at a line, or a situation we’ve put him in.  The greater the artist, the smaller the ego.  Any and all vanities set aside in service of the drama.  He just brings his A Game – as they say.  Every day.  I don’t think he has a B-Game.  You just sit back, and watch, and delight and revel in his greatness.  And he’s a great sense of fun – and not a little mischief.  There’s a lot of laughter – particularly at read-throughs.  So – yeh…  Hearing he’d agreed to play Bright was one of the better days at the office.

DAMIAN: I’ve been banging on about wanting to see Mrs. Bright for some time so it was somewhat frustrating to learn that she was away on a trip during his stay at hospital. Wouldn’t this have been the perfect opportunity to introduce her character?

RUSS:  I’d refer you to my earlier answer.  At 89 minutes — there is only room for so much anything.  We already had to reduce some of Caroline’s material, and a whole strand for another guest character.  Bolting on Mrs.B would have meant even more would have been lost. Each thing in its season.

DAMIAN: Bright seems unimpressed when Library Trolley Lester says he might be able to get him a copy of Lady Chatterly. Since you’ve denied audiences a peek into the Bright residence, I wonder what sort of titles might occupy his bookshelves?

RUSS:  Until returning to Britain from the colonies, the Brights have always been on the move – so I don’t imagine the library to be extensive.  Mostly non-fiction up Bright’s end of the bookshelf.  Guides to some of the places he’s lived in.  A long cherished Scouting For BoysCoral Island; Treasure Island; some Sir Walter Scott, and a bit of Henty.  His reading material a counter-weight to Mrs.B’s Bloomsbury end.  No euphemism intended.

DAMIAN: There’s more than a whiff of Black Narcissus about this film. In addition to some of the names (Dr Powell and Sister Clodagh) the script calls for a chapel/high place: ‘Locationally dependent… either a stairwell void, exterior or rooftop’. Putting either budget or available locations aside, what exactly did you originally envisage and were the colours somewhat reminiscent of the great Jack Cardiff in your mind’s eye?

RUSS:  Well — you’ve put your finger on it.  Black Narcissus definitely underpinned our intentions with Lazaretto.  I think early drafts had it finishing on the roof.  In terms of colour, it would have been lovely to invoke the climax of that picture, but you have to be guided by what’s available – and, of course, the choices of the director and the DoP.  It goes back to the earlier point about character.  I could slather on detail in stage directions and make things madly specific, but to be so prescriptive would be profoundly unhelpful to Production.  Better to give them the ‘idea’ of what I’d like and leave it to the Location Manager’s talent, skill and expertise to offer a range of options.  It always comes down to this – What is necessary to deliver the beat?  They found the tower stairwell — and that served very well.

DAMIAN: Long before the likes of Merchant Ivory Productions in the 80s and Richard Curtis in the 90s, to what extent do you think those Powell and Pressburger films first truly defined (at least for audiences abroad) British identity during and immediately after World War II?

RUSS:  That’s a good question. To a degree, I suppose. I’m probably less interested in what it says about how we were seen abroad, than in what they were saying about how we saw ourselves at the time.  One of the many admirable things about the Archers productions is that they were made for a mass audience. There’s never any talking down – or a hint of pulling in of their ambition because they think a section of the audience won’t ‘get it’.

Art for all – and no one left behind.  I suppose it’s a bit Fred Kite to put it in those terms – all those fields of wheat and ballet in the evening – but look at The Red Shoes.  I think there’s an element – as with some of the MGM musicals, but it seems all the more pointed with the Archers – of emerging from a black and white world of wartime newsreel horror to something giddy and vivid with colour.  You know, it’s there in A Matter of Life and Death — but it just seems to explode once the war is over.  ‘Life finds a way.’

DAMIAN: Funny, but if someone asked me about British identity or film images and cinematography that closely matched my own first vivid impressions of the country and memories of childhood, I’d say, for some very strange reason or another, Hitchcock’s Frenzy every time.

Yes, it’s an odd choice because it obviously evokes Hitch’s childhood in the East End and not my own in Stoke, and yet, there’s just something about the cars, clothes and the general colour and “smell” of it all that resonates deeply; something strange and unsettling bubbling under the surface. Eyes watching.

Now, I know I seem to be continuously obsessed with questions regarding your childhood but, as I hope readers will agree, they do help to inform our understanding of your writing. So, given that you clearly draw upon them time and again in Endeavour, can you please try to give me an example of a film that visually echoes your first memories?

RUSS: 10 Rillington Place.

That’s not quite as facetious as it sounds.  There were still bits of London that bore signs of The Blitz.  Little areas that were still very ‘Hue and Cry’.  Around ‘70, we shot bits of Sunday Bloody Sunday in Spencer Park – about five minutes away from where I grew up.  So I can always stick that on.  There was a sequence in that (spoiler alert) where something happens to the family dog.  Shooting on location, we used a squat as a base for wardrobe and make-up.  I have a strong recollection of Afghan coats, pachouli oil and dope.  It was all very ‘Withnail’ – so that’s another touchstone.  The Art Direction – like everything else about Bruce Robinson’s masterpiece – is just superb.  Bits of Blow Up.  Weirdly — but not more weird than any of these, I suppose — the first series of Catweazle catches lightning in a bottle.  Essence of ‘69.

Some aspects of Pete Walker’s ouvre make for a terrific time capsule.  The opening of Frightmare – that features Andrews Sachs very briefly – is Battersea Park, where I spent a lot of time as a boy.  And the Susan George picture Die Screaming, Marianne – which I think also features Barry Evans — has some good London stuff.  But going back to Withnail — one of the many things it absolutely pins down is just how bloody cold and damp it was.  Britain before Central Heating was the norm.  Now, it’s underfloor heating.  Then, you’d wake to ice on the inside of the window panes.

DAMIAN: We finally see Joan Thursday in Leamington Spa which seemed a curious choice of location. Would this have anything to do with a certain by-election which took place there in The Thick of It?

RUSS:  No.  It just struck me as somewhere interesting for her to wash up.  Rog had reservations that we wouldn’t have found flats such as she was living in — but a bit of digging turned up some not dissimilar.  There are, of necessity, some blank pages which cover how she got there, but it was as much to do with her ‘fancy man’ as anything else.

DAMIAN: I’d like to highlight some of the following scene between Endeavour and Caroline Bryce-Morgana as it appears in the script:

ENDEAVOUR: You know, it’s hard to believe you’re anything to do with Susan at all.
CAROLINE: She’s a romantic. Like her father. That same streak of pity for life’s not-quite-up-to-its flows through her veins. Still. You cured her of that. I suppose I should be grateful. She never loved you, Morse.
ENDEAVOUR: ‘If equal affection cannot be…’
CAROLINE: Oh. Poetry. I’d forgotten that particular affection. The last refuge of the emotionally incontinent. You think you have a monopoly on feeling. Well, you don’t. I feel things too. Just as much as you. More so, perhaps.
ENDEAVOUR: What do you feel, Caroline?
CAROLINE: Real things. The things that dragged us out of the primordial slime. That make us strong. Pride. Anger. Resentment. Jealousy. Hatred.
ENDEAVOUR: That’s called grief. When you speak to Susan, give her…
CAROLINE: Oh yes? Giver her? Give her what? Your love?
ENDEAVOUR: Condolences. I was going to say. Give her my condolences. Whatever you think of me, I’m sorry he’s [Mr Bryce-Morgan] dead. Truly.
CAROLINE: I wish you were dead. You’ll die, Morse. You’ll die old and alone. And no one will give a damn.

Although I understand why she’s so hurtful in this particular scene, why exactly does she hate Endeavour so much in the first place?

RUSS:  I think she resented his coming between her and Susan.  Some mother/daughter relationships can be unhealthy.  Controlling,  Caroline felt she had married…  unwisely, and was to a degree attempting to rectify her own mistakes by managing her daughter’s life better than she felt she had managed her own.  Endeavour was potentially a spanner in the works.  She had to see him off.

DAMIAN: Described as a young Joanna David in her mid-late 20s, we see Susan for the first time (her “appearance” in First Bus to Woodstock obviously doesn’t count) at her father’s grave, I wonder if you originally had any plans to introduce her properly in the following film or films?

RUSS:  We’re mindful always of the Prime Directive.

DAMIAN: There are also various other mourners mentioned in the script including William (a young Richard Pascoe) and Henry Fallon, and curiously given we’ve already had a parrot in the film, a manservant with an eyepatch! Who’s that then?

RUSS: A young McGregor!  Who else?!

DAMIAN: Just time for one more question before I leave to catch my train, can you say something about Film III: Passenger?

RUSS:  Our Ladybird Book of the Railway.  The jumping off point was the Varsity Line which ran between Cambridge and Oxford, and its closure at the end of 1967.  Interestingly, it was one of the few closures that didn’t arise from the Beeching review.  It appears it had simply become more practical for passengers travelling in either direction to use London as a nexus.  So – that was the grit in the oyster.

I’ve got a thing for lonesome stations, and old branch lines.  Blame The Signalman, amongst others, I suppose.  Tickets, please!

THE ENDEAVOUR INTERVIEWS 2018: Dakota Blue Richards

The Home Office was appalled and said that women were not proper persons in the eyes of the law when Edith Smith became the first female police officer with official powers of arrest in 1915. However, by 1920, and after The Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act of 1919, the Baird Committee stated that women could indeed be appointed as police officers although this came with the caveat that their duties be confined to dealing with women and children only.

The conditions in which female officers work, and the respect and recognition afforded to them, have obviously changed for the better over the years but progress has been frustratingly slow and much still needs to be done to increase awareness and understanding of the issues affecting women within the police force today.

There were 2,500 women police officers across the UK in 1960, the marriage bar (women had to leave the profession if they married) was lifted towards the end of the decade and women were finally given the opportunity of carrying out the same duties as men. However, in 1968 (the year in which the fifth series of Endeavour takes place) there were only 14 female officers working in Oxford City Police compared to 276 male officers. These figures rose when the amalgamation occurred later that same year and became Thames Valley Constabulary which covered Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire, but in one of the largest territorial police forces in England which employed 2305 officers, just 126 were women.

While the British Association of Women in Policing continues its equality campaign for female police officers across the UK in which women make up 51% of the population, it has been estimated in recent years that only 27.9% of today’s entire police force are actually female.

~~~

RINGLEADER, TOM-BOY, AND CHUM TO THE WEAK

An exclusive ENDEAVOUR interview

With Dakota Blue Richards

Interview copyright © Damian Michael Barcroft 2018

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DAMIAN: I donʼt know if you were familiar with Inspector Morse, Lewis or Colin Dexterʼs novels on which they were based but what was your initial reaction to being offered the part of WPC Shirley Trewlove?

DAKOTA: When I first auditioned for Endeavour I was sent an episode to read in which Trewlove had only four lines. I was promised that the character would grow and develop into ‘one of the gang’ as the series went on and given a vague outline of what that might entail, but the truth is I was going in blind. I didn’t know anything about the character – what sort of a person she was, where she came from or where she might end up. But I had seen the first two seasons of the show and was struck by the high production values and the wonderful acting of the regular characters so I figured I ought to put my trust in the team behind it and hope for the best. I suppose you could call it a leap of faith. It was daunting, of course, joining a cast so well established but everyone was so welcoming that I soon felt at home on set.

DAMIAN: The writer, Russell Lewis, has told me in previous interviews that Trewloveʼs creation owes a little something to the female police officers depicted in Carry on Constable, Joyce Grenfellʼs PW Sgt. Ruby Gates in the St. Trinianʼs series, Shirley Eaton in many British films from the period in which she played cool, capable and resourceful characters such as Nurse Denton in Carry on Nurse and he wondered what might happen with those kind of characters if he wrote the part straight rather than for laughs. Other inspirations include Sue Lloyd as Jean Courtney in The Ipcress File and John Betjemanʼs poem Myfanwy. Did you ever discuss these influences with Russ at any point?

DAKOTA: Sadly Russell never shared his influences with me. Trewlove was something I had to figure out on my own.

DAMIAN: How did you go about researching your character given that there were so few women police officers during the sixties?

DAKOTA: It was tricky. As you say, there weren’t many women in the police force which gave me relatively little to work with and what I could find about them was usually just statistics. No first hand accounts. I read a lot about the sort of jobs women were typically given; usually the ones seen to be too sensitive for the male officers, such as breaking bad news or dealing with victims, particularly cases involving children or sexual assault. Trewlove is actually involved in the investigative work a lot more than most women would have been allowed to be at that time. With that being said, I can appreciate how it feels to work in a field where you are treated very differently to your male counterparts.

DAMIAN: How do you think the show deals with issues of gender inequality and what do Trewloveʼs storylines or character arc reveal about this struggle?

DAKOTA: I think the show, for the most part, steers clear of tackling this issue head on. On the whole, the men around her treat her with the respect her hard work earns her. It goes without saying that Trewlove’s career trajectory will be different to that of her peers, but that doesn’t deter her from getting involved (as much as possible) and from striving to be her best self. She rarely lets anybody see how affected she is by the pressures of working in a male-dominated environment, but there is a lovely moment this season where she empathises with Fancy when he claims he feels overlooked. There are occasions in this series where guest characters attempt to patronise or harass her but she takes it all in her stride – she can feel that times are changing and as Endeavour tells Fancy in Film 1 ‘She doesn’t suffer fools.’

DAMIAN: Letʼs talk about your thoughts on some of the other characters. For someone who is essentially a loner, Endeavour certainly has his fair share of female admirers. What do you think makes him so attractive to women?

DAKOTA: I think to a greater or lesser extent we all want what we can’t have. Endeavour may be intelligent, principled, witty and very occasionally charming but he also is emotionally unavailable and that is a real draw for a lot of people. And those cheekbones certainly don’t do him any damage.

DAMIAN: Trewlove is attracted to him as well isnʼt she?

DAKOTA: Naturally – it’s a rule on the show that everyone is attracted to Endeavour. Trewlove connects with Endeavour on an intellectual level that I think is quite rare. She has a lot of respect for him and harbours a deep desire to impress him. I think to an extent she sees him as another puzzle – something to be figured out. But she can also be quite playful with him, she’s one of the only characters that dares tease him.

DAMIAN: As you say, certainly on an intellectual and cultural level, wouldnʼt Trewlove and Endeavour make a perfect couple?

DAKOTA: I think so. But Trewlove isn’t going to waste her time waiting for him to realise that. Endeavour is his own worst enemy when it comes to romance; he’s allowed himself to become so obsessed with chasing something he can’t have that he’s blinded himself to everything and everyone else. He has a few affairs this season but they’re short lived and he never really allows himself to be fully present. Trewlove is a little more pragmatic in her approach to romance; if you want love just pick somebody and love them. Endeavour may come to realise what he could have had with Trewlove, but, as with all great love stories, it’ll likely be tragically too late.

DAMIAN: For me, one of the lovely surprises of the show has been the way in which the bond between Trewlove and Bright seems to grow with each new series but how would you describe their relationship?

DAKOTA: I love Trewlove’s relationship with Bright. He’s always looked out for her and given her encouragement and she returns the favour in his moments of vulnerability. She looks up to him as a sort of father figure. I always imagined that Trewlove had lost someone she cared for and perhaps Bright goes some way to filling the gap that was left.

DAMIAN: Thereʼs a beautiful scene in PREY in which Bright tells Trewlove the story about him killing the man-eating tiger of Kot Kindri but that he failed to save the life of a fellow officer. Thereʼs another moment which I loved when theyʼre hunting the tiger in Oxford and he says “If we should encounter anything, you stay by me, yes?” which highlights his almost fatherly relationship with her. And yet, in the script for LAZARETTO (Blue Amendments) where Trewlove visits Bright in hospital she says, “Itʼs alright, sir. I wonʼt leave you. You just get some sleep. Iʼll be right here”, and a particularly revealing line in the description that reads: “TREWLOVE settles into a chair [next to his bed]… A tigress minding her cub.” Now, this actually made me look at the relationship from a different perspective because I originally thought of it as Bright mentoring Trewlove but couldnʼt it also quite easily be the case that it is he who actually needs her?

DAKOTA: There comes a time in every parent/child relationship when the cared for becomes the carer and vice versa. It’s nice to see Trewlove return the favour.

DAMIAN: As I often say, the cast is exceptionable and one of the finest ensembles on British television, but what is it like working with an actor of such gravitas as Anton Lesser?

DAKOTA: Anton is one of the world’s better people. The ideal combination of talent, humour, professionalism and gentility. He never fails to delight me and is always the best part of my day. Working with him has truly been a joy and an honour.

~~~

Very special thanks to the British Association of Women in Policing and especially Professor Louise A. Jackson of the School of History, Classics & Archaeology at the University of Edinburgh and author of Women Police: Gender, Welfare and Surveillance in the Twentieth Century for their generous time and assistance with the information which proceeds this interview.

~

THE ENDEAVOUR INTERVIEWS 2018: Russell Lewis Part II

Will the reader please cast their eye over the following lines, and see if they can discover anything harmful in them?

EXT. OXFORD COLLEGE. QUAD – DAY
The topless towers of Oxonium. Not a cloud to spoil the view.
TILT DOWN to BIRD’S EYE VIEW – wet flagstones… rain.
Coloured umbrellas pass below. A song and dance number begins. An ‘Outside Broadcast’ for a ‘Light Entertainment Special’ featuring MIMI, a chanteuse. HUGE STYROFOAM LETTERS spell out her name. DANCERS in coloured RAIN GEAR splash their way around the quad as…
MIMI: Like summer tempests came my tears, love, when I learned you’d been untrue. But after rain must come a rainbow. So, until then here’s what I’ll do…

PUNCH, BROTHERS, PUNCH!

