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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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.

~~~

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.

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***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!”

~

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.

~

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.

~

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.

~

RIPPER STREET 5 interview with titles designer Nic Benns

An exclusive RIPPER STREET interview

with titles designer Nic Benns

Interview copyright © Damian Michael Barcroft 2017
Images copyright © Nic Benns/Momoco

~

DAMIAN: The television titles forever seared into my childhood memory are Doctor Who (from the early Tom Baker era) and those ridiculously scary naked ladies dancing in flames from Tales of the Unexpected. And, of course in cinema, the James Bond credits -particularly the early ones by Maurice Binder- and Saul Bass’ work for Hitchcock always remain vivid in my mind. What titles have had an impact on you over the years?

NIC: Tales of the Unexpected was the first title sequence that really made an impression – it was very scary. The hypnotic movement of the dancers, the skulls but also the music. The opening to Seconds by Saul Bass was powerful because of an effect he created with a flexible mirror. The refraction of a face was eerie and at one point he organically splits an eye like a cell – entirely in camera, a very simple set up, timeless.

DAMIAN: Looking back on some of these that were made for television, it’s often the case that it’s not the stories or even characters that people remember, but rather isn’t it the titles and the music?

NIC: The music was often very strong melodically and it’s a simple tune with a stark concept for the titles that make an impression. The graphic nature of the sequences on a rostrum with hard editing convey a lot of confidence with limiting technology.

DAMIAN: I think that television during the sixties and seventies had some really stylish and elegant specially filmed title sequences such as The Prisoner, The Avengers and The Persuaders but then elaborate designs such as these seem to have been discarded in favour of just having clips and montages of the show during the titles. Why do you think this was the case and why have title designs such as the ones you create found favour once more?

NIC: Maybe because there wasn’t the marketing structure, there weren’t the trailer campaigns with social support. Titles had to work harder to convey the mood, the action of the show, introduce the characters, set up the story. A thirty-second burst of action scenes sets up a lot of promise and is its own mini teaser.

We sometimes feature characters from the show but we re-contextulise them so they’re not repeated. We also shoot the actors when we can, so its entirely bespoke to our storytelling. Shooting allows us to create compositions to accommodate the type.

DAMIAN: There are some title sequences which are wonderful to see once such as Michael C. Hall in Dexter getting up in the morning, dressing and preparing breakfast which is juxtaposed with various imagery evoking methods in which a serial killer might dispatch his prey. However, after watching this two-minute title sequence for twelve episodes per season, it all gets a little bit tedious. What would you consider to be the right balance between great visuals that tell a story and are almost a mini movie in themselves and simply becoming tiresome?

NIC: A story can be told in twenty seconds or less. The mood conveyed with a five second title like a branding sting also works.

If the titles are a prologue that saves the director having to explain it later then it can be a longer sequence.

From our archive: Humans, The Gunman, Father & Son set up a backstory/history to bring the audience up to speed or strengthen a particular character within the story.

There’s been discussions that the first episode could be a longer titles cut than the rest of the series.

DAMIAN: There are many different kinds of title sequences: the plain black and white credits such as those that open every Woody Allen film which are dull no matter how much one enjoys jazz, the same simple style of credits which work and are effective because they are intercut with opening scenes or vignettes like Endeavour, credits over the action that form part of the story such as some of the best animated Disney films, the specially designed sequences that are almost a meditation on the themes or ideas of a production,Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands or Ed Wood spring to mind, the ones where the information contained therein serves as a prologue to the series such as Homeland and also titles that, it could be argued, offer an almost psychological perspective of one of the main characters such as Sherlock with its tilt-shifting camera technique forcing us to look at the London cityscape as he does. Would you agree that a dull title sequence is both a missed artistic opportunity and a complete waste of valuable screen time?

NIC: A dull title sequence can also be a breathing point after a frenetic opening act and ‘previously montage’.

DAMIAN: So what exactly makes a good title sequence?

NIC: A good title sequence is a doorway into the film – like a good book cover illustration, it sets the tone and references a moment or collective themes within the story that are revealed as you travel through the narrative.

A good title is also a single memorable concept that engages and invites the audience to go “Ah! I get it!” when watching the show and making that connection.

DAMIAN: Do you sometimes find yourself creatively restricted due to the fact that cast and crew presumably have to be billed in a certain order and does this ever limit what you are able to achieve artistically?

NIC: This has happened a few times. On Dracula we had to run a character/actor order which meant compromising the storyline of our titles.

It’s happened on The Musketeers too but the sequence is just a lot of fun and sweeps the audience through, its more a mood and character intro.

DAMIAN: Although it’s not the case with Ripper Street but rather more with reference to US television, are executive producers sometimes the enemy of creative titles?

NIC: There have been cases when there are too many conflicting voices that can cause compromise in order to please everybody but the Producer and Director usually focuses and distills.

DAMIAN: Can you tell me about how you became a titles designer in the first place and also a little bit about the genesis of your studio Momoco?

NIC: I was going to be a comic book artist but studied animation at California Institute of the Arts. When I saw Imaginary Forces work, especially The Island of Doctor Moreau I was astounded that credits – a film within a film – can be so mesmerising and combine great editing, animation, graphic design and music. I started the studio with designer, Miki Kato and set up Momoco in 2000 where we’ve been producing film and TV titles and commercials for seventeen years now. We’ve been fortunate to collaborate with directors like Richard Curtis, Stephen Daldry, Lasse Halstrom, Kevin Spacey,  Dustin Hoffman and Ridley Scott.

DAMIAN: What does the name Momoco actually mean?

NIC: Peach

DAMIAN: I discussed the Guy Ritchie Sherlock Holmes films in my interview with composer Dominik Scherrer and he told me that the signature style of Hans Zimmer’s score formed a part of a portfolio of many inspirations regarding his music for Ripper Street. Your title design for the show is quite reminiscent of the end credits from those two films so I’m wondering if they were also referenced in conversations with you?

NIC: Sherlock Holmes was calligraphy and watercolour ink bleeds which we avoided for Ripper Street.

Ink Mattes (bringing images on with ink dispersing on litmus) was a bit of a trend at the time. We started using the technique in 2008 on Father & Son. Ripper Street may have the vibe of Holmes but is lead letterpress. The concept is that it’s the birth of the tabloid so we used letterpress, having all the images formed from type.

DAMIAN: Many of the publicity stills and marketing images, particularly from the first series, evoke your designs. Did they base these brandings on your designs or was it the other way round?

NIC: We made the posters and billboards for series 2, 3 and 4 and supplied a galley of textures and letterpress elements for series 1.

DAMIAN: Can you describe your first thoughts and reaction to the title of Ripper Street – what images were formed in your mind?

NIC: Gore!

Early logo concept designs

DAMIAN: And tell me about your initial ideas regarding an identity for Ripper Street.

NIC: We went through a lot of ideas, starting with the obvious knife but when the titles concept was chosen there was only one real route with the lead type.

DAMIAN: Can you take me through the process of designing the titles for Ripper Street including the conceptual development, development after the pitch and preparing for the shoot?

NIC: After storyboarding, we made an animatic for the composer to work to. Using After Effects we drafted out the camera moves and used stock text as placeholders for our shoot.

Unused concept boards

DAMIAN: And can you describe your choice of images and presentation such as the printer’s block type, the subdued sepia palette and poverty maps for example?

NIC: We went through the show and grabbed stills that were strong and character iconic. The red and metal and gold was a tight pallette, we didn’t want it to be entirely sepia though there is a nod to the early press photography. The type was based around Caslon and Clarendon which was popular at the time. I think we were doing Peaky Blinders that same month and used printed Clarendon for that.

DAMIAN: Jack the Ripper heralded the birth of sensationalist tabloid journalism in many respects so I wonder if the typography of the titles, the logo and many press pieces was a conscious decision to reflect this?

NIC: Yes, we produced a few ideas based on newsprint and print presses.

DAMIAN: How did you actually create the texture of the images that we see?

NIC: We went to a traditional east end letterpress workshop/museum and made lots of compositions with the type. We then filmed as much as we could using them as real textures for our CG elements. We also filmed dust to embed it all. I animated and edited most of the first edit on a rooftop in Thessaloniki,  Greece while supposedly on holiday!

DAMIAN: Now, I must also ask about Hannibal as it’s one of my all-time favourite shows. Obviously everyone is familiar with the character but were you a fan of The Silence of the Lambs and the other books or films?

NIC: Yes I thought the films were very strong.

DAMIAN: Dr. Hannibal Lecter is a complex character. What does your title sequence say about him?

NIC: Well it’s a very restrained sequence, some of the early concepts tapped the psychological especially with the Rorschach idea.

DAMIAN: To what extent do you also try to get inside the head of Will Graham and Jack Crawford?

NIC: In the wine/blood animation we looked at having Will’s head grow from his eyes, because that is his special power – tracing psychological events.

DAMIAN: Were there any alternative ideas or concepts from the design that was chosen, and if so, why were they discarded in favour of what we eventually saw onscreen?

NIC: I explored the idea of the chase – streams pursuing each other, forming images along the way as they collide but the director had an idea that he wanted to feature details of the characters.

DAMIAN: What is your favourite title sequence or which one are you most proud of?

NIC: Our favourite titles are Luther (the mood) and Hard Candy (the concept that you get after watching the film), Great Expectations (beautiful sequence that won us an Emmy) and Fortitude (haunting opening that bagged a BAFTA)

We’re often happy with titles that go out of the door with minimal changes.

DAMIAN: Nic, thank you very much indeed.

NIC: Cheers!

Nic Benns

~~~

Interview copyright © Damian Michael Barcroft 2017
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.

