Tag Archives: Ripper Street II

Ripper Street interview with Toby Finlay

NOTE: This interview contains spoilers that are best avoided until you have seen the first three episodes of Ripper Street Series III

This is how Grandmother will tell the story, a hundred years hence:

Exposed unto the sea, which hath requit it,
Him and his innocent child; for which foul deed
The powers, delaying, not forgetting, have
Incensed the seas and shores, yea, all the creatures…

The Tempest – III.3

Talking Cure & Chimney Sweeping

An exclusive Ripper Street interview with Toby Finlay

Interview copyright © Damian Michael Barcroft 2015
Images copyright © Toby Finlay/Will Gould
Toby Finlay and Richard Warlow

Toby Finlay and Richard Warlow

Damian: Toby, you have written the following episodes of Ripper Street: The Weight of One Man’s Heart (Series 1. Episode 5), Tournament of Shadows (1.6), Threads of Silk and Gold (2.5), A Stronger Loving World (2.6), The Beating of Her Wings (3.2) and Ashes and Diamonds (3.3) not to mention your collaboration in devising the overarching story. You are therefore, the most prolific of cuckoos in Richard Warlow’s nest. How so?

Toby: Well, I suppose you’d have to ask Richard that question. 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.

Damian: To what extent was the aforementioned overarching story and individual plots for series three planned prior to the news of Ripper Street’s cancellation last December?

Toby: Back in September 2013 – before the cancellation – Richard and I (along with Joe Donaldson our superb script-editor and Will Gould, the exec producer and godfather of the show) went off to a hotel in the countryside for a few days and started throwing ideas around. What we storylined were the big beats of the first four episodes. We had the bones of the stories to a greater extent in some episodes than others. (For instance ep 3 with the clairvoyant was just something we kept bandying around as a joke about a dead clairvoyant who didn’t see it coming, and it was very much later that I realised there was actually a story in there, so I kept the line as a little in-joke). And then, as we were all set to work deeper on the stories and Richard and I were primed to commence eps 1 and 2 – the show was axed. So everything was on ice. It was only in February or so of this year that we got the green light again and suddenly realised we had to work out those stories and indeed the rest of the series.

But the shorter answer is, we knew we wanted the train crash – that was something Richard had harboured for a while, I think – and to bring back Mathilda. And to make this overarching story Reid versus Susan, really put them both through the ringer. We certainly wanted to make Susan at the fore of this narrative and give her a sort of Breaking Bad journey into darkness. So the core of series 3 was definitely planned prior to the axe, even though the individual stories were very much in gestation and much of the work came after Amazon saved us.


Richard Cookson, Will Gould, Richard Warlow and Toby Finlay

Damian: I find it difficult to believe that series three would have begun four years later in 1894 if the show hadn’t have been cancelled at the end of its second series. There must have been sacrifices made in terms of story and certain characters?

Toby: Actually the time jump was always the plan. I’m not sure we’d settled in 1894 specifically but there was definitely the intention of leaving a few years for the characters to have developed or sunk or fallen apart in the intervening time. Luckily, everyone who we wanted to bring back was willing to come back. The end of series 2 was such a cliffhanger that it felt unexpected to drive forward in time like that. And if it’s unexpected, it’s interesting.

Damian: And were there any creative conditions imposed by Amazon?

Toby: None. In fact they were keen to exploit the lack of scheduling or watershed restrictions, which is why the Amazon versions are longer and in some cases more explicit in language and image than the versions which will eventually screen on the BBC. The Amazon versions are, if you will, more like the “writers’ cuts”.

Damian: Before we turn our attention to your two episodes for series three, I wanted to follow up on an issue that troubled me from our previous interview when I asked you to what extent the views of Faulkner (the antagonist from The Weight of One Man’s Heart) might reflect your own personal political ideology and you respectfully declined to answer. While I respect your decision to keep your politics to yourself, I was disappointed that you went on to say that your own personal views as a writer are not important. Would an interview, for example, with Stanley Kubrick regarding Dr. Strangelove or A Clockwork Orange not be enhanced by a discussion of his political ideology or perhaps a discourse on the protest genre and radicalism with Bob Dylan?

Toby: Kubrick and Dylan were/are notoriously tricky interview-f*****s who would refuse point blank to be pinned down. I’m sure an interview with Dylan about the protest genre and radicalism would be thrilling, but you won’t find one. You’ll find him telling you to keep a good head and always carry a light-bulb.

I stand by what I said last time, which is that I write partly to play with ideas and weave masks… but you can assume generally that I wouldn’t put fire behind the writing of it unless on some level I believed in it. Beyond that: read the tale, not the teller.

fink5Damian: And from politics, we naturally move on to religion. A wise man once wrote that a man without faith is a man without hope. For comedic effect or otherwise, you have sometimes portrayed yourself as a “Bad Jew”, do you entertain any particular religion or spirituality?

Toby: I believe in Larry David.

Damian: There is actually a valid reason that I ask you this but rather than repeat previously documented material, I would direct the reader to our original interview with reference to your visual fetish with birds. However, I would like to explore the possible psychology behind such riffs pertaining to winged creatures in more depth and point out that in The Beating of Her Wings alone, the following are referenced either visually on screen, spoken through dialogue or described in possible wordplay or puns through action notes: cockerel, capon, rookery, vultures, swallow, lark, pupa, butterflies, fairies as well as a parrot outside the exotic bird shop adjoining H Buckley: Antiquities & Curiosities and also mention of da Vinci (famed for his human-powered ornithopter designs and possibly the first European interested in a practical solution to flight).

So, back to the original question of spirituality which can manifest itself in a variety of different ways from organised religion to the more personal such as private prayer or reflection, meditation or yoga. Given that our brain processes sensory experiences, it is inevitable that we will look for patterns and pursue their meaning. To what extent would you give credence to the following interpretations?: the pre-totemistic soul-belief of the Semang and other tribes believed the bird was one of the earliest of spirit animals which had to be killed so as to release the soul, the Holy Egyptian bird was a symbol of resurrection, transformation and immortality, mediating between the earthly realm and the heavenly world – perhaps the human soul undergoing spiritual development, the soul’s desire for transcendence or desire to escape (freeing a bird from captivity as was the case in The Weight of One Man’s Heart relating to the release of one’s own emotions or primal energies) and for Freud, birds were obviously carnal symbols representing the penis…

Toby: They’re penises. All of them.

I have no problem with any interpretation. I am apparently drawn to birds for some reason, as we discussed in the last interview. The imagery and… I suppose the word is “symbolism”… speak to me. But I couldn’t tell you what they say exactly. I try to feel the pulse of whatever I’m writing and sometimes if I feed it with interesting things it will throw back interesting things in return. I remember reading an interview with Paul Auster a long time ago about his brilliant novel Moon Palace, when he was asked a similar question about the imagery and language of the moon, which is everywhere in the book. And he said, basically, that some of it is deliberate and some of it happily accidental – but borne of the fact that you’ve harboured these ideas and notions for a long time, and so certain elements of language and image will just find their way to forming connections and spilling out onto the page.

Damian: Was the appearance of the aforementioned parrot a visual allusion to the historical Edmund Reid and his eccentric future in Hampton-on-Sea?

Toby: Yes.

Damian: You’ve told me in the past that character is the key thing for you as a writer and if it came down to choosing between compromising the integrity of a character’s story or bending history, you would always choose to sacrifice the history. Obviously Ripper Street is not a documentary, however, I thought it was clever of Richard to incorporate the history of Joseph Merrick and the timeline of his death (2.1: Pure as the Driven and 2.2: Am I Not Monstrous?) into the events of series two without deviating too far from the known facts and remaining true to the man, the character’s psychology and motivations. In complete contrast to this however, and I speak with specific reference to Reid’s actions towards the end of series two and the shocking climax of The Beating of Her Wings, is there not a moral argument to be made against possibly changing the perception and reputation of real characters from history?

Toby: That’s an interesting point, and I think there absolutely is a moral issue. In fact I have a general rule that I won’t do biopics or true stories because I feel very uncomfortable about the dramatic liberties that are invariably required. I mean, I’ve seen some great biopics or factual dramas. But I have a problem with approaching that kind of material myself.

However, the Reid of Ripper is very much a fictional construct who happens to share a name with the Reid of history. I have deliberately never even read a biography of the real Reid, which is perhaps how I handled the issue I just mentioned. So in other words I just hid my head in the sand for my own moral convenience.

fink3Damian: So Richard and yourself have never been creatively constricted by the destiny and historical events of characters such as Reid and Fred Abberline in terms of telling your story?

Toby: No. At least I never felt constricted. I realise what I’m saying seems to run directly counter to what I said to your previous question. But I never claimed to be anything more than a confused mess of contradictions.

Damian: There are several omitted scenes from The Beating of Her Wings, which is often the case with writing for films and television where there is always a pressure to adhere to certain running times. The first cut of some episodes (such as your A Stronger Loving World) can be as long as eighty minutes which then have to be whittled down to sixty for the final cut. I’m particularly curious about scene seventy (from TBOHW) but can you also give us a flavour of what we will unfortunately never see from your two episodes for series three?

Toby: No. It doesn’t matter. I’m not sure what scene 70 was and I don’t want to return to the script now. It’s made, it’s done, it’s gone. It was probably something transcendentally awesome but I don’t want to look back. We shark onward, to meet the next black wave with teeth bared.

Damian: The themes and motifs of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, including power and control, betrayal, revenge and forgiveness, not to mention Ariel, a spirit of the air!, were well-suited to The Beating of Her Wings (as was the case with Antony and Cleopatra and The Weight of One Man’s Heart) and beautifully interwoven throughout your script. It strikes me as an inspired and profound analogy and yet there is almost an element of inevitability surrounding its use as though it had been part of a shared vision from the very beginning.  At what point in the genesis of this episode did it become apparent that there was such a close connection to water and sea creating disaster in the lives of the main characters in both The Tempest and Ripper Street?