(or Les infortunes de la vertu)

An exclusive ENDEAVOUR interview

Composed and conducted by Damian Michael Barcroft

Lyrics by Russell Lewis

~~~

With thanks to Lorenz Milton Hart and Richard Charles Rogers

& Matthew Slater for the images of RAK Studios

~

DAMIAN: I remember the day well and, of course, that bloody song – talk about involuntary musical imagery! And good God, wasn’t it hot?

RUSS:  Extremely.  The dancers in their plastic macs, sou’westers and good quality rubber boots had my sympathy.  As did Sharlette – our wonderful vocalist.  But yes – perhaps our most blisteringly hot shooting day since we began in 2011.

DAMIAN: Aside from Tiger-gate, was opening an episode of Endeavour with a pop song and dance routine one of the most bold and surprising creative decisions thus far?

RUSS: Ha!  Always with the tiger.  It wasn’t for me.  Like Mister Walken – I’m a hoofer at heart. The sequence began as a salute to Les Parapluies de Cherbourg, and evolved from there.

DAMIAN: I’ve said this before but you’re a very modest fellow, often frustratingly so for the purposes of these interviews, but let us simply assume, for the benefit of this piece, that you are indeed a VERY accomplished and successful screenwriter. The songs you wrote for CANTICLE, particularly ‘Make Believe’, were extremely catchy and, if we didn’t know better, genuinely sounded like a popular hit from the period. So, at what point did you feel confident as a lyricist and discover these hidden musical talents?

RUSS: Well – like the man said, I’ve a lot to be modest about.  As a youth I used to weep in Rod Argent’s Keyboard Shop on Denmark Street.  The usual teenage thing – bands; song-writing; colour me Les McQueen.  That particular creative muscle hasn’t been exercised for a long time, but if one has any facility for that sort of thing – it’s a bit like riding a bike.  And, of course, I was very fortunate to have Matt Slater on hand to do the heavy lifting.

DAMIAN: Are you familiar with another song entitled ‘Make Beileve’ from Show Boat?

RUSS: I haven’t seen Show Boat for decades.  I landed on that for a title as it was a massive hidden clue and a pointer towards the dangerous delusion at the heart of the matter.

DAMIAN: Wouldn’t it have been a bit naff and possibly even embarrassing if the songs weren’t up to scratch, and if that had been the case, would you have had someone else rewrite the material or perhaps scrap it all together?

RUSS: Seeing as much of the story depended on a credible soundtrack, I can’t imagine we’d have scrapped it. We just had to apply ourselves.

DAMIAN: Matthew told me you wrote some sections of the song in the script but then he asked you to write more verses to help him complete the music which you both did in about thirty minutes? Thirty minutes! This can’t be true can it?

RUSS:  I think it was about that.  We were clearly dragging our feet that day.

DAMIAN: And is it really true that two actors during one of the playback scenes were trying to Google one of the songs to see who originally wrote it back in the sixties?

RUSS:  I did hear that this was the case.

DAMIAN: You visited the recording of the songs at RAK Studios, what was it like to hear your lyrics performed alongside a rhythm section, brass and strings?

RUSS: Enormous fun. Like Abbey Road, it’s a place with an incredible history.  So – hugely exciting. The place was packed.  Sharlette; the boys from The Wildwood; Shaun came down; Helen Ziegler [producer]; Michael Lennox, the Director.  And I was there with my son James.  All of us cluttering up the control room – getting under the feet of the engineers, &c.  It was a very special day.  And in the middle of all the madness was Matt Slater – keeping his head and getting on with business. It was a privilege to see him working, as always.  Whatever madness we’ve thrown at him over the last couple of series, he never fails to deliver all we’ve asked for, and always a great deal more besides.

©Matthew Slater

©Matthew Slater

©Matthew Slater

DAMIAN: Did you celebrate with Rum, Scotch and Coke?

RUSS: I would refer you to Endeavour’s opening line in First Bus to Woodstock.

DAMIAN: In addition to Tony Hancock and those bloody Carry On films, almost every set of our interviews contain some mention of The Beatles. Can you remember when they split up and were you one of those fans who retreated to their bedroom in tears?

RUSS: I would have been seven – so…  unlikely.

DAMIAN: And what about when Zayn left One Direction?

RUSS:  I’m still mourning Geri’s departure from the Spice Girls.

DAMIAN: Do you listen to much modern music and what was the last album you purchased?

RUSS: I listen to all sorts of things.  iTunes tells me my last purchase was a movie soundtrack that was in heavy rotation during the writing of MUSE.

DAMIAN: The first few films including First Bus to WoodstockGirl, Fugue and probably quite a few more since feature typewriters and very particular mention of typefaces (a Smith Corona Deluxe Electric typewriter and Elite Number 66 typeface in Canticle) is this yet another example of your curious fascinations?

RUSS: A writer’s pre-occupation.  I started on type-writers.  Rewrites were a particular treat. Change a word or a line – re-type the entire page.

DAMIAN: Again, and far too many to mention them all, there are lots of literary and cultural references but I’m especially intrigued by connections to The Wind in the Willows which feature in CANTICLE. Is Kenneth Grahame’s classic a particular favourite?

RUSS: Published only six years before all the old certainties were blown to hell by the Great War, there’s something about its prelapsarian idyll that seems to connect with the back to The Garden innocence of the flower-children.

And the tragic death of Alistair, a.k.a. ‘Mouse’, the Grahames’ only child, while up at Oxford, to whom The Wind in the Willows had first been told as a bedtime story, lends another layer of connection.  It doesn’t take much detective work to get from there to The Piper At the Gates of Dawn.

DAMIAN: And there’s some interesting narrative parallels with Cherubim and Seraphim from the original series isn’t there?

RUSS: Very much so.  I think Morse’s comment to Lewis about his never having taken recreational drugs still stands. Endeavour was poisoned with hallucinogens.  I draw a distinction.

DAMIAN: And finally before we move on from the references and nods, are you an avaricious consumer of the Marquis de Sade’s work?

RUSS: Essential bedtime reading.

DAMIAN: Let’s now talk about some of the characters. Given his dislike for hippies and Germans, the fact that he won’t even hug his own son in public as he leaves for the army and generally displays certain personality characteristics that are probably out of touch even in the sixties, isn’t it somewhat surprising to find that Thursday has such liberal views on recreational drugs and homosexuality?

RUSS: It didn’t strike me as particularly liberal.  He states that he smoked hash as a fact, and that it didn’t do much for him.  That’s hardly an endorsement.  He upholds the law that he’s obliged to uphold.  I think the war probably put a lot of things into perspective for him.  When you’ve looked death in the eye, you tend not to sweat over the small stuff.  Judge not.

DAMIAN: Thursday has a difference of opinion on homosexulaity in an unfilmed scene in which Strange says that ‘poofs’ are ‘not right’ and ‘neither use nor ornament’, to which Thursday replies ‘We had one in the platoon. North Africa. Harris. Bravest man I ever knew… Sniper [shot him at] Second El Alamein. I closed his eyes. Brave to the last. If he’d made it back to Civvy Street, I might’ve had cause to nick him. And that can’t be right. Comes down to it, we all bleed red’. Is it realistic that a soldier would have been openly gay during WW2 or is this something the chap simply told Thursday in confidence?

RUSS:  If you’ll forgive me – there’s a danger of overthinking this.  I can’t imagine it was a conversation that ever took place.  There’s nothing new about don’t ask, don’t tell.  It was an assumption made, I’m sure, based upon Harris’s demeanour – as right or wrong as that might seem to us now.  Had Thursday served with…  I don’t know…  our own Charles Highbank – the window dresser from Burridges, played by best beloved Adrian Schiller – it’s somewhat unlikely Thursday would have mistaken him for a raging heterosexual.  There’s really no more to it than that.  But I think the important thing here is that such experiences – living cheek by jowl with a man, sharing the same foxhole – would have made Thursday, and others, question the orthodoxy – and indeed the law – that invited – if not required – them to view such men with suspicion and contempt.

DAMIAN: Were Strange’s comments cut for fear the audience might find them offensive?

RUSS:  Never.  No – for length.

DAMIAN: Is there sometimes a certain danger that television is rewriting history and is it convincing that most of the main characters of period dramas happen to share the contemporary views of the people who write them?

RUSS: Which is why I had Strange express the views I did.  Had it made the cut, it would have given some of the more predictable period context to offset Thursday’s view.

DAMIAN: I’m not sure if you’re allowed to say but to what extent was Mrs. Pettybon based on Mary Whitehouse?

RUSS:  Mrs.Pettybon was a composite – much like The Wildwood.  The inspiration was Edna Welthorpe (Mrs) – Joe Orton’s alter-ego – guardian of public morals — created in the 50s long before Mrs.W came to public prominence.  What we were looking to present was a type, of which Mrs.Whitehouse was perhaps the most well known – but she was certainly not alone in her crusading.  It was an attitude one was holding up for inspection, rather than an individual. As I’ve possibly mentioned before, ‘67 saw the death of Orton, Brian Epstein and Joe Meek.  This, together with the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality, as a result of the Sexual Offences Act 1967, was in my mind when I started developing the story.

The packaging of a certain kind of manufactured rock and roll band – the management keeping wives and girlfriends out of the picture, so as not to puncture the myth of their potential romantic availability to the young fandom, lest it affect record sales, &c, was also a building block.  The morality of that deceit seemed worth examining – just as much as the moral soapboxing of Mrs.Pettybon.

You know – we’re in the whodunit business, and the notion of a bigger, darker – at least for the period – secret, beyond that being presented on the surface, is key.

But the other big jumping off point was in thinking about whether it would be possible to murder someone without killing them.  If you change their personality, their cognitive abilities, irreversibly – say through spiking them with hallucinogens – it could be argued that the person they were beforehand has effectively been – for want of a better term – ‘murdered’.  The period certainly contained enough ‘acid casualties’ to make it something worth exploring.

DAMIAN: Were the OCD characteristics displayed by Mrs. Pettybon such as the extreme scrubbing of her hands a bit much and didn’t she run a slight risk of becoming something of religious caricature?

RUSS: Out, damned spot!  She did drive her husband to suicide – so she had something to be guilty about.  How does one depict someone who is a religious caricature? The point is that she wasn’t genuinely religious at all. The dissonance between her professed faith and her eagerness to cast the first stone seemed to me vast and obvious.  There was an exchange which we lost from the final cut between Mrs.P and the band’s manager after their appearance on Julian Calendar’s show.  It seemed to my mind to sum up what she was about.

MRS.PETTYBON: Is our car here?
ENDEAVOUR:
 Yes, yes, it’s, er… A taxi.
MRS.PETTYBON: What happened to the nice car that brought us?
RALPH: 
That’s showbusiness, Mrs.Pettybon.
MRS.PETTYBON: I’m not in showbusiness.
RALPH: 
Actually, dear, you are. Boys.
RALPH loads his charges into the TAXI.

She was a fame hungry charlatan who would turn up to the opening of an envelope.  That was the point.  The only appropriate response is ridicule and derision.

DAMIAN: Her daughter, Bettina, is yet another character who has something of a crush on Endeavour, what do you think makes him so attractive to women – especially those who might best be described as vulnerable or troubled?

RUSS:  That he looks remarkably like Shaun Evans possibly has something to do with it.

DAMIAN: Why were references to Bright’s spasms of pain deleted from this and the previous film, surely their inclusion would have made the events of the next film more dramatic and less out of the blue?

RUSS:  Length – again – very likely.  What can I tell you?

DAMIAN: There were two beautiful moments that appeared in the script but sadly didn’t make it on film as originally written: the first has Thursday hold the hallucinating Endeavour gently rocking him back and forth as he calls out ‘Fred?’, to which Thursday replies: ‘That’s right, son. That’s right. It’s Fred. You’re safe now. I’ve got you.’ I’m sure this would have elevated an already great scene to one of the most touching in the entire series so why cut it?

RUSS: On the day, that was the way it went on the floor.

DAMIAN: The second is the corned beef scene in the hospital at the end of the film which originally began with the following ‘ENDEAVOUR – a whiter shade of pale. Somewhere between this world and the next. An angel’s wings brush his cheek. A pair of soft lips find his own’ and Joan says off screen ‘Look after yourself, Morse.’ Again, this is beautiful so why lose it?

RUSS: As with the previous.  ‘Ask me no more…’

DAMIAN: So, while CANTICLE revealed your flair for lyrics, what can you tell us about CARTOUCHE and what new tricks or talents might you still have hidden up your sleeve?

RUSS:  Hmm.  I don’t know about new tricks.  Just an old dog’s selection of fire-sale novelties, gee-gaws and bagatelles from a well-travelled sample case of deceit and legerdemain.  Umm… What can I tell you about CARTOUCHE…  Tonight’s late-night double-feature examines – amongst other things — the fading grandeur of the local flea-pit.  Other aspects of the story were a sobering reminder that all too often the more things change, the more they stay the same.  So…  Two for the Circle.  And don’t forget your popcorn.

DAMIAN: Will there be any more singing and dancing in this series?

RUSS:  Some.

~

‘Why did I write this article? It was for a worthy, even a noble, purpose.  It was to warn you, reader, if you should came across those merciless rhymes, to avoid them—avoid them as you would a pestilence.
A Literary Nightmare by Mark Twain
~

THE ENDEAVOUR INTERVIEWS 2018: Producers Neil Duncan & John Phillips

Exclusive ENDEAVOUR Interview

Producers Neil Duncan & John Phillips

~~~

Interview copyright © Damian Michael Barcroft 2018

~

DAMIAN: I think readers will have a pretty good idea of what most of the key creative team do on Endeavour such as the writer or director, but what exactly does the role of a producer entail?

NEIL: The producer primarily works alongside the director (and the heads of each department), working together to bring the writer’s vision to the screen. You often have to work within the limitations of the budget creatively, so the show maintains its production value without too much compromise. As producer you’re ultimately responsible for the day-to-day management of the whole process, from casting right through to the final mix and delivery of the episode.

JOHN: Yes, Neil has summed it up well. Essentially we’re responsible for the show coming in on budget and schedule and to a creative standard everyone expects.

Just checking the walls, dear. Neil during a FILM 6 recce (location scouting) ©Neil Duncan

DAMIAN: Neil, you worked on EastEnders for two years as script editor and then became one of the producers by 2007. What were you doing prior to this and how did it lead to Albert Square?

NEIL: EastEnders was my second script editing job – before that I worked on River City, where I started as trainee script editor. Prior to that I worked as a researcher for factual programmes, and before that I was an archivist at the BBC.

DAMIAN: Between 2007 and 2012, you also worked as script editor on The Bill, New Tricks and script editor, script executive and later producer on Skins. What did you learn from those early experiences in television?

NEIL: Too many to mention! Soaps (and continuing dramas) are fantastic training grounds. Script editors on these shows learn to develop scripts quickly, it really sharpens your instinct for story and how to fix problems within individual scenes or across the overall structure of the script. Skins was a very collaborative and creative show to work on, so I was able to get involved in other areas of production, such as the edit and the sound mixes. I also got to work with actors for the first time, which I love doing. After that experience I was hooked. The main things I learned were – trust your instincts, and have fun.

DAMIAN: And you worked as series story producer on the second series of Fortitude – what the hell was that show all about because I’m still scratching my head?

NEIL: Well stay tuned because a third and final series is in the pipeline!

DAMIAN: In comparison to a regular producer, what is a series story producer?

NEIL: A story producer works with a writers room, developing the stories across larger volume series, e.g. Fortitude had ten episodes with a larger ensemble of characters compared to the usual six part series. Larger volume shows with bigger budgets often use several writers, working together in the room, and the story producer tries to corral all the ideas together while honouring the lead writer’s vision.

©John Phillips

DAMIAN: And John, you started in the industry by making short films from 2010 to 2013, served as production associate on Lip Service, and then like Neil, worked on various TV shows as script editor such as M.I. High (development script editor), Doctor Who (assistant script editor and later script editor), Midsomer Murders (script editor), Our Zoo (script editor) and The Job Lot (script editor/script executive). Again, this is potentially confusing to the layman so could you explain what a script editor does and clear up the differences between this and development script editor and script executive?

JOHN: I actually started in the industry before that. I was a runner first and then kind of fell into production at Kudos, who, at the time, produced great shows like Ashes to Ashes, Spooks and Hustle. My heart was always in scripts though! But to answer your question a script editor works closely with the writers and execs to help develop the stories. From helping to develop storylines and character arcs to giving notes and getting involved in logistical planning, it actually varies a fair bit from job to job. Every writer works differently and you have to adapt to their needs and ways of working.

DAMIAN: What was it like working on something as huge as Doctor Who which I think was during Matt Smith’s time in the TARDIS?

JOHN: It was a wonderful experience and I was very lucky. I worked with fantastic writers like Steven Moffat (obviously), Mark Gatiss, Neil Cross, Neil Gaiman, Steve Thompson. Some of the best screenwriters out there! Plus I think it was an exciting period in Doctor Who history.

DAMIAN: Then you must have worked very closely with Moffat who, in addition to Doctor Who, was also showrunner, writer and executive producer of Sherlock. How on earth do you think he managed to juggle both projects for so long?

JOHN: Ha. God knows, you’ll have to ask him! He’s an incredible writer and brain though who can deliver an amazing first draft of something and he just has this incredible capability of juggling so much.

DAMIAN: John and Neil, since you’ve both worked as script editors and gone on to produce, would you say that script editing is a good way of getting into producing and was this part of your cunning plan all along?

JOHN: Yes definitely. Traditionally there’s probably two classic ways of moving into producing and that’s either going the script editing route or up through either production managing or assistant directing.

NEIL: Yes, absolutely. It’s very much a traditional path in the UK television industry. Some producers come from a production background, but most of the producers I’ve worked with are ex-script editors.

DAMIAN: When I’ve done interviews with actors, writers, directors or composers etc. in the past, I’ve always asked them which artists in their particular field inspired them but I don’t imagine it’s quite the same with producing is it?

JOHN: Probably not as I don’t think you can call us producers artists and at the end of the day it is artists that inspire! I definitely moved into TV because of writers and directors I admired as a kid. The likes of Jimmy McGovern and Paul Abbott in TV to directors like David Lynch.

NEIL: Not quite. For me, the joy of this job is getting the chance to work closely with those same writers, directors and actors whose work you’ve admired, and helping create the conditions that allow them to do their best work.

Behind the scenes shot from FILM 2: CARTOUCHE ©Neil Duncan

DAMIAN: How did you both get the job of producing such a prestigious project as Endeavour?

NEIL: I’d worked with Tom Mullens (Exec Producer) on EastEnders, so we already knew one another from back then. I had a couple of meetings with him and Damien Timmer (Exec and CEO at Mammoth Screen), and that was that.

JOHN: It was thanks to Damien Timmer who I had a general meeting with and we just hit it off. He then introduced me to Tom (Exec) and Russ (writer) who took a punt on me.

DAMIAN: Endeavour has become not only a well-oiled machine but also something of a family. Indeed, often collectively referred to as Team Endeavour, many of the cast and crew have been around since the beginning. With this in mind, was it difficult or nerve wracking when you joined and can you describe your first day on the job?

JOHN: I felt it had a healthy mix of people who had done it from the beginning and new blood that Neil and I brought in. Having talented HODs (Heads of Department) already attached, terrific people like Helga Dowie (line-producer) who has done it since series 1, was a real blessing too.

NEIL: I was a little apprehensive, but everyone was very nice and welcoming from the start. I think my first day involved being driven to various art deco cinemas by location manager Alex Cox, who is very much part of the Endeavour family, and whose patience and generosity helped me find my feet.

DAMIAN: Were you previously fans of Endeavour and were either of you familiar with Inspector Morse or Lewis?

NEIL: Yes, absolutely. I didn’t watch Lewis but remember watching Inspector Morse with my family and have loved Endeavour from the pilot onwards.

JOHN: My family loved Morse and I remember it as a kid although I wasn’t an avid fan. However I thought Endeavour was so charming and elegant, always beautifully written and well crafted. I felt very lucky to be offered the opportunity to work on it.

DAMIAN: It seems quite a unique situation here and one that I haven’t come across before; John, you produced films 1, 3 and 5, while you Neil, produced films 2, 4 and 6. Why split the films between two producers and how was it decided who would produce which films?

JOHN: Endeavour is a challenging show and the ambition is to make features on a TV budget and schedule! And this series they were making six rather than the usual four so I think the execs felt it would be too much for one producer. I was hired before Neil so it was through default really why I produced the opener.

NEIL: Endeavour is a tough show to produce, in that it requires a lot of involvement in getting the details right. If one producer was working across six films, they wouldn’t be able to give each one the attention it deserves. John started on the job before me, so the order of our films was due to circumstance more than anything.

DAMIAN: Retrospectively, do either of you wish you’d have been able to swap any of the films you worked on?

NEIL: I always loved film 3 from the first draft onwards, and thought Jim Field Smith was an inspired choice of director for the show. But I’m immensely proud of each of the three films I worked on and the people who helped make them possible.

DAMIAN: But isn’t the last film of each series always the most dramatic and exciting for example?