~

RIPPER STREET 5 interview with Clive Russell

An exclusive RIPPER STREET interview

with Clive Russell

Interview copyright © Damian Michael Barcroft 2017

~

DAMIAN: Clive, you’ve had a remarkably long and prolific career during which you’ve accumulated almost 170 film and television credits. What can you tell us about your early days as a young actor?

CLIVE: As a young actor, back in the day –one of Jerome’s favourite expressions… “back in the day Clive did you…”– I worked in various forms of theatre: theatre in education, repertory theatre, touring theatre, cabaret, stand up comedy, street theatre – all fantastic experiences and a lot of fun. I learned quite a lot, like if you’re not on a set stand in front of a wall or something that ensures you are the most interesting thing to look at, know what you’re going to say, try to be involved with projects that have something interesting to say  (that’s where you meet the smartest most interesting people), have respect for the people listening to you – on and off set – and treasure every moment.

DAMIAN: And you’ve worked in all sorts of genres but there’s two in particular that you seem to keep returning to: there’s the sort of historic costume epics such as The 13th Warrior (1999) and Game of Thrones (2011 – present) plus various Arthurian inspired works like King Arthur (2004), The Mists of Avalon (2007) and Merlin (2008-12). Secondly, in addition to Ripper Street, you’ve appeared in many Victorian period productions including various Dickens adaptations over the years and the two Guy Ritchie Sherlock Holmes films (2009/11) as Captain Tanner. Why do you think casting directors identify you with these sorts of roles?

CLIVE: Not sure, other than my normal appearance being rather lumpy, hairy and disheveled (I don’t get any smart lawyer parts!) and the advantage of my size has given me authority or at least a certain presence in different ways for Abberline or Joe Gargery [below] et al.

DAMIAN: Even with all this vast experience though, you must have been unprepared or surprised by the sheer epic scale of Game of Thrones?

CLIVE: The job itself on set was a delight, working with the likes of Michelle Fairley, David Bradley, Tobias Menzies but in the end the set was just a larger and better financed version of any other work with a magnificent largely Irish/Scots crew. However, out in the wider world it’s quite unique. I worked in Sri Lanka last autumn and was surprised by the stir I caused amongst the large group of Sri Lankan supporting artists (I was only in 6 episodes three years apart) until it was explained to me by one of the runners who insisted on calling me Lord Blackfish that Game of Thrones was watched (mostly illegally) by 300 million people on the Indian sub continent. A nice wee gig!

DAMIAN: Do you find it slightly frustrating, given the aforementioned amount of screen credits, that you probably get asked about Game of Thrones so much in interviews such as this?

CLIVE: Not for a second.

Blackfish in Game of Thrones

DAMIAN: Younger viewers who may only have seen you in Ripper Street or Game of Thrones may be surprised by the softer side you showed in the critically acclaimed 1995 film Margaret’s Museum alongside Helena Bonham Carter. Do you regret not having been offered more romantic roles like this in recent years?

CLIVE: No, I really enjoyed doing that movie, our Big un Little Un relationship worked really well. Broadly I’m an enemy of regret, it s pointless.

DAMIAN: In terms of gravitas and a certain authoritative air about you, your role as Abberline in Ripper Street often reminds me of Roger Allam’s character DI Thursday in Endeavour. When I’ve seen Roger on set, it seems this self-assurance and screen presence just comes naturally and almost effortlessly. Would you say this is also the case with yourself and are you aware of this aura that you seem to give off?

CLIVE: Not that I’m aware, and I guess if I was aware it would not be an aura. I am aware, being the oldest person in nearly every room I’m in, that people listen to what I have to say as opposed to my experience of being a young actor being the opposite, which is warming but then I find life warming. I did a final year film student film earlier in the year and I was fifty years older than anyone on set, it was a simply fantastic warming experience.

DAMIAN: How did you come to be cast as Abberline?

CLIVE: I met the casting director Kate Rhodes James at Teddington and with her help put myself on tape and bagged the gig.

DAMIAN: There have obviously been many Ripper-inspired productions over the years and a number of actors cast in the role of Abberline – including the excellent 1988 miniseries with Michael Caine. However, as fantastic as Caine is in that, we never really forget that it is the superstar Caine we’re watching rather than the character he is supposed to be playing. You on the other hand, are in my opinion, the most accurate portrayal of Abberline on screen. Did you do any background reading or historical research to prepare for the role or was there enough information on how to play him from the scripts?

CLIVE: We were given some background material to read about the Ripper murders, a social history of the times of policing in Victorian England and so on, but in the end the script is your bible and these were fine scripts written in a kind of Victorian language or idiom, each episode drawn from the great social issues of the time. In the end you look the other actor in the eyes and ‘play the play’ and what actors – what fun!

DAMIAN: This question is not so much levelled at the depiction of Abberline, but Ripper Street did take many liberties in portraying real people such as Fred Best and particularly Edmund Reid who viciously murders the man who was keeping his daughter captive in series three. Is there not a moral argument to be made against changing the perception and reputation of real characters from history?

CLIVE: There most certainly is an argument and dramas which deal with contemporary personalities have to struggle with the conflict between drama and documented accuracy very carefully. However, drama is subjective and needs to have a strong voice. In Ripper we have conflicted policeman, attempting to work honourably and failing. That I would say is a somewhat eternal truth worth telling.

DAMIAN: Ripper Street depicts Abberline as cantankerous, ill-tempered and sarcastic but beneath all of this he seems to have a deep respect and even affection for Reid. How would you describe their relationship?

CLIVE: I would say it is very much a father/son relationship, Abberline’s bewilderment and cynical amusement at Reid’s scientific approach to policing, his obvious affection and respect, humorous banter, all part of that but and I have to say Abberline is in a sense parented by Reid over the Ripper and talking him down from his desperation to solve the crimes and to lift the scars both men carried from their failure. It certainly mirrors my experience of parenting and my kids gently parent me all the time – patronizing b*stards! That part of Abberline with Matthew was a delight to play.

DAMIAN: What are your most treasured memories as you look back on the last five years of Ripper Street?

CLIVE: Dublin and its people who like to talk. The Irish crew. Working with terrific actors and directors on a really classy gig.

DAMIAN: Clive, thank you very much indeed.