Toby: The story of Reid and his catastrophe on the boat with Mathilda – and therefore the notion of water as nightmarish – obviously goes back to the beginning of the show, but the Tempest parallels and motifs came about only as I was writing The Beating of Her Wings. I’m not sure exactly at what point it occurred to me, but all of that was very deliberate. I suppose it was similar to the process of The Weight of One Man’s Heart in that there was a stage during the composition where I realised I was riffing on certain things – in this case water and fairies – and I wanted to throw The Tempest in. I do these things largely for myself because… I don’t know. I suppose it keeps it interesting for me to make these connections.

Damian: In addition to The Tempest, we can’t ignore other possible references although I’m not sure to what extent they are all intentional or not. There is a certain young lady named Alice who is introduced in The Beating of Her Wings who previously went by the name Mathilda which just so happens to be the same nickname of one of Alice Liddell’s sisters (Tillie, short for Matilda was Edith Liddell’s actual nickname).

There is also the matter of the caterpillar but in your second episode, Ashes and Diamonds, you also have Alice say to Long Susan Hart, “You’re the Queen around here” (thus Hart becomes the Queen of Hearts). Additionally we have various riffs on mirrors and their reflections (perhaps for the benefit of those in the cheap seats Alice also remarks, “So many looking glasses”) referencing Carroll’s second Alice story, Through the Looking Glass, which features a chessboard and is indeed structured like a game of chess in terms of its narrative – you also make copious allusions to Kings, Queens and pawns throughout both of your episodes. Furthermore, and if that were not enough, it would be remiss of me not to remind the reader that Lewis Carroll has since become a Jack the Ripper suspect – albeit an extremely unlikely one. Curious to say in the least or are some of these observations the ramblings of a pretentious madman?

Toby: No. All of that was deliberate layering and weaving. But it’s also Moon Palace syndrome again. Some things happen unconsciously and then you realise it and follow those new threads down… well, down the rabbit-hole I suppose. But as with the Tempest references, this sort of game-playing is a thing I do, for myself and for whoever might wish to grab the strands.

fink1Damian: There are also at least two references to King Arthur (in Ashes and Diamonds) but I particularly wanted to ask you about “the Wicked King” (The Beating of Her Wings) which Alice is so afraid of. I did a little digging and found the Romanic folktale entitled The Wicked King: Tales from the Lands of Nuts and Grapes (published in 1888 – such a memorable year!) and also The Tale of the Wicked King: A Story from the Field of Blackbirds (1915) which contains the following extract: “So he (the Wicked King) kept on, as long as the horse would go, even farther into the snow-covered wilderness of the mountain, until he was lost to human sight.” For me, this certainly resonates within the context of TBOHW but what is their significance to you?

Toby: I’m delighted those books exist but I didn’t know of them. What I did know about was the general obsession with fairies and fairytales which pervaded parts of Victorian culture and I wanted to engage with it. The Wicked King was something that sounded right to me, but as far as I knew it was something I’d conjured. If it was provoked by anything it was probably – though I’ve only just thought about it – the Yellow King in True Detective.

Damian: Why do you insist on having characters speak the episode titles, either word for word or phrased slightly differently, through their dialogue?

Toby: Actually this is a Warlow tic. I think he got it from Deadwood. It was something that I was not only always indifferent to but in fact ended up sailing against twice. There are only two episodes, as far as I know, where the title is not spoken verbatim – and they’re both mine. One is A Stronger Loving World, which is ALMOST but not quite spoken. The other is Ashes and Diamonds, where the title is not actually spoken but is engraved on the silver pocket watch which Olivia once gifted her husband and shows Drake. You can just about make it out if you freeze frame the close up of the watch.

Damian: Series three is rattling along at a staggering pace and many plot strands from the previous two years are being resolved surprisingly quickly. Is there a sense that both you and Richard are bidding farewell to Whitechapel?

Toby: Well. I can’t speak for Richard. And his connection to this show is longer and deeper than mine. But for my own part… Yes, I think that melancholic, valedictory tone in Ashes and Diamonds was not accidental.

fink3Damian: Again, I would direct the reader to our previous interview [see link below], but I’m pleased to see your fascination with the Western endures (mainly through the character of Captain Homer Jackson) and there are references to the genre in Ashes and Diamonds. Also, as I’ve told you before, I particularly enjoy your affinity with the character and in A Stronger Loving World, Jackson says to Reid, “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.”

This is pure Toby Finlay – won’t you miss writing for Jackson?

Toby: 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.

fink5Damian: Given our references to pupa and the butterfly, might your decision not to work on Ripper Street again mark something of a chrysalis and the transformation of your own career as a writer?

Toby: I don’t know. I just feel like it’s time to do other things. I’d never written television before Ripper, and now I’m going back to writing film for a while and I feel like I’m having to learn to write film all over again.… So… I don’t know. The uncertainty and terror is useful, an electric shock out of complacency.

fink1Damian: Of all the episodes that you’ve written, what do you consider to be your greatest contribution to Ripper Street?

Toby: In terms of contribution, you’d need to ask Warlow. It’s his show. But since you’re asking me…

I think The Weight of One Man’s Heart was a significant episode for Ripper in that it was the first ep in which the crime story intertwined deeply with an intense personal drama for one of our main characters; and a lot of Drake’s backstory and his own dark myth came into being through the composition of that episode. I think that ep made both Warlow and I take a slightly shifted angle on the show as a whole.

Damian: And so we come to end of our final Ripper Street interview. Toby, on behalf of the birds, butterflies and indeed all the winged creatures, I wanted to say that Whitechapel will be a less interesting place without you in it. I admire your talent and I appreciate your inspiration. So long cowboy.

Toby: Keep a good head, friend. And always carry a lightbulb.


“O brave new world, That has such people in’t!”


My first interview with Toby can be found below:


All interviews and articles on this website are copyright © Damian Michael Barcroft 2015




RIPPER STREET – H Division Files: Waldo Mason

Damian Michael Barcroft interviews the prosthetic make-up effects and creature FX genius that is Waldo Mason. We talk Ripper Street, the Elephant Man and our love of movie monsters!


Waldo Mason with Joseph Drake as the Elephant Man on the set of the second series of ‘Ripper Street’

Phossy Jaw, severed heads, dismembered bodies and burnt, mummified, putrid corpses – welcome to the weird and truly wonderful world of Waldo! One of the leading make-up effects artists in the country, Waldo Mason has been creating everything from subtle scars to complete silicone bodies and alien creatures for over twenty years. As a fan of horror and monster make-up effects since early childhood, it is my pleasure and a privilege to present this exclusive interview…

Lon Chaney: One of the early pioneers of makeup effects and truly a man of a thousand faces

Lon Chaney: One of the early pioneers of makeup effects and truly a man of a thousand faces

DAMIAN MICHAEL BARCROFT: I was practically raised on horror as a child by my two uncles who would let me stay up late and watch all those great monster films of Universal and Hammer Studios whenever my mother was foolish enough to leave them in charge of babysitting. I’ve studied and written about these and more contemporary horror films as an adult but I’ve never forgotten the power and potency of those early movie monsters. I imagine you must have been similarly attracted to the genre in your own youth?

WALDO MASON: Yes, the Hammer and Universal films were the first exposure for me too, I would stay over at my friends house and watch midnight double bills of The Mummy, Frankenstein, The Wolf Man etc. The 70’s TV movie of Steven King’s Salem’s Lot was also an early influence and whereas the early Universal films were very atmospheric if not that scary, that film made me sleep with the light on afterwards!

The classic and arguably definitive monster movie makeup designs from the Universal Horror Cycle of the 30s & 40s

The classic and arguably definitive monster movie makeup designs from the Universal Horror Cycle of the 30s & 40s

DAMIAN: The great Lon Chaney was perhaps the most celebrated of the early makeup artists but other influential greats include Universal’s resident maker of monsters Jack P. Pierce (creator of such iconic creatures as Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, the Mummy and the Wolf Man) but I also admire Phil Leakey and Roy Ashton for their classic Hammer Horror films. I was wondering to what extent any of these films and filmmakers have inspired and informed your own work?

WALDO: I loved Jack Pierce’s monster designs, particularly the Frankenstein makeup, because it was made for a black and white medium and so was very theatrical in its execution, giving it a very classical, iconic look. But I preferred Phil Leakeys more gruesome take on the same character in Hammer’s The Curse of Frankenstein, made all the more impressive by the fact that it was done without moulds and created from scratch with cotton wool and latex every day! This illustrated to me that the things we make don’t always have to be sculpted and moulded, but can be fabricated directly. I’ve had to do makeups at very short notice this way and also use this approach for the anatomical details in autopsy bodies.

hammer1hammer4hammer2hammer3DAMIAN: The world of creature and makeup design was revolutionised in 1981 with the release of An American Werewolf in London which featured stunning prosthetics and robotic body parts by Rick Baker. Can you describe the first time you saw this and the impact it had on you?

WALDO: I watched it on a pirated VHS copy as I was about 13 at the time and stood no chance of seeing it properly, and it was a revelation. I lost count of the number of times I watched the transformation scene, trying to work out how it was done and I honestly believe it has never been bettered to this day.


‘An American Werewolf in London’ (1981)

DAMIAN: Rick Baker revisited the world of lycanthrophy for the remake of The Wolf Man. Unfortunately the film was a critical and box office disappointment which I thought was a shame because it is actually quite good and remains faithful to the 1941 original while still delivering a few shocks and twists of its own. However, I was disappointed by the reliance on CGI which detracted from the power of Rick Baker’s makeup – what went wrong?

WALDO: It was a troubled film, suffering from the departure of the original director, Mark Romanek and the original makeup and costume designers which may have affected the decision making process regarding the effects required and the build time involved. Ultimately I’m not sure why there was such a heavy reliance on CGI but I know that the original intent was to do as much as possible for real which was the reason Rick was on board and we actually made practical versions of some of these effects which for one reason or another ended up being achieved digitally.