JOHN: I loved the finale script as your series arcs all come to a natural conclusion and I just thought there were some beautiful, memorable moments in there (I won’t give you any spoilers, sorry!).

NEIL: You do get to bring serial storylines to a climax in the final episode, but this means you get less time to spend with the story of the week, so it’s give and take.

Behind the scenes shot from FILM 2: CARTOUCHE ©Neil Duncan

DAMIAN: I’ve discussed this in great detail with Russ and what should be a fairly simple process (writer writes script, actors learn their lines and director points the camera in the right direction) usually ends up becoming unimaginably complicated to anyone outside of the television industry. For example, in preparation for this interview, I asked Russ the very simple question do the cast see the script prior to a read-through, and are the scripts hand delivered or simply emailed to the actors. His response, as always, was typically detailed and, indeed complex, but I hope readers will find it quite illuminating:

“Shaun and Roger get scripts at early draft stages. Readthrough/Shooting Drafts usually go out electronically, and then in hard-copy, as we’re usually very close to the wire. Scene Nos., are locked before the read — and usually Pages are locked too — so that further revisions (colour coded – starting with Pink; Blue etc.) can be slotted in without having a knock on to the rest of the script. Sometimes Shaun and Roger will feed back early — but it’s more just a case of them having something early. More recently, they haven’t looked at it until just before the Read.

So — if there’s time — we’ll do a 1st Draft (circulated to Production – so they can start location hunting/casting etc..); and then a Tech Recce Draft, which will be a 1st Revision, with early notes actioned as best as possible. Sometimes with ‘place holder’ fixes, until the right solution is hit upon.

Tech Recce — Director visiting locations with Heads of Department to work through technical challenges, requirements — usually occupies, TUES/WEDS/THURSDAY in the final week before shooting. I attend the post-Tech Recce on THURSDAY afternoon, and we spend a couple of hours working through the proposed shooting schedule; ironing out any areas of difficulty, identifying anything we can fix on the page to make the shooting go more smoothly.  Anything we can drop to ease shooting etc.

That Friday/Saturday/Sunday, I will be working on the ReadThrough Draft for delivery Monday.

After the Read — there’s a lengthy post mortem/Notes session, often at Mammoth [Screen] Towers, with Network representatives; Shaun & Rog; Damien Timmer [Executive Producer and Joint Managing-Director of production company Mammoth Screen], Tom Mullens [Executive Producer], script editor – this series Amy Thurgood; self; producer(s) attending — where ‘notes’ are given. Everybody pitching in – and offering thoughts on how it can be improved. Changes requested. Any production issues that need to be addressed – unavailability of locations/props/‘heavy days’ where more is scheduled at a location than can possibly be realised in a working day. Can the scenes be relocated elsewhere? Can they be cut? Amalgamated elsewhere?

The time available before turning over on Day 1 is 12/24 hours, usually the former.  We have been starting shooting Thursday/Friday this time around. So, if you can make sure the first 2/3 days stand up (don’t require changes), and get any notes affecting scenes shooting across these days out by around lunchtime on the day before shooting, then you buy yourself the weekend to address anything outstanding, or requiring more thought – often ‘story’ things.

So – the week we start shooting usually looks like this…

MONDAY – Deliver & issue Readthrough Draft.

TUESDAY – Readthrough 10:30 through to around 12:30 — apres ski at the Black Lodge 13:00 to whenever.

WEDNESDAY – Deliver any changes affecting DAY 1, 2, 3 – ish.  (This will usually require working through the night TUES, and getting it in by early doors/mid-morning for issue to All Departments & Cast.)

THURSDAY – DAY 1 shoot — Script Dept (self & editor on phone for any crunchy bits) will be continuing with revisions arising from the apres ski.

FRIDAY – DAY 2 shoot — Script Dept — as above.

SATURDAY — Script Dept — more of the same…

SUNDAY — Script Dept — more of the same…  Often, late Sunday evening, further thoughts from cast will come in.

MONDAY – DAY 3 shoot — deliver ‘Shooting Draft’.

It is standard that the script will be further revised during production – for many reasons. Usually we try to get as much of this out of the way in the first week as possible — but circumstances beyond our control, often mean further changes right through the shooting schedule. Weather – across S5 – has been a swine; meaning we haven’t always ‘made the schedule’ – achieved all the ’strips’ on the callsheet for the day. Rescheduling the scenes we were unable to shoot = robbing Peter to pay Paul. So other scenes will be dropped, amalgamated etc. across production.”

Wow, really quite astonishing. Can you describe at what point you began work on series five and take us through the process, difficulties and challenges outlined above by Russ from your own perspectives as producers?

NEIL: When I started on the series, Russell had delivered a first draft of film 2 and shooting was just about to begin on film 1. Some of the challenges as producer include – getting the guest cast booked in time for the start of the shoot (as characters can be added or cut as the drafts develop) or getting locations in place before the tech recce (locations can be added or cut and are often very specific). All of which is standard stuff – the job is easy compared to the heavy lifting Russell has to do on each film. You just have to be flexible in your thinking.

DAMIAN: It must be extremely stressful. First of all, how do you cope on something as big as Endeavour and, secondly, since you’re both relatively new to producing, did either of you ever have any doubts you were up to it?

NEIL: We had the support of our crew, our exec producers and most importantly our line producer Helga Dowie. So it never felt overwhelming to me as it was a team effort.

JOHN: When you work with terrific people it makes your life easier and there are some great minds on Endeavour. Producing is a tough gig though, no doubt about it, and you make personal sacrifices to be a success, but at the end of the day we work in a brilliant industry and are lucky to do what we do.

DAMIAN: Series 5 was a long shoot. Do you know exactly how many days you worked and how many (completely uninterrupted) days you had off to relax during this time?

NEIL: I honestly can’t remember, it’s all a bit of a blur!

JOHN: I have no idea now but it was long! I had a couple of days off in the middle because I got married but that was it really. I’m lucky my wife is incredibly supportive and understanding!

DAMIAN: Did you ever look to each other for support or simply a sympathetic ear when things got tough?

JOHN: Definitely. Producing can be quite lonely and it was brill to have Neil there to ask advice or just have a general moan to.

NEIL: Yes, it was definitely useful having another producer to lean on every now and then.

DAMIAN: What makes a good producer?

NEIL: I think in the long term it’s about adaptability – every show is different, and every production company is different. As a producer you have to be able to move between jobs and find a way to get the best out of people while working within the rules or expectations of your employers (i.e. the production company and the channel).

JOHN: Neil’s hit on a very good point. You have to be adaptable in this game as he’s absolutely right, every show is different. I think you also have to be a people person; as a producer you’re managing a lot of different people and personalities.

DAMIAN: What makes you a good producer?

JOHN: Ha, I don’t know if I am! You’ll have to ask the people I’ve worked with!

NEIL: I don’t think I’m there quite yet.

DAMIAN: Do you have a favourite film from this series and which was the most difficult to work on?

JOHN: I genuinely like all of them for different reasons! That’s part of the success of Endeavour, each film is creatively quite different and there’s elements to each one I really love. The most difficult to work on was definitely the opener as there’s a lot of expectation and pressure on making it right. Plus I was new to the show, fairly inexperienced too, and personally I felt I grew stronger as a producer after each film so for me, looking back, I found that one the most challenging.

NEIL: I think film 3 is excellent. Film 4 was a real challenge – we had to split the army base over 4 different military locations and the weather was very unkind to us.

DAMIAN: What was the single most difficult aspect to producing Endeavour or producing in general?

NEIL: The travelling was difficult. Endeavour is filmed across quite a large geographical area. Because locations are so important to the show, we had to do lots of driving on recce’s and during the shoot itself. I spent a lot of time stuck in motorway traffic jams.

JOHN: Making everyone happy, perhaps. You can’t always do it! Filmmaking is an art, an art that happens to have been turned into a successful business but it’s still subjective. What one person likes another might not and sometimes as a producer it’s tricky to navigate through that when you have a writer, director, exec etc preferring different things. Luckily 9 times out of 10 we were all in agreement though!

DAMIAN: Do you think you’ll stick to producing now or are there also other areas you’d like to explore?

JOHN: I love producing, so definitely. I also love development and I’m working on a few of my own ideas which, when they are ready to take to market, I’d love to attach a writer and follow through to delivery. That would be the dream.

NEIL: I’m happy producing – it’s a good time to be doing this job as there’s lots of opportunity and growth in TV drama at the moment.

DAMIAN: John and Neil, thank you both very much indeed.

JOHN: Thanks. All the best.

NEIL: Thank you Damian.

~

THE ENDEAVOUR INTERVIEWS 2018: Lewis Peek

Introducing DC George Fancy

An exclusive ENDEAVOUR interview

With Lewis Peek

Interview copyright © Damian Michael Barcroft 2018

~

DAMIAN: I’d like to begin by talking about your childhood in Devon and for you to perhaps give me an idea of the sort of television, film or theatre that you were exposed to during this impressionable age. What was it like growing up there and at what point did you realise that you wanted to act?

LEWIS: I guess I’m biased, but I would say Devon is one of the best places to grow up in the UK and I’ve always been extremely proud to come from the West Country. Devon is an incredibly tranquil and picturesque part of England, but in terms of opportunities to get involved in TV and Film, you find yourself a little isolated from the rest of the country. I’d always had an interest in the screen and I have a vivid memory of watching the first Lord of the Rings film when I can’t have been more than eight, and coming away absolutely mind blown and swept away by the experience. I became so interested in how Film and Television conjures up these vast worlds and storylines, and it was something I desperately wanted to be a part of. I couldn’t  give you the exact moment or event that made me want to become an actor – I’ve wanted to act for as long as I can remember.

DAMIAN: Which actors did you find particularly inspiring?

LEWIS: Jake Gyllenhaal is an actor I’ve always been particularly drawn to because the majority of the parts he undertakes tend to be quite interesting and understated – a little outside of the box – the kind of characters I could see myself playing too. Naturalism and finding truth is something I always strive for, so any actor who executes that well inspires me.

DAMIAN: Looking in the mirror as a teenager then, faces constantly changing and evolving, was there ever as sense of what sort of characters you would be suited to or feel comfortable playing?

LEWIS: I always saw myself playing more introverted, enigmatic characters because that’s what I felt like at heart, not the more generic male leads or love interests. I always feel like there is a big difference between what characters you see yourself as, opposed to how others see you. But I suppose that’s what being an actor entails, using your abilities to embody whatever character the part requires you to be.

DAMIAN: It’s become something of a cliche for writers but I still like the quote that goes something like, ‘I don’t enjoy writing, but I enjoy having written’. Given that so many actors often say that they don’t like seeing themselves onscreen, is this quote the exact opposite when applied to performing?

LEWIS: I guess it depends on the actor. I know people who watch themselves and I know people who don’t. It’s preference. For me I will watch the things I make for a couple of different reasons. One being – let’s take Endeavour for example – I spent the majority of my time last year on the project and a lot of my head space, I met incredible people and want to see what we made as a collaboration. I enjoy viewing the scenes that I wasn’t involved in. Another reason is that I believe it is important to evaluate your work. I can see the things that I liked and also maybe some mistakes I feel I made, which probably only I would pick up on. For me not watching my work especially in the early stages of your career is missing a vital opportunity to better yourself as an actor. But on the whole I wouldn’t say I enjoy watching a performance I give as I think it’s impossible to distance yourself from the character. At the end of the day I am literally just watching myself.

DAMIAN: From previous interviews with actors, I often get a sense that there’s a contradictory nature to them, almost an ongoing battle of uncertainty between confidence and insecurity especially in the early stages of their careers. Having enjoyed the exposure that came with your role as Ted Carkeek in the hugely successful Poldark, did you breathe a sigh of relief and find a certain sense of security or accomplishment as an actor?

LEWIS: Poldark was an incredible experience and a great reassurance that I was moving in the right direction and finding my feet in the industry, but in no way thought that I had ‘made it’ as an actor, it was more of a stepping stone to bigger achievements. I wasn’t naive enough to think it would be easy from that point on, in a way it gets harder because you are striving to outdo yourself, but I think that is something every actor feels at every stage of their career. Being an actor for me is about progression, to quote one of my favourite lyrics ‘I’ll never be as good as I’d like to be’.

DAMIAN: Indeed, after filming Poldark, you worked in a coffee shop for a while. I imagine working there that you’ve had your fair share of grumpy and complaining customers. I’m wondering if on a particularly bad day you were ever tempted to scream ‘I’M TED CARKEEK FROM POLDARK!’?

LEWIS: Definitely my fair share of complaining customers! But I always liked to keep my career at arms length from any other work I did on the side. So to answer your question no, and if I am honest I don’t think anyone would of known who that was!

DAMIAN: Well, something to really shout about is your role as Detective Constable George Fancy (originally Bob Fancy before negative checking couldn’t clear the name*). Now, there wasn’t much of a description in the script for your character other than he was a young shaver but rather it was one of those cases where they had a pretty good idea what they were looking for and would know when they found it. So, given that there was so little description and you obviously couldn’t guess what was inside their heads, how did you go about playing Fancy in the audition?

LEWIS: I guess instinct. That is all you have in those situations. Once you have taken all the information you can from the scenes you are given for the audition, and the notes on the character – which the majority of times are very brief – then the rest is up to you. I always see it as this: you go into the audition and present the character the way you think it should be played. If this instinct you use to play a character is what the team who are casting are looking for then you’ve got the part. With Fancy when I first got the scenes I immediately saw a part of my teenage self in him, especially when I was in school. So I thought about that and then kind of just read the lines as younger me, but still having in my mind that he was a 22/23 year old man. There is always a part of you in any role.

DAMIAN: Can you describe the moment you found out that you landed the part and how did you celebrate?

LEWIS: I was living in Devon still but was in London at the time. I had just finished a second recall for the current UK tour of War Horse. Emerging from The National Theatre’s toilets I saw I had a missed call from my agent. It was about a week after my third audition for Fancy. So I rang him back and he was like ‘Oh, you’ll need to come back to London on Monday’. I just thought this was maybe for another audition. Then he said ‘Because you have the read through for Episode 1 of Endeavour‘. I couldn’t actually believe it and I think I asked him if he was joking about five times! I was ecstatic, and it’s always extra special when you land a role which you really wanted, and this was one of those cases. In terms of celebrating I didn’t do anything extravagant, just spent time with friends and family at home.

DAMIAN: So, you find yourself in Beaconsfield standing in an old gymnasium where some of the sets have been built. Taking a short walk along the corridor and past the police noticeboard, you turn right through the door and you’re in CID with such a fine ensemble of actors ready to film a scene. What’s going on inside your head?

LEWIS: I couldn’t even explain. A lot. Above all I was extremely nervous. I had joined a phenomenal cast, the majority of which had been working together on the show from the get go, which at the time would of been 4 years. But I had to trust and reassure myself I had been picked for the right reasons, and I was here to do my job. I was so welcomed though that I quickly found my feet in the cast and felt like an integral part of the team.

DAMIAN: The writer, Russell Lewis, has always tried to explore Endeavour’s character and reveal fresh aspects of his development both as a detective and a human being. Finally, having been promoted to Sergeant at the end of the last series, and after been mentored by Thursday for so long, it is Endeavour’s turn to take on a young apprentice. What does this reveal about Endeavour and how would you describe his relationship to Fancy?

LEWIS: It reveals a whole lot about how Morse deals with responsibility. At first he is very reluctant to mentor his new apprentice and even says to Thursday ‘I’m used to working alone Sir, he’d learn more from you’. I won’t say too much on the subject as I want the audience to see how their relationship evolves, but it certainly puts Endeavour in a situation he is quite alien to. I feel that even though he doesn’t really want this occasional burden, he has to learn to accept his new responsibilities and do his job the best he can.

DAMIAN: I don’t know if you’ve ever watched the original series but to what extent do you think the relationship between Endeavour and Fancy foreshadows that of Inspector Morse and Sergeant Lewis?

LEWIS: I would hate to make anyone feel old but, I wasn’t born when Inspector Morse was released and we unfortunately never crossed paths.

DAMIAN: What’s the character dynamic between Fancy, Thursday and Bright and what’s it like working with actors with such gravitas as Roger Allam and Anton Lesser?

LEWIS: Their relationship is different of that with Fancy and Morse, which is probably a good thing. As you’ll see in the first episode Morse doesn’t quite take to his new colleague Fancy but does still have his back. Therefore a lot of Fancy’s early mishaps are left unseen by the two big dogs. But Thursday and Bright are totally pro Fancy throughout the series and give him a lot of credit, probably more than he deserves. They are masters of their fields, and as the highest ranks Fancy has tremendous respect for them.

Working with any actor who has had a long and successful career is extremely humbling. I actually spent quite a bit of time watching and admiring their performances at any chance I could. I learnt from them and had some very valuable conversations with many of the principle cast. Anton in particular being the kind and gentle soul he is had many a wise word of wisdom about the ups and downs of being an actor.

DAMIAN: And what about his relationship with the younger officers such as Strange and Trewlove?

LEWIS: As the three youngest members of the force there was always going to be connection with Fancy and those two naturally. Fancy spends a lot of time with Strange, and even though Morse is labelled as Fancy’s mentor, he learns a lot from him. Straight off the bat Strange accommodates and makes Fancy feel welcomed, and Fancy clearly appreciates this. I would definitely say Strange always has Fancy’s back even when things are not looking up for him. Fancy and Trewlove’s relationship is one that I will let people see develop for themselves.

DAMIAN: Tell me a bit about location filming in Oxford and how do you find the reaction from the fans?

LEWIS: It’s the home of Morse, it’s where it belongs. Anytime I got to film in Oxford itself was an absolute pleasure. You cannot beat filming in a real location and especially somewhere where the location itself really encapsulates the show and is so integral to the story. For me it makes my job so much easier. I do really feel like a detective in 1968 walking the streets of Oxford and prowling around the colleges. Seeing so many fans come out to watch drives home how special and well received the show really is. There seems to be a real excitement in the air when Endeavour comes to town.

DAMIAN: One of the things I like most about Oxford is exploring the pubs, so many of which have obviously featured in Inspector Morse, Lewis and Endeavour over the years. Did you discover any personal favourites during your visits?

LEWIS: I think I was lucky enough to film in two of the famous Morse pubs in Oxford. Walking into them and seeing the sets that I had only seen on the TV was very special. To top that off, to actually get to be a character in these iconic locations was wonderful. I wouldn’t say I had a favourite as I unfortunately never got to sit down as a punter and have a beer.

DAMIAN: Your family must be so proud and over the moon for you, particularly as we get closer to transmission of the first episode. Will they be joined together round the TV to see the debut of DC George Fancy?

LEWIS: Of course! Luckily a lot of my family are big fans of Endeavour so they will be glued to the television.

DAMIAN: Lewis, thank you very much indeed and before I go, can I get an espresso please?

LEWIS: I’M TED CARKEEK FROM POLDARK!

~

*  Television and film productions have to clear any names of fictional characters so that they can’t be confused with people in real life and thus avoid any legal complications.