CLIVE: Thank you.

~~~

Interview copyright © Damian Michael Barcroft 2017
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.

~

RIPPER STREET 5 interview with the casting directors

CASTING RIPPER STREET

An exclusive interview with Kate Rhodes James

And Louise Kiely

Interview copyright © Damian Michael Barcroft 2017

~

DAMIAN: Of all the aspects of film and television making, the casting director rarely gets interviewed or sees much written about them and yet it is a fascinating process with all its power to potentially make or break an actor. Why are you so mysterious?

KATE: I very rarely get interviewed. I don’t think many people have a clue what we actually do. It’s very hard to quantify how we work. Each CD [Casting Director] works in a way particular to them i.e. their taste, their specific knowledge. It’s hugely creative and instinctive and I think people massively underestimate that.

LOUISE: I actually get interviewed quite a lot. I guess because there are so few in Ireland, they come to the same small pool for info. It is not a job one can train or go to college for in Ireland, so perhaps getting into it becomes a little tricky or mysterious.

DAMIAN: By necessity, do casting directors need to be quite thick-skinned?

LOUISE: I don’t feel particularly thick-skinned.

KATE: Yes and no. You can’t be so thick-skinned that you are impervious to new ideas but you have to remember not to take things personally. It is ultimately a business.

DAMIAN: And in contrast, aren’t actors -perhaps especially the younger ones- rather vulnerable at the start of their careers?

KATE: They are as vulnerable twenty years in as they are when they start. To be an actor you have to remain vulnerable. Good CD’s are acutely aware of this and do their utmost to provide a safe and comfortable audition space.

LOUISE: Anyone who is auditioning or interviewing for a job can feel vulnerable. It is our job at that point to make them feel safe and assist in whatever way we can.

DAMIAN: Have you ever had to deal with someone breaking down in tears because you didn’t put them forward for a part?

LOUISE: Nope, thank heavens.

KATE: No. I have had abuse in person from actors who felt they should have got the role. But we are facilitators, once the actor is in the room it is up to them.

DAMIAN: How would you make the audition process a little easier for someone who was particularly anxious or nervous?

KATE: It depends whether I am on my own or with a team. If interviewing on my own I always ask an actor about themselves at the start and get a sense of who they are before we start talking about the project. If auditioning with a team I will prepare the actor before entering the room so they know what to expect. For instance some directors are not great conversationalists so I will pre-warn the actor that lack of chat does not mean the director is not interested.

LOUISE: Depending on the person, some people who are a little nervous prefer to dive right in. Others we have a chat about other stuff for a wee while until they feel ready.

DAMIAN: You both actually started out as actors yourselves. What were your own experiences like with casting directors?

KATE: Mostly good. I learnt an enormous amount from Maggie Lunn (who sadly died this year). I met her for a role and she told me immediately that I wasn’t right for the role and why. Then we just chatted about life. I felt like I had been treated like an adult and left the room with no false hope. I loved that.

LOUISE: Again, there were only a few in Ireland and they were all lovely. I didn’t train with anyone but I certainly drew from my experience and how I was treated by others. They were only ever really nice.

DAMIAN: So what made you both decide to stop acting and move into casting instead?

KATE: I knew I wasn’t cut out to act, I didn’t really believe in myself enough. I had always loved the idea of casting and had been knowledgeable about actors since my teens so it seemed the most logical step. I started as an assistant twenty-five years ago and went from there. It was clearly meant to be.

LOUISE: I was in a co-operative agency and it was 2005. One of the actresses in there, who is also a really good friend, and I decided randomly we would try casting. We really had no idea how to actually do it so winged it for a while.

DAMIAN: Kate, some of your early experiences in casting included working on The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles which featured a dazzling army of guest stars and character actors. Are there any that particularly stand out as you look back?

KATE: I assisted on the last season so many of the memorable actors were cast before my time.

DAMIAN: And you also worked with Debbie McWilliams on the casting of three James Bond movies. What did you learn from those experiences?

KATE: I loved working on the Bond films. Debbie McWilliams is the most extraordinary CD and taught me an enormous amount. Working on Bond films are rather like an out of body experience. There is nothing like them out there and I certainly have never had a similar experience.

DAMIAN: There are far too many amazing projects for me to mention them all but I think my readers would be particularly interested in the fact that you did the casting for Byron, Sherlock Holmes and the Silk Stocking, the 2005 BBC miniseries Bleak House, Jekyll (2007), The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, Jekyll and Hyde (2015), The Missing, Line of Duty and Sherlock. First of all, I thought Rupert Everett was a brilliant Holmes in Silk Stocking and I would have loved to see him play the character again. Do you know why Tiger Aspect productions didn’t make more with him in the role?

KATE: Well thank you for that. I have been incredibly blessed to work with extraordinary talent. As for Tiger Aspect not continuing with Rupert Everett as Holmes you would have to ask them!

DAMIAN: Let’s suppose that Benedict Cumberbatch became either too busy or expensive to make any more Sherlock for the BBC, who would be your first choice to replace him?

KATE: I can’t answer that!

DAMIAN: It was worth a try. Anyway, Bleak House! Did you create the perfect wish list and everybody just happened to say yes?

KATE: Bleak House will always be very precious in my heart. Believe it or not, no!  We had a very specific remit to make this not a reverential BBC period drama piece but to place modern, recognizable faces. The trick was placing those faces in the right roles, as opposed to putting them in anywhere. We actually got a lot of snooty responses from agents, who thought we were making a terrible mess of it all. One actor, who will remain nameless, took themselves out of the piece as they thought it would be a flop!

DAMIAN: Back to you Louise. You have at least five projects in pre-production at the moment so I’m wondering if you work on each one at a time or is it an ongoing process particularly with reference to television?

LOUISE: They are all motoring along at the same time. I have a team who are all delegated work.

DAMIAN: Some of your work includes the mystery thriller series Jack Taylor (starring Ripper Street’s magnificent Iain Glen from the fifth episode of series two), the crime drama Red Rock and the recent EastEnders spin off Kat and Alfie: Redwater. Presumably all these have the potential to run and run so I’m wondering how you manage to juggle existing projects while also pursuing new ones?

LOUISE: I have found a real strength in numbers. I could never have taken on as many projects as we do now, when I was on my own. We “hive brain” a lot – for ideas etc.

DAMIAN: Game of Thrones, The Frankenstein Chronicles, The Truth Commissioner, Line of Duty, Morgan, The Secret, The Fall and many more! Why are production companies queuing up to film in Ireland?

LOUISE: We are so lucky! I guess it started with great tax incentives. They still remain. We also now have very skilled cast, crew and beautiful locations.

DAMIAN: And of course, another one filmed in Ireland – Ripper Street. Kate, you cast from a wide pool of international actors while Louise casts the local talent in Ireland. Can you tell me how you both became involved with the show?

KATE: Will Gould the Executive Producer sent me the piece and I loved it and it went from there. I knew Stephen Smallwood of old and we were a terrific team. I loved working on this show and it’s a very special piece for us.

LOUISE: I had an interview with the Producer Stephen Smallwood. I had never done a TV series on this scale before so I worked very hard to get the job.

DAMIAN: To what extent did Richard Warlow (Series creator) and Will know who they’d like for the three main male characters of Reid, Drake and Jackson?

KATE:  They hadn’t a clue!  I am sure they won’t mind me saying that. It was a journey that we all went on it together. The trio was the result of a collaborative casting process. We all had the team that we dreamt of.

DAMIAN: And Long Susan and Rose?

KATE: Same. Bear in mind that it’s so much better when everyone doesn’t have a pre-conceived idea, makes it much more enjoyable for everyone.

DAMIAN: Whenever I’ve done interviews with the actors, they all tell me about this great chemistry between them. To what extent do you try to account for this and have you ever found the perfect actor for a role only to find that you’ve had to recast because they don’t quite have the right chemistry with another actor?

KATE: It actually stems from the creative team.  We all got on really well and Tom Shankland who directed the pilot episode was an essential part of the process as well.  We then cast actors that we all liked and because we had done our job well they all clicked. It might sound too simplistic but it really is how it should be. We all listened to each other and respected everyone’s thoughts. I’ve never had to recast anyone.

LOUISE: I have never had that issue to be honest. We go for the best actor for the role.

DAMIAN: Adam Rothenberg auditioned and was cast rather late in comparison to both Matthew Macfadyen and Jerome Flynn. Was there another actor in mind or was it a particularly difficult role to cast?

KATE: That is true. There was someone else that we had in mind but it didn’t work out for endless reasons. But every cloud has a silver lining. We were meant to have Adam.

DAMIAN: Did Matthew or Jerome actually audition?

KATE:  Matthew didn’t audition but Jerome did. Poor chap had to come in a couple of times but was terrific each time.

DAMIAN: And I’ve also interviewed some of the actors you’ve cast which are based in Ireland. Is there a particular look that you’re after when going through headshots and CVs when casting for something period like Ripper Street?

LOUISE: We did have to take into account that this is a period piece when reading actors. That said, we always went for the most talented and suitable artists for the role. Hair, Makeup and Costume worked their magic then.

DAMIAN: I remember watching Interview With A Vampire which was a great film but I couldn’t help thinking that while Brad Pitt was fine, Tom Cruise looked somewhat out of place as a vampire originally from 1791. Do you think there is such a thing as a period or contemporary face?

KATE:  It’s tricky. A while ago I would have said yes but these days not so much. We can get very hung up on period opposed to contemporary faces. The longer I work in this business the more I think it’s not really a valid discussion. Cast the right actor and the rest melts away.

LOUISE: That is one of my favourite films of all time. I guess it is not something we may have expected from Tom Cruise but I love that he did it and pulled it off, I believe, with aplomb. I guess there are “more contemporary/period” looks but I would never discount anyone for that at the top of the process.

DAMIAN: There has been an amazing array of guest stars on Ripper Street over the years including some of my favourites like Anton Lesser, Iain Glen and Joseph Gilgun. Have you ever thought, well, I’ll try their agent but they’ll never do it?

KATE: Always!! You must always ask as you never know what the outcome will be.

DAMIAN: And how did you find your Elephant Man in Joseph Drake?

KATE: I’ve known Joseph for a long time and adore him. We needed a physical actor and he has terrific physicality. We were thrilled that everyone agreed and cast him.

DAMIAN: Clive Russell is perfect as Abberline. Whose idea was it to cast him?

KATE: It was mine. But that is my job !

DAMIAN: Is it almost something of prerequisite than when an actor finishes work on Ripper Street, they move onto Game of Thrones or vice-versa? – I’ve counted at least fifteen so far who’ve appeared in both!

LOUISE: I shall defer to Kate on this but I gather they just cast the best actors for the roles. Some wonderful actors in both.

KATE: Sheer coincidence. Bear in mind a lot of actors are in GOT so you cross over all the time.

DAMIAN: In the beginning, are there character breakdowns for each script that the production company sends – can you take me through the process of casting a show like Ripper Street?

KATE: We do the breakdowns and issue to the agents.

LOUISE: We would send out the character briefs to agents and select from there. We would also invite people without representation to audition, should they be suitable.

DAMIAN: And how does a casting director go from looking at a headshot and CV to deciding that they embody a certain character perfectly?

KATE: You can’t really. You need to meet and read them

LOUISE: I guess we read them for the role and see how we get on.

DAMIAN: What I find particularly interesting about all this is at the end of the day, isn’t it down to instinct and gut feeling and isn’t there a certain amount of subjectivity involved here and perhaps no two casting directors might cast a project the same way?

KATE: I totally subscribe to that. This is a personality based business. I just love actors and what they do. I love challenging them and casting against type. I know immediately if someone is for me the show etc and go with that. Times when I have not trusted my instincts, it has not been so successful. My team challenge me all the time and that is healthy.

LOUISE: I like the idea that someone potentially has a different taste to me. Within my company, I find discussion around who we choose interesting. At the end of the day, it is the Director and the Producers’ decision. I loved working alongside Kate on this show. Kate has incredible taste.

DAMIAN: What is the single most difficult role you’ve cast on Ripper Street?

KATE: God – where do I start! There were quite a few  which I now can’t remember.

LOUISE: I think it was possibly BARNABY the giant or possibly the Victorian Circus.

DAMIAN: And finally, is it common practice for actors or their agents to take you to the theatre and do they pay for the tickets and a drink during the interval?

KATE:  They do indeed. It is one of the perks of the job. I go to the theatre at least twice a week. But I also take myself. I don’t expect agents to take me but it’s lovely when they do.

LOUISE: Sometimes although I go the theatre and cinema a lot myself also.

DAMIAN: Kate, Louise, thank you both very much indeed.

KATE:  Pleasure!

LOUISE: Welcome!

