RIPPER STREET SEASON 2 – EPISODE 6:
A STRONGER LOVING WORLD
MAR 29 – 9:00PM – BBC AMERICA
MAR 30 – 12:45AM – BBC AMERICA
Exclusive interview by Damian Michael Barcroft
“It would be a stronger world, a stronger loving world, to die in.”
– John Cale, Sanities
“One’s past is what one is. It is the only way by which people should be judged.”
– Oscar Wilde
“Time’s fun when you’re having flies.”
– Kermit the Frog
I’m sitting in the bar of the Benny Vandergast Memorial Theatre enjoying drinks with Gillian Saker. I’d originally wanted an interview with that chick from The X – Files but I pretend like I’m thrilled to see her anyway and just hope she doesn’t notice my “The Truth Is Out There” pin badge on my lapel. I make a mental note to sack my PA first thing in the morning and trust that she, and indeed her three fatherless children, will have a suitably Dickensian Christmas.
I’m tempted to try and impress Miss Saker with some further quotes that display my wealth of cultural knowledge and literary insight but I just subtly mention that my past is a mist. Nothing – not even a sympathetic smile. Instead, Gillian’s attention seems to be elsewhere and she appears more interested in the bearded skinny dude who is lurking in the distance. He’s wearing a fedora and has the general look of one of those pimps you see in a bad seventies movie that get beat up in the opening scene by Clint Eastwood or Charles Bronson. I give him the evil eye and he just stares back – if cunning references to Pinter won’t impress Gillian Saker, I really need to up my game – these questions better be good. No pressure…
Damian: You were spotted by an agent for a part in the first series of Ripper Street while you were performing as Portia in a college production of The Merchant of Venice and here we are today, discussing tonight’s episode which also features themes of racial intolerance and anti-semitism. I was wondering what was your take on Shakespeare’s play, a racist comedy or a comedy about racism?
Gillian: Ah, racism… that hilarious ol’ Shakespearean topic. I absolutely love doing Shakespeare (as far as writers go, I think it’s fair to say he’s alright at that playwriting thing). Unfortunately, it is hard to make anti-semitism funny for a modern audience, which is the problem for any director trying to tackle the play nowadays. That said, we had great fun doing it! I think tonight’s episode is pretty far from comedy, I must say. That Toby Finlay writer fellow is a pretty twisted guy.
Damian: Describe the scene for me, you were studying at The Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama and an agent approaches you – what happened next?
Gillian: I was approached because this new television show called Ripper Street was looking for a 19 year old girl with red curly hair and a London accent! It was all rather lucky, really. I was initially in line to play a different part but then producers changed their minds about what they were looking for, and another actress got the gig. I had forgotten all about it, and was continuing with drama school when I got a call out of the blue telling me that I was offered a different part -Bella. I was overjoyed!
Damian: You’ve had an amazing journey since you graduated in 2012. Tell me what was going on inside your head as you left college and almost immediately got on a plane to Dublin and stepped onto the set of Ripper Street?
Gillian: It was pretty ruddy cool. I graduated early to shoot the first series. It was quite a shock going on set for the first day because it was my first professional job ever, but Jerome was very sweet and supportive. And Stephen Smallwood (our lovely, lovely producer) came in to my trailer to calm me down before shooting. The cast and crew gave me a cheer after I shot my first scene – I couldn’t have asked for a nicer welcome to the industry.
Damian: At what point did you realise that you were going to be in series two – it must have been an enormously pleasant surprise?
Gillian: Lordy, it was an enormous surprise! I had just finished a play (The River at the Royal Court), and was thinking ‘Oh man, what am I going to do now?’ when I got a call from my agent saying that I was being written into the second series. I had no idea what I was actually doing in the show until a couple of weeks before filming – I was half expecting to be murdered horrifically in the first scene or such like (it is Ripper Street afterall). I feel very fortunate to have been asked back.
Damian: Before we discuss tonight’s episode, I just want to talk about some of your other work. Is it true that Andrew Lloyd Webber was your rehearsal pianist?
Gillian: Sounds rather grand when you put it like that! I was working on his newest musical (Stephen Ward) and he played the piano in our rehearsals. You know Lloyd Webber – needs the money. It was a surreal experience; I had never done a musical before and there I was singing Lloyd Webber for Lloyd Webber. I was lucky enough to be raised in a family of musicians, but I’d only ever really done soul and jazz, so it was a really enlightening experience. I played Mandy Rice Davies in the Sydmonton Festival production of the show. Sydmonton is a festival in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s [ridiculously amazing] house where he showcases his new work to a glittering crowd of his friends, family and industry people, and we presented the first performances of the show. It was an honour to be a part of it.
Damian: You actually met Mandy Rice Davies – what was she like?
Gillian: I’ve never played a real person before, let alone had them in the audience. Its a lot of pressure. But she was graceful and generous and sweet. I can’t imagine what it’d be like to watch a musical about your sex life… I shudder at the thought…
Damian: Tell us about your part in The River by Jez Butterworth?
Gillian: It was interesting! Consider this your spolier alert if you plan on reading/seeing The River anytime soon. I was a secret character – the audience isn’t made aware in the cast list/ in any reviews and such because my character provides a big twist towards the end of the play. The Royal Court is a dream place to work. Working on new writing is great because you’re in there with the playwright and it can be a really collaborative process. Jez is very open to suggestions, and the director Ian Rickson and the other three actors taught me an awful lot. I’ve been very lucky in my career thus far to consistently work people that are a lot more experienced than me and are at the top of their game – being dropped in at the deep end suits me, I think.
Damian: Jez worked with Harold Pinter on the film Mojo – did he have any stories to tell about the great man?
Gillian: Oh, you’d have to buy me a fair few drinks before I could possibly divulge.