THE ENDEAVOUR INTERVIEWS 2018: Russell Lewis Part I

PROLOGUE

From Burslem to Beaconsfield

I’d always lived in and around Stoke-on-Trent while Kirstie resided in Uttoxeter. I wouldn’t say I’m a particularly proud “Stokie” but, and despite the occasional unflattering cultural references to Stoke in shows such as The Likely Lads and Steptoe and Son – not to mention Prince Philip’s alleged description of the city as ghastly, I don’t have a chip on my shoulder about it either. However, not long after we’d met while studying Media together at a college in neighbouring Burslem (or Bursley as Arnold Bennett renamed it in his Five Towns novels – some of you may recall the 1952 Alec Guinness film, The Card, based on a story by the author set and largely filmed on location in Burslem), she told me with no small measure of relish, and a slightly annoying air of superiority, that people like me in Stoke were generally known to people like her in Uttoxeter as “Chip eaters”. Well, I’d never heard of such a phrase before but later discovered the Urban Dictionary definition is as follows: ‘Common person, usually resident in one of the lesser-developed cities such as Liverpool who likes to eat chips for/with every meal’. Good “evans” – I hope this doesn’t mean everyone from Liverpool!

I protested that I didn’t even like chips that much, but as always – or at least more often than not, Kirstie was right and sure enough chips do seem to feature heavily in memories such as me, as a little boy, sitting on a wall eating a bag of chips in Llandudno (strangely enough, Alec Guinness’ character, Denry Machin, in The Card also enjoys holidays in Llandudno) with my Mum, Nan and two uncles who were more like older brothers since my Mum fell pregnant at a relatively young age. Two divorced and single cash-strapped Mums trying to raise us boys as best as they knew how but what marvellous stories they told us there including how Lewis Carroll (there’s a little Oxford connection while you wait patiently for me to get to the point) would visit the young Alice Liddell at her holiday home on Llandudno’s West Shore and, during those ‘happy ramblings’, saw a white rabbit hastily hopping along the beach which allegedly (it’s never been proven that Carroll ever even visited Llandudno and local historians continue to argue about it to this day) inspired that most wonderful of adventures.

Another happy memory, some years later and now almost a teenager, I met up with my Dad one Christmas Eve and he gave me a card with some money in it. I was rich!!! Well, at least for a few hours because I then went shopping and spent most of it that same afternoon buying horror videos from Woolworths. A new film on VHS usually cost £9.99 back then but you could get twice as many in the budget Cinema Club range at a bargain £4.99 such as old classics like Roger Corman’s The Fall of the House of Usher and the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Most, but not all of the money because I decided that for my very first independent visit to a restaurant, and I did feel ever so grown up, I would treat myself to the finest meal in town! So, there I sat alone and really rather pleased with myself, in the grand cafeteria of British Home Stores eating chips and beans surrounded by some delightful old ladies sucking cigarettes and slurping tea.

Today, and I promise to get to the point now, I couldn’t be further away from The Potteries or sadly neglected and now lost department stores because I’m in Beaconsfield at the headquarters of Team Endeavour hobnobbing with the cast and crew. But, as we shall see,  not all that much has really changed and I’ve simply swapped delightful old ladies with delightful television-makers sucking cigarettes and slurping tea. However, I’m here specifically to meet with writer and executive producer, Russell Lewis, and to make a start on my annual batch of Endeavour interviews once more. It’s a cold Autumn morning and the penultimate day of filming. I haven’t met with Russ since one lovely summer’s day in 2016 so we have a lot of catching up to do and I have many questions to ask him regarding the making of series five as well as our usual analysis of films from the previous series.

Turns out that Russ has one or two questions of his own: what time does filming break for lunch? (about 12:45) and what’s on the menu? (Shepherd’s pie or vegetable burrito both served with various sides – including chips!). Now, I can’t have the Shepherd’s pie because I don’t eat meat and I’m not very adventurous with food so I ask what the vegetable burrito is all about. Wise and wonderful man that he is, Russ tells me it’s probably, rather than quite obviously, a Mexican wrap filled with vegetables but he says it in such a nice way so as not to make me feel stupid for asking such a ridiculous question. Russ actually goes for said vegetable burrito. Me? Well, remembering Kirstie’s remarks all those years ago, I certainly don’t want to appear to be a “common person” in such esteemed company and as we stand in line watching Roger Allam walk away with his Shepherd’s pie and Anton Lesser just a few feet in front of us in the queue (he also has Shepherd’s pie – I don’t know where Shaun Evans has gone but perhaps, like Endeavour, he doesn’t eat all that much) I consider following in the footsteps of my mentor, but no, I stay true to myself -an unadventurous vegetarian who doesn’t particularly like vegetables- and stick to what I know; I do, of course, simply have chips.

And, as Russ and I sit here talking about Endeavour, canteen food, and childhood trips to Woolworths, I smile and wish she was here to share this little moment with me because Kirstie was right after all and I know that this will prove to be another happy memory…

…served with chips!

DAMIAN: Do you wish you’d have had Shepherd’s pie or are you happy with the vegetable burrito?

RUSS: I like to live on the culinary edge.

DAMIAN: There’s something comforting about canteen food isn’t there?

RUSS: Yes – I’ve always had a weakness for it.  Not that I’d compare the fare magicked daily by the battalion of chefs de cuisine in our field kitchen to canteen grub.  One of the things I’ll most miss due to the cultural vandalism visited upon BBCTVC at White City is its sundry canteens. There was a lovely one at ATV Birmingham Studios in Broad Street – back in the day.  And also at Elstree – now home to Walford Square – when it was an ATV base.  (You’ll recognise it as Harlington-Straker Studios in Gerry Anderson’s UFO.)

Long term guests of Her Majesty might disagree, but there is something comforting in communal eating.

DAMIAN: What restaurants and shops do you remember from your childhood – are they similar to my favourite haunts such as BHS and Woolworths or are they a bit more posh like Burridges?

RUSS:  Posh?  Sarf London?  I suppose Arding & Hobbs up the Junction had a certain piss-elegance.  It was probably the prototype for Burridges – in my fever dreamscape.  Palaces of wonder and delight.  Wooden stepped escalators.  Lifts that still boasted lift operators.  But I’m aware of dark corners also.  A sense that behind the public façade there was a backstage, backstairs world.  Unsettling, and vaguely malevolent.  Department stores after lights out…

We did have a Woolies, of course.  Pick ‘n’ Mix.  A coin-operated launderette at the top of the road.  And on the other side of the street, there was an ironmongers cum haberdashers called Cato’s (One for the classicists.  And Pink Panther fans) that hung its wares around the doorway.

A supermarket that probably inspired Richardson’s called ‘Frosts’ – which, thinking about it now, gives me a shiver.  The strange associations a child’s mind makes – with the limited information available to it – had tied it into ‘Jack Frost’; a faintly demonic figure in my imagination…  ‘Wrap up warm or Jack Frost will get you.’

Toyshops, of course, loom large in memory.  I’m surprised they haven’t turned up yet.  Russ’s on Battersea Rise was the favourite.  More of a model shop.  This was where I got most of the Aurora ‘Glow in the Dark’ Universal Monster kits from – which you’ll recall feature a bit in Salem’s Lot.  Sun blanched Airfix mornings.  The faintly orange tang of a certain brand of model glue.  Jumpers for goalposts…

Otherwise, I remember when this was all fields.

DAMIAN: There’s a reference to buying records from Woolworths in the second film of series four which obviously resonated and made me think back to the first singles I purchased from there as a kid such as Diana Ross’ Chain Reaction, Bobby Vinton’s Blue Velvet (the David Lynch film had just been released) and, erm, I’m ashamed to admit, Anita Dobson’s Anyone Can Fall in Love. I was only eleven at the time but I must confess to having an enormous crush on Angie Watts. Do you remember the first records you bought as a kid?

RUSS: I remember Lily the Pink by The Scaffold being the first 45 in the house. LP-wise it was Sparky’s Magic Piano, and Sparky & the Talking Train.  Magic Piano probably explains a lot.  It’s deeply disturbing.  An anxiety dream committed to vinyl.

Mostly it was family 78s – though.  Played on the radiogram.  Tennessee Ernie Williams.  Slim Whitman.   Eddie Calvert.  Rosemary Clooney.  Frankie Laine.  Doris Day.  Kathy Kirby maybe. Much fun to be had for a kid in playing them at the wrong speed.

I think I might have had to explain to [Helen] Ziegler [producer] about 78s.  How to feel old, Part.1318.

At some point I acquired ‘Back Home’ by the 1970 England World Cup Squad.  But the first record I bought – a double LP – unsurprisingly, was The James Bond 10th Anniversary Collection.  A selection of John Barry cues from the first seven Bond movies.  I got it from Readings For Records on Lavender Hill.  And it cost the princely and unimaginable sum of £3.65.

Before that the only other LP in the house was Hits ’68 – a knock-off of the year’s hits by the unoriginal artists.  A lunatic collection of covers — ‘Don’t Stop the Carnival’ by Alan Price sitting cheek by jowl with ‘Cinderella, Rockefeller’.  And, of course, ‘Congratulations’ – our Eurovision entry.   There’s a Tom Jones hit on there too – which stood me in good stead for this year’s adventures.

Dear Diary…

DAMIAN: In addition to reminding us of happy afternoons in Woolworths, you’ve recreated a wonderful, bygone age and your scripts are full of nostalgia that viewers of your generation, and even people like myself born a decade or so later, will recognise with references to things like post-swim kids clutching cups of hot Bovril, women reading ‘Titbits’ magazine, men drinking Double Diamond, the tin bath in front of the fireplace, the “Necessary” at the bottom of the yard, back parlours kept for “best” and marvelling at a colour television for the first time – quite lifelike! To what extent is all this an evocation of your own family experiences and childhood?

RUSS: Well – due to family circs – I’m part of a demographic raised by people of a generation at one remove from one’s birth parents.  People who remembered the Titanic going down, the Great War, and – as I’ve mentioned before – the man who was good enough to give me a surname, did his tin-hatted bit in the ‘second go-round.’  So – through them – all that was very present and incredibly vivid as I was growing up.  The hoary old joke I’m given to trotting out is that I didn’t know the war was over until I was twelve.  An exaggeration – but not by much.

The Larkins (TV series 1958-64)

Here Come the Huggetts (1948 film)

DAMIAN: I think it was in one of our first interviews that I made the observation that series one was all about family. However, since then, I now realise that this goes much deeper as the series progresses. As we know, and in the absence of a loving family of his own, Endeavour finds solace in the Thursday family of Fred, Win, Joan and Sam. Additionally, we also witness his professional family of Bright, Strange, Max, Trewlove and Dorothea. Very sadly, you seem hellbent on ripping all this apart don’t you?

RUSS:  Things change.  I think if we’d frozen the Thursdays in aspic, and turned them into an Oxford version of The Larkins, or Here Come the Huggetts, that it would have been dishonest. The social change convulsing the rest of country had to affect them.  Joan and Sam had to grow, and find their own way.  And the same with Endeavour’s colleagues.  Nothing lasts…

THE DARK PASSENGER

AN EXCLUSIVE ENDEAVOUR INTERVIEW WITH RUSSELL LEWIS

PART I: GAME

Interview copyright © Damian Michael Barcroft 2018

With thanks to Darcy Sarto, Katie Driscoll & Inigo Jollifant

~

‘Early evening over dreaming spire and cupola. Gargoyle and pediment dissolve softly into shadow. Faces in stone. Blind eyed. Choked with ivy. Stare out from the walls of a hidden FELLOWS GARDEN.

Sheldonian Square deserted. Backs and lanes – empty. July – 1967. The ‘Long Vac’. A landscape without figures. Melancholy. Haunted. Secret.’

– Excerpt from the opening page of GAME (1st draft)

~

DAMIAN: So, Sam is still away in the army, Joan has been gone for two weeks and now Win is either out at work cleaning or attending keep fit classes leaving poor old Fred home alone when he’s not coppering. Like Endeavour, couldn’t we have enjoyed some respite from the ‘orrible murders and basked in the warmth and happiness that came from peering into the Thursday household just a little bit longer and isn’t there a real sense that all this change is happening far too quickly?

RUSS:  Not for us, I don’t think.  Three story years – four/five years in real-time.  I hate to drag you back to the Fab Four again, but they’re a pretty good yardstick for the pace of change. From Help! and Rubber Soul in ’65, (from which we took GIRL), to Pepper and Magical Mystery Tour in ‘67 is one hell of a journey.

Perhaps if we’d known exactly how many series we were going to make from the outset, we might have paced things slightly differently, but you play the hand you’re dealt, and do the best with it you can.

There is a method to the madness.  A gradual, slow but relentless, turning of the screw. Whenever we take our leave of Endeavour, hopefully we’ll have laden him with enough emotional baggage, and provided enough signposts, that our understanding of the Chief Inspector he is destined to become is enriched.

DAMIAN: Series four opens with the following and in the first draft of your script for GAME you go into great detail describing the music and its sound: ‘Strange, unearthly music… Slender rods of GLASS, droplets of water beaded upon them. The drops tremble and fall into darkness… We are looking at, and listening to, a pair of cristal Baschets, one of which is a bass incarnation of the instrument… A small chamber concert. A duo onstage perform Gnossienne No.1 [changed to No.3 by draft four], by Erik Satie. Looking and sounding like nothing on earth, the ethereal tones are created by the players running wet fingers over tuned glass rods. The resulting vibrations are thus amplified and broadcast through the mouths of a trio of conical resonators of ascending size… a reservoir of water at the front of each instrument, into which the musicians dip their fingers’. Why was this piece and the particular way in which it was performed so important?

RUSS:  Er…  I won’t come out of this very well, but I’ve carried lifelong an unhealthy obsession with a Programme for Schools and Colleges from the 1970s called Picture Box.  It was presented for the most part by Alan Rothwell, who cued and introduced a filmed section.  However, what stayed with me – and a generation of school bunkers-off – was its opening credits.  Youtube will see you right — should you wish to become likewise troubled [see link here].  The accompanying music had this other-worldly fairground vibe – and thanks to the internet, I was finally able to track down how it had come into existence.  The cristal baschet was invented in the early 50s by a couple of French brothers – les freres Baschet, no less — who created sound producing sculptures and, also, new musical instruments, including the inflatable guitar!

The instrument was initially deployed in the field of avant-garde musique concrete.  The Picture Box theme was lifted from an album by a pioneer of the instrument – Jacques Lasry – that came out in 65, called Structures Sonores.  And the track in question is called ‘Mánege’.

Matt Slater managed to track down a couple of baschet players in France, where else!, (they’re madly rare – baschets, not French people) and we brought them and their extraordinary instruments across, and recorded them playing the Satie live.  Tough parts for baschet players I’m told.

Amazing bits of kit to look at – properly space age and ‘way out, man’ – while at the same time weirdly organic, and absolutely dependent for their sound upon the use of that most vital ingredient for life…  water.  Quite beautiful in their way.  They felt very right for a series that was looking at new technologies.  And particularly for a story that played with the idea of the ghost in the machine.  The baschets are acoustic, but look as though they shouldn’t be.

There was something pleasing in making a visual connection between the reservoir the players use to wet their digits, and the sacrarium in the church into which our second unfortunate dips her fingers.  Another ghost in the machine – albeit one altogether holier.

DAMIAN: You often mention a variety of actors, characters or general cultural references in the description of your scripts which audiences obviously never get to see. Indeed, GAME contains the following: a white haired boffin from a 50s B-Movie (Professor George Saxon), a Spencer Tracy of a Priest (Father Linehan), the shoulder of his Norman Bates corduroy jacket (Clifford Gibbs), a young Gordon Jackson (Broderick Castle) and a forty-something John Wyndham by way of Dirk Bogarde (Dr. Bernard Gould). Do you do this to help the casting director, to aid the actors in visualising their characters or simply for your own amusement?

RUSS: Probably a bit of both.  It’s a short-hand for Susie Parriss – our saintly Casting Director – as often as not.  A type. I tend to go for deceased actors because invoking the living as a template can be unhelpful.

DAMIAN: For those in the cheap seats, The Beatles references continue to be ever present but we’ve covered this before and will probably touch upon them slightly again when we discuss CANTICLE but I did promise the reader last year that we’d get to the bottom of your Tony Hancock fixation one day. Well, now seems as good a time as any…

RUSS:  Well, Hancock’s place in the British comedy firmament – chiefly through the happy serendipity of his association with Galton and Simpson – is unassailable.

More practically, I’m not sure it’s a fixation as much as a very handy snapshot of social pre-occupations of the time.  Steptoe & Son is another.  No accident they were both written by Galton & Simpson – praise them with great praise.  Comedy – perhaps more so than drama – draws on relevant contemporary figures and anxieties its audience will recognise for humorous effect.  It’s by its nature acutely ‘observational’.

Despite your sensitivity re: Clement & LaFrenais’ pot-shots at Stoke, one can probably learn more from The Likely Lads – and Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads – about the state of the nation, and particularly the North East, at the time, than one could from three years at Lonsdale reading social history.

So – though Hancock was getting very near the end, and had split with Galton and Simpson some years earlier, some of those mid-late 50s and early 60s things still had currency. I’ve said before that it seemed to me the mid 60s still had one foot in the 50s.  And, as you’ve rightly deduced, there’s more of a whiff of The Missing Page about GAME.

A pleasing connection that brings all full circle is that our own Susy Kane has played Andree Melly in Neil Pearson’s brilliant radio recreations of The Missing Hancocks, with Kevin McNally giving a truly extraordinary performance as ‘the lad himself.’  Utter joy.

Susy Kane in Nocturne and recording The Missing Hancocks below

DAMIAN: And there’s also a bit of Bond again with the Russian chess player (and Trewlove mentions the Kronsteen variation) but was it difficult to write all the jargon and various moves or did you consult an adviser?

RUSS:  Mmm.  No – I was familiar with most of it, but we did consult an advisor to make sure there were no unintentional howlers – as against the intentional howlers we include for those who like to truffle out such things.

DAMIAN: You told me last year that you wanted to explore Harold Wilson’s ‘White Heat of Technology’ in GAME. Was this in some way used to signpost the changes ahead for this and the next series and also why was the original nod to 2001: A Space Odyssey changed from H.E.L.420 (the Heuristic Electronic Logician or HEL for short) in the original draft to Joint Computing Nexus/J.C.N/Jason?

RUSS:  Well – HEL was a place holder until I’d come up with something better.  How true it was that 2001 went for HAL because IBM wouldn’t let them use their company name (so Kubrick and Clarke just shifted everything forward by a letter) I can’t say – but we followed the example. And Jason’s not a bad name for a crazed serial killer, is it?

DAMIAN: Thursday, particularly when he’s in a bad mood, will occasionally ask Endeavour to drop him at the tobacconist/newsagent as he does in this film and says he’ll walk to Cowley Police Station from there. Is the shop the one that can still be found on Holywell Street opposite New College?

RUSS:  There’s a couple he patronises.

DAMIAN: This has been bothering me for a while so can you confirm where exactly is Cowley Police Station and how long would it actually take Thursday to walk?

RUSS: It would depend on his pace.  And the demands of the story.

DAMIAN: And can you confirm what Thursday has on his Wednesday sandwich?

RUSS:  Yes, I can.

DAMIAN: Oh! In the scene with the now surely classic line ‘This one’s as ripe and runny as a rancid Roquefort’, Endeavour asks Max where he stands on love. Now, initially I just took their exchanges including ‘Love and fishing. Sooner or later it all comes down to the same thing. The one that got away’ as simply a reference to Joan. However, having read the slightly longer scene in the original draft with more Housman quoted, I’m wondering if Max is also referring to his own lost love?