Rick Baker on the set of the 2010 ‘Wolf Man’ remake starring Benicio Del Toro in the role made famous by Lon Chaney Jr

DAMIAN: Can you talk me through the work you did on The Wolf Man and did you get to meet the great Rick Baker?

WALDO: I was involved in the post attack carnage which covered limbs, bodies and injuries. These included actor David stern’s freshly killed body, the death of the Ben Talbot character and the viewing of his body, various limbs being lopped off in the gypsy camp attack and a man torn in half with his intestines spread over the ground, to name a few! And yes, I met Rick Baker who was really cool and had some great stories going back all the way to American Werewolf, so I was very pleased to have worked on The Wolfman for that, if nothing else!


‘The Wolf Man’ – Waldo’s silicone likeness of David Stern

'The Wolf Man' - Waldo's silicone body of Ben Talbot

‘The Wolf Man’ – Waldo’s silicone body of Ben Talbot

DAMIAN: Many Ripperologists such as myself loved the idea of Inspector Abberline investigating the werewolf murders in The Wolf Man which brings us nicely to Ripper Street. You worked as prosthetics designer on both the first and second series, how did you become involved in the show?

WALDO: I was working on a film called Byzantium in Ireland and heard rumours about a Ripper themed show starting up over there, so after making some enquiries I contacted the show’s line producer Cait Collins who was very receptive to my suggestion of providing some prosthetic content, and after the first series was completed I was invited back for the second run which was even more ambitious both in storylines and the effects needed to facilitate them!

ernestmanbyDAMIAN: For the second episode of the first series of Ripper Street you created the body of Ernest Manby who was brutally beaten to death. The head, neck and arms were fully articulated and the mouth opened to reveal the tongue which was cut out and even gold teeth. Reminding the reader of aspects of your work such as hair-punching (every hair has to be individually inserted with a tiny needle into the “skin”), how long does this process take from the initial design concepts to the finished piece ready for filming?

WALDO: We had four weeks to make Manby’s body and we started with a lifecast of David Coon’s upper body and pulled out a clay positive which I cleaned up and sculpted the wounds into. We only built an upper body due to cost & time and the body would be having a sheet covering his modesty anyway! Rather than doing initial designs I used descriptive points from the script along with photos of the belt buckle that leaves marks on his face and emailed progress photos to director Tom Shankland as we went so that he could have his input (“More, nastier”!). When he was happy the body was moulded by Robin Schoonraad and we set an armature into the mould and filled it with silicone.

Work on progress on Ernest Manby's body

Work in progress on Ernest Manby’s body

The silicone was then tidied and painted by Nikkie Grimshaw and the hair punched by Katy Hood. For the finishing touches I gave him mutton chops & stubble, chopped up the fiberglass core in the head and inserted dentures with the gold teeth for Jackson to discover in the morgue at Leman Street.

A physical reference model to depict a sufferer of Phossy Jaw

A physical reference model to depict a sufferer of Phossy Jaw

DAMIAN: The first two episodes of the second series of Ripper Street are notable for the appearance of the tragic Joseph Merrick better known to the world as the Elephant Man. Obviously audiences will remember David Lynch’s classic 1980 film with John Hurt playing Merrick and wearing the celebrated makeup by Chris Tucker who is one of the world’s leading genetic makeup experts. You must have been rather apprehensive about taking on such an iconic figure as the Elephant Man?

WALDO: Chris Tucker’s work on The Elephant Man is so definitive that it’s what most people visualise when you talk about Joseph Merrick, simply because more people have seen that version than photos of Merrick himself so yes, we had big shoes to fill.

DAMIAN: I believe the makeup for your vision of the Elephant Man consisted of a silicone cowl, pre-painted cap plastic encapsulated face pieces for each shooting day, knotted hair pieces, upper and lower dentures, a slip-on deformed hand and a padded undersuit to distort the body shape. Can you tell us how many artists were involved during this process and how you managed to coordinate each individual creative aspect?

WALDO: I was fortunate enough to have some very talented people on the crew, and luckily sculptor Ivan Manzella had always wanted to create a version of that makeup so I was happy to let him! Justin Pitkethly sculpted the misshapen hand alongside Ivan doing the face to maintain consistency and both were moulded by Tom Packwood. Nikkie grimshaw ran and painted the silicone cowl, hands and encapsulated face pieces and the hairpieces were made by Barney Nikolic. Chris Lyons from Fangs FX made us dentures based on photos I sourced of contemporary Proteus Syndrome sufferers’ teeth and finally Cerina Knott fabricated a padded undersuit to alter the actor’s body shape. For the shoot Emma Sheffield joined us to help apply the makeups, which generally took around three hours.


Joseph Drake as the Elephant Man with Emma Sheffield, Justin Pitkethly & Waldo Mason

DAMIAN: There are still many Merrick medical records and artifacts stored at the Royal London Hospital, what research and reference materials did you consult?

WALDO: I had attempted to contact the hospital regarding this but had no luck, so being that we were on a tight schedule we worked purely from web sourced reference photos of Merrick, his death mask and his skeleton.

DAMIAN: Tucker didn’t want the audience to be appalled by Merrick’s appearance and tried to make the face sympathetic and sad rather than hideous. Mike Barlett also created Elephant Man makeup for From Hell with perhaps a more horrific focus, what was your vision for the character?

WALDO: We decided he should definitely be sympathetic, as his story arc called for him to be vulnerable but you can’t take too many liberties with his look because it’s so distinctive and we wanted to stay as faithful to the reference as possible. So it really became an exercise in making sure that such a large makeup could still be very mobile and expressive so that Joseph Drake could convey that vulnerability through his performance, both facially and vocally, which he did beautifully!

DAMIAN: We couldn’t possibly discuss all of your film and television work but I wanted to remind the reader of some of the other incredible projects you’ve been involved on: Alien vs. Predator, Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, Prometheus, and The World’s End, to name but a few. What’s been your most challenging or rewarding job?

WALDO: I would have to say The World’s End was probably the most challenging because of the breakneck pace of the shoot and the weeks and weeks of freezing night shoots in winter!

DAMIAN: And who has been the most demanding director to work with, I’m guessing Ridley Scott (Prometheus) who is so creatively involved in every aspect of production, right?

WALDO: Actually Edgar Wright was the most demanding, just because he is completely focused, has a very clear vision of what he wants and is a total perfectionist, all of which are good things, you just have to work harder… Ridley was surprisingly laid back actually, I thought he would be really tough to work with but he was great and knows exactly how to shoot a tricky effects setup to make it work.

DAMIAN: Was Ridley chomping on a cigar when you met him?

WALDO: No-one gets to smoke on a soundstage anymore, not even Ridley Scott!

DAMIAN: One of your recent projects is Fox’s new production of Frankenstein starring James McAvoy and Daniel Radcliffe who is a rather curious choice for Igor considering how the character is usually portrayed. The film is written by Max Landis (Chronicle) and directed by Paul McGuigan (Sherlock) and I imagine this is going to take a completely revisionist approach – what can you tell us?

WALDO: Very little I’m afraid, as Fox take their confidentiality agreements very seriously! I was originally going to do more on it than I have but due to schedule conflicts I had to scale back my involvement. But what I have seen of it looks great!

DAMIAN: I like to imagine your home as somewhat similar to Hannibal Lecter’s kitchen (Waldo did in fact work on the prequel Hannibal Rising) with shelves full of anatomical reference books and various body parts casually littered about the house. However, in all seriousness, do you think there is a rather dark side to your nature that attracts you to such a profession that is frequently so grisly?

WALDO: Haha! That’s actually a pretty good description of my workshop! No, there’s no dark side, I’ve just been lucky enough to combine my love of art with my love of film and make a career of it and shows like Ripper Street keep things very interesting for me!

DAMIAN: Waldo, thanks for this interview, I think you’re an absolute genius and your work continues to astound me. I wish you and all your silicone friends the very best for the future!

WALDO: You’re very kind, thank you!

~ Damian Michael Barcroft ~




Later that evening…

Murwillumbah, New South Wales, Australia

I’m a celebrity get me out of…

Alas, for Declan it was too late…


Declan Donnelly by Waldo Mason for Millenium FX

Thank you Waldo, one down – one to go…

REVENGE – Ripper style!


Toby Finlay – “the better craftsman…”

Toby Finlay

Toby Finlay

~ By Damian Michael Barcroft ~

Given the amount of writing and interviews I do about film and television, folks are often surprised to learn that I don’t actually watch that much of it anymore. The reason for this is as simple as it is short – most of it is crap. However, for me at least, there have been two particular TV series that have stood out head and shoulders above the rest of the pig swill masquerading as entertainment over the past few months and Toby Finlay has written for both of these – Peaky Blinders and of course, Ripper Street.

Fans of Ripper Street will know that Toby wrote the episodes The Weight of One Man’s Heart and Tournament of Shadows for the first series and he returns again tonight with the first of his two episodes for the second run, Threads of Silk and Gold.

Above and featured image from tonight's episode, 'Threads of Silk and Gold'

Above and featured image from tonight’s episode, ‘Threads of Silk and Gold’

Ripper Street is blessed with many gifts: the stunning ensemble cast, visionary directors, unparalleled production values and some of the best writing on television. Toby is just one of these writers but his contribution to the series is prodigious, having created some of its most memorable moments: Drake’s heartbreak after Rose rejects his romantic overture and the agonising standoff between Drake and his brother in arms – not to mention some truly glorious dialogue, “Her sweet little mouth could suck a melon through a rye stalk” and “there’s no shame in supping a buttered bun, huh?”.