~~~

Interview copyright © Damian Michael Barcroft 2017
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.

~

RIPPER STREET 5 interview with Visual Effects Supervisor Ed Bruce

The VES Award-winner and BAFTA nominated Visual Effects Supervisor, Ed Bruce (above emerging from the smoke-filled set), has worked on everything from big-budget Hollywood movies such as A Good Day to Die Hard, The Last Days on Mars and Independence Day: Resurgence to some of our favourite TV shows that are a little closer to home including Game of Thrones, The Frankenstein Chronicles and, of course, Ripper Street that we’re here to discuss as well as share some rare and previously unseen images…

An exclusive RIPPER STREET interview

with Visual Effects Supervisor

~ ED BRUCE ~

Interview copyright © Damian Michael Barcroft 2017
Ripper Street images copyright © Ed Bruce/Screen Scene/Tiger Aspect Productions 2016

~

Down these Ripper streets Ed must go

DAMIAN: Ed, little did I know, sitting in the cinema as an eleven-year-old kid watching Young Sherlock Holmes in the spring of 1986, that I was witnessing the first character to be entirely created by computer-generated imagery. And who knew that The Glass Knight, impressive though he may have been back then, was merely a forerunner to Terminator 2’s T-1000 or Jurassic Park’s terrifying T-Rex? Visual Effects (VFX) have obviously come along way and previously only dreamt of scenes and images can now be realized, not only at the movies, but also in the corner of our own living rooms. When did you first become aware of the power and potential of VFX?

ED: From a very early age I have been in love with film. Some love books or music, but for me my medium was film. When I was really young, what I now know as special or visual effects, was never really questioned, and merely intertwined into the films narrative only leaving me in awe of the spectacle. The skeleton fight in Jason and the Argonauts was a particular moment of wonderment. It was magnificent, glorious, beautifully executed and equally terrifying.

Jurassic Park of course is a benchmark of visual effects for me. It still to this day stands up. A beautiful balance of practical, special effects, animatronics and visual effects. It’s very difficult to re-emulate that feeling I had when the first dinosaur was revealed.

However, the film that really sparked my imagination and curiosity for how it was crafted was Robert Zemeckis’ Back to the Future. The simple yet effective optical effects of overlaying Doc Brown and Marty against the vanishing, time travelling DeLorean. This mixed with the animated glowing electrical tubes, flashing pops, comets & contrails surrounding the car before it disappeared to 1955. I was mesmerised.

When I was an early teen my family inherited a vast collection of VHS’s, a couple of TVs and a Panasonic M10 VHS camera. It was the beginning of me spending many hours either watching films or creating them. I’ve always enjoyed and appreciated good film making. Sometimes that has been with the support and use of visual trickery. From the simple act of floating walls within 12 Angry Men, allowing the director to reduce the size of the set and increase the claustrophobia and tension, to the bringing alive of creatures or characters, places and planets that don’t exist. I love a good illusion that supports the storytelling.

DAMIAN: This may get confusing but I understand that VFX can be categorized into the following: Simulation FX, Animation, Modelling, Matte painting and Compositing. I’m sure it would be useful for both myself and the reader if you could illustrate each of these techniques with examples from your work on Ripper Street.

ED: There are actually many more categories within the VFX dept. All tools to deliver a complete visual effect. Sometimes you end up using them all to do one shot, but most of the time it’s just a few. Ripper Street VFX has predominantly been about adding to the scale and embedding into the Victorian landscape. For the most part this means we’ve mainly concentrated on set extensions through digital matte paintings and CG buildings.

To give one example that contained multiple techniques and VFX departments would be the fully CG shot of the Kimberly Diamond mine. After a lot of research trying to really understand the scale of these massive mines we were able to plot and design this big high wide shot. We used a technique called 2 and a half D. That’s not 2D and not quite 3D, but somewhere in between where you build simple 3D geometry and project a digital matte painting onto it. We blocked out the camera move to know how far we could push this technique. We found that for the most part 2.5D worked well, however the foreground really required higher detailed 3D assets. These would be machinery, buildings, carts etc. It was also really clear that these mines were full of people. It took a lot of labour to run such large scale operations. CG crowds were created, animated and scattered through the shot. These little tiny visual specks helped to show scale whilst also demonstrate the bustling active mine.

We simulated FX for smoke and atmosphere. Created digital ropes and wires pulling carts and their contents. All of which finally end up within a compositors realm ready to assemble together into a realistic composition.

The VFX department often supports other departments directly, especially the SFX team. There is a great balance between the two departments. Ripper Street’s SFX team are amazing. There would be many examples of simple additions VFX would bring to help SFX complete a shot. Adding digital rain/snow or weather, adding smoke to chimneys, blood spurts and gore etc. We had great fun supporting Stunts & SFX with the scene where a detective is thrown from a two story window landing on a spiked fence. It was a wonderful example of multiple departments working collectively to create an exciting and thrilling Ripper Street moment.

[For clarification, SFX are practical/physical effects made during production such as props or animatronics. VFX are digitally created on computer in post-production] – D

Steven Hartley’s character, Detective Sergeant Maurice Linklater, from Pure as the Driven (Series 2, Episode 1)

DAMAN: Can you tell me a little bit about how you got into the business and the circumstances in which you first got hired to work on the show?

ED: In short, I met a girl.

Having completed my engineering based degree in product design, I followed an Irish girl back to Dublin leaving behind my ambitions to become an engineer or product designer.

The degree was enjoyable but I slowly fell out of love with most of the tasks a product designer did, bar the presentational side mocking up 3D renderings of my designs. So off I went to Dublin. I liked the idea of somehow continuing within 3D and very soon found an opportunity as a Runner within a small Post Production House. There I was surrounded by talented people creating visuals for Commercials, TV and Film. Spending all my extra time learning and offering up my 3D modelling abilities to support the team ended up with me being promoted from Runner to a 3D Generalist. It was in this capacity I learned my trade and over time and into another company as I shifted into Head of 3D before becoming a Visual Effects Supervisor.

When it was decided Ripper Street was going to be shot in Ireland it was inevitable that they would come and speak with Screen Scene, Ireland’s leading post production facility. We’ve been fortunate to build up a great catalogue of VFX work and have a reputation for quality. Also having then completed work on season one of Game of Thrones, it gave everyone confidence that we were the right guys for the show. I was delighted that Tiger Aspect awarded myself and SSVFX the project.

DAMIAN: So what’s your starting point – do you read the scripts and then annotate them with details regarding what kind of shots and effects are needed for each episode?

ED: Yes. Most shows start with a script in parallel with a vision. A director will know how they wish to tell their story visually. Doing the first read through of a script allows my brain and the directors to align. Through doing breakdowns and discussing relevant scenes both parties can be confident of singing from the same hymn sheet.

Of course one of the main reasons for doing a breakdown is to ascertain how VFX is needed and thus a cost. Through each iteration of script and talks about each shots approach a visual effects, a shot list will be created. We also might do some concept work or pre-visualization to help firm up the design and look.

This is all done before shoot giving the VFX department and any connecting department’s time to design and plan their execution. It is vital that we have a plan when it comes to visual effects.

DAMIAN: In general, do you work on each episode after it’s shot in chronological order or do you perhaps bunch together similar effects requirements?

ED: Episodic television is always a challenge. Mainly because of schedule. It’s generally fast and furious. Normally we do work in chronological order, however when some episodes have challenging or large scale visual effects within them, we will start earlier to build assets and prep for when an episode editorially locks and we are green lit to complete the work.

With Ripper Street the edit begins in anger as soon as that ep’s shoot is wrapped. Within maybe three weeks we’d have a cut and VFX will get turnover. At the same time this is happening the next episode is shooting. As you can imagine planning is key.

DAMIAN: How many VFX shots would an average episode of Ripper Street need?

ED: There is never really an average episode. Ripper Street is story telling heavy. This means some episodes, like Whitechapel Terminus, require a vast amount of visual effects to tell the story. Others may not.

If I had to say an average it would probably be in the thirty – fifty shots then plenty of small clean-ups.

DAMIAN: How long might each episode take to complete and how long would you typically spend working on an entire series?

ED: From an episode’s edit lock to VFX being finished, it was often four to six weeks. Sometimes quicker.

In terms of a whole series, from the first contact to the last episode’s VFX shot completing would be around seven to eight months. Of course I and a few other key VFX people would be on the show from the start until the end, through pre-production, shoot and post.

DAMIAN: I’m wondering how you go about your research given the intricate historic details. So, for example, when we see VFX shots of Tower Bridge or St. Paul’s Cathedral, are there certain books or websites that you’ll consult in order to get the right look from a particular angle or distance from Whitechapel?