RUSS:  I think ‘And one was fond of me, and all are slain’ made it through to the final cut. Further I would not wish to go.  Jimmy Bradshaw delivers it so beautifully, and his performance says far more than I could on the subject.

DAMIAN: Let’s move onto Kent Finn. One of his crime novels is called ‘Just For Jolly’ and as you know, I have a keen interest in the Whitechapel Murders – was this a nod to our friend Jack?

RUSS:  Of course.  Jolly being the nickname of his detective – Jolliphant — we just had a bit of fun playing around with made-up titles for his back catalogue. I think we had about a dozen or so in the end, which were required for the Art Department to mock up his other novels.

The following images, which have never been seen before outside of the production office, were created by the brilliant graphic designer Katie Driscoll and I’m extremely grateful to her for letting me show them here.
Below is an unused cover which favoured a more film noir photo look but then Katie decided to go down the route of painted pictures as it was thought that all the Jolly books should have a matching style when they were seen together at the book signing. However, the photo style one was dressed into Kent Finn’s house as though it was an earlier edition of the book so although it wasn’t really seen it was built into the story for the art department.

DAMIAN: Kent’s house is a menagerie of curiosities including the stick men, the death mask painting (L’Inconnue de la Seine), the wine collection and his various memorabilia related to his fiction. Do these objects, and indeed Kent himself, hold a wider significance to Endeavour beyond GAME?

RUSS:  Mmm.  Remains to be seen.

DAMIAN: I actually thought Kent was by far one of the most interesting new characters introduced in this series. You describe him as ‘a brooding inkslinger clinging to his thirties by a fingernail… [his fandom as] an Oxford equivalent of James Ellroy’s ‘peepers, prowlers, pederasts, panty-sniffers, punks and pimps’…” and on seeing Dorothea, “A flirty, lupine smile plays roguishly about his lip… is the kind of crap line that belongs in one of his novels’. However, I was disappointed that someone as wise and perceptive as Dorothea would get involved with such a man. Can you explain the extent of their relationship comparing the various drafts to what we finally saw onscreen?

RUSS:  That’s a tough one. I think it was very early days in whatever it was that might have been between them, but that Dorothea would very soon have seen through him.  As for his fandom – I think we ended up with a more staid and traditional readership.  Though, of course, what goes on behind the net curtains of his devotees is another matter.

RUSS: And as exciting as the chase and subsequent car crash was to watch, I’m wondering in retrospect if seeing Dorothea in the role of damsel in distress was also a little disappointing as oppose to giving her something more empowering to do?

RUSS:  Hmm.  Well – that’s not what we were trying to do.  I think what’s key is that she fought back; she got free and started strangling him with his own rope.

DAMIAN: Continuing with the theme of water in the film, I think fans will be fascinated to learn that instead of the car engulfed in flames, your original idea was to have the car and Dorothea submerged in water. What can you tell us about your original idea and the reason it was changed?

RUSS:  One has to cut according to the cloth.  Water seemed to suit – thematically.  There was a lot of back and forth in production meetings, but in the end one has to be pragmatic.

DAMIAN: And so series five is almost upon us. Whose idea was it to extend the run from the usual four films to six?

RUSS:  The audience has often expressed a wish for more than four stories, and the Network felt the same.  We were happy to oblige.  But it places huge demands on the principal players’ time and precludes them from doing anything else with their year.  I think that should we return it would be in our more usual quartet format.  That frees up the actors to do other things. Theatre.  Film.  Other telly.  And – with Shaun – to wear his directorial hat.

DAMIAN: You see I worry about you Russ and I’d now like to speak to the dark passenger you mentioned to me last year – a Dexter of quite a different colour perhaps. You’ve told me that writing sometimes becomes an out of body experience and the choices made therein almost subconscious. Additionally, you say that there’s no sleep until you write ‘ROLL END CREDITS’ which sometimes means you don’t sleep for forty-eight or even seventy-two hours and it is during these times that your dark passenger appears. This can’t be very healthy for Russ can it?

RUSS:  I can’t speak for Mister Hyde, but for my part – it’s a case of needs must.  You do what you have to.  One of the few comforts of social media is seeing other writers posting in the dead of night – or, having just typed ‘The End’ or its equivalent, crawling hand over hand up the wooden hill.  So, you know you’re not the only living boy in Crazyville.  But it’s interesting to track the gradual mental unravelling and disintegration that arises from such extended periods of sleep deprivation.

DAMIAN: I mean you’ve spent the best part of the last five years on this show and sometimes filming a series can take up to nine months during which time you’re usually doing rewrites between finishing the script for the next film. I’m just wondering if and when you can switch off. Indeed, I’m reminded of Peter Pan in which Barrie writes ‘You know that place between sleep and awake, that place where you still remember dreaming… That’s where I’ll be waiting’. Are you able to leave Endeavour, Thursday and Co. at the keyboard or do you take them to bed with you where they constantly wait in that place between sleep and awake?

RUSS:  Switching off isn’t really an option.  As for them haunting my dreams, it depends how much trouble I’m having.  If there’s a particularly tricky conundrum that got my waking mind occupied, as often as not the answer will come in the dead of night.  I think I read somewhere that anything less than three hours sleep makes little or no difference to one’s physical/mental state, and one might as well forego sleep altogether.

DAMIAN: It’s a new year – out with the old and in with the new! This series will be broadcast exactly fifty years after it’s set so what can we expect to see in 1968?

RUSS:  It’s a most turbulent year – and that makes its way into most of the stories in one way or another.  We see the arrival of a new character at the nick – the young George Fancy, played by Lewis Peek.  And that gives us something new to play with.

Funny – I’d not thought of it before – but I suppose could be described as ENDEAVOUR’s White Album; insofar as it’s longer than anything we’ve done before.  And I think I remember something in the liner notes for that particular artefact about it being a ‘New Phase’ Recording. I suppose the song that informs much of what we’re about is ‘Revolution’.  Paris.  Prague.  All flows from that to a greater or lesser degree.

The exact half-century was often sobering.  On the one hand, how far we’ve come – but, all too often, how far we haven’t.  One didn’t seek parallels, but, with even the most cursory overview, they come thick and fast, and to have ignored them would have been remiss.  With 1968, perhaps more so than any other series, it felt in many regards a serious case of plus ça change.

DAMIAN: We began by talking about how the family dynamic changed during the last two series but reform also seems to be the key theme for series five as well doesn’t it?

RUSS:  Yes – I think one of the scene directions for an early moment in tonight’s film suggests that we are into the comedown from the Summer of Love.  Everything feeling a little shop soiled.  Hung over.  Soured.  November will see Cream’s farewell gig at the Albert Hall.  An electric performance – but Ginger, Clapton, and a white-faced Jack Bruce – certainly as captured in Tony Palmer’s footage – seem the antithesis of a certain, unthreatening, ‘bring ‘em home to meet your Mum’, madcap, mop-toppery that defined the earlier part of the decade.

It’s a little over a year until Danny the Drug Dealer will bemoan the fact that they’re ‘selling hippy wigs in Woolworths.’  But there is already an air of disillusion and discontent abroad. And that’s manifested to some degree at Cowley nick.

DAMIAN: For now Russ, thank you very much indeed.

RUSS: A pleasure, as always.

~

ROLL END CREDITS

An interview with the director of The Limehouse Golem

On Murder Considered as one of the Fine Arts:

THE LIMEHOUSE GOLEM

An exclusive interview with director Juan Carlos Medina

Interview copyright © Damian Michael Barcroft 2017

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‘September 6, 1880: It was a fine bright morning, and I could feel a murder coming on…’

– Chapter Seven, Dan Leno & The Limehouse Golem by Peter Ackroyd

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DAMIAN: I’d like to begin by talking about your previous feature, Painless (aka Insensibles) which I came across while researching for this interview and found to be both extremely shocking but also profoundly moving in its visceral symbolism. For those who haven’t seen it, and I highly recommend that they do, the premise concerns a group of children who are locked in an asylum and hidden away from society because of a rare congenital condition which prevents them from feeling any pain. Now, moviegoers have become so desensitized -a possible analogy there?- that it can be difficult for filmmakers to come up with new ways to shock their audience but the images you create of children in straitjackets and mouth-guards setting each other on fire and biting chunks of flesh out of themselves are genuinely creepy and original in their power to disturb. In addition to directing the picture, you also co-wrote the screenplay so how on earth did you come up with the idea for the story?

JUAN: It was a mixture of themes that fascinated me. I’ve had a very religious education in Spain in the eighties, went to a school run by nuns for years. It was very disciplinarian. Today I’m really agnostic but I have kept a keen interest in matters of religion. So when I was in university I studied Buddhism and the first question of Siddhartha is why is there pain? – it’s a bit like the equivalent of the Catholic fundamental question why is there evil?  I wanted to tell a story about the relationship between the ability to feel pain and humanity. But I wanted to keep the story purely visceral, find a purely bodily incarnation of this theme. I’m a huge fan of Cronenberg too so I wanted to tell this story with bodies, not with words.

I also wanted to talk about the lost memory of those troubled years in Spain, my own family has a very bloody history that traces back to The Civil War. So when I heard about Nishida’s syndrome, the syndrome of congenital insensitivity to pain, that was it. It was the perfect metaphor.

DAMIAN: And, as I’ve said, in addition to the horror elements, it really does work on a heartbreaking emotional level, particularly with reference to the extraordinary performances from the young actors. Can you tell me a little bit about working with the children and their casting and audition process?

JUAN:  To work with small children is a very difficult and time consuming process. First you have to find the right ones. We had a great casting director in Barcelona Pep Armengol, and he sent his teams to screen tons of schools, literally thousands of children. Once you find the right ones you have to develop a relationship of trust with them and their parents. Do lots of rehearsal until they lose their inhibitions and start to enjoy themselves as if it was a game. You have to keep it very playful and fun. I also had a fantastic child coach who had worked in Bayona’s The Orphanage. She did a fantastic job helping me with the kids.

DAMIAN: The location work for the fortress-like asylum was stunning. Where were the exterior and interior shots actually filmed?

JUAN: The exterior is a Napoleonic era fort in the Pyrenees that we CGI-extended, the interior is totally built in a set in Barcelona. So the place was a total creation.

I wanted something high in the mountains and carceral. Old psychiatric wards used to be more like prisons really. They didn’t know how to treat people so they locked them up.

DAMIAN: As with Peter Ackroyd’s novel, Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem, Painless struck me as a story which very much comments on the society and the attitudes of its period setting. Your film alludes not only to the Spanish Civil War, General Franco and fascist armies obliterating their political opponents, but also perhaps “child-stealing” and state-enforced adoption. Are these themes and issues something that still continue to haunt the Spanish consciousness?

JUAN: Yes very much so. Cruelly so I would say. There’s a branch of psychoanalysis called psycho-genealogy and it pretends to explain people’s ailments by tracing them back to unresolved questions in the story of their past relatives. It’s the same with families, and ultimately, countries.  What’s unresolved keeps festering inside and haunting the future. Unlike Germany in Spain, the bad guys won The Civil War, which was one of the cruelest the world has ever known. There was never an atonement, there were never consequences for the criminals. The modern Spanish state has been built on a pact of silence, a slab of oblivion has been thrown over these questions. A few years ago the career of world famous judge Baltasar Garzon was ended because a fascist (should we say alt-right?) group Manos Limpias attacked him in the tribunal for putting into question the law of amnesty that does not allow families of relatives executed in mass graves by the dictatorship to recover the bones of their relatives. A few days ago Rajoy quoted Lorca in a speech (about the Barcelona attacks) and people were screaming “sacalo de la cuneta primero!!” (get him out of the ditch where your predecessors shot him first!!). My great grandmother was a close collaborator of The Pasionaria, the head of the Spanish communist party during the thirties. When Franco’s troops invaded Badajoz, they were led by the General Yague, one of Franco’s most savage generals. They butchered half the population of Badajoz. My grandmother told me the story of how the soldiers came to their house and they took my great grandma, and her husband, who was a “guardia de asalto”, (a police officer from the republic) The soldiers were kids… not even twenty. My great grandma was slapping them in the face: “your mother would be ashamed of you” – they took them and executed them like dogs. My grandmother was seven. She went through the city with her sister, looking for her dead parents under the bodies of thousands shot in the streets. The streets of Badajoz were bathed in blood, literally. Franco used colonial troops because they had no attachment to Spanish population. Those soldiers had been trained massacring Moroccan villages during the Rif Wars for years. They didn’t give a shit about killing women and children. And so they did. She’s described those scenes to me with photographic accuracy. It’s worse than anything people want to bother to remember today. So Painless in a sense is a movie I made to exorcise those stories.

DAMIAN: And perhaps both Painless and The Limehouse Golem could be described as Gothic melodramas. Like the central character (in Golem) Elizabeth Cree alleges of her husband, might you as a director also have something of a morbid disposition?

JUAN: Morbid I don’t know… I’m a romantic… So probably yes a bit morbid.

DAMIAN: Do you consider yourself to be a director of horror films?

JUAN:  I love horror films, but I don’t like to be prisoner of a genre. I think genres are there to play with them, not to be cornered by fanatic people who will judge if you were faithful to the articles of faith or whatever. I read that Tobe Hooper passed away. I knew him a few years ago, had dinner with him, such a great guy. A great human being. I think he was a true romantic too, like Gaspar Noe or people who are attracted to the dark side of humanity are often.  Tobe played with genres…  The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is perhaps the scariest horror film of all time, but what is it indeed: it’s almost a documentary about the very real horror at the heart of America’s degenerescence. That’s why it’s so scary.

DAMIAN: I’m wondering what directors have inspired your work and if there is a particular Spanish or World Cinema influence in your visual aesthetics?

JUAN:  Definitely British cinema in the sixties, seventies and eighties is a big influence. Hitchcock, Michael Powell, Joseph Losey, Ridley Scott, Nicholas Roeg, John Boorman, Ken Russell, Neil Jordan.

I love the romantic excess, the aesthetic power of British cinema through the ages, the unrestrained generosity, the risk taking, the focus on substance and the indifference to hype, the raw power that comes from a great combination of a cerebral eye for the beauty of the world and a profound current of dramatic romanticism in that cinema that I trace to Shakespeare. I think I grew up with those films and they were the films that made me want to make films.

Peter Ackroyd, biographer, novelist and critic.

DAMIAN: I don’t know if you read Ackroyd’s novel or Jane Goldman’s adapted screenplay first but what was your initial reaction to The Limehouse Golem?

JUAN: I was a fan of Peter Ackroyd and had read that novel and many others. So for me to get a script by Jane Goldman of that book and produced by Stephen Woolley, the legendary producer of Neil Jordan it was like a dream. It seemed it would be an easy film to finance but it was damn hard! Took three years.

DAMIAN: For those who might be unfamiliar with the book, can you say a little bit about the story and what kind genre you think it belongs to? – I mean, did you approach the material as Gothic melodrama, a Victorian horror/thriller or simply a whodunnit murder mystery?

JUAN: It was a bit of all that I think. More importantly it’s the story of the creation of a monster, and a nightmarish vision of London though his eyes. I’ve always been fascinated by that theme. They journey from innocence to monstrosity. That’s a common theme with Painless.

The book is a journal, basically a chronicle of the life in the slums of London at that time told by the Golem himself. It’s a profoundly timeless, sarcastic but poignant commentary about the human condition, from the perspective of a creature that sees through the masks, because of its position in society, feel that it’s OK to show the worst.

DAMIAN: If my might offer my own brief analysis of Ackroyd’s very multi-textured and complex book, there’s a certain intertextual quality about it in which both the real and (in the theatre scenes) dramatised, combine to form a symmetrical and yet contrasting narrative which serves to highlight the psychological and pathological fissure between reality and illusion. On the one hand, the book adheres to Ackroyd’s propensity for combining fact with fiction (in addition to music hall comedian Dan Leno, novelist George Gissing and philosopher/political revolutionist Karl Marx are just some of the famous faces who appear within the pages for example) within a historical (often London) setting but additionally, as I’ve suggested, it also seems to read as a thesis on the nature of acting, costume and disguise while manipulating the reader’s perception of performance, testimony and evidence in its juxtaposition of identities and how they are presented to society in life, theatre and the courtroom. With all this in mind, and given that the story unfolds through various narrative devices including courtroom trial transcripts, autobiography and diary entries, how have you managed to incorporate all this into the film and to what extent have some of these labyrinthian themes and issues had to be sacrificed in order to tell a more linear and cinematic story?

JUAN:  It’s a movie about Masks, and the murder mystery is structured into a figure of the Labyrinth. The Labyrinth of London is a metaphor for the Labyrinth in the Golem’s mind. The two mirror each other, so the theme of the mirror is very important in how I staged the movie. The police investigation is more an investigation into several personas of the street or of the stage, than a search for clues into the physical world. “London is an emblem of all that is darkest, and most extreme, within existence itself. Is it the heart of the empire, or the heart of darkness ?”.  That’s a quote from Peter Ackroyd in his book about London. Also, the “real story and the story that is seen in the theatre become intertwined and generate each other, like two mirrors facing each other and creating an infinity of reflections. It’s a theme about how we create our history, our identity, in which the visions, the fantasies, the stories we make up about ourselves, and the stories that actually happen, become one, until we can’t tell what was first. Is the story of Romeo and Juliet real or was it a fiction? It was a Babylonian story (Pyramus and Thysbe) before being a Shakespeare tragedy, but more importantly it’s an eternal story of love subverting the social order. Stories like that are eternal archetypes. Were they real or fiction? It doesn’t matter anymore. This was present in all the work we did with Jane Goldman on the script, and was fundamental in how I approached building the narrative style and aesthetic of the film.

DAMIAN: I’m also wondering what significant changes you have had to make to some of the characters and I’m thinking with particular reference to Inspector Kildare. I think it’s fair to say that of all the characters in the book, his is possibly the least well defined and doesn’t actually occupy many pages at all. For example, it isn’t until chapter forty-five and about twenty pages before the end of the book that we learn that he is in a same-sex relationship but the fact that he is gay is almost a blink and you’ll miss it moment. Since Bill Nighy plays the part of Kildare, have you fleshed out the character and is his sexuality explored in more detail?

JUAN: Fleshing out Kildare’s character and structuring a police procedural was a natural consequence of making this book, which is almost a chronicle, into a film… but as many things that seem obvious, it took the genius of Jane Goldman to actually make it happen in a way that is powerful, original, and at the same time faithful to the essence of the book.

Bill Nighy with Daniel Mays as George Flood

DAMIAN: We can’t discuss the character of Kildare without mentioning the much-missed Alan Rickman who was first cast in the part before he became ill. I’m not sure if he actually shot any scenes but did you get to meet the great man?

JUAN: I met Alan for the first time in January 2015. I was totally starstruck. There he was, the legend, walking in front of me and talking with his incredible voice. He was so tall , I couldn’t believe it! I was so intimidated I could barely speak. He immediately abolished all the barriers between us, he was so kind and so generous. Such a noble soul. He told me he had watched Painless and that he loved the film, that he had been really impressed by it, and that I was the best possible director to make The Limehouse Golem. He said that in front of Stephen Woolley, my producer, who had been working for ten years on the project before I got involved. That was really a kind thing to do. He didn’t have to. I have never felt so proud and happy in my entire life. Then me and Jane Goldman frequented him for months, we went to his house, talked about the role, did work to best fit the role to him. We became friends. It was an unbelievable horror to learn about his illness. The first day I landed in London and went to Stephen’s office to start preproduction, in August 2015, Stephen called me in and told me. I burst into tears. It was one of the most horrible things I’ve ever had to endure in my life. It’s really hard to talk about it.