A scene from one of my very favourite episodes, Toby's 'The Weight of One Man's Heart'

A scene from one of my very favourite episodes, Toby’s ‘The Weight of One Man’s Heart’

After watching Toby’s penultimate episode for the equally epic Peaky Blinders, another one of his intense plays on pieces of British history combined with themes from the old West – for this particular episode think High Noon only set in Birmingham, and another radiant example of his mastery over the art of screenwriting, I felt compelled to message him immediately after broadcast. I quoted T. S. Eliot in referring to Toby as “the better craftsman” and I still stand by this assertion. Indeed, Toby is a stylish writer of impeccable taste – it is just a shame that I cannot say the same about his rather appalling dress sense.

The epic 'Peaky Blinders'

The epic ‘Peaky Blinders’

I didn’t start these Ripper Street interviews and articles that I’ve written over the past year to make friends but I have indeed made many and I am proud to count Toby as one of them. I asked him to say just a few words about tonight’s show exclusively for this site…

“Episodes 5 and 6 are both stories that drive like a corkscrew to the cores of our main characters, because those are the only kinds of story that interest me; and by the time we move into the last episodes, it’s unlikely that Reid, Drake or Jackson will ever be quite the same again.” – Toby Finlay

“Ripper Street: Threads of Silk and Gold” is tonight at 9 on BBC1

I had the pleasure of conducting a very long and detailed interview with Toby which will be posted here in full this time next week. Our interview is witty, insightful and informative – Toby’s answers are OK too.

~ Damian Michael Barcroft ~

The thrilling shootout towards the climax of ‘The Weight of One Man’s Heart’

Exclusive Interview with Jassa Ahluwalia previewing tonight’s RIPPER STREET

Season 2 – Episode 5: Threads of Silk and Gold




‘Ripper Street: Threads of Silk and Gold’

Damian: Hey Jassa, we’re both lads from the Midlands! You’re from Leicestershire and I’m just down the road in sunny Staffordshire. As a drama student at college, I remember I was in this taxi one day talking to the driver and he asked me what I was studying. I told him it was performing arts and that I wanted to be an actor. I’ll never forget his hideous diatribe – basically telling me that I should train for a proper job and colleges shouldn’t even be running such courses that promote lazy wannabees! Did you ever come across this kind of attitude in your part of the Midlands?

Jassa: My fellow Midlander! I grew up in Leicester but I was born in Coventry. Does that make me an East meets West Midlander? I’m half Indian so it seems appropriate. I never came across that kind of attitude so explicitly. The closest was my grandfather insisting acting was a good hobby. In true Indian tradition he wanted me to become a doctor or a solicitor. Now I’m on TV he’s much more agreeable.

I was always wary of the wannabee label. I was surrounded by a few growing up and my instinct was to distance myself from them. I trained in ballet for eight years while I was at school through Leicestershire Arts in Education. My teacher Graham Fletcher was an ex-principal with the Royal Ballet and through him I saw how performance could be a career. It was show business and I’ve always treated as such.

Damian: Jassa (Singh) Ahluwalia was one of the great Sikh leaders during the 1700s, did your parents have high expectations of you from the very beginning?

Jassa: They’re still waiting for me to return and conquer the fatherland… I’ve never felt like they’ve had expectations. They’ve just been incredibly supportive, allowing both me and my sister (fellow actor training at the Academy in New York) to define our own criteria for success.

Damian: You’re a prolific actor and have enjoyed a diverse range of roles including a polar bear, a cave wall and a stalagmite – tell us about your journey from Oadby, Leicestershire to worldwide fame…

Jassa: I believe the cave wall and stalagmite may have been the same role… And worldwide fame?! You’re still going to have to buy me dinner… The journey began with Graham and Leicestershire Arts in Education. Through ballet I explored musical theatre and through that I discover acting. My Year 10 work placement was one of the most formative experiences of my life. Through a few audacious phone calls I’d secured a placement at agency Independent Talent (then ICM). There I witnessed the inner workings of the industry which allowed me to strategise. I was quite a forward thinking 15 year old. I used university to move to London – UCL halls were all central. I dropped out when I got my first big job (Art Attack) and I’m now represented by Independent. My first meeting there having a tea made for me felt like a landmark moment.

Damian: You missed out the Morris dancing, tell us about the Morris dancing – the readers want to know about the MORRIS DANCING!

Jassa: Your research is too damn thorough!!! I was a member of the Morris Dancing Club at Launde Primary School in Oadby. I loved it. We were a group of lads getting to show off at the school fair, hopping about and whacking sticks together. Part of the allure was also having seen the older boys do one dance in particular. The “sword dance” I believe it was called. Basically, mid dance, they’d weave their sticks/swords together to form a star which one of them could hold above their head. How the sticks stuck together was a playground conspiracy. The day we learnt how to do it we felt like we’d been initiated into a brotherhood, bonded by straw hats and ankle bells.

Jassa as Peter Pan - bless!

Jassa as Peter Pan – bless!

Damian: You trained with the Birmingham Royal Ballet and played Peter Pan in panto – do you have what it takes to look good in tights – you know what I’m talking about right?

Jassa: I believe Robin Williams once described the ballet as “men wearing pants so tight you can tell what religion they are”. Nobody ever thought I was Jewish.

Damian: You’re only twenty-three and you’ve already been an actor, producer, TV presenter, dancer and singer-songwriter! Why can’t you just focus on one thing and give everyone else in the industry a chance of some work?

Jassa: No one gives you a chance to work in this game. You have to seize opportunities and see where they take you. I like adventure! Every experience informs the other. Presenting taught me how little I enjoy performing as myself, acting exposed me to some incredible producers, producing gave me insight into how to conduct myself on set, dancing has given me the skills to do my own stunts where possible, my singing has given me the skills to handle intense vocal work and my writing makes me more discerning as a reader/listener/viewer. I feel like I am focusing on one thing – doing the best work.

Damian: Tell us about the album you’ve released – you’re not going to be another bloody Jerome Flynn are you?

Jassa: Haha! I didn’t know about Jerome’s music history! Thank you Wikipedia. My album All Your Letters was a side project and area of creative interest. It taught me a great deal about myself and I’m very proud of what I achieved but it’s not something I’m actively pushing at the moment. Though that may change in the near future. And if anyone wants to do a Wikipedia article for me I’d be most grateful. The one I tried to publish were removed for being ‘about a real person, which does not indicate the importance or significance of the subject’. It’s good to stay grounded.

Jassa is quickly becoming one of our hottest young actors

Damian: You played a burns victim in Casualty – it is compulsory for EVERY actor to appear in that show at least once?

Jassa: Of course. I was devastated when The Bill came to an end. How else was I to get the industry stamp of approval?! Fortunately Casualty was there to save the day.

Damian: You are perhaps best known for the sitcom Some Girls – I’m far too pretentious to watch anything on BBC Three – what’s it about, who do you play and why is it such a success?

Jassa: Heathen! It’s brilliant. It’s a comedy about a group of four teenage girls who live on the same inner city estate. I play Viva’s love interest, a loveable badboy trying to do good by the name of Rocky (“cos I’m a fighter innit”). I believe it’s success has been down to it’s commitment to honesty. I can’t think of any other shows that truthfully depict young girls and the challenges they face growing up now. In my opinion this was the highest praise we could get: South-London school drama Some Girls doesn’t fall into the Skins trap and manages to portray teenage life realistically, says 16-year-old Grace Berger – The Guardian.

Damian: I’m thinking of getting my chest waxed (Christmas present for my partner – lucky girl!), any advice?

Jassa: TRIM! Trim before you wax. Half way through the procedure, tears in my eyes, the beautician “taking care” of me told me I should’ve trimmed. HALF WAY THROUGH!!! The smoothness is unrivaled though. Lucky girl indeed.

Damian: I was excited to hear about your film Journey to the Moon thinking it would be a H. G. Wells/Jules Verne kind of sci-fi thing but then I found out it was an all-singing, all-dancing cast of children playing adults! What’s up with that?

Jassa: Sorry to disappoint. That was the first film I ever did. I got the lead role through open auditions and pure obsession. I can’t remember how many auditions I went to. And the film’s not even been released! I hope it does find distribution some day. Netflix perhaps. It’s very fun and rather ridiculous. All the songs were written by the Monty Python musical geniuses Andre Jacquemin and Dave Howman.

Damian: I’ve heard you’ve done it on other projects but did you have to flirt with the casting director to get a part on Ripper Street?

Jassa: Maybe… I didn’t actually meet Kate but her assistant was rather lovely.

Damian: Tell us about tonight’s episode of Ripper Street and your character?

Jassa: I play telegraph boy Vincent Featherwell. A fiery young soul with dreams for the future. A future with his colleague and lover David Goodbody. Tonight’s episode is a powerful story about the forces that drive us and the conflicts therein.

Damian: Tonight marks the return of the fantastic writer Toby Finlay in the first of two episodes he’s written for the second series. Viewers will remember he also wrote two for the first series including one of my favourites, The Weight of One Man’s Heart, did you get to meet him and was he wearing that hat?

Jassa: It seems we have similar tastes dear boy! Though Tournament of Shadows was the crowning jewel of the first series for me. I try not to fanboy around Toby but I inevitably fail. We were all out for drinks together. A lot of drinks. There was point where people stopped ordering rounds and started getting bottles. I vaguely remember saying goodbye in the back of a taxi somewhere. But I distinctly recall that hat being ever present.

Damian: Toby’s scripts for the show are brilliant and he has a fantastic ear for dialogue but he has a strange fetish for flowers and indeed birds (I’ll remind the reader that your character is named Vincent Featherwell and the aforementioned episode features copious references to them including the metaphorical love birds Drake almost gives to Rose) – can we look forward to similar imagery tonight?

Jassa: You are clearly a much more astute viewer than I. I’m familiar with several of Toby’s fetishes but not this one. Though I have been a little preoccupied with Alfie’s character being named Goodbody. My hours in the gym are clearly wasted on Mr Finlay.