ED: I love the research stage. It often happens through multiple departments, particularly Art department, and key individuals like Mark Geraghty and Stephen Daly [Production Designers] as well as the VFX dept. Ripper Street has always had a great writing team headed by Richard Warlow. They really know their period and locations and always have provided us with a great starting point. On some episodes we’ve consulted an historian. For the most part we do our own research after receiving any references from Mark or Stephen. It tends to be myself and my colleague Nicholas Murphy. We of course scour the internet, however I find for period visuals referencing old drawings and paintings extremely informative. Especially around the architecture. I’ve books of drawings from people like Falcon Hildred [below] which really do set a feeling and tone.

Of course many of the larger London landmarks are still here today. Which means we are capable of photographing and de-aging back to Victorian times. For many of our big wide establishing shots we would build our landmarks in 3D, thus allowing us to ensure we can use for the correct angle, lighting and time of day.

I believe that to hide a lie, you need to ground them in many truths. Getting your research right is the first major step in achieving our illusions.

I’m sure my internet search history looks pretty interesting if you didn’t know I was researching for Ripper Street.

DAMIAN: Indeed – mine too! Now, I frequently feel as though VFX are used too much in film and television and, in my humble opinion, this results in some productions becoming tiresome and often having the same look and feel to them. Again, it’s just my opinion, but Ripper Street is a good example of getting the right balance. So, for example it would be both expensive and impractical to employ hundreds of extras for crowd scenes and creating the Victorian backdrops and skylines that obviously no longer exist is entirely justifiable. Although it’s your bread and butter, to what extent would you agree that VFX can be used too much or inappropriately these days?

ED: Visual Effects is a film maker’s tool. In recent years VFX has got so good it’s often invisible. This means we all spot bad visual effects a mile away. Also we’ve seen a big shift in terms of the amount of studio films that are these huge visual spectaculars, often heavily relying on VFX, whether superhero or comic book. With these stories we are all aware that they are computer generated characters or environments and unless they’re flawless we feel cheated.

However, there are so many films and TV shows that are littered with invisible VFX work that the audience never notices and therefore never criticizes or complements. The story telling is merely supported perfectly by the use of VFX.

With shows like Ripper Street budget often helps us be savvier with the use of VFX. When you’ve a small budget you must be creative and careful not to leave yourself with a difficult task of creating complex visuals with not enough time or resources. I’ve always believed in the saying that you’re only remembered by your worst VFX shot. On Ripper Street our VFX team have gone into production firmly believing that if there’s a practical way to find the solution we must exhaust that before going digital. Also taking it further, if there is something we can shoot to help the VFX then it’s worth capturing.

On location in the streets of Dublin

Ed at the Natural History Museum, Dublin

Nicholas Murphy

Nicholas with colour chart ball

Dublin is a great place to shoot period Victorian London. There are many streets and locations that are less touched by modern influences which mean there is less for Art Dept, Construction and Visual Effects to do. We would often only add a landmark to a background. A Christchurch steeple or St Paul’s. Just the subtle suggestion of London.

Of course Visual Effects are often the best route to go. Crowd duplication is definitely one way VFX can deliver scale at a fraction of the time and cost Production would have. Hiring large crowds, putting them in costume and make-up, feeding and moving them has a tipping point. We’ve done quite a number of crowd duplications over the five seasons.

DAMIAN: I think another good example of this is the Phossy Jaw effects from series two which were done digitally and that made perfect sense. However, where applicable, Waldo Mason steps in with the prosthetic special effects providing various severed heads, dismembered bodies and corpses which benefit from the actors’ ability to physically interact with them. I mean it would have been the wrong creative decision to animate any of these or the Elephant Man makeup that he created wouldn’t it?

ED: I love Waldo. He is a super talent and has brought some wonderful contributions to the world of Ripper Street. Prosthetics play such an important role with characters like the Elephant Man or with brutal injuries etc. However there are times where prosthetics need a little support. Often that’s with negative effects. Prosthetics tend to be additive. The Phossy Jaw effect was clearly a negative effect. We wanted to see into the jaw and mouth cavity.

We had originally planned to use prosthetics to create the edge/seam of the cavity and then green within. Waldo and his team had begun creating a mould of the actor’s head and were planning the sculpture, then the shoot schedule changed. It was brought dramatically forward. This meant Waldo was unable to deliver in time and we discussed the best approach. I was extremely keen that Waldo continue to sculpt and design the desired look. His expertise is in anatomy and he really understood the desired look. We therefore agreed with production that Waldo would provide the VFX department with a sculpture of the face. This of course meant that we shot the scene using a more traditional route of facial tracking markers. Little black dots placed on key areas of her face which we would use to track and attach the digital face.

After Waldo supplied this beautiful model, we were able to digitally sculpt using it as a wonderful physical reference. Our team then added subtleties like tongue movement and spit dribble to really sell the horrific look and also the negative space through depth cues.

To answer your question though, it would have been wrong to go digital with the Elephant Man. Waldo’s work was fantastic. To replicate this full in Visual Effects is of course possible, but extremely time consuming, challenging and ultimately costly and when you look at the result we got through Prosthetics, why would you try?

DAMIAN: You mentioned Whitechapel Terminus earlier and the epic train crash from that episode from series three was obviously another highlight that stands out. What can you tell us about that?

ED: That episode and particularly the train sequence was by far the biggest visual effects contribution of the entire series. Initially it wasn’t planned that way, but to really do the narrative justice it ended up this way. Richard had written this very tense and dramatic sequence which at its core was a train robbery that left a train on a collision course through London. London of course is a bustling built up city. We shot our train sequence at a closed train track up in Loughborough. The track was surrounded in countryside. Richard’s writing had the train departing from St Katherine’s Dock and ending up derailing in Whitechapel.

As the edit developed the story telling became more and more clear. The tension and drama really needed the train shots to be surrounded by buildings and an ever growing sense of London. Most of the train shots had their entire environment replaced with only the train and bits of track remaining. It was a mammoth undertaking within the tight TV schedule. A lot of late nights and long weekends. It was worth it. It’s a great sequence and was the perfect start to season three.

DAMIAN: What single individual effect have you found most difficult to create?

ED: There has been a few challenging shots. Whether it be the Phossy Jaw or the complexity of fully digital shots like the Diamond Mine or Hyde Park. But to be honest the difficulty tends to come with the sum of all within the tight TV time frame. You rarely get time to ponder your designs or try multiple routes. It’s fast and furious and ultimately all about planning and execution. If it was an unplanned VFX shot then sometimes that became difficult.

Hyde Park

DAMIAN: And if you could pick just one effect that best exemplifies your work on the show over the past five years, what would it be?

ED: Such a difficult question. Five seasons of so many visual effects shots, with so many back stories to their creation and design. I think though the real success of our work has been the set extensions to establish the London period and location. Some as, I’ve said before, may be a small addition of a landmark or in many cases fully digital shots. I hope that most were invisible to our audience. I do like the St Katherine’s Dock shot of the train leaving at the start of season three. But again, so hard to choose.

I’d prefer to ask others what their favourites were.

DAMIAN: Perhaps fans will tell us and leave their comments below. Now then, you’ve been a little mischievous with some of your effects shots. Can you give us some examples?

ED: Oh yes. We’ve had a little fun.

When populating a world you need to have a lot of artwork and even names for shops and signs. We’ve always had a bit of fun giving homage to the Ripper crew and team. We’ve had ships named after post supervisors, shops named after the directors, book stores named after our writers. One of our follicly challenged 3rd ad’s had a barbers named after him.

There are plenty of hidden gems if you know where to look.

DAMIAN: What projects are you currently working on?

ED: I’m just finishing off season seven of Game of Thrones. This year is even more spectacular than the last. It’s an unbelievable show. We’re also about to go into post on The Favourite, starring Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz, Olivia Colman and Nicholas Hoult and directed by Yorgos Lanthimos.

I’m also about to begin the shoot for Lenny Abrahamason’s The Little Stranger, which I’m very excited about. I’ve worked with Lenny for years, from his early days in commercials and it will be my third feature with him after Frank and Room.

A few other things are in the melting pot. It’ll be an exciting year.

DAMIAN: Ed, thank you very much indeed.

ED: Thank you Damian.

It’s been an absolute privilege to work on Ripper Street and that has been because of the people involved across the board. We’ve had so many wonderful directors helming the 36 episodes carefully penned by Richard and his team of writers and performed by the awesome cast, especially Matthew, Jerome, Adam and MyAnna. This foundation has led to the ultimate success of the show and its appeal.

We must though remember all the amazing crew that it takes to make a show like Ripper Street. All departments have excelled and it’s always been a pleasure stepping on the set of Ripper Street because of the warm and generous support of so many people. It really is a testament to [executive producers] Will [Gould] and Frith [Tiplady] at Tiger Aspect for forming the band, so to speak. They’ve been such a great driving force and I’m very much looking forward to working with them again.

Of course I owe a huge applause to our visual effects team in Screen Scene VFX. They’ve really brought their craft, diligence and talent to the show. It is their hard work and ethos that has helped Screen Scene VFX amass an ever growing ten award nominations or wins including winning an Royal Television Society Award and being nominated for a BAFTA, Visual Effects Society Awards, two Hollywood Post Alliance Awards and two IFTAs.

It’s hard to believe there will be another show quite like Ripper Street.