Original publicity artwork featuring Alan Rickman

DAMIAN: What can you tell me about the character and casting of Olivia Cooke as Elizabeth Cree?

JUAN: It was hard to cast Lizzie Cree. We had to find a girl who was quite young, like twenty or twenty-one, because the character goes from sixteen/seventeen to twenty-five in the film and I wanted to use the same actress for that. So to find an actress that could have the range to pull off a character like that, was a nightmare. You have to find an old soul. Someone who has that in them. So it took a long time. I discovered Olivia’s work in The Quiet Ones, and Me Earl and the Dying Girl and was blown away. I thought she had something of Christina Ricci, Lilian Gish.. a timeless womanly beauty and maturity in her acting that only the greatest actresses have. She is absolute star material and I am so proud of her work in The Limehouse Golem.

DAMIAN: Some critics reviewed the book and hailed it as a feminist story. However, under the circumstances of which we’d better not elaborate, I personally find it difficult to agree that she is a good feminist role model. What are your thoughts on this?

JUAN: She is not a feminist role model at all. But she is a symbol of the oppression of women. A little bit like Jeanne Moreau’s character in Diary of a Chambermaid by Bunuel. Because she is a woman of low social status, she sees the vileness of this man’s world without the pleasant masks, without the stories that we tell ourselves to make it alright. It’s OK for all these men to show her their true nature. She won’t speak. Lizzie sees beyond the masks, and her creation is a furious creation of horror and blood, but also a profoundly cathartic act. It’s the fury of Medea against the injustice of men, against their vileness. Few societies in world history were more patriarchal than Victorian society. In its values, in its aspirations, it was a profoundly masculine time. But that masculinity was ill, terminally ill, like masculinity is always ill when it tries to thrive by abolishing women. And that diseased masculinity would end up in the mass graveyards and trenches of WW 1 and WW2.

DAMIAN: You also have an impressive supporting cast but I want to ask you about Damien Thomas who plays Salomon Weil because I was mesmerized as a child by his extraordinary performance as Count Karnstein in the Hammer Horror classic, Twins of Evil. Does he have that same menacing gravitas in person?

JUAN: No, Damien is very kind and was very cool and patient with us while we were shooting this scene in the stables of an empty manor in the Yorkshire moors… it was freezing cold!  It’s one of my favourite scenes in the film. He was great! I love Hammer films, especially Quatermass and the Pit, The Hound of the Baskervilles with Peter Cushing.

DAMIAN: You’ve already mentioned the great Stephen Woolley, responsible for many a classic film including some of my Gothic favourites The Company of Wolves and Interview with the Vampire, who produced this movie. What was he actually like to work with?

JUAN: Stephen is great. A master film producer like they don’t make them anymore. I call him a Sensei, that’s what he is. It’s been such a privilege to work with him. I have learned a lot from him. He’s also very generous with his life stories and the stories about the making of so much of his great films he did in collaboration with Neil Jordan. You could listen to him for hours telling these stories. Those films were really important for me when I was a kid/ teenager, in the years where I was deciding to go into filmmaking: Interview with a Vampire, The Crying Game, Michael Collins. It was so incredible to make my second film with him. He’s also a great producer to have on set, he’s been a director himself so he knows. He elegantly stays behind and immediately steps in to back you up and help when things get off course. He’s incredibly smart and a true cinephile that can talk about movies for hours. I asked him when he was going to publish his memoirs. I can tell you that’s going to be an important book in the history of Cinema. He replied that day he will burn so many bridges he won’t be able to produce movies anymore. So I hope we won’t see that book for a long time, and that Stephen can keep producing great films for many years.

DAMIAN: There’s certainly no shortage of macabre tales set in pea-soup foggy Victorian London and I think it’s fair to say that although the story is set some years before, it kind of anticipates the world of Sherlock Holmes and Jack the Ripper which we are all so familiar with. How, as a director, do you find new and fresh ways to reimagine this world for audiences?

‘A biblical city ready for the fire of heaven.’ – Paul Verlaine
‘It is a biblical sight, something to do with Babylon, some prophecy out of the Apocalypse being fulfilled before your very eyes. Baal reigns and does not even demand obedience, because he is certain of it.’  – Dostoevsky
‘An enormous Babel… and the flood of human effort rolls out of it and into it with a violence that appalls ones very sense.’  – Carlyle

JUAN: Those three quotes are references in Peter Ackroyd’s book, London: A Biography. They were essential to how I approached the creation of that world, as I wanted to place the audience in the mind of the Golem, seeing the world through his eyes.

DAMIAN: The film certainly looks amazing from the footage that I’ve seen. Can you tell me about some of the discussions regarding your vision of Victorian London and the direction you gave to the cinematographer, Simon Dennis, who I know from my Ripper Street interviews?

JUAN: In coherence with my answer to the last question,  I based the world of The Limehouse Golem more on a nightmarish subjective vision of London, the paintings of Grimshaw, Blake, John Martin, the engravings of Gustave Dore and Piranesi were our guide to create this visual world. These were the visual references I discussed with Simon Dennis, and my production designer, Grant Montgomery. In truth we wanted to stay away from a “photographic realism” of London and more into a subjective vision tainted by nightmare.

Painting by John Atkinson Grimshaw (actually Briggate, Leeds) and a still from the film below.

DAMIAN: The Limehouse Golem reunites you with the composer of Painless, Johan Söderqvist, was working on your first feature together the beginning of a beautiful Tim Burton/Danny Elfman kind of friendship?

JUAN: I think so!  Johan and I have become friends, and we don’t need to talk much, we just enjoy working together! He’s my favourite film composer in the world!

DAMIAN: As was the case with the aforementioned Jack the Ripper murders, Ackroyd also frames the hunt for the serial killer or Limehouse Golem within the pages of the Illustrated Police News effectively, and again similar to the theatre and courtroom scenes, transforming the crimes into sensationalist melodramas and addressing the public’s fascination with horrific and grisly crimes. Both the press and public of bourgeois society are fascinated by a good murder trial in arguably a similar fashion to which they like to consume theatre, and indeed cinema, so what do you think such appetites say about the people reading this interview or wanting to see your film?

JUAN:  It’s the same question over and over again. Should we enjoy the spectacle of violence? I think it’s a misguided question. Theatre has always been bloody, from its inception on the theatres of ancient Greece… And when the press was born, in the 18th and 19th century, press was almost exclusively tabloid, interested in crimes and blood and gossip. You don’t protect people by censoring and pretending the world is Disneyland. I think the violence of drama is the same violence we find in dreams. It’s largely symbolic. It’s a representation. Even if we censor movies, books and what not to the death, because political correctness wins in the end, we will never be able to censor the violence in our experience of life, and that violence will find an expression in our dreams. I’m so sick about that eternal debate. Sadly, as incredible as it may seem, there are lots of people -sometimes quite smart- who ignore or feign to ignore the difference between what’s represented and the representer. So basically if you put a Nazi in a movie, even clearly in a horribly negative role that leaves no doubt as to your position on Nazis, you will be called a Nazi because there’s a guy with a Nazi uniform in your film.

DAMIAN: Juan, thank you very much indeed.

JUAN: Thank you for your brilliant and pertinent questions! It was a pleasure.

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All the interviews and articles on this website are original and exclusive and I would ask that the copyright be respected. Therefore, please do not use quotes or any other information contained here without permission. Thank you.

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THE LIMEHOUSE GOLEM IS IN CINEMAS NOW

RIPPER STREET 5 interview with Adam Rothenberg

He’s been called Captain Homer Jackson, Matthew Judge, Pinkerton, chartered mercenary with a badge, Yankee clap doctor, my American and, erm, Twinkle. To me, however, he’s simply the coolest guy in Whitechapel…

A NIGHT ON RED MOUNTAIN

An exclusive interview with

Adam Rothenberg

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With special thanks to Toby Finlay

Interview copyright © Damian Michael Barcroft 2017
Images copyright and courtesy of Toby Finlay, Will Gould, Adam Rothenberg and Richard Warlow.

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“This entire day can kiss my holiest of holies… First, I’m gonna drink this. Then I’m gonna throw up. And then, [reaching for another bottle] I’m gonna drink this. And then I’m gonna pass out. Now, you wanna make use of my brain, do it now.”

– Jackson in A Stronger Loving World

DAMIAN: Better do it now. You grew the moustache and sideburns but can you describe the moment you first saw yourself in costume as Captain Homer Jackson?

ADAM: Yeah. They had everything already made when I got there – from the checkered trousers to the green leather jacket. Usually there is some discussion between wardrobe and actor but when I arrived they just handed me what they had made – and I stress “made”- unbelievable talent in that wardrobe department. So I just put it all on and it all fit like a glove- beautiful clothes, but I looked a bit like… shall I say… a d*ck. Something was missing – it was a bit too slick, and then I found the hat, it was on the bottom of big old cardboard box of hats – crushed and forlorn. And when I put it on it all tied together for me. I guess the hat put me at ease a bit – it gave the character a sense of humor and it let me off the hook a little because the character is written as so cool – with that hat I felt allowed to be a little bit of a putz. Steven Smallwood [producer] was there at that moment and he said “It looks like a much loved favourite hat”.

DAMAN: Presumably you first heard about Ripper Street through your agent. What was your initial reaction to the project before reading the script?

ADAM: Oh no I hadn’t heard anything about it. I had just read the audition sides, it was just another audition during pilot season for me. One that I tried to get out of going in on because it was too early in the morning and I was hungover.

DAMIAN: And after you’d read Richard Warlow’s script, at what point in the story were you sold on playing Jackson?

ADAM: Well as I said – I didn’t read the script until I had gotten the role. So I was never “sold” on it. I desperately needed a job so I wasn’t being picky. And I had no idea that this was going to be any good. I was afflicted with the “Never be part of a club that would have me as a member” syndrome.  There were a few other shows floating around at the time that were similar- like Copper and I think a few other things – so I assumed that it was just an uninspired copycat or something. I hadn’t a clue what “BBC” meant. I mean I know what it stands for but didn’t know that it also meant “Shows of a certain standard”. I thought it was going to be a Victorian Xena warrior princess kinda production vibe. And I thought – well at least the end of my middling career will have a comedic twist.

As you can tell I wasn’t in the best of places back then.

But let me hasten to add – so this isn’t the most depressing yawn of an answer ever – that I was quickly proved wrong and I came to realize very quickly once I got to Dublin that the scripts were works of brilliance and my castmates were and continue to be among the greatest and kindest talents I’ve ever had the good fortune to work with.

DAMIAN: Since the show was originally a co-production between the BBC and BBC America, was there ever a sense that the inclusion of an American in one of the three main male roles was tokenistic and designed to attract audiences across the pond?

ADAM: Not really. If the role had been designed to attract Americans to the show I think they would have cast a famous American to do it (Maybe they tried that and couldn’t find one – I’m not sure!). I think the idea behind having an American in one of the main roles was to have an outside eye on the whole Victorian thing, and it was great in terms of some of the comedy. Having a classless yank parading around a country that is defined by class I think was good value.

DAMIAN: And those American audiences seem to have embraced iconic British shows such Downton Abbey, Doctor Who and Sherlock. What has been their reaction to Ripper Street over the years?

ADAM: Honestly… I have no idea.

DAMIAN: Do you get stopped by fans of the show in either the States or here in the UK?

ADAM: Never. That’s why I have no idea.

DAMIAN: No one in the street has ever quoted that immortal line, “Come get your cream, Peaches”?

ADAM: Again – no. It’s a funny thing to be in a much loved show in a country you don’t live – I’m told of the effect it has had but I don’t ever see it. It’s a bit of a bummer. And I think I look very very different without the sideburns and mustache so when I am in London not working I’m unrecognizable from the show. At least that’s what I tell myself.

Actually that’s not completely true. I did a play end of last year in London and fans of Ripper would show up and say nice things and ask for pictures and autographs so that was nice.

DAMIAN: In comparison to both Matthew Macfadyen and Jerome Flynn, weren’t you cast rather late in pre-production?

ADAM: Yes I think so.

DAMIAN: Was this because they had someone else in mind or was it simply proving difficult to find the right actor?

ADAM: I think they did have someone else cast, I’m not exactly sure. I didn’t ask because it’s the kinda thing that I may not have wanted the answer to.

DAMIAN: I appreciate that this was some time ago now but what was the piece or scene that you were given to audition with?

ADAM: I remember it well. It was the scene where Jackson is brought into the cell to examine the body of… I don’t remember the characters name [Maude Thwaites]. The first victim of Ripper Street ever. I’m brought in after being roused by Reid from the sultry embrace of Ms Rose Erskine. It’s me, Reid, Drake and Abberline, and I had to make a sarcastic retort to Reid about a meat pie. And then I had to say to Drake as he disrobes the corpse “Gently – what are those hands or meat-hooks?”

Lot of meat references. I remember apologizing in advance to the casting director. I really didn’t know what to do with it but I guess I did something right.

DAMIAN: I think the first time we see Jackson in episode one is actually in the scene with Rose where the two of you are engaging in, erm, amorous congress. However, can you remember the very first scene that you actually shot as Jackson?

ADAM: Yeah, I had one line in the telegraph room with Reid and Drake and Hobbs – I say something like “And that is the human element of progress” or something like that. Classic actor behaviour – I’m a nervous wreck and the whole night before and during the day leading up to it I’m going ‘And THAT is the human element of progress”, “and that is the HUMAN element of progress”, “And that is the HUMAN… element… of PROGRESS” on and on.

Having only one line to do in a day is a good way to go insane.

DAMIAN: And can you describe the moment you realized that there was this great chemistry between you, Matthew and Jerome?

ADAM: Yeah, it came late though. I think I can speak for the other boys when I say that we were all a little freaked out. None of us knew each other and a lot of the sets still weren’t built and we were starting to shoot the next day. There was a sense of “what the hell have we gotten into?” I mean we were all civil but had no sense of real enjoyment yet.

For me it came I think in Ep 2 – no it would have been later – maybe ep 3 or 4 during a scene where Reid pins Jackson up against the dead room wall and threatens to beat him until the truth “Pours from you like water”.

Afterwards on the way back to the trailers Matt simply said to me “It’s really nice acting with you mate”.

It meant the world to me.

Me and Jerome took longer but by God we got there!

DAMIAN: Given that most of the cast and crew were either British or Irish, was there a sense that, like your character, you felt something of an outsider?

ADAM: Yes but not because of how I was treated. I was the only one of the main cast living full time in Dublin – all the others were flying back and forth to London so I was alone 90% of the time. Long weekends shuffling down the streets of Dublin wondering what the hell was happening. There was a personal matter going on in my life and it was very hard living alone in a foreign city. But when I was around cast and crew it was nothing but kindness and goodness and cooperation.

DAMIAN: In my interviews with MyAnna Buring over the years, I’ve always enjoyed discussing the complicated relationship between Susan and Jackson. The two characters have been through so much together but do you think in hindsight that the two would have been better off if they had never met at all?

ADAM: I think the world at large would have been better off if they hadn’t met.

DAMIAN: I’d like to quote the following from my last interview with MyAnna in which she takes me to task for defending your character and my asking her why Susan can’t forgive Jackson…

MyAnna: Come ON! The love of her life, her husband – the only man she has ever truly loved – has due to his idiocy, gambling, and inability to take clear action (that doesn’t involve running away), forced her to essentially sell her body to the filthiest, most corrupt and vile human being in all of Whitechapel [Silas Duggan from series 2]. I’m sure if you had that dirty corruption hammering away over you and into your body, taking physical and financial ownership of you, stripping you of your precious independence, turning the only small place of safety you had in the world to ruin, you would feel pretty resentful of the person who you feel helped make it happen… or perhaps you are more forgiving than Susan? Or perhaps Jackson’s sweet charms would mean you wouldn’t mind taking one for the team for him?

DAMIAN: It’s funny, would you agree that MyAnna actually sounds a lot like Susan from that quote in her choice of words and phrasing?

ADAM: MyAnna and Susan share a lot of similarities – passion and brilliance being foremost.

DAMIAN: Anyway, all I was actually trying to say in my question to MyAnna was that it seemed to me that almost all of Jackson’s actions, however misguided, always came from a good place and were made because of his love for Susan. What’s your take on all of this?

ADAM: All I can say is I agree with you.

DAMIAN: MyAnna did relent slightly however and added that “there is and always will be an inexplicable bond between these two characters – that unquantifiable and mysterious connection, gravitational pull some people just have between them… so the question lingers will that ultimately pull them together despite the deep hurt between them? Or have the actions of the past cut scars too deep and wide to overcome?” Are you happy with the way the last couple of series have resolved the issues and questions that MyAnna raised?

ADAM: Happy is a stretch. Lets say I’m “Dramatically satisfied” but “Personally heartbroken” by what’s become of them.

DAMIAN: And more generally, while obviously avoiding spoilers for the final episode, what did you think of the way in which Jackson’s character arc and the relationship between him and Susan reaches its epic conclusion?

ADAM: I think my last answer covers that. I wanted better for them but in terms of what we look for in drama and story I think it concludes in the only way that it could have.

DAMIAN: Did either you or MyAnna have any input or creative discussions concerning the destiny of your two characters with writers Richard Warlow and Toby Finlay?

ADAM: Short answer is yes – to a degree. It’s up to actors to fight for their characters – be advocates for them and it’s a good thing when the writers give them an ear but the writers have to keep their eye on the stories at large and sometimes have to (heartbreakingly) sacrifice some things in terms of character to get to the heart of the overall arc of the tale being told. It’s a weakness sometimes when actors lobby too hard for their characters, too empathetic – and I could be guilty of that. It’s called Ripper Street not Jackson Alley.

Though if anyone is listening –  I think that’d be a great show…

DAMIAN: I thought it was sad to see Jackson become so emasculated and almost impotent at times, particularly during the second and third series. When we first met him he was more of a free spirit who was not caught up in any particular agenda and he seemed to resent the herd mentality that encourages dull mediocrity. Indeed, for me Jackson originally epitomized the values of Nietzsche’s 1886 work, Beyond Good and Evil, but later he’d become whipped, a nine-to-fiver who is subservient to Susan. Do you think that by the second series in which many of the secrets of Jackson and Susan’s past were revealed and then his later attempts at conformity as a decent husband, and indeed father by the fourth series, made Jackson a little less interesting to play?

ADAM: I could kiss you for that question. Thank you – I’m tempted to double back on the previous questions and get something like that in there.

The big worry for me is when you have a character drenched in mystery, how interesting is that character when all those questions are answered? I didn’t have a lot of faith that I could pull it off. And I’m not saying I did – but I personally felt like I got a lot more interested in playing it when I got to mess around with the inherent goofiness of the character.

In season one the only real thing I had to make the character personally palatable was that he was a man very aware of the effect he was trying to put over on people. He wasn’t so much a card-counting gun-slinging genius as he was a man playing a card-counting gun-slinging genius. I mean he was these things but it was by design if that makes sense. He was well aware of the iconic American myth and he dressed himself in it. I’m not a very cool guy so I needed a way to break down such a cool character so I could do it and not wanna beat myself to death with the rubber prop gun they gave me at the end of the day.