Damian: I’ve mentioned my previous acting experience and was wondering if you could have a word with series creator, Richard Warlow and get me a part on the show? – I don’t mind who I play so long as my character wears a top hat, a cape and sports one of those walking sticks with a sword hidden inside…

Jassa: My grandmother used to have one of those! If I can find it I’ll take an assisted stroll over to his office and have a word.

‘The Bible’ – based on a true story

Damian: You’ve just finished playing David in an epic American mini-series called The Bible – is this based on a true story?

Jassa: A book of some description I’m told.

Damian: So you’ve fought with Goliath, could you take down Damien Molony for me please? He’s not that great in a fight without Drake – plus, he’d probably be asleep anyway.

Jassa: Sure thing. I’m yet to take revenge on him for flicking me the Vs off screen while we were shooting my close ups. I have the sling at home.

Jassa on the set of ‘The Whale’

Damian: Tell us about your future projects – I’m excited by The Whale – will this be more Moby Dick or Free Willy?

Jassa: Dick and sperm. No killer Willy. It’s the most incredible piece of storytelling. A truly brilliant ensemble cast, including next week’s Ripper’s Paul Kaye. I recently went in to do ADR and I had to take a break I was so shaken by the power of what I was watching. It’s a one-off feature length drama for BBC One which tells the true story of the sinking of the whaleship essex by a sperm whale and the crew’s torturous struggle for survival. The event was the inspiration behind Moby Dick.

Damian: One final question, why do you drop your trousers in lifts?

Jassa: I only do it when I’m going down… Haha, no. I do it when I’m going up too. You really do do your homework don’t you?! I was in the lift with my mate James Cleave at the studios where we shoot Some Girls – he was the floor runner (and also the 1st AD on Modern Man). We were heading up to the production office. A big open plan area that the lift opens up onto. As the doors pinged open I dropped my trousers and ran out screaming, “JAMES!!! GET OFF ME!!!” Sadly the office was empty. He used the stairs for the rest of the shoot.

Damian: Jassa, thanks so much for doing this interview – you’re a great sport! I’ll meet you in the lift after the show…

To find out more about Jassa without my nonsense check out his website: http://www.jassaahluwalia.com/ and you can follow him on twitter: https://twitter.com/OfficialJassa

Link to the short film Modern Man: http://www.jassaahluwalia.com/producer/


Hey Richard, if you’re reading this, you still haven’t returned my calls. Listen, I’ve watched Mary Poppins several times so I’ve really nailed the cockney accent – what do you say? Even just a small part in the show would be fine Richard. Hello, Richard… Richard… RICHARD…

~ Damian Michael Barcroft ~



PLEASE NOTE: This interview originally appeared last November and both The Bible and The Whale were broadcast over the Christmas period in the UK.

Leanne Best talks RIPPER STREET

Damian Michael Barcroft previews tonight’s episode of RIPPER STREET in an exclusive interview with Leanne Best

Leanne Best plays Jane Cobden, the first woman to be elected to the London County Council as councillor for Bromley and Bow and upon whose shoulders the suffragette movement was formed. Cobden returns in tonight’s episode which its writer, Jamie Crichton, tells me will also feature the War of Currents, Irish Home Rule (championed by Parnell and Gladstone – one of the most divisive and consequential political issues of the time), Special Branch (now Counter Terrorism Command – formed in 1883 to combat The Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) – a precursor to the IRA. The IRB’s bombing campaign of England in the 1860s has been described as the inception of republican terrorism…

“Episode 4 concerns two compelling conflicts: the War of Currents and the police’s struggle to win the war against Irish republican terrorism. Detective Constable Flight plays a critical role but will he pass the test…?”

Jamie Crichton, writer of Ripper Street: Dynamite and a Woman



Photo copyright: Matthias Heurich

Photo copyright: Matthias Heurich

Damian: Hi Leanne and thanks for this. I wanted to begin by saying how lovely you looked in last week’s episode but I’m afraid you might go all Women’s Lib and hit me with your handbag…

Leanne: Thanks very much! I can’t take much of the credit I’m afraid as there is a whole lot of talented people responsible for my appearance in Ripper Street… and for the record I’ve got one hell of an aim with the ole hand-bag.

Damian: If I were to take you out on a date – and I’m not promising anything! – is it still OK for a gentleman to open the door for a lady and pay for the meal or is this so last century?

Leanne: It’s tricky isn’t it gender politics in the modern age! I think I’ll go with ‘if you ask me out you pay, if I ask you out I pay, if we end up going out let’s take turns o’ piece’. And I’ll open my own door ta.

Damian: Miley Cyrus – feminist icon or twerking twit?

Leanne: Oh Miley! Well I’m not fussed on twerking twit, but feminist icon makes me want to weep!

Damian: Before we talk about Ripper Street, I really want to ask you about your critically acclaimed one-woman play, The Match Box, which was written by the celebrated Irish playwright and poet Frank McGuinness and directed by BAFTA nominated Lia Williams. Can you tell me about your character Sal, because there were aspects of the story which were quite ambiguous at times?

Leanne: Sal is a single mother who was born in England to Irish parents. When the play begins she is living alone in a house on Valencia Island after her only daughter has been murdered in crossfire during a shooting whilst walking home from school. Sal strikes matches continually throughout the play referencing hell and the smell of sulphur and as the story unfolds the audience learn that the boys who are suspected of the shooting have died in sinister circumstances, and that something more than grief may be compelling Sal to share her story. There is something terrifying and dark about what the death of her child has done to her and what she may or may not have done to avenge her.

Got a light? Leanne as Sal in The Match Box

Got a light? Leanne as Sal in The Match Box

Damian: I just want to make this clear to the readers; there were no other actors, no props (except a single box of matches) so you were alone on stage for about 1 hour and forty minutes with only accompanying lighting and music. As someone who did quite a bit of acting myself during my student days, I’m both intrigued and terrified by this – was there ever a point where you wondered if you were up to this enormous challenge?

Leanne: Only every day! When I first read it I was floored by Frank’s astonishing play and Sal, so I was pretty consumed with landing the job as I really felt that I had to play her. It was only after I’d been cast, (and had a little jump up and down!), I realised I’d have to do it at some point in front of an actual audience… and cue panic attack! Seriously though, it was the challenge of it that was one of the reasons I wanted to do it and I learnt so much from it as an actor. I miss it and Sal a lot.

Damian: Describe the minutes leading up to the very first performance – just how nervous were you?

Leanne: Lia Williams is the most amazing director and we had a pretty intense bond working together so she gave me the most inspiring pep talk before I went on stage, but that final hour before the first preview was one of the loneliest of my life! I think I went into some sort of trance because I genuinely don’t remember the walk from the dressing room to the stage! Once the lights snapped up it was like someone clicked their fingers and I was off. It was one of the most special nights of my life.

Damian: You’ve said in a previous interview about the play that your body was registering grief during every night of the performance, what exactly did you mean by this?

Leanne: It was a pretty all consuming process, and the story was so devastating that it was one of only a few jobs where I carried the play around with me all the time. The final moment on stage embodied of all of the pain and anger and despair this woman felt at the murder of her daughter and it culminated in a sort of primal scream and a total physical collapse. After the show every night I would have to take a bit of time to steady myself as I felt sick and dizzy, and just a bit out of it. I think going it alone every night made it unlike anything I’d ever had to do before.

Damian: What’s this I hear about you performing on stage for Ben Elton in your pants?

Leanne: Aha! Where did you find that! It was my first job out of drama school in a production of Ben Elton’s play Popcorn. I played a news anchor covering a hostage situation and came out about 10 minutes before the end in my knickers and bra. Just to clarify it was a stage direction not a character choice and there was a good reason!

Damian: In addition to receiving rave reviews for your tour de force performance, you were the only female nominated for best performance in a play category at the Theatre Awards UK for your role as Sal in The Match Box, did this lead directly to your part in Ripper Street?

Leanne: The award nomination didn’t but the play definitely did. We had opened at the Liverpool  Playhouse sold out and extended for a month, then we transferred to the Tricycle Theatre in London the following summer.  The brilliant Kate Rhodes James who casts Ripper Street was at our press night in London and brought me in a few days later to meet for the part of Jane Cobden. I love that this job which I loved, came from The Match Box.

Leanne at the Theatre Awards the bloody show-off!

Damian: Let’s talk about Jane Cobden. I understand that she was quite a complex character who is perhaps best remembered for her pioneering political work in women’s rights and highlighting late Victorian concepts of gender. However, there was a lot more to her than that wasn’t there? – for example, she was never a single-issue politician and displayed an equal passion for causes such as Irish independence, anti-imperialism, free trade and Congo reform to name but a few. Given the much discussed shortage of strong female characters in television, it must be a huge thrill to play such an iconic figure in Victorian history?

Leanne:  It really was! My Auntie Nelly was a Suffragette, and it’s become a bit of a running joke in my family which is full of very strong, independant, eccentric women, ( I have a picture of my mum with Germaine Greer on my wall!). The lovely thing about researching Jane is exactly as you said, she was really complicated. As well as being a socialist and a feminist, she was also a bit of a card, whose social circle was full of artists and bohemians and people who were really frowned upon by ‘decent’ society. Lots of what I read painted a picture of someone devoted to her causes, and really bloody good fun! I’d like to sit down with our Jane over a few lemonades and chew the fat.

The real Jane Cobden – not bad but not as fit as our Leanne!

Damian: I’ve mentioned Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar’s work, The Madwoman in the Attic (1979), before in my writing on Ripper Street but I think it’s worth highlighting here again with reference to your character. Their text examines Victorian literature from a feminist perspective and highlights the male writer’s propensity to portray female characters as either “angel” or “monster”. It argues that women were written as either pure and angelic or rebellious and a threat to the more “reasoned and intellectual” man. Given the diverse range of female characters in Ripper Street, what would Gilbert and Gubar make of Long Susan, Rose and Jane Cobden?