Some of the Ripper Street cast and crew including Matthew Macfadyen (far right)

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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.
Interview copyright © Damian Michael Barcroft 2017
Ripper Street images copyright © Ed Bruce/Screen Scene/Tiger Aspect Productions 2016

http://Click here for more information about Ed Bruce and the VFX company Screen Scene

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RIPPER STREET 5 interview with production designer Stephen Daly

He began his film and television career working in the art department on productions such as David Copperfield, Treasure Island and The Count of Monte Cristo and worked his way up to production designer on Ripper Street. Despite being busy working on the fourth series of Peaky Blinders, Stephen Daly kindly took the time to talk to me about his stay in Whitechapel and share some rare and previously unseen images…

An exclusive RIPPER STREET interview

with the production designer Stephen Daly

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Copyright © Damian Michael Barcroft 2017
All images Copyright © Stephen Daly/Tiger Aspect Productions 2016

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DAMIAN: In preparing for this interview and coming up with some questions for you, I thought about the production designs that have had the greatest impact on me over the years and came up with the following: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920: Walter Reimann, Walter Rohrig and Hermann Warm), Metropolis (1927: Otto Hunte), Alien (1979: Michael Seymour), Blade Runner (1982: Lawrence G. Paull), Batman (1989: Anton Furst), Dick Tracy (1990: Richard Sylbert) and Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992: Thomas Sanders). These may be rather obvious choices and I apologize that they all seem to belong to either the horror, Sci-Fi or comic book genre. However, I wonder what productions have inspired you and when did you first become aware of the art of production design?

STEPHEN: Corny though it might sound (and quite a cliche for filmmakers of my generation), I first got interested when I saw Star Wars at the age of 5. I lived in the US in 1977 and although I was very young, I remember thinking “how the hell did they do that?” I had no idea what a Production Designer was or what an Art Department did, but I knew somebody made it, somehow the hyper-realistic look of the film was man-made. Over the years I’ve always collected “the art of” books and been interested in behind the scenes. I suppose I’ve always had a leaning toward Sci-Fi and Westerns in particular. I think the 70s designers like John Barry, Norman Reynolds, Dean Tavoularis, etc, brought in a new period of ‘beaten-up’ sets. Suddenly worlds became more lived-in. Theatricality was definitely out. I think the films of my childhood, the films that subconsciously affected me –Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Ghostbusters, ET, all that 70s and 80s Hollywood stuff- had this great lived-in feel. As I got older and into Scorsese, Hitchcock and Coppola, I remember noticing more how the camera moved and how it affected the sets, how colours really mattered and how a film could have a combined visual design. I also became a huge fan of Japanese movies. I think compared to a lot of Hollywood cinema, the notion of design was more obvious in a lot of Japanese stuff; big swathes of colour, epic scale, great stuff.

A blank canvas

John Neligan (Set Decorator), Marion Picard (Props Buyer) and Briana Hegarty (Supervising Art Director)

DAMIAN: Can you tell me a little bit about your training and how you first came to work in the business?

STEPHEN: After I left film school, I spent a year in a place called Concorde in Galway in the middle of nowhere in the west of Ireland. Roger Corman had 3 studios at the time (mid-90s), one in the US, one in Russia and one in Ireland. I got a job with the art dept, doing anything and everything (standing by on set, designing sets, storyboarding, making props, set construction, set painting…), got paid bugger all and had a great time. It was amazing training for a young guy starting out. You really got to learn all aspects of the game and you had to think on your feet. I worked on SEVEN feature films in one year.

You can’t get better than that.

Then I became the Art trainee on a BBC TV production called Ballykissangel, which was fun. There wasn’t much to do so we would let all of the work pile up until Friday.

DAMIAN: Mark Geraghty did phenomenal work on the sixteen episodes from the first two series, was it a somewhat daunting experience for you to take over as production designer – especially on such an epic project as Ripper Street?

STEPHEN: Mark is great. I first met him on The Count of Monte Cristo, when he hired me as Assistant Art Director. I did the standby job and did the storyboards for the film. It was my first proper big job. We made the film in Ireland and Malta and I remember having a great time on the job and I think we in the art dept did some super work. Mark was amazing to work for and I learned a ton from watching him.

I don’t think I found the move to Ripper too daunting. I felt ready to move up in scale and budget. Until then I had been designing small, low-budget features and TV and really wanted to move on. Ripper came along at exactly the right time. Of course I was nervous, but I think any budding designer keen to get stuck in would relish the thought. I had seen the show and really liked it. I remember visiting the sets when they were under construction and being really impressed.

DAMIAN: Given the exquisite period detail, you must have conducted painstaking research in designing the sets with such authenticity. Were there any books or websites that you found particularly useful in helping you to visualize and then actually realize Victorian Whitechapel?

STEPHEN: The key to doing a good job, I think, is having the right crew and enough time. Thankfully, on Ripper, we had this. I had such a fantastic art dept – they really did an amazing job, all of them. I’m not sure I’d use the word ‘painstaking’, though – that makes it sound like slavery. It was very enjoyable because we had enough time (just) to do some good research and then design. It’s very important to immerse yourself in the world for a while and let it sink in. The two main sources that immediately come to mind are Gustav Dore’s drawings of Victorian London and a great book called ‘Lost London’ by Philip Davies. Obviously there were more influences, both conscious and not, but these two were a huge help. But they were both black and white. There’s not much colour reference from back then, which freed us up to choose our own palette. I like limiting the colours we will use at the start of the job (with a huge degree of flexibility) and keeping the palette simple. I think that way, the colours have a more direct impact on the viewer, whether it’s noticed or not, and therefore it underlines the mood of the story more.

DAMIAN: Presumably you see the script and then start making notes but can you take me through your pre-production process as a production designer using Ripper Street as an example?

STEPHEN: Actually, I started designing Ripper 4 and 5 before we had scripts. Richard [Warlow – series creator] and I talked about plots and so on and he told me the main beats for the series as a whole. Also, I knew it needed an old Victorian London street and a Police Station, etc, as we had done it before, so that was a help.

Normally, on a film you have a script but it’s quite common that for a TV series you might only have outlines or maybe just episode one or two. So working closely with the showrunner/writer is very important early on. The lion’s share of my work, as I see it, is in the early days, before most of the crew is on the job and way before shooting starts.

On Ripper Street series 5, I knew we needed a backstage area for the Alexandra Theatre. From talking to Richard et al, I knew we would spend a lot of time there, so it made sense to build a set. We also knew we were striking the interior of Abel Croker’s warehouse from series 4, so basically we set to work revamping Croker’s place and turning it into the theatre backstage.

So while Briana (supervising art director), John (set decorator) and the rest of the art department were getting on with the nitty-gritty of the theatre (furnishings, wallpapers, posters, you name it), I spent a lot of time with Gordon the Location Manager figuring out how to design the shoot and find locations. I say ‘design the shoot’ because that’s what it feels like. So much of my work with the Location Manager is piecing together the sets in areas that can facilitate the shooting of the show while not compromising the look. This takes weeks and weeks of visiting places, seeing if they work for certain characters’ houses, certain beats of the script, you name it, and trying to put the jigsaw together. So we will print out pictures, slap them all up on a big wall, stand back and have a look. Also, I have to keep my budget in mind at all times. There are other balls in the air… Maybe an actor isn’t available when we want to shoot at a certain place. Maybe there are sound issues. Maybe this, maybe that… The list is a long one.

Then when we think we have something to go on, other crew members get involved. Obviously, the director has to have his tuppence-worth. He might look at a location and think, oh God that’s not what I had in mind at all (this is when I feel like a salesman, trying to convince him/her of my genius idea…). The DP needs to light it. The gaffer needs to get his gear there. The crew need access. Basically, pre-production is a huge spinning-plates session, but always, always, I have to keep the design of the show in mind.

DAMIAN: And then when it’s actually production time and the cameras are ready to roll, can you describe a typical day on set – perhaps the very first day of a shoot would be a particularly illuminating example?

STEPHEN: The only difference between the first day and any other day is that a sort of collective panic starts to descend on the whole crew about a week before. The art dept has usually been chugging along, busy as you like, for a few months by this stage, but everyone else is twiddling their thumbs, anxious to get going. So there seems to be an subconscious notion that we are shooting the entire show next Monday!

But really it’s good to start shooting, get the ball rolling it’s why we’re all here after all.

I would usually get to set first thing in the morning, check in with the director, see if it’s all OK. Then buzz about checking on locations or sets, drawing a bit back at the office. In a nutshell, we need to be ahead of the camera, so we work backwards from when we think the set will be ready, always working to the shooting schedule. Schedule changes are hell for the art dept.

DAMIAN: How many different sets or locations might you need to prepare for an average day’s shoot?

STEPHEN: It really depends. Sometimes we are on the same set for days on end, sometimes we might do up to seven little things on a day. However, what the script might call ‘little’, as in screen-time, still requires a great deal of work from us… no matter if it’s on screen for twenty seconds or twenty minutes, it still has to look like 1897.

Paddy the plasterer

DAMIAN: I think the first three series were shot at Clancy Barracks and then you moved to a disused hotel complex in Kilternan. Why the move and to what extent were you able to recycle the previous sets?

STEPHEN: The lease on Clancy was up – the site is now being developed into swanky apartments. So, Ripper needed a new home.

We looked at various options in the UK and Ireland. My favourite two options were an old cigarette factory in Liverpool and the Kilternan hotel. The Liverpool place suddenly became unavailable, so we really only had the Kilternan hotel – not that that was second best by any means. It ended up being a dream of a location and base.

We recycled what we could from before. Scaffolding, doors, windows, but really it was a build from scratch.