So in answer to your question and very astute observation – yes I was alarmed by the turn the character took but soon found real value and satisfaction in playing it. A lot of fun in playing a self-made man-around-town mystery cowboy trying to come to terms with domesticity.

And in doing so we see that at the core of him is real love for his wife – that at the end of the day he wants what most of us want even though he’d be loathe to admit it.

And then after all his bumbling through a few seasons he mans up and takes control. He says in effect, “Susan we’ve done it your way for years – now we’re gonna do it mine”… “…Guns and horses” (a gift of a line- among many many such gifts) And goddamn it, it works!

But then eventually Susan exerts control again…

DAMIAN: In describing our behaviour systems, Nietzsche also said that it was absurd to apply one moral code to all people. I also love the idea that the strongest characters are noticeable by a certain cruelty to themselves – self destructiveness and that they are almost unrecognizable and completely misunderstood by the common dullard. To what extent would you agree that this applies to Jackson?

ADAM: Never heard that before – thank you for introducing me to it. Next time someone tells me to quit smoking or drinking or being an asshole I’m gonna quote that. “Seeing as you’re a common dullard I don’t expect you to understand me”.

In terms of how that applies to Jackson – I agree. Full stop.

DAMIAN: In comparison to Reid and Drake, I always loved Jackson’s unpredictability. Indeed, I’m reminded of Orson Welles’ description of James Cagney in that watching him on screen was like waiting for a fire-cracker to go off. So, for me at least, I think the attraction of Jackson is the fact the character is so morally ambiguous and his motivations are often unclear. On the one hand, as you say, he’s a gun-slinging, card-counting, whoring cowboy: an enigmatic and mysterious drifter who could have easily wandered from the set of a Sergio Leone film. But on the other hand however, he’s a self-loathing manic depressive almost always experiencing some kind of existential crisis. If Larry David and Clint Eastwood had a child together, might he turn out a lot like Jackson?

ADAM: I really wish you had said that to me right before I started filming season one!

DAMIAN: And speaking of self-loathing manic depressives, Toby Finlay has written some of your finest dialogue for the show and has provided Jackson with some great one-liners. With the greatest respect to Richard, no one quite writes Jackson like Toby do they?

ADAM: Well I gotta be fair here. Richard and Toby are two very different beasts but what they share is utter brilliance.

Richard created the guy and Richard seems to really have a line on what it means to try and live up to a certain code one adopts even when the person and the code are as far away as the earth and Pluto. Like a battered knight holding true to the last remnants of chivalry. That is by no means a complete summary of what Richard does but just something that springs to mind right now…

“Richard Warlow in period costume wearing all of the three boys hats (we all three gave them to him as a gesture)”

Toby on the other hand seems to have a line on the exact opposite – to live in opposition to a code inflicted upon one… and the self doubt and shame that ensues… A liquor soaked poet comes to mind…

So that being said they both bring different perspectives to bear when writing the character and it’s enriching each time.

But Toby is Jackson… so it stands to bear that when he writes the character there’s a little something extra – a personal ring to it.

DAMIAN: I understand that you and Toby are good buddies. In one interview with him I said that from where I’m standing, you and Toby seem like two fellas with plenty in common. He replied that he related to Jackson’s world-weariness, that anger and disappointment at the world and his place in it. Furthermore, once when you and Toby were carousing in New York, his female companion observed that listening to the two of you was like having Jackson in stereo. Obviously Richard created your character but I’m wondering to what extent you and Toby have also contributed to his gene pool?

ADAM: Well Jackson got my looks (sorry Homer)… and Toby’s brains.

DAMIAN: And in another interview, when I asked Toby if he’d miss writing for Jackson, he had this to say:

“F*****g right I will. I’ll miss a great deal about writing for Ripper. Not only the key characters, but writing for those actors is a privilege I don’t know if I’ll experience again. I mean, I hope I’ll work with Matthew, Jerome, MyAnna, Charlene and Rothenberg again – but probably not all together. Amid all of that, though, the character who comes most naturally to me with his self-loathing and rage and bottomless romantic yearning is Jackson, and I have never before experienced a professional pleasure that comes close to writing that stuff and seeing Rothenberg nail it like the drawling dirt-bag he is.”

What is it about Toby that have made you such good friends?

ADAM: Ah who knows? Why does anyone fall for each other?

DAMIAN: Richard, Toby and other writers on the show seem to have found inspiration from Deadwood in terms of flavouring the dialogue. To what extent would you say that Ripper Street shares its DNA with the Western and Frontier Mythology?

ADAM: Well I’d say very much so. I think it’s more of a question for the creators but I’ll take a stab at it.  I’ve heard Richard refer to it as a Victorian Western and if Ripper Street isn’t exactly literally a frontier story – it is a frontier story in the sense that the characters are at the frontiers of the old world meeting the promise and hope of modern times. I mean when we start, the very idea of a police force was pretty new – men sworn to physically fight the tide of chaos and criminality in a small and lawless and brutal patch of London.

That sounds pretty Westerny to me.

And I don’t mean to imply it was only men fighting for change. All the characters are embroiled in the same kind of fight – the same push to upend the suffocating roles of the old guard and the show I think went to great lengths with both sexes to show that struggle.

DAMIAN: Reid, Drake and Jackson – the three amigos! Would you argue that Reid has almost manipulated and exploited Jackson over the years or has he provided him with a moral compass?

ADAM: The way I see it was Reid was Jackson’s patron. He saw a talent- and even if that talent was wrapped up in things he personally found repellent – he thought it his duty to see that such talent wasn’t squandered. In the core of Reid there runs an excellence, and as such he finds it a sin to see such excellence in others be unfulfilled.

But I think eventually there grew real affection between them.

DAMIAN: I always found it touching regarding the extent to which Jackson tries to bond with Drake only to be rejected by him. Indeed, as opposed to Reid, he was the only one who was always sensitive towards Drake’s doomed romances with both Rose and Bella for example. Do you think Drake was jealous of the friendship between Jackson and Reid or that Drake felt he simply couldn’t compete with them on an intellectual level?

ADAM: I would imagine that to Drake’s eyes Jackson would look to be the epitome of a man to whom everything has come easy and a man who values nothing. And that would drive anybody – especially a man like Drake — a man to whom everything has come hard and who’s only sin really is unconditional love and loyalty… nuts.

Poor Drake and Rose. They really are the true innocents of the show – the ones who deserve the best and who by fate are treated the worst.

DAMIAN: It must have been strange without Jerome this time. How do you think the final series holds up against the previous four given the absence of Drake?

ADAM: I honestly don’t know. We the cast missed him greatly but of course we hoped the audience wouldn’t miss him TOO much. Me Matt and MyAnna still had a f*****g show to do!

DAMIAN: Whose decision was it to kill him off and why?

ADAM: Mine. I was sick of all the attention he was getting. I lobbied to get Matt, MyAnna and Charlene killed off too.

I actually don’t know who’s idea it was – probably Jerome’s.

DAMIAN: We began by discussing your first moment in costume as Jackson. Was there a sense of melancholy as you took off the clothes and hat for the very last time?

ADAM: Yes there was. I didn’t think it would effect me that much- because I saw it coming and figured it would be too precious to burst into tears as I lay my hat and coat down one last time. But damn it – it’s exactly what happened. I was very sad and in doubt that I’d ever have it as good as I did on Ripper again.

I mean five years man – in the blink of an eye.

“Me and Matt giving Toby a flask”

DAMIAN: We’ve discussed Toby but you’ve also formed close bonds with other members of the cast and crew. What will be your most special and enduring memories of your time in Whitechapel?

ADAM: Well that’s a tough question because it was five years of my life. Too many memories to choose from but probably the most enduring type of memory will be the times of easy camaraderie I had with cast and crew. The kind of calm and familiar goodwill you achieve with people you have a good thing with. The laughing was wonderful.

“Me trying to make an emotional point under the influence of Irish whiskey (drank from Toby’s flask)”

DAMIAN: Finally, do you think Captain Homer Jackson is your greatest screen role thus far and where do you go from here?

ADAM: It could almost be said my only screen role of note thus far. I’ve been very lucky with stage work but in terms of screen… Yeah – Jackson is it at this point. And I’m proud of it.

I’m alas an American actor abroad in America. All my exoticism is gone. Where I’m going from here God only knows but I have faith that whatever comes next down the pike will be the best thing for me.

DAMIAN: Adam, thank you very much indeed. I wish you all the best for the future – cheers Captain!

ADAM: Thanks Damian. It was a pleasure.

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All the interviews and articles on this website are original and exclusive and I would ask that the copyright be respected. Therefore, please do not use quotes or any other information contained here without permission. Thank you.

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RIPPER STREET 5 interview with writer Toby Finlay

Above image: Toby with director Tom Shankland and series creator Richard Warlow wearing the hats of the three guys. Toby is wearing Jackson’s – naturally.

 

Il miglior fabbro:

He do the Police in Different Voices

An exclusive interview

with Toby Finlay

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“Oh keep the Dog far hence, that’s friend to men,

Or with his nails he’ll dig it up again!”

~

Interview copyright © Damian Michael Barcroft 2017
Images copyright and courtesy of  Toby Finlay, Will Gould, Adam Rothenberg and Richard Warlow.

~~~

***NOTE ON SPOILERS***

You may want to read this interview later if you haven’t seen the final episode although there’s nothing here that you won’t find in The Radio Times or other TV magazines and websites.

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DAMIAN: Toby, you said during our previous interview in 2014 that the third series of Ripper Street would be your last. However, since then you’ve acted as story consultant on both the fourth and fifth series as well as writing the two episodes for this final series that I’d like to discuss today. What changed your mind?

TOBY: I think that “credit” actually started with the third series. Anyway: I suppose it was two things. First, I thought – and was not alone – that the third series would be the last. Second: even if it was not absolutely the last there was a sense that it would be the last in its form as was. It’s a bit hazy now but I think Warlow himself was contemplating handing the torch to someone else to run the show, and I didn’t want that torch and I felt I was part of the Old Guard so if that passing happened I was out. Also at the time we did that interview I felt I was generally spent, so whatever happened I was done and dusted. Rich and Will were aware of this. What followed is that the opportunity came about from Amazon to do this last hurrah, this extended series (which was broken into two) where we could pursue and conclude the whole show on our terms. I still took some persuading because the end of S3 could so easily have been a credible out. But when we all went away on retreat together (see later question) I kept pissing everyone off by asking WHY ARE WE DOING THIS until we came up with something that made me stop asking that and instead thinking, ok, we actually have to do this – and I’m in.

DAMIAN: What exactly is a story consultant?

TOBY: It’s just a credit that reflects that since the third series I was very involved in conceiving the over-arching story with Rich. The credit that I take a more obscure pride in is the murder-ballad sung in ep 3.5. Rich and Will knew my love of folk and Dylan etc and asked me to write the lyrics. Within a day I’d sent them a full demo with about 20 verses like I was writing Desolation f*****g Row. Anyway that was the song in the ep.

Toby and Richard

DAMIAN: You had the following to say when I asked about your working relationship with series creator Richard Warlow: “We knew each other from before Ripper Street was even a twinkle and we’d got along and had a mutual respect, but it was during Ripper that we found our writing was simpatico in a lot of ways and intriguingly different in others. I think we pushed each other a bit over the three seasons, and it’s always good to be working with someone you want to beat.” Could you give me some examples of such similarities or differences in your approach to writing?

TOBY: Approach? No idea. The main similarity is I suppose a kind of visceral, brutal narrative with a deep romantic melancholy. I think – or at least hope – that’s evident in the best of our stuff, either of us. In terms of difference… I would say he has a gift for something I don’t, which is a great baroque crime plotting. For instance one of my favourites of his is The Incontrovertible Truth. I don’t think I could write that. If there are things of mine he couldn’t write I don’t know what they are and would absolutely not be prepared to lay claim thus. I think perhaps I’m more given to the grandstanding speeches, but that’s by no means to say Rich couldn’t do that if he wanted to show off.

DAMIAN: And have you beat him yet?

TOBY: I think there are probably certain eps for which we envy each other. But that’s different. We drove each other, would be a better verb.

DAMIAN: During the late summer of 2013, you accompanied Richard along with executive producer Will Gould and script editor Joe Donaldson to a hotel in the countryside to throw around story ideas for series three, can you tell me about your retreats for four and five?

TOBY: Yeah, as I said above, we had a major one to assess whether 4 and 5 were worth the doing. At least that was my attitude to it. Joe actually moved to producing for the last series, and produced my two eps in S5, so our script editor was Lawrence Cochran who was also great and shepherded us through our more wayward flights of fancy.

DAMIAN: I think it was during this time that the four or you agreed that the overarching story for series three would be Reid versus Susan and to make her at the fore of the narrative and also give her a sort of Breaking Bad journey into darkness as you described it. How would you describe the overarching stories for series four and five?

TOBY: One of my main issues in wanting to leave was that I felt the central characters had such rich ongoing stories that it was increasingly difficult for me to be engaged – or imagine an audience being engaged – by some story of the week with a guest villain. What really began to intrigue me about S4&5 – which was essentially one series of 13 – was having these Dove brothers as a force of villainy which had time to bed in and develop into something worthy of the heroes. Plus: the more it began to move conceptually from a story of the week thing into a serial, the more I began to dig the idea of transforming or maybe perverting the format and giving full reign to the main characters in a way we hadn’t seen.

Toby with the “Godfather”

DAMIAN: Again in our previous interview, you described Will as being the godfather of Ripper Street. Why godfather?

TOBY: Well, he was exec producer and it was Will and Rich who first hired me when I had zero experience in TV. Will is a perfect producer because he’s totally amiable until you need him to bare teeth; but also while he can be a field-marshal on the frontline of production he’s also fantastic on a forensic line by line script level. He’s just Full Mensch.

DAMIAN: So if Richard is father and creator of the show and Will is its godfather, what relation might you be?

TOBY: Jesus I dunno, creepy uncle?

Will, Jerome and creepy uncle.

DAMIAN: In your script for The Dreaming Dead, you wrote a scene in the Alexandria Theatre with Reid and Jackson in which they study the ordnance survey map of the Hackney Marshes and there is a “flash of excitement between them – a flash of these two in the old times, before all the ruin and the sorrow…”. Would such ruin and sorrow have been avoided if Jerome Flynn hadn’t decided the leave the show and would series five be drastically different?

TOBY: Well obviously if he’d stayed it would have been radically different. Better? Worse? No idea.

DAMIAN: Why did Jerome want to leave with only one series and just six episodes left?

TOBY: That you’d need to ask him. Maybe he felt Drake has run his course. I think by the end of S4 one is inclined to agree.

DAMIAN: Were either yourself or Richard disappointed?

TOBY: For Rich’s take you need to ask Rich. I was dismayed in that I loved writing for him. That said, I think having him die in those circumstances was ballsy and it created an engine dramatically speaking which thrilled me. I think I would’ve been more dismayed had he not come back for the final ep, which created a sense of completion and circular narrative logic that would have been missing without his presence. Put it this way: even if he hadn’t wanted to leave, killing Drake at the end of S4 would have still been a bold and dramatically expedient thing to do and I think when it became an option in purely creative terms I would’ve pushed for it.

DAMIAN: Let’s move on. All the Glittering Blades, your first episode for this series was truly remarkable and I can’t decide if it is almost as good as or supasses The Beating of Her Wings which you wrote for series three and remains possibly the finest of all the episodes. However, perhaps another way to look at it is why on earth spend almost an entire episode fishing for eels when the three main characters have only a couple of scenes and there are only four episodes remaining of the final series?

TOBY: I think two major factors. The first was: in a series that subverts the format, why not subvert even the subversion? It felt daring, and we gambled on having earned the risk. The second factor goes back to what I mentioned about creating these fully evolved villains. This wasn’t just a villain – this was a villain who had murdered Drake in front of us. Drake, possibly the most beloved of the three heroes. Nathaniel was therefore the show’s villain of villains. As a pure creative challenge, forcing an audience against their will to connect with – sympathise with – this figure who had been the monster essentially driving series 4 and bringing Reid out of retirement… I was hot for that.

DAMIAN: In oneirology or dream interpretation, the eel might be seen as a phallic symbol representing masculinity and fertility or the way in which man might deal with his emotions and violent anger. You must have been aware of this as you wrote the script?

TOBY: Aware of it, yes. At the same time it was one of the most credible things for him to fish. The first thing was – for me – a happy coincidence.

DAMIAN: And you mention ragwort and foxgloves in your script when we first see Nathaniel fishing. Again, in the study of dreams, Foxgloves might suggest a hidden secret in either protecting yourself or being deceitful. However, with its deeply-cut toothed leaves, it is ragwort, or the Jacobaea vulgaris, that I find particularly interesting as it has various more commonly used names including stinking willie. Also, in ancient Greece and Rome, it was supposed that you could make an aphrodisiac from ragwort (Satyrion) which helped erectile dysfunction. Again, this can’t be coincidence?

TOBY: This, actually, is a coincidence. And it amuses me to learn it.

DAMIAN: Do you dream much, Toby?

TOBY: When I’m awake.

DAMIAN: Nathaniel sits at the table in his cottage with a pack of cards playing patience –Tick tock. Tick tock…– when he sees a beetle and stares at its twitching mandibles (oral appendages used to cut their food or protect against predators). Bitela, the Old English word for the beetle literally means little biter! You’ve had a few chuckles writing this haven’t you?

TOBY: That bit was deliberate, but as above with the eels it was an issue of credibility (in terms of flora and fauna) first.

DAMIAN: Nathaniel could have simply been a vicious and terrifying serial killer but like your antagonist Faulkner in The Weight of One Man’s Heart (series one), you manage to humanize and even find sympathy for him. Given his monstrous actions in All the Glittering Blades in particular, which greatly upset one particular newspaper by the way, were there any concerns regarding the graphic nature and context of the violence from either Amazon or the BBC?

TOBY: Actually no. You’re referring to an Express article and the Express found some clickbait shit in every ep somewhere or other. I’m kind of proud however that this is the one ep which had a BBC warning of explicit sexual context.

DAMIAN: Prudence was an ironic name given her obvious lack of cautiousness and good judgment wasn’t it?

TOBY: Yes, although she was primarily named after a cat my mother had when I was little.

DAMIAN: I would direct the reader to our previous interviews regarding your references to birds rather than repeat ourselves here but I wondered if it would have been better, given that the name Caleb comes from the Hebrew word for dog and Nathaniel’s tendency to call young boys pup, if you’d switched the names Robin and Caleb?

TOBY: No.

DAMIAN: Caleb demonstrates a clear disliking for Hebrews and racism against Jewish people also featured in your script for A Stronger Loving World. You yourself are Jewish and I’ve asked you about this before but rather than give me a sensible answer and address the question of faith or religion, you told me you believed in Larry David! I’m nothing if not persistent, does returning to these matters reflect some attraction to or obsession with your Jewishness after all?

TOBY: Well, probably. For me I suppose it’s cheap shorthand of marking someone as an arsehole. Plus in this specific instance Nathaniel has a historic connection with Jews so it has an additional edge to their interactions. And for that matter in fact in A Stronger Loving World there’s a reason for it with the involvement of Isaac Bloom.

DAMIAN: You described Nathaniel in the script as hugging his pillow tightly, like an absent child in a curled foetal position and additionally he is ultimately unable to perform during the blissful mystery of his yearned-for pleasure. This reminded me of the scene with Duggan in the barber shop from series two which you said was designed to make Jackson feel impotent. Would you agree that you have a curious and rarely seen gift in television for effectively emasculating your characters?

TOBY: That’s my gift? That? If I joined the X-Men, that’s my f*****g gift?

DAMIAN: Was there any particular reason or significance to the fact that Susan is reading The Well at the World’s End by William Morris?

TOBY: Well it sounds right. I mean, that’s kind of where they are.

DAMIAN: I liked the way that Nathaniel’s imposed imprisonment was juxtaposed with Reid, Jackson and Susan with the ticking clock. Indeed, the metaphor is made all the more explicit by both Nathaniel and Jackson playing idly with a pack of cards. However, was there also a sense while you were writing this that your time on the show was coming to an end and that the following episode would be your last?

TOBY: Absolutely but I think the valedictory stuff is more apparent in The Dreaming Dead. I mean Shine’s last lines – “I’m finished” and ultimately “I’m done with dreaming” – are not accidental.

DAMIAN: Well, let us move on to the The Dreaming Dead then which features some wonderful lines as one would only expect from your scripts. Possibly my particular favourite is when Susan/Caitlin is reluctant to shoot Nathaniel during the scene in which they rescue their son and Jackson quips “Swear to Christ, Caitlin – you don’t put a bullet in him right now, I’m getting a divorce”. However, I wonder if you were also determined to cram in as many new Western flavoured Finlay/Rothenberg/Jackson-isms one last time such as “I’m gonna finish my drink, and leave this shit-hole. Anyone says a goddam word about it – I’ll blast every motherfucking skull in this room to dust, then I’ll hunt down your families and your friends” and “Let the ocean take him. It’s coming for all of us”, (both of which sound a little bit Eastwood/Unforgiven to me)?

TOBY: The thing about letting the ocean take him remains in the ep but the other stuff you mention was shot but cut from both Amazon and BBC versions for good reasons. The divorce line was cut because we didn’t want humour at that moment. The other thing was cut for pace. And I have full agreement with both those cuts (I mean, I was in the edit). But yes it was me going full western and especially Unforgiven at the last.

DAMIAN: Joseph Mawle has given a gloriously raging and seething performance as Shine comparable only to Mitchum or De Niro as Max Cady. Other than the fact that he’s the main character, why didn’t Shine kill Reid?

TOBY: His performance in that ep is something else, isn’t it? I’ve seldom seen anything like that anywhere, let alone on British TV. Why doesn’t he kill him? I’m partially prepared to leave that to interpretation. But consider this. What immediately stops him in the moment is the appearance of Mathilda, who represents to him some kind of life beyond the half-life he occupies. But maybe more that that: as he says to Reid, he wants Reid to know what it means to live that wretched half-life. Killing him would be an instant out for Reid. Shine wants Reid to suffer. He has beaten him. Out-coppered him, as he says. Shine is not so much interested in visiting death upon Reid as visiting a permanent and inescapable shame, pain, loss.

DAMIAN: There’s a beautiful moment between Reid and Jackson in The Dreaming Dead where they are sat by the fireplace smoking and drinking whiskey from a bottle. Jackson says “Maybe we ain’t dead… But life in the shadows – that ain’t living, neither” and shortly afterwards in reference to the two attempting to protect those that they love from darkness, he asks Reid, “…we tried, didn’t we? We can say that, at least”.

This scene and a number of other moments in both All the Glittering Blades and The Dreaming Dead reminded me of The Waste Land which I know you’re fond of and you might remember I’ve referenced before but what I find especially satisfying is that Eliot himself alludes to various other writers in that poem* including Baudelaire which kind of brings us full circle as we began our first interview discussing this. Are we writers naught but the creative consummation of what we have already seen, read or listened to?

TOBY: I don’t know how to answer that. Anyone who makes work does so both because of and in spite of their influences – but if you never escape the shadow of those influences then your work won’t amount to much more than pastiche. The goal is always to find your own singular voice, nourished but not overwhelmed by but those who first shone the torch for you; but it can take an entire career to do it. For my own part, I feel nowhere near it yet.

DAMIAN: Jackson has tried to get out of Whitechapel since the first series but Reid can be cruel and manipulative when he wants to be can’t he?

TOBY: I don’t think he’s necessarily cruel, but he’s obsessive – and he can be oblivious to those who, as Jackson puts it in The Dreaming Dead, fall under the hooves of his crusade.

DAMIAN: Episodes like The Weight of One Man’s Heart and The Beating of Her Wings demonstrate your proficiency in what I would call televisual poetry but to what extent would you agree that your two scripts for this series also showcase your versatility as a writer?

TOBY: Well, those two eps are different in some ways but all I really do is broken men brooding in solitude over their burden of their ruin or else making baroque battle-speeches about it so I don’t know about this versatility thing.

DAMIAN: I’m not sure how sentimental you might be about these things but there must have been a certain sense of sadness as the final episodes were filmed. I mean this has been a huge part of your life for the last five years so what was it like to visit the set for the final time?

TOBY: True story: production deliberately scheduled things such that the final scene we shot was the one from the last episode where we see Reid and Drake meet Jackson for the first time. So Jerome was back on set, the three guys back together again at the very end. It was very bittersweet. There were tears. Rothenberg and I might have done a hug.

DAMIAN: It’s no secret that Adam met and fell head over heels with someone very special during the making of Ripper Street. Do the two of you still keep in touch?

TOBY: He was actually supposed to be staying at my house this week but then his trip to London got cancelled. So no, he’s dead to me now.

DAMIAN: Adam told me that he gave you a hip flask filled with Irish whisky as a parting gift. Did you give him anything?

TOBY: You mean aside from five years’ worth of the greatest profanities he’ll ever drawl? (On which: Will Gould and Rich gave me a Mont Blanc pen inscribed with “Come get your cream, Peaches”.)

DAMIAN: Toby, thanks for this and much more besides. I suspect that Ripper Street was merely a brutal but beautiful prologue and I very much look forward to your future work. So long cowboy…

TOBY: Thanks for all the interest and support over the years. Goodnight and good luck.