Damian: Apart from Ripper Street, you are perhaps best known for your part in the fourth series of Misfits – do you get much trouble from the geeks recognising you in public?
Gillian: I’m from the area where Misfits is filmed. I think I’m one of their first proper locals. Some reactions have been pretty funny; I was coming home from the gym the other day and some kids started throwing things at me, taking the mickey out of me because I ‘look like the girl from Misfits’. Oh, little did they know! Misfits has such an enormous cult following – I had no idea until the show aired – and it was lovely to be part of something that my friends were all fans of.
Damian: So, Ripper Street: A Stronger Loving World – this is your big episode isn’t it?
Gillian: Yes indeedy. I absolutely loved making it. The director of episodes 5 and 6 Kieron Hawkes is a wonderful director – everyone loved coming to work every day; he has such a positive and enthusiastic energy. And the brilliant Mister Toby Finlay wrote me many a great thing to say. I hope everyone enjoys watching it as much as we did making it. The whole process was a joy.
Damian: The story also features spiritualism and the occult which became increasingly attractive to people during the late Victorian period including celebrities of the day such as Arthur Conan Doyle, Sigmund Freud and W.B. Yeats. Do you think this was due to the advances in scientific understanding such as Darwinism and the decline in traditional religions?
Gillian: Yes, I read some amazing stuff recently about Arthur Conan Doyle and Houdini’s friendship; they had an enormous falling out over Conan Doyle’s belief that one could talk to the dead and the whole spiritualism thing, no? Very interesting! I suppose any ‘answer’ can be appealing, especially when your situation is dire. And if you’ve watched Ripper Street, you can probably guess that for some folks the situation was pretty darn dire.
Damian: I’m from a strict Catholic background (no, I’m fine now Gillian thanks – really!) and forbidden to dabble in such things but have you ever had a play with the old ouija board?
Gillian: Dark magic? Me? No thanks, Barcroft. I’ll leave that to Snape.
Damian: Bella’s past catches up with her in tonight’s episode. We obviously can’t discuss the details without giving away major plot spoilers so I thought we might talk about its writer instead… Look sorry Gillian, I’m not being funny but I don’t feel like I’ve got your full attention. I’d appreciate it if you could at least pretend to be interested and stop looking at the strange bloke in the corner! As I was saying, the writer, Toby Finlay – I bet he’s got a few skeletons in the closet?
Gillian: Oh, gosh, so sorry…. I just- Nevermind. Finlay? Skeletons? Jeepers, are you kidding?! Watch this episode. The man’s a terror, and everything that happens is his fault.
Damian: I’m wondering if Toby’s reckless lifestyle and outrageous taste in clothes is just a desperate cry for help – can’t you find him a nice Jewish girl to settle down with?
Gillian: I think there are some very dark things hiding under that fedora of his. And not just his luscious mane. I’ve got plenty of lovely Jewish friends in my mother’s native New York. Most of them are over 85 though… if that’s his thing…?
Damian: Anyway, Bella, Sergeant Drake is almost old enough to be her granddad, what’s it like kissing a man in his fifties – I bet his whiskers tickle a little?
Gillian: I can’t believe you’ve asked me this! Its more beard than whiskers, actually. All of the ladies that my mum knows from the supermarket are dead jealous. The man’s quite the heart throb, don’t you know?
Damian: Do you like an older man? (BTW, I’m thirty-eight)
Gillian: Oh darling, the older the better. 38 is way too young – come back to me when you’ve matured. Think Carl Fredricksen from Up – that’s the dream.
Damian: Why is Dennis Pennis in the show and why does he look like Rasputin? – maybe he is Rasputin – that would be awesome!
Gillian: Why doesn’t EVERYONE look like Rasputin, frankly? If looking like Rasputin makes you as wonderful as Paul Kaye is, then everyone should start working on their beard. I LOVED working with Paul. He is so generous, and it’s a pleasure to have met him. A very inspiring man.
Damian: I believe you’re rather partial to the muppets – why?
Gillian: It is indeed true, I’m a big fan. My grandpa on my mother’s side worked as a publicist for Jim Henson, so I was raised on the stuff. But all family bias aside, have you watched Sesame Street? Its the best children’s television out there. It is so considered and creative and all-inclusive… Jim Henson’s work was and continues to be a gift to children all over the world. And adults too!
Damian: Yeah, you know sometimes muppets can express a wider range of emotions than some human actors I’ve seen on television recently. Does Damien Molony feature in tonight’s episode?
Gillian: Yes, Damien does feature! He gave me the giggles when we were in scenes together. And yes I agree, Damien is very very good and all, but he’s got nothing on Kermit. Who does?
Damian: I give up! Just go and talk to the freak in the corner, you’ve obviously been staring at each other all night. It’s fine, I’ve got enough stuff for my article…
Gillian: What are you on about? YOU are the one he’s been staring at. I was going to ask… You do you know who that is, right?
Damian: Don’t look, he’s walking over here…
Toby: You. David Barloft.
Damian: It’s Dam-
Toby: Who cares. Put down my actress. I’m drunk and bored and ready for my close-up.
Damian: Yeah, but to be honest mate, the readers are only interested in interviews with the stars of the show – no one really cares about hearing from the writers…
Toby: Plot twist – I scripted every single answer they’ve given you.
Damian: I’m really sorry about this Gillian, do you mind? Thanks so much for the interview it is very much appreciated indeed.
Gillian: Er… Toby…? Master…? I need some help… What do I say now?
I looked at the bloodstained clock and it was almost midnight. I’d already missed the Pale Horse concert and just wanted to go home and yet I felt bad for the guy. So needy and desperate to talk about himself and his “art”…
My exclusive interview with Toby Finlay will be posted later this evening!
My sincere thanks to Gillian Saker and Toby Finlay