Tag Archives: Will Gould

RIPPER STREET 5 interview with Adam Rothenberg

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

A NIGHT ON RED MOUNTAIN

An exclusive interview with

Adam Rothenberg

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With special thanks to Toby Finlay

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

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

– Jackson in A Stronger Loving World

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ADAM: Honestly… I have no idea.

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

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

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

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

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

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

ADAM: Yes I think so.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It meant the world to me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But then eventually Susan exerts control again…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That sounds pretty Westerny to me.

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

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

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

But I think eventually there grew real affection between them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Me and Matt giving Toby a flask”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ADAM: Thanks Damian. It was a pleasure.

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

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RIPPER STREET 5 interview with writer Toby Finlay

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

 

Il miglior fabbro:

He do the Police in Different Voices

An exclusive interview

with Toby Finlay

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

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

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

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***NOTE ON SPOILERS***

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

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

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

DAMIAN: What exactly is a story consultant?

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

Toby and Richard

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

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

DAMIAN: And have you beat him yet?

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

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

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

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

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

Toby with the “Godfather”

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

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

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

TOBY: Jesus I dunno, creepy uncle?

Will, Jerome and creepy uncle.

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

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

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

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

DAMIAN: Were either yourself or Richard disappointed?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DAMIAN: Do you dream much, Toby?

TOBY: When I’m awake.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TOBY: No.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~~~

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

~

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

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

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

~

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

~

A gift from Adam

 

RIPPER STREET 5 interview with the casting directors

CASTING RIPPER STREET

An exclusive interview with Kate Rhodes James

And Louise Kiely

Interview copyright © Damian Michael Barcroft 2017

~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LOUISE: Nope, thank heavens.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

KATE: I can’t answer that!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DAMIAN: And Long Susan and Rose?

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

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

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

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

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

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

DAMIAN: Did Matthew or Jerome actually audition?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

KATE:  Pleasure!

LOUISE: Welcome!

~~~

Interview copyright © Damian Michael Barcroft 2017
All the interviews and articles on this website are original and exclusive and I would ask that the copyright be respected. Therefore, please do not use quotes or any other information contained here without permission. Thank you.

~

RIPPER STREET 5 interview with Visual Effects Supervisor Ed Bruce

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

An exclusive RIPPER STREET interview

with Visual Effects Supervisor

~ ED BRUCE ~

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

~

Down these Ripper