Leanne: Well for the record I’m not sure that’s just a Victorian issue, or even one confined to drama! I think Ripper Street is really clever in it’s approach to female characters. At a glance they do conform to a stereotype, the prostitute and the madam for example, but the writing immediately subverts that. Yes they are  women who are defined by their circumstances and often the men around them, but they are striving constantly to break away from those constraints as best they can with what they have, in what is very definitely a man’s world, whilst the actresses who play them, (MyAnna and Charlene), do it with a grace, strength and complexity that makes them anything but cliches. I also think context is really important. The show is set during a period in history where there was little or no help for those born into poverty, and social mobility was almost non existent. Most likely if you were born poor you died poor and violence towards women especially those who were most vulnerable whether they worked in a brothel or the workhouse was commonplace. People like Jane Cobden devoted their lives to social reform to try to change that and I’m glad it’s touched upon as it can’t all be bonnets and high tea on the lawn. I also think it’s great that we see Jane Cobden not only as a politician, but as a woman who isn’t afraid to be forthright in her personal life at a time when the ideal woman was supposed to resemble a shrinking violet.

Damian: What can you tell us about tonight’s episode?

Leanne: I won’t give too much away but Reid and the boys are working on a case that involves the Irish independence movement and the ideologies that pitted the ballot box against the bomb. Flight goes undercover trying to infiltrate the organisation in London, and Reid finds himself in need of information that takes him back to the offices of a certain Jane Cobden.

Damian: Did you know that one of Jane Cobden’s sisters, Ellen Millicent Ashburner, was married to the artist Walter Sickert who is now a popular Jack the Ripper suspect?

Leanne:  I did not know that, and it makes me feel a bit icky.

Damian: Could make for an interesting spin-off – shall I have a word with Richard?

Leanne: Do it. Do it now. Do it quickly.

Jack the Ripper suspect Walter Sickert

Jack the Ripper suspect Walter Sickert

Damian: Now there was more than a little chemistry going on between Jane and Inspector Reid in last week’s episode. The good inspector has been particularly morose of late, could you be the one to finally lift his spirits?

Leanne: Listen, our Jane is all about public service and if the good Inspector is in need of a lift, I’m sure she’s the woman for the job.

Damian: What can we look forward to seeing you in next?

Leanne: I’ĺl be appearing in ‘Lucan’ as Sandra Rivett at the end of the year, and I pop up in the third installment of David Hare’s ‘Worricker Trilogy’ with Billl Nighy and Helena Bonham Carter. I’m currently filming The Woman in Black: Angel of Death in London playing the Woman herself. Back in a corset again except this time I’m dead!

Damien in a scene from tonight's episode, Dynamite and a Woman

Damien with Charlie Murphy in a scene from tonight’s episode, Dynamite and a Woman

Damian: Final question and possibly the most important. Whitechapel just ain’t big enough for two chaps with the same first name – so, it’s either Damien Molony or me! Let’s dish some dirt and be rid of him – tell me something bad about him – does he kick puppies or steal sweets from little children perhaps?

Leanne: All of the above. What else begins with D??? Diva that’s what… (actually the rumours are true… he’s a lovely bloke and a brilliant actor but don’t tell him i said so).

Damian: Leanne, thank you so much indeed for this interview – you’re the best!

Leanne: B’Boom! (love what you did there D…thanks) xx

I would also like to express my thanks to Jamie Crichton

 ~ Damian Michael Barcroft ~




Damian Michael Barcroft previews tonight’s RIPPER STREET in an exclusive interview with Charlene McKenna

Season 2: Episode 3: Become Man


MAR 09 – 12:00AM – BBC AMERICA

DAMIAN: Charlene, it’s really great to have you back and thanks so much for talking to us about Rose and Ripper Street.

CHARLENE: Thank you for talking to me.

D: Where have you been these past two weeks – we’ve missed you?

C: Ah, good things come to those who wait…

D: Indeed, I understand from interviewing other members of the Ripper Street cast that Rose has quite a journey in series two, what can you tell us without revealing spoilers?

C: She does indeed. My story kicks off properly further into the series. Rose is trying to make that better life for herself. The one she told Bennet she wanted. Trying being the operative word. She is no longer in Tenter Street but let’s just say it’s not easy getting ahead as a woman in Victorian London. And with Bennet gone and married, she’s very alone. *sobs*

D: More specifically, tell us about tonight’s episode and the return of Rose Erskine?

C: Tonight we see a glimpse into Rose’s world and where she has been, we enter the world of the Victorian music hall.

Rose in a scene from tonight’s episode

D: I remember trying to warn you quite a few times in series one to stop wandering off with strange men but Rose just wouldn’t listen, is she a little more streetwise this second time around?

C: Ha. You and me both. Rose is streetwise and was then, but she was a victim of circumstance. She never wanted to get into a black maria with strange men but had no choice. And as for Mr. Cordial (Victor Silver played by David Oakes), she thought she was going on a date with a gentleman in a park. This season she goes to places she should never dare but she is on a mission. A mission very close to her heart.

D: Now, on the subject of men – there were two events in series one that really upset the fans – one was the death of the much missed Hobbs and the other was when you broke poor Drake’s heart – can you please explain yourself young lady?

C: Poor Hobbs! I am certain he is haunting Leman St. As for Rose and Bennet, the never ending story. Rose was chasing a dime losing a treasure. She couldn’t see what was right in front of her. But she is not the type of girl to settle. She has big dreams and aspirations and wants to follow them and in that I think she is very brave. A tad naive maybe but there is armor in her youth. No one gave her credit for that and for her honesty in telling him it straight. She didn’t lead him on. However she may deeply regret letting him go…

Rose and Drake

Rose and Drake in series 1

D: Drake now seems happily married to another fallen lady, Bella – any regrets?

C: Oh don’t start me on BELLA, haha… lets just say she ain’t all she’s cracked up to be.

D: Whatever romantic encounters you might have in series two, please tell me they don’t involve Detective Constable Albert Flight – Molony this and Molony that is all I’ve heard for the past few weeks – what’s that Damien got that this Damian hasn’t?

C: Haha…oh have you not heard Rose and Flight are making a spin off?! Our DamIEN has so much. Where does one start? Great jumpers! He has great jumpers. Oh and buckets of talent, humour, grace, charm he was a pleasure to be around and work with everyday. We laughed a lot.

D: Everyone has such lovely things to say about you whenever I mention your name. Mark Dexter couldn’t sing your praises high enough and I did an interview with MyAnna Buring recently in which we spoke of your wonderful chemistry together, is it a sisterly or motherly bond between Rose/Susan and perhaps even Charlene/MyAnna?

C: I pay a lot of people a lot of money for all those nice things to be said. Mark was a joy to work with and that meant a lot considering the content of what we were filming. MyAnna and I are tight as nun’s knickers (is it ok to use that expression?). Rose/Long Susan I would say motherly, MyAnna and me? Definitely sisterly. We snot and sing and laugh all over each other.

MyAnna & Charlene/Long Susan & Rose

MyAnna & Charlene/Long Susan & Rose

D: You are currently appearing at the Almeida Theatre [this ended last November] in a production of Ghosts – is this in the Demi Moore or Whoopi Goldberg role?

C: Who do you think?? Goldberg!

D: You might be too young to remember this but Robson & Jerome did a cracking cover of Unchained Melody – whatever happened to those guys?

C: Of course I remember. Not to mention Saturday Night at the Movies, nice quiff Jerome!! I don’t know, they were clearly bursting with talent, though I’m glad it’s over so we can have Jerome on Ripper with us.

D: Seriously now, your production of Henrik Ibsen’s Ghosts has received great reviews so many congratulations indeed. It’s been adapted and directed by Richard Eyre, was it slightly daunting working with someone who has had such a significant impact on the world of theatre, opera, film and television – not to mention the fact that he was Director of the National Theatre for many years and even Knighted for his services to the arts?

C: Thank you. It’s been amazing. Yeah you could say that. I was sent to his house and told I would be allowed to read the scene once. The end. Uhhh ok… so I did, then he asked me to read it all (the play), he told me to “busk it”, so I did, and I was offered the part within the hour. Gulp!

D: Having said that, you’re no stranger to critical acclaim yourself – where do you keep your awards including the IFTA for best actress?

C: They are all tucked in safely at home with my mammy and daddy.

Charlene and her IFTA Television Award

D: You play Regina Engstrand in Ghosts who is a character wanting desperately to escape from the lower classes and isn’t afraid to use sex in her pursuit of upward mobility – echoes of Rose perhaps?

C: In some ways, yes, they are two women trapped by their circumstances and wanting out. But Regina doesn’t actually use sex just her appeal, she is a lot more innocent than Rose. Rose is more street and been exposed to much more harsh realities. Regina is an opportunistic girl alright but she’s a virgin and has grew up on a very remote island. The two girls do share some similarities but I see them as very different.

D: What will you be up to when Ghosts ends at the end of this month?

C: We are going into the West-end I believe. Life does indeed imitate art!

D: I’ve previously got myself into a spot of bother for choosing favourites amongst the ladies at Tenter Street so I won’t make the same mistake again although there can be little harm in concluding with a quote from one of my very favourite episodes, “Nothing’s more lovely than a Rose”. Thank you Charlene – Adieu!

C: ‘Til you get pricked by the thorns…. Thank you so much for talking to me.


All images from 'Ghosts' are copyright of Hugo Glendinning

All images from ‘Ghosts’ are copyright of Hugo Glendinning

Charlene as Regina Engstrand and Leslie Manville as Helene Alving

Charlene as Regina Engstrand and Leslie Manville as Helene Alving

Charlene with Brian McCardie as Jacob Engstrand

Charlene with Brian McCardie as Jacob Engstrand

Elva Trill Interview – we talk Ripper Street, some bloke called Damien Molony and erm, scuba diving!

Damian Michael Barcroft talks to guest lead Elva Trill in an exclusive interview previewing tonight’s second episode of Ripper StreetAm I Not Monstrous?