~~~

“You! Hypocrite lecteur! – mon semblable, – mon frère!”

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Richard (in costume as extra in the final scene) giving Toby the pen.

* Firstly, there is a reference that Eliot makes to John Webster’s revenge tragedy The White Devil but he changes the wolf from that play with a dog and in doing so, effectively transforms the wild animal into a domestic one just as perhaps Nathaniel hoped to be tamed by Prudence. Moreover, the poem, and the many other texts that it alludes to and quotes from (including Conrad, Milton and Dante) all share a sense that life is ultimately at the mercy of evil and that man can do nothing about it or as time goes by, has the strength or even the will to do anything about it. Like Reid and Jackson, by the end of the episode, there is simply an overwhelming melancholy regarding their failures, deteriorating spirits and the ongoing corruption of the city. It’s almost as if they are ready to accept the ghosts from the past and finally make peace with their own demons.

Also, the “What do you want? – I want to die” epigraph is in keeping with Shine while the ideas from Baudelaire and Eliot that we become one step closer to hell with each passing day on account of our guilt, sins and failures in a decaying city upon which the weight of the deceased provides an oppressive burden could describe Reid and Jackson’s mindset . It would seem that all three share such disillusionment and despair and much of their dialogue evokes the imagery of death that both Baudelaire and Eliot describe in their work.

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All the interviews and articles on this website are original and exclusive and I would ask that the copyright be respected. Therefore, please do not use quotes or any other information contained here without permission. Thank you.

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A gift from Adam

 

RIPPER STREET 5 interview with composer Dominik Scherrer

An exclusive RIPPER STREET interview with composer

DOMINIK SCHERRER

Interview copyright © Damian Michael Barcroft 2017
Photography by Peter Podworski

Brick Lane, London E1 and looking out ​of the Meraz Café, onto Hanbury Street (header image)

DAMIAN: Before we start to go into too much detail about Ripper Street and update the reader on what you’ve been up to since our last interview in 2014, I’d like to just spend some time talking about what it’s actually like to be a prolific composer for the screen. Can you talk me through an average day in the life of Dominik Scherrer please?

DOMINIK: It’s great being creative all day long. But the pressure is huge as one has to be creative all day long, and come up with ideas, if inspiration strikes or not.

After breakfast at home I cycle to my studio. It’s an easy ride, and it’s great to go past all the places in Shoreditch when it’s still very quiet, before all the hip crowds arrive. I aim to be at my studio around by 8.30am. The morning is the precious creative time for me, and I work interrupted only by a short coffee break until 2pm. This is when I compose music, write themes, write individual cues, i.e. scoring individual scenes. During that time I only answer the most urgent emails and phone calls.

Dominik Scherrer’s studio in the Old Truman Brewery in Brick Lane.

Then follows a brief lunch, maybe from a nearby Sushi place or Bagel shop perhaps with one of the other composers who are nearby. The afternoon is perhaps the more workmanlike time. This is when I do the revisions that directors and producers ask me to do, or I deal with newly edited versions of the picture and conform my existing cues to that. I’ll deal with all the emails regarding scheduling, organizing recording sessions, dealing with orchestration. I listen to music from Spotify when I do all the admin.

Late afternoon I may do a two or three hour recording session with a soloist, for example a cellist. They come to my studio and this is often a time to experiment with how something is actually played, or finding the perfect key for a piece. Sometimes these little sessions help to put together demo versions of themes that I can then play to the producer or director. It’s more exciting for them to hear real recordings as opposed to digital mockups of sampled instruments.

I finish around 7pm and we may all have drink at the legendary Spitalfields pub The Golden Heart, followed by a curry at Meraz Café.

With Dominik’s favourite Spitalfields restaurateur Sam, of Meraz Cafe in Hanbury Street.

Back at home, I may play piano for a bit and then go to bed thinking about the challenges of the next day and which pieces to write. Sometimes the ideas or solutions come in my dreams, or are magically solved overnight.

Other days will be more eventful to an outsider, with perhaps orchestral recording at other studios, travelling for meetings to Dublin, Manchester etc, or long morning meetings at Soho cutting rooms, with lots of coffee.

DAMIAN: So, since our last interview then, your work on Ripper Street was recognized with he prestigious Ivor Novello Award for best television soundtrack which was also released as an album and you’ve worked on various new projects including two more BBC dramas, The Missing (2014 & 16) and One of Us (2016). Do you ever worry that you might become almost typecast as a composer and too closely associated with dark and gritty psychological thrillers?

DOMINIK: I am not worried. The music to these shows is so radically different. While you could class these, including Ripper Street, as gritty crime, half the music deals with the emotional side, and follows the same approach as scoring a non-crime drama. Also, I have scored romantic comedies in the past, last year did a big Amazon series The Collection which was about a 1940s Paris fashion house, and had a kind of glam jazzy soundtrack, and am currently working on a Near Future and a supernatural drama.

DAMIAN: I’ve had problems with my hearing for most of my life which ranges from significant conductive hearing loss in one ear to frequent bouts of tinnitus and that dreaded underwater sensation. It was with some interest then to experience your score to The Missing which seemed to capture all those aforementioned unpleasant sensations with such accuracy. What effect were you hoping to achieve by this?

DOMINIK: In The Missing Series 1, it was important to convey the enormous sense of loss (of the child) that the parents experienced right from the start. I played around with very plain and high pitched glass harmonica sounds. They was not really meant to represent tinnitus but they signified a painful emptiness of the characters.

DAMIAN: What can you tell me about your latest project Requiem?

DOMINIK: It’s a six part Netflix / BBC drama directed by Mahalia Belo. The rest is secret!

DAMIAN: I’d like to ask you some questions about the Ripper Street soundtrack album. Was it Silva Screen or yourself that decided on which tracks to include and their running order on the album?

DOMINIK: It was largely my decision, with some input from Silva Screen. It’s a hard decision, and takes time to choose the right pieces from amongst the hundreds of cues. Sometimes we needed to combine or split up some pieces.

DAMIAN: I hope you’ll forgive me for saying this but I could have lived without the two music hall source tracks (15: Eight Little Whores and 16: Blewett’s Pavilion of Varieties) or at least you could have included them as bonus tracks at the end. I wonder to what extent you’d agree that they detract from the overall mood and listening experience of the album?

DOMINIK: I appreciate what you’re saying and maybe those tracks don’t fit in. For me though, music hall is an important component of the whole musical landscape of 1890s London, and stylistically, informed also the score itself, albeit perhaps in a more twisted manner.

DAMIAN: It gives me a genuine thrill to blast out the main theme (Track 1) and some of the action cues and pieces such as The Toff (4 – often used over the end credits during the first two series), The Amorality of the Mob (11) and it’s also a treat to venture into Ennio Morricone/Spaghetti Western territory with tracks like Telegraph (8) and The Judge Stink (14). However, the sheer haunting and aching beauty of I Need Light (6), Become Man (12), Threads of Silk and Gold (17), The Beating of Her Wings (19), The Weight of One Man’s Heart (7) are the tracks that I’ve played the most. Can you talk me through the genesis and ideas behind one of these pieces?

DOMINIK: The Beating of her Wings, as a theme, was written based on the scripts for series three, before I’d seen any of the picture. I wanted a theme that embodied Reid’s broodiness and at the same time his driven nature, be that in the drive to find his long lost daughter or the obsession with clearing Whitechapel of criminals. The theme starts with a lyrical cello solo, but in its lowest register. Normally you’d use the mid or higher cello register for such a lyrical tune, but I was determined to keep it broody and low. Morricone did that once, but I can’t remember on which score. After much cello broodiness a solo violin joins in, with a fluttery sequence of notes. It was very hard to play. Janice Graham, a top violinist and leader of the English National Opera Orchestra, nailed it perfectly. It develops with the same incessant energy that drives Reid. When they were cutting the The Beating of her Wings Episode (S3 E02), Andy Wilson, the director, told me that they started using this during the edit, and it fitted like a glove. In the end I did some changes to the theme, actually making it even longer, and matching the dynamics around the dialogue and the action. It was a satisfying experience. The script inspired the music, the music inspired the cut, the cut inspired the music again.

DAMIAN: Some tracks such as The Weight of One Man’s Heart are often reused again in other episodes. Is this because the piece is so powerful or are you limited to how much new music you can write for each episode?

DOMINIK: It’s important to have themes that run through the series. Sometimes the themes appear in different cloaks, i.e. orchestration, tempos, keys. At other times they may reappear as clearly recognisable reprises. I try and not attach themes to individual characters, as that can quickly become a bit Disney-like, and can create trouble if those characters cross paths. I try to link emotional states and underlying psychological themes, as if Whitechapel was a giant single organism, and the score traveled through its synapses.

DAMIAN: What is your own personal favourite track from the album?

DOMINIK: Perhaps The Good of this City. We semi-improvised this live at my studio early on during scoring the first season. I felt, for the first time, we nailed the aching Whitechapel atmosphere in an interesting way. The use of the Hardanger fiddle, which is also featured on the title tune, helped to give it a unique sound.

Multi-instrumentalist Sonia Slany playing the monochord for series 4. The monochord was one of the more unusual instruments introduced for the last two series.
Slany also played the Hardanger fiddle of the title theme, as well viola, and old style gut-strung violin.

DAMIAN: I’d like to be able to enjoy more of your score from the show but what are the chances of a second album?

DOMINIK: There is certainly plenty of material that could be released. There has been talk of a second album, but nothing is confirmed.

DAMIAN: Do you often go back to listen to and revisit your music after it has been recorded?

DOMINIK: Once it has been mixed, once the dub (mix with dialogue and FX) is over, I don’t generally listen to it, unless we need it for reference for another episode. Once a season is completed I may only return to it after 6 months. I think “Maybe this isn’t quite as bad as I remembered”. Listening after a year or two I think “Some of this may actually be quite good.”

Recording series 5 at Angel Studios, Islington.

DAMIAN: I’ve often said that I believe your main theme music over the titles of Ripper Street represents a perfect marriage of sound and imagery which is possibly one of the most distinctive opening credit sequences of recent television. Why have you changed it for this fifth and final series?

DOMINIK: Season five has an overall different feel. It started with us experimenting with a more aching, melancholic version of the theme tune for the third episode, as the existing one was slightly at odds with the feel of that particular episode. We liked the result and felt it was an appropriate feel for the entire series. It’s the same tune, with different tempo and orchestration, and it starts with a new counter melody, only to reveal the actual melody of the original theme a bit later.

DAMIAN: In our previous interview I asked if you thought your music had a distinct sound and you replied “More than aspiring to have my own style I hope I can come up with something new every time. I am always trying out new ways of composition, orchestration, production… Saying that, sometimes my colleagues listen to my music and say ‘this is very Dominik!’ so maybe there is a style. Perhaps it’s a certain cheekiness or directness in the melodies”. Well, when I spoke to composer Matthew Slater about his music for Endeavour, I asked which film and television composers had inspired him and he told me that in addition to Danny Elfman, Thomas Newman and James Newton Howard, “Dominik Scherrer also has a sound that’s completely different which I find intriguing and has influenced me a little”. High praise indeed but I wonder if fellow composers keep track of each other’s musical accomplishments and if there is perhaps ever a little rivalry or healthy competition?

DOMINIK: It can sometimes be difficult to watch films and TV shows without listening out for the score. It can be very interesting to analyze other composers’ approaches. It’s too often that I watch something and think “This is too good, why didn’t I come up with this?” So yes, we all constantly challenge each other, which is great. In recent years, perhaps thanks to the internet and social networking, film composers have become a lot more organized and I am now regularly at events where we exchange ideas or just chat.

DAMIAN: And we’ve talked about how you wanted your score to be non-classical and have an urban element as though it had emanated from the streets of Whitechapel but presented with a contemporary cinematic feel while also reflecting points from the period or locale either compositionally or orchestration-wise. Ripper Street has taken the audience from 1889 to 1899, how has your music reflected these passing years and how do you think you have grown as an artist?

DOMINIK: I feel I am evolving from one day to another. Almost every step I take is slightly into the unknown, which keeps everything exciting too. The Ripper Street score definitely evolved over the five seasons. It’s not so much about the time span from 1889 to 1899 but how the story acquired an epic breadth, and ended on an almost metaphysical plane. The nineteenth century and the Victorian age come to an end. The music became broader too. The episodes became less about solving crime but more about the fates of the characters. I used bigger forces in the last season. A string section of forty and a full male choir.

In the control room at Angel Studios, recording the first episode in series 4, with director Kieron Hawkes.

The very last Ripper Street recording session, with solo violinist Janice Graham, who played many of the violin solos throughout the series.

DAMIAN: I wonder if you found it difficult to compose the music for the very last episode knowing that after working with these stories, locations and characters for five years, it was your last chance to revisit them? – was it hard to say goodbye?

DOMINIK: Yes, scoring the last episode was emotional. Over the years, even for me, these characters have become almost real. But it also meant that four years of inspiring and enjoyable collaboration in the Ripper Street team was coming to an end. But also, the last episode had an unusual structure that made it a challenge to score, and it allowed me to musically go to completely new places. So it was not only about the melancholy but there was something forward thinking about it too.

DAMIAN: Dominik, thank you very much indeed.

DOMINIK: Thanks for all your interest in Ripper Street over the years Damian. It’s been a pleasure.

~~~

My original interview with Dominik can be found below:

Crimson Noise: The Sound of Ripper Street

All the interviews and articles on this website are original and exclusive and I would ask that the copyright be respected. Therefore, please do not use quotes or any other information contained here without permission. Thank you.

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