We built the main street set (including interiors and Croker’s warehouse) in an area that was supposed to be for indoor tennis courts. This meant we had full control of light (night/day) and weather (rain/snow).

DAMIAN: So for series four and five there was the main set including a new police station and exteriors. Can you tell me some of the dimensions of these sets such as how high they were built and how long Leman and other streets actually were?

STEPHEN: The main ‘booking hall’ of the police station was about 40’ wide and 30’ deep. It was a big space – I always had a Wild West saloon in mind.

The main street outside was about 90’ long, and it snaked under a railway bridge at one end and ended in a t-junction at the other. One thing I was very keen on was allowing the camera/actors into the actual interior spaces. Previously, we had to cut from exterior to interior (i.e. they were two different spaces) but I really wanted it all to appear seamless. It might only have been in one or two shots, but it all added to the atmosphere of the show.

On the main street set, we built the set on two levels. You could walk around the whole thing on ground level or on the first floor. So we either used the upper level for sets (Mathilda’s window for example, or the opium den) or camera positions. We generally kept ceilings very high, about 11’ or so, so we could light from above and not worry about seeing the ceiling. If we needed it, we would add a lightweight canvas ceiling piece, called a windbag.

DAMIAN: How long did it take to first design the sets and then to actually build them?

STEPHEN: Once we had decided on the tennis court space, the design came quite quickly really. The ‘stage’ wasn’t a real stage as it had a pitched roof, unlike a proper stage with a high flat roof. I think it was 33’ tall which isn’t massive – and only in the middle. So the main run of Leman Street ran along this pitch, allowing us the full height to light it. But it meant the edges of the stage became quite cramped, where the stage ceiling was only about 16’. Along the edges we had alleyways and side-streets.

I think I had about six weeks to design and draw the main street set. Obviously I didn’t do this alone. Briana and the other art directors were busy scribbling away to have it ready for Nicky (construction manager) and his (excellent) crew. Nicky had 99% of the set done in eleven or twelve weeks, which is astonishingly quick considering the scale of the job. Eamonn (props master) and his guys started dressing it with about five weeks to go. It was all hands on deck.

DAMIAN: Were there any particular advantages that the new sets had over the previous ones in terms of the how the directors could shoot scenes?

STEPHEN: As I said before, being indoors meant full control of the lighting (time of day). We were shooting in the middle of summer, but it could be night-time at the flick of a switch. So, the writers had the freedom to write night where previously we would have been limited to interior work only. I think this gave Ripper a nice grim outdoor feel.

Also, we had the freedom to shoot about five different street set-ups on the one set. With some notice, my department could prep a street for different areas of London (as long as grimy was your thing) and the crew could move around easily. It meant staying in one place, with the ease of being on a stage, without going hither and yon from location to location. We really shot a heck of a lot of stuff on the stage. Once we added computer generated skies, you’d never know it was a stage.

Kieron Hawkes (Director) with Si Bell (Director of Photography)

DAMIAN: I think most of the first two series were shot mainly on set and then you started to film on exterior locations for the last three. Do you prefer or is it easier to shoot on set rather than location work?

STEPHEN: I refer to my last answer. Actually I think it was the other way around. Not that we didn’t go on location. Of course we did. But we made a big effort to shoot on our big street set as much as possible after we had spent so much money on it!

Also elsewhere in Kilternan we had an old (early 1800s) house, which was Drake’s office, detective rooms and staircase from the police station (upstairs) and Dove’s house interiors (downstairs). We also converted the men’s changing rooms in the hotel spa into Jackson’s police lab. We even used the swimming pool there for the Thames at night. There was so much stuff. Not to mention the hundred-odd acres of golf course. It was an excellent base.

It’s hard to say which I prefer. If you haven’t got the money, then location is the way to go. But when given the time and money (and the backing from the producers, as in this case) then building sets makes life much easier for all involved. Film-making is like hanging around with a circus 24-7, so if the circus doesn’t have to move so much, then happy days. From my point of view, if I know I have the workshop and props store right beside the stage, then last-minute ideas are actually possible, whereas if you’re off on location your planning has to be bang on.

DAMIAN: To what extent does production design necessitate a creative collaboration with other departments such as the art director, set decoration or location manager?

STEPHEN: Film-making in general is one huge collaboration – for everyone. So many departments and jobs feed off one another, you simply can’t be too precious and firm in your ideas. It’s a strange mix of knowing what you want and yet oddly being willing to bend here and there to suit whatever.

My department feeds off my ideas, but having said that, I’m by no means ‘The Boss’. I really like the idea that we are all in it together. I can’t expect people to come to work to get told what to do. I remember working like that when I was an assistant or an art director and I absolutely hated it, so I wouldn’t do it to my crew. We should enjoy it otherwise we will do bad work.

I like getting lots and lots of references, doing some key concept drawings and making sure my guys understand the world that our characters live in. That’s my job, really; I am the link from the rest of the production to the design of the film. I have to pitch my ideas to the director/producers and also listen to what they want.

Same goes for locations. The Location Manager might have an idea from reading the script that is different from mine, but that’s not to say it’s a bad idea. Just different.

Really it all goes back to prep time. If I have enough time to get lots of period reference in advance, in order to feed through to Art, Props and Locations, then we can all get on board for the ‘world’ we want to create.

Although I want to allow my crew the freedom to do their own thing, I still think the Designer’s decision should be final. If you don’t have one single vision, then it’ll look too uncoordinated, too scatty.

DAMIAN: And did you liaise with Ed Bruce and the visual effects team in order to provide a consistent vision that marries together the physical and virtual depictions of Whitechapel?

STEPHEN: Yes. absolutely. We had lots of meetings in the beginning and we would bring them in to meet us regularly or we would go to their offices. VFX is just as important as anything else for me. Ed and his guys are great. When you’re dealing with people as good as them you’re in good hands.

DAMIAN: The first series of Ripper Street was set in 1889 and the fourth in 1897 with the fifth picking up events straight afterwards. How does your production design reflect the changes in technology during this period of Victorian history?

STEPHEN: Richard is always great for adding gizmos and gimmicks in the script – a way of showing progress in the story. That’s a big help when you pick up the script in the first instance. So, like with all good scripts, you’re already thinking of what was ‘new’ back then.

I talked a lot with Leonie (costume designer). We were very conscious of the mixture of the old and the new. London was such a dump back then, so many warrens of slums and sh*t (quite literally). We wanted to show that the people in our world would add a layer of modernity, whether it’s nice clothes or fabrics in their houses, on top of the old decay that had been around for years.

I think if you show modern trends (and that’s down to research and references) on top of very old stuff, then you’re not shoving it down the audience’s throat, instead you’re bedding it into the world more realistically. I liked finding much older (sometimes Georgian) locations, or references, then dress a thin layer of Victorian lace or some patterned fabric on top. It’s really just like the world we live in today. We live with the past as much as the now.

One way I was very fixed on was showing progress in the street art, i.e. posters. As printing became cheaper (for full colour) and trends changed, we could reflect this change over the years on the streets in the background.

DAMIAN: Fans of the show will undoubtedly remember the epic train crash that opened series three. Can you take us through the sheer logistics of designing for something that ambitious?

STEPHEN: That was shot over several locations…

Carriage interior – set build on a stage in Dublin.

Train station platform – at Loughborough in England.

Trains travelling – Loughborough and surrounding area (about three locations I think).

Train crash site – at the big Whitechapel set at Clancy Barracks, Dublin.

Signal Box – Loughborough again.

Train traveling over Whitechapel – CG addition to the Clancy set.

The key to a big thing like this is to storyboard. That way everyone has a visual story in their heads first. Then we can break down each of the elements and design the shoot around each element, knowing already what has to be shot. Then the editor can reassemble the jigsaw puzzle, again working to the storyboard.

Andy (director), Jonathan (storyboard artist) and myself worked out the story of the shoot, but it meant a few weeks of Andy and I looking at various train options in the UK and seeing what would fit.

I think it probably took the bones of a week to shoot the whole thing, including the aftermath.

It was a long time ago…. I can’t really remember.

DAMIAN: What has been the most challenging set or scene to design?

STEPHEN: Er, um… Wow. That’s a good question. Can I come back to you?

You’d be surprised really. Sometimes it’s the smallest thing.

DAMIAN: Is there a sense of sadness once the shoot has wrapped and the sets start to be dismantled?

STEPHEN: Yes and no. I’m not remotely precious about the sets. The job is to get them on camera and make a film after all.

What I really worry about is not getting ‘that shot’ on the day of the shoot. I always have a key wide angle in my head and will usually draw a concept piece showing this angle. I’ll try to harp on about it ad nauseam so the director will be shamed into doing it. If I look at the rushes and it’s not there, then that’s when I feel sadness. Usually by the end of the shoot, I’m the first guy in line with a sledgehammer.

DAMIAN: What happens to these sets – surely they don’t just get thrown away?

STEPHEN: Yes, they do.

DAMIAN: And finally, you’re currently working on another epic period drama, also made by Tiger Aspect, what have been the main challenges in the production design for series four of Peaky Blinders?

STEPHEN: Peaky is a great show. I’ve always been a fan and it’s great to work on.

I’m the third designer on the show, so the main challenge is keeping the right feel that has been established, and also doing what I want to do.