Damian: Hi Elva and thanks for doing this. You must be excited about tonight?

Elva: I’m really excited and curious to see all the drama unfold!

D: Will you be watching the show tonight as it airs?

E: Absolutely! I will be watching it with my family. We have nibbles and wine at the ready.

A dramatic scene from tonight's episode 2: "Am I Not Monstrous?"

A dramatic scene from tonight’s episode 2: “Am I Not Monstrous?”

D: Last week’s opener was an incredibly powerful episode but tonight’s is particularly intense isn’t it?

E: Yes it is. Every episode is sort of a mini drama in itself isn’t it really? This one is compelling from the outset. It highlights a mother’s love entwined with copious amounts of fear and being faced with the challenge of making the right choice.

D: What can you tell us about your character, Stella Brooks – without revealing any spoilers?

E: She is an incredibly strong and courageous young woman, and as you will all see tonight she is a little bit different….

RIPPER STREET: Elva as Stella Brooks

D: We were introduced to Joseph Merrick, better known as the Elephant Man in the last episode and he also has a significant role in tonight’s story, do you share any scenes with him?

E: Unfortunately I don’t. Our paths crossed on set but not on film. I had the pleasure of seeing him in action during rehearsal and he is an incredible actor and a gentleman.

The stunning make-up by Waldo Mason Effects Ltd

The stunning make-up by Waldo Mason Effects Ltd

D: Merrick is played by Joseph Drake in a remarkable performance and the make-up by Waldo Mason Effects is simply stunning, you must have sometimes felt rather overwhelmed by the whole scale of production?

E:  Waldo is a genius in his field. The way he helped physically transform the actors into their character is truly astonishing. It was sometimes difficult to separate reality from fantasy because the effects were so realistic but it did make for some very interesting and fun days on set.

D: I believe that tonight’s episode also features another attraction – the eagerly anticipated introduction of a certain Det. Con. Albert Flight played by someone called Damien Molony. Apparently he has an army of fans out there going absolutely crazy about this and although I suppose he’s not a bad looking lad – seriously, what’s all the fuss about?

E: I am not surprised that he has an army of fans. He is a brilliant actor and also very pleasing to the eye and I’m sure we’ll be seeing a lot more of him.

The introduction of Damien Molony as Detective Albert Flight

D: Describe how you came to be cast in Ripper Street?

E:  I had the great fortune of attending the Factory Screen Acting Programme this year where I met and briefly worked with Louise Kiely. I was originally asked to read for a different part but after meeting the director Tom Shankland I was subsequently cast as Stella as Tom felt I was more suited to this role.

D: The filming took place in Dublin and I was wondering if the show is popular in Ireland?

E: Hugely so. It has an ardent fan base in Ireland. This isn’t surprising as it is a wonderfully written and directed production.

D: I can imagine there are plenty of Irish actors all scrambling to get a part in the show?

E: Of course, for all actors starting out especially, it can be very difficult to get offers of good work let alone work on a great show like Ripper Street. Without doubt the Factory Screen acting course has been a huge benefit to me personally when sourcing roles and my fellow “Factorians” are also being offered great roles which is wonderful.

D: I noticed on one of your acting profiles that it lists scuba diving as one of your special skills – is this what they’re teaching young actors in drama schools these days?

E:  Ha, no! but I was born in Sligo on the North West coast of Ireland which is renowned for the best surfing in the world. Water sports were a big part of my childhood but I am also a big believer in being prepared. I have taken courses in firearms, archery, horse riding and scuba diving as you mentioned. So just incase Angelina Jolie isn’t available for Lara Croft 3 – I will be ready! 🙂

D: And what’s this about you writing music and short stories?

E: Yes I sing and I love to write songs and stories. I hope someday to combine the two – acting and singing. If ever they are making a sequel to Les Mis I hope they look me up. I am available ha!

Elva as Josephine Brown

Elva as Josephine Brown

D: Before Ripper Street, you were in Am an Ghatair [Troubled Times] which won an Irish Film and Television Academy Award, wasn’t this the true story of Josephine Brown?

E: It is a story about the life of Josephine Brown who became a spy for the IRA during the time of the troubles in the early part of the twentieth century. She did this in an effort to get custody of her son. She too was a hugely courageous strong young woman who knew that her death would be the outcome if she was found out. It was an honour to play her in this wonderful production directed by Paddy Hayes

D: What are you working on at the moment – didn’t you recently film a comedy?

E: I have just finished Play Next Door- Shine On for RTE directed by Charlie McCarthy. It is a one hour drama based in Bray, co. Wicklow. I play the character Sandra, an aspiring singer torn between her two loves, music and the man in her life. The comedy you mentioned is a pilot called ‘Artists’ that is about struggling actors in Ireland and pokes fun at the industry. There is also nice project in the pipeline for next year. Fingers crossed!

D: Thanks for taking the time to talk to us about Ripper Street – can’t wait to see your episode tonight!

E: My pleasure. I hope you enjoy it. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to talk to you about Ripper Street.

~ Damian Michael Barcroft ~

Season 2: Episode 2

Am I Not Monstrous?

MAR 01 – 09:00PM – BBC AMERICA

Mar 02 – 12:00AM – BBC AMERICA


Images from the award winning drama-documentary Am an Ghatair starring Elva Trill as Josephine Brown

Joseph Merrick – the Elephant Man FAQ

Joseph Carey Merrick


The true story of Joseph Carey Merrick, better known to the world as “the Elephant Man”, is as dramatic and indeed tragic as anything that television and filmmakers could ever attempt to portray onscreen. However, Joseph’s story is also an inspiring one that I hope will perhaps serve to remind the reader that courage and determination can prevail over any perceived disability or disfigurement.

The combined talents of creator/writer Richard Warlow, director Tom Shankland, Waldo Mason’s stunning special make-up effects and not least the man who brings Mr. Merrick physically to life – actor Joseph Drake, have somehow managed to fuse historical fact with unique artistry to produce one of the best episodes of Ripper Street so far. Therefore, I thought it might prove useful to address the inevitable misconceptions with the following frequently asked questions…

Joseph as portrayed in episode two of "Ripper Street: Am I Not Monstrous?"

Joseph as portrayed in episode two of “Ripper Street: Am I Not Monstrous?”

Why is the Elephant Man sometimes referred to as “John Merrick”?

Most people’s first introduction to the Elephant Man was the excellent 1980 film directed by the visionary David Lynch in which John Hurt portrays him as John Merrick. This mistake is because Sir Frederick Treves (Merrick’s doctor and friend) himself even refers to him as John in his various writings on the subject including The Elephant Man And Other Reminiscences. There are various theories as to why this was the case including that he wanted the reader to identify Joseph with the everyman or simply that he himself called him John.

It is also worth noting that the film accurately portrays Merrick, his deformity and most of the various events of his life although not in the chronological order in which they are presented.

The stunning make-up by Waldo Mason Effects Ltd

Was Joseph deformed at birth?

Joseph looked like any other child at birth and it was not until he was about one that he showed the first sign of disfigurement which was a small swelling inside his upper lip. Additionally, aged just four, he injured his left hip joint in a fall which became diseased leaving him permanently disabled.

What did Joseph actually suffer from?

This has been debated over many years with several leading doctors and scientists all having various different theories. However, most recently it is agreed that Joseph’s condition was either Proteus Syndrome (overgrowth of bone that grow on existing bone/skin) or Neurofibromatosis (tumours that grow around nerve endings). He also developed a heart condition and severe episodes of bronchitis.

Joseph Merrick played by the acclaimed stage actor Joseph Drake

Joseph Merrick played by the acclaimed stage actor Joseph Drake

How did Joseph die?

Joseph died Friday, 11th April 1890 from a weakened heart and most significantly, the weight of his head cutting off his air supply. Joseph had to sleep in an upright position because of the size of his head (36 inches around). Treves wrote that Joseph often spoke of his wish to sleep as others did and believes this is what caused his death. However, the autopsy report simply states that he was found dead lying on his back.

Could Joseph have been Jack the Ripper?

NO! Joseph was incapable of running, only had the full use of one arm and his appearance was rather distinctive – I’m guessing he’d have been caught during the first murder, let alone the fifth! Leading historians and Ripperologists are uncertain as to the origin of Joseph as a Jack the Ripper suspect although we know that entrepreneur Tom Norman exhibited Joseph in Whitechapel Road and in 1888 (the year of the murders), another businessman was displaying wax models of the Ripper’s victims in the same building.

Did Michael Jackson buy Joseph’s skeleton?

AGAIN, NO! Some of Joseph’s remains were buried in an unmarked grave and his skeleton is still kept safely at the Royal London Hospital.


If you would like to learn more about Joseph Merrick, I recommend the book Measured By the Soul: The Life of Joseph Carey Merrick by Jeanette Sitton and Mae Siu-Wai Stroshane who also created the following tribute website: http://www.josephcareymerrick.com/

Proceeds from this book will benefit Proteus Syndrome treatment and research.

Proceeds from this book will benefit Proteus Syndrome treatment and research.

All Ripper Street images and content are copyright of BBC/Tiger Aspect Productions

Damian Michael Barcroft



Exclusive preview of tonight’s RIPPER STREET with MyAnna Buring

AA_ripperstreet_390x220_s2_ad_01RIPPER STREET
Season 2 – Episode 1: Pure as the Driven
Feb 22 – 9:00PM – EST – BBC AMERICA
FEB 23 – 12:00AM – EST – BBC AMERICA

Writer/historian Damian Michael Barcroft talks to MyAnna Buring in an exclusive interview previewing tonight’s eagerly anticipated return to RIPPER STREET…

Damian: Hi MyAnna and thanks so much for taking the time to tell us a little bit about tonight’s episode. Well, it’s been quite a ride! The first series of Ripper Street was a huge success and here we are again, less than a year later talking about the second – it’s been quite a turnaround hasn’t it?