Peaky, to use a silly cliche, boxes way above its weight. Ripper did too, so I knew what I was letting myself in for. I shouldn’t talk budget too much really, but Peaky is very well thought of internationally and sits right up there with other TV shows with far bigger budgets. We shoot a lot on big locations. I think Peaky needs scope and scale. Whereas Ripper was about a small, claustrophobic world of the warrens of Whitechapel, Peaky is about big money, big gangs and a much more broad, open story. So it’s big. So I think of big locations, with lots of depth in the frame. I hope you’ll like it when it comes out. I think the stuff we are shooting this year looks amazing and I’m very very happy with it… Stay tuned.

DAMIAN: Stephen, thank you very much indeed.

STEPHEN: No problem. Thank you!

~~~

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.

~

Copyright © Damian Michael Barcroft 2017
All images Copyright © Stephen Daly/Tiger Aspect Productions 2016

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RIPPER STREET 5 interview with Eddie Jackson

A TALE OF TWO CITIES:

FROM VOLANTIS TO WHITECHAPEL

An exclusive Ripper Street interview with Eddie Jackson

Interview copyright © Damian Michael Barcroft 2017

Portraits of Eddie Jackson copyright © Rob Benson 2017

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DAMIAN: They say it’s a small world Eddie. Well, Ireland must be tiny because it seems as though the moment an actor finishes their work on Game of Thrones, they quickly change costumes and then wander over to the set of Ripper Street – or vise versa! What’s going on Eddie?

EDDIE: Well, Ireland is a small place and you always know someone who knows someone. On the production side of things it’s great that our country attracts so many projects to both the south and the north. Hopefully that won’t change anytime soon. It wasn’t that quick of a turn over, I filmed my first scene for Game of Thrones in September in Belfast, my second scene in Almeria, Spain in October, and I didn’t film Ripper Street till February the following year. I did however audition for them both in the same week. Though I didn’t audition for the part of Mr. Sparks that I ended up playing in Ripper street.

DAMIAN: You’ve got some exciting projects coming up including a new TV series and a horror film. What can you tell me about them?

EDDIE: Yes, I am looking forward to seeing them both. The TV series is Acceptable Risk which will be aired here in autumn. I was delighted when I got the part because it was the first time on a big production that I was playing a character that helps drive the narrative. It was great to work on because it’s really a crime drama driven by female leads and I had such a fun time working with them all. Working with actors like Elaine Cassidy, Lisa Dwyer Hogg and Angeline Ball was a great learning experience. I also got on very well with the director, Kenny Glenaan, which made the step up easier.

The horror film is Red Room, directed by Stephen Gaffney, along the lines of Saw or Hostel. It has a great ensemble cast, but too many to name them all without feeling bad if I left one out. But Brian Fortune was one name that made me more excited about the project. I had been a big admirer of Brian for a long time and got to work with him a few years back on a short film, since then we have become good mates, but never got another chance to work together. Not that we share much screen time in this. We are writing a feature together to make sure that happens soon though.

DAMIAN: And I’m particularly interested in The Man Who Invented Christmas. The film tells the story of how Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol but doesn’t it also feature characters from the book?

EDDIE: Yes it does, from the scenes I have seen it looks great. It brings to life a few characters from the book itself. So I was playing one of those characters along with Marcus Lamb and Michael Judd, who are both also based here in Ireland. Most others were flown in, so it was great to get the part. Especially since it was just before Christmas, not much work goes on then unless you do Panto.

Fresh from his success as the Beast in Disney’s live action Beauty and the Beast, Downton Abbey’s Dan Stevens as Dickens in The Man Who Invented Christmas

DAMIAN: And it’s an impressive cast you’re performing alongside isn’t it? The great Christopher Plummer plays Scrooge, Dan Stevens as Dickens, fellow Game of Thrones alumni Jonathan Pryce (Dickens’ father) and Donald Sumpter (Jacob Marley), not too mention Dickens’ stalwarts Simon Callow and Miriam Margolyes. Can you describe what it was like working with such a prestigious cast?

EDDIE: Well I only got to work with Christopher and Dan but it was an amazing five days on set. I took it as a massive chance to learn from one of the greats, although most people know him from The Sound of Music, I knew him more from The Beginners which is one of my favourite films. I don’t know a lot of younger actors so I wasn’t sure who Dan was, though once I saw his face I remembered I had seen him in The Guest which was an amazing film. I am not really one to get star struck or whatever you might call it, I realized that when I got a chance to work with David Wilmot a few years ago, who is also in Ripper Street [as Artherton]. I’ve had huge respect for him as an actor for many years. I guess it depends on the person though and how they treat you, I’ve been very lucky so far. But yeah, on that film it was the same as any other set, actors sitting around chatting between takes.

Eddie as Belicho Paenymion in Game of Thrones

DAMIAN: Most readers will probably recognize you from Game of Thrones in which you played slave master Belicho Paenymion. I don’t know if you’re the sort of actor who still gets a little nervous as they start work on a new project but is there a kind of added pressure when working on such a celebrated and epic series such as this?

EDDIE: Well I was already a big fan of the show. I had an audition with Carla Stronge in Dublin on a Wednesday, found out I got the part on the Friday and was in Belfast on set on Monday, so to be honest I didn’t have much time to think. In terms of production, it was the biggest project I had worked on to date, but once again, everyone was so friendly it made me relax and be able to enjoy it more. I don’t get nervous about the project or the people in the project but more about the choices you make for the character, I guess. Even after you’re done you question that, but it’s not the same thing as nerves, I think every actor does that.

DAMIAN: So, let’s talk about Ripper Street. Can you tell me a little bit about the character in the second episode A Brittle Thread?

EDDIE: I play Mr. Sparks who is a bit of a hustler. He sells exotic animals that he has collected from his travels around the world. It’s kinda hard to talk much more about the character in case I give anything away. But he does seem like the kind of character I would love a chance to expand more.

DAMIAN: I interviewed production designer Stephen Daly and if the sheer spectacle of the stunning sets weren’t enough to impress on screen, his description of the work that he puts into making it all look so authentic is just mind boggling. Tell me about your first day on set.

EDDIE: I’d say I got there about six in the morning. I probably just ate a banana or something small, I usually try to eat before I leave for set. You don’t know if you will have enough time to sit down and eat when you get there. No point in getting hot food, as any minute you could get called to hair and makeup and I don’t think I could eat a cold fry-up after, plus I like to soak my porridge overnight!

I always like to run through my lines and do all the checks before I start. I was in a good mood. I had been cast in Thrones, Reign and then to be cast in Ripper Street on the back of them was exciting.

I got lucky because the set I was on was Mr. Sparks shop, so that can tell you a lot about the character. There were exotic animals like llamas, monkeys and parrots everywhere. I am a massive fan of David Attenborough so I loved the moments between takes to get a chance to look as these animals up close.

But the set was great, I got a chance to work with some great production designers over the last few years and this was right up there with them. The people like Stephen behind the scene don’t get enough credit for the passion and commitment they put into these sets. They are the first to arrive and last to leave. The attention to detail amazes me every time. Just hope I get to work on more of his sets in the future.

DAMIAN: What can you tell us about getting into the character of Mr. Sparks?

EDDIE: Well I think when you are playing a smaller character and only see the scenes you’re in, the costume and makeup department can give you a lot of ideas about how the character fits into the world, they tell you a lot about how the director wants the character visually portrayed. Which can give you more material to work with. Sometimes seeing the costume or makeup can change some ideas you had. But I was happy to be wearing trousers this time.

Killian Scott [Augustus Dove] who I’m in the scene with, I’d seen in LOVE/HATE and was a gent as he wouldn’t have known me at the time, but made sure I was comfortable and had enough room to move when the table had to be moved back for the camera, even though we didn’t spend much time together it told me a lot about the kind of person he is.

There’s always a lot of rushing about on productions like this and you get used to someone coming up and pulling at your hair, or brushing fibres off or touching up your make up. Also when you’re only on set for a day and show up in the morning and are introduced to thirty people, I get nervous I won’t remember all the names. But I am getting better.

DAMIAN: Describe working with the director Daniel Nettheim and the filming of your scenes.

EDDIE: Daniel was nice to work with, he just gave me an idea of who Sparks was. When you’re playing a character in just one or two scenes it is more important to me that you lend yourself to the overall theme or if your character interacts with one of the main characters that you lend yourself to their arch. In fact in these situations it’s nearly better if the director doesn’t have to say much to you at all, it means you’re already doing what they want. I would be more worried if he was talking to me at length but it was an exchange between myself and Killian and I can’t really say much about it without spoiling it, to be honest. We did have to record the dialogue again without some of the animals around as I think it was hard to shoot soundwise.

DAMIAN: Eddie, I look forward to seeing you in Monday’s episode and all your future projects – very best of luck with them. Cheers.

EDDIE: Nice one Damian. Thanks for the chat.

RIPPER STREET CONTINUES MONDAY AT 9PM ON BBC2

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In addition to Eddie, the following actors have all appeared in both Ripper Street and Game of Thrones: Philip Arditti, Dean-Charles Chapman, Ian Gelder, Iain Glen, Paul Kaye, Anton Lesser, Francis Magee, Michael McElhatton, Ian McElhinney, Joseph Mawle,  Kristian Nairn, Clive Russell, Owen Teale and of course Jerome Flynn.

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Copyright © Damian Michael Barcroft 2017

Portraits of Eddie Jackson copyright © Rob Benson 2017

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Rob Benson Photography