MyAnna: This episode should bring Ripper Street crashing back into people’s living rooms. The scripts are action packed and existing characters and new ones have challenging and intriguing journeys for audiences to join them on… We’ve had so much fun returning to this world and these roles so we hope audiences enjoy it as much this time round as we have.

D: In all honesty, I had some initial concerns about how quickly Ripper Street was resuming production. Indeed, the last episode of series one was only broadcast in February (in the UK) and I believe filming began in April/May. However, having seen the first episode of series two, all doubts were quickly put aside within the first five minutes – it literally packs quite a punch doesn’t it?

M: Yes it does pack a punch. Richard Warlow doesn’t hold back nor does Tom Shankland our first block director. I think everyone felt there would be no point returning if we didn’t do so in a big way…

D: Was it difficult to arrange the schedules around filming, I mean Ripper Street has quite an impressive ensemble cast and you’re all very busy with other projects – not least yourself and Downton Abbey?

M: It worked out well… Agents and producers are very clever at juggling shooting schedules… Personally I like being busy doing things I love. And I love playing Long Susan and Edna.

D: Just between you, me and a couple thousand followers – we promise not tell either Richard Warlow or Julian Fellowes – what’s your favourite show, Ripper or Downton or is this like asking Sophie to choose between one of her children?

M: Don’t force me to do a Sophie! I love them both.

D: So, series two and you’ve no idea how many emails and tweets I’ve had asking when Ripper Street returns over the last year. There really is a huge fanbase for the show and its characters. Without upsetting the BBC and having them send the boys from H Division banging at my door, what can you tell us about Long Susan in the new series?

M: This season we get to witness Long Susan go through huge changes. Just as falling in love and marrying Jackson once upon a time set wheels in motion that would have irreversible consequences for her and her life, so does  what we see her go through this season change her forever… Two new characters in particular will effect her deeply.

D: There’s a beautiful scene between yourself and Captain Homer Jackson (Adam Rothenberg) in the opening episode but Susan is in quite a dark place isn’t she?

M: Jackson and Susan are very much together now- together trying to recreate some semblance of marital bliss the best way they know how. However, they are facing a serious economic crisis and Susan is being blackmailed by a vindictive Whitechapel gangster… He hangs like a dark, dangerous threat over her hopes for calm and happiness.

D: I must say that one of my favourite elements of the show are the scenes between Susan and Rose (Charlene McKenna). Charlene doesn’t appear in the first episode but can we look forward to more scenes with the two of you because you both have a wonderful chemistry together?

M: I love Charlene- personally and as an actress… So our scenes are always great fun to play and yes there will be more of those to come. Rose has a great story line this season…her and Susan are friends and there is a distinctly maternal sense of responsibility that Long Susan feels for Rose. She will go to great lengths to look out for her and help her achieve her dreams.

D: Long Susan always looks immaculate onscreen but she can get down and dirty with the best of them during a fight scene. Do you enjoy these action sequences as much as Susan seems to?

M: I do enjoy action sequences. As long as they are properly rehearsed. G our fight coordinator is so creative and supportive- the work he does on Ripper Street is fantastic. How a character reacts to threats, violence, attack tells you a lot about them, and Long Susan will not go down without a fight.

D: MyAnnna, it’s been an absolute privilege to speak with you – thanks very much indeed.

M: Thank you. Hope you and all your readers enjoy the next season!

~ Damian Michael Barcroft ~
On twitter? Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Whitechapel. I’ll be your illicit guide through the dark and bloody RIPPER STREET…
Follow @RipperStreet and @MrDMBarcroft for more exclusive interviews and news!
Season 2 – Episode 1: Pure as the Driven
Feb 22 – 9:00PM – EST – BBC AMERICA
FEB 23 – 12:00AM – EST – BBC AMERICA

Exclusive preview of tonight’s RIPPER STREET with Aaron Ly

Season 2 – Episode 1: Pure as the Driven
Feb 22 – 9:00PM – EST – BBC AMERICA
FEB 23 – 12:00AM – EST – BBC AMERICA

Writer/historian Damian Michael Barcroft talks exclusively with the actor/fight performer and choreographer, Aaron Ly who stars in tonight’s episode of RIPPER STREET…

AA_ripperstreet_390x220_s2_ad_01Damian: Thank you very much for speaking with me Aaron. It’s a real privilege and I’m going to be very careful about what questions to ask because I’ve seen you in the first episode and you’re a bit scary – do you promise not to beat me up?

Aaron: Now that depends on what you ask, only kidding.  It is a pleasure to speak with you too.

D: Aaron, you’ve already accumulated quite an impressive list of screen credits: Skyfall, World War Z and The Fast & Furious 6 to name but a few and you haven’t even been in the business that long have you?

A: No not long.  Many of my credits have come from my ability as a fight performer.  There are also not that many oriental actors who have trained in both acting and martial arts.

D: You were raised in a family of martial artists, what particular fighting styles do you practice?

A: I originally trained in traditional kung fu, and more westernised arts like boxing and kick boxing. But these days I practice no specific fighting style, when I train I practice non telegraphed striking from a relaxed state and interception using a wooden dummy.

D: Which martial artists have you found most inspiring, I believe there was a particularly significant encounter when you were seventeen?

A: I find inspiration from all styles of martial arts but I think it is up to the unique individual to find what is useful to them and make it theirs.  Yes, in my teens I met an old Wing Chun teacher, he opened my eyes to a more scientific approach to martial arts.  He taught me the forms but more importantly, he taught me how to forget the forms and make my movements instinctive.

D: Can you tell me about the influence Bruce Lee had on you as a child?

A: To the surprise of many, as a child, not much. It was only as a young adult did he really influence me after reading his literature.  His training and philosophy on life really affected me. His books took me years to read because every time I came across an idea I applied it to my own training before I read any more.

D: I understand that you are very passionate about Hong Kong cinema – I was wondering which particular films and actors you admire?

A: There are so many, where do I start!  I’m a great fan of early films of Chow Yun Fat, Leslie Cheung and Andy Lau.  In terms of action films; Jackie Chan, Jet Li and Donnie Yen are my heroes.

D: On the subject of fighting, do you sometimes sit in a restaurant or bar and look round and think, “Yeah, I could take anyone of these guys”?

A: No, not like that.  But I have a habit of visualizing people attacking me when I walk past them in the street.  So it’s more like, “What if this guy strikes me at this distance, can I intercept?”

D: It must be cool though to know you could take care of yourself should you ever run into trouble?

A: Martial Arts is more of a way of life now, sounds cheesy I know.  But there is an art in training, for striking or defending, and it is expressing this art which inspires me to train. So I never think of it like that.

D: Seriously though, there are many angry kids out there who have channelled their frustrations into things like martial arts and have found a real sense of peace and self worth. Have you found this to be the case in your experience?

A: To a certain extent, yes.  When times are tough I always turn to my training, because your training will never betray you; whatever amount you put in, you get back in results.

D: Is it true that you were quite shy as a child yourself?

A: Yes, I was quite the introvert and didn’t have many friends.  Spent most my time with martial arts and watching movies.

D: I believe your parents wanted you to get a regular job as oppose to pursuing a career in film and television?

A: Yes, I guess most Chinese parents of my generation were like that.  They wanted me to be a doctor or accountant.

D: In 2010 you decided to pursue your dream of becoming an actor – what prompted such a drastic life change?

A: I always had a dream of becoming an actor, but that was almost shunned upon in my community. In 2010 I was at that point in my life where I needed to decide what I ultimately wanted in life; if I was to give up everything to pursue this dream or forever forget about it.

Aaron Ly as Wong King-Fai and Kunjue Li in tonight's 'Ripper Street'

Aaron Ly as Wong King-Fai and Kunjue Li in tonight’s ‘Ripper Street’

D: How did you come to be cast in Ripper Street?

A:  I went to the audition and talked a lot about the character; where he came from, how he moved, what martial arts he learnt, his glory, his passions, his family, everything.  Then, without being asked to, I got up and did a couple of moves in the auditioning room which was tiny, explaining how he should be fast with vigour but at the same time not flashy.  I left the audition thinking maybe I was a bit too over-enthusiastic, soon later I was offered the part.

D: Without giving away too much of the plot, what can you tell us about your character Wong King-Fai in tonight’s episode?

A: Mmm…  he’s on a mission and he’ll let no one stand in his way.

D: There is some pretty amazing and intense fighting in the opening episode – did you help to choreograph this?

A: Yes, along with an amazing stunt team.  I did a lot of research on martial arts styles from Southern China during that time period, but a lot of the techniques were not used to keep the character more direct and gritty.

D: There’s a couple of fight scenes with Detective Sergeant Bennet Drake played by Jerome Flynn, well he’s getting on a bit now bless him, did you have to slow things down for him?

A: HAHA..  Jerome is great to work with and pretty swift with his billy club.

D: What can we look forward to seeing you in next?

A: I’m in talks about a British made martial arts movie at the moment, but it’s still early days.  I really think we can do more for this genre and see more martial arts action on TV.

D: Aaron, you are brilliant in Ripper Street and it’s been great to talk to you – I wish you every success and happiness in the future.

A: It’s been a pleasure, Damian.  Thank you for having me.


I’m very pleased to report that I survived the interview without a scratch. For more information about Aaron and his inspiring career, please visit his official website: www.aaronlyofficial.com

Also, please check out Aaron’s short film Handuken which was shortlisted in the Virgin Media shorts competition:


Scenes from 'Handuken'

Scenes from ‘Handuken’

Season 2 – Episode 1: Pure as the Driven
Feb 22 – 9:00PM – EST – BBC AMERICA
FEB 23 – 12:00AM – EST – BBC AMERICA
~ Damian Michael Barcroft ~
On twitter? Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Whitechapel. I’ll be your illicit guide through the dark and bloody RIPPER STREET…
Follow @RipperStreet and @MrDMBarcroft for more exclusive interviews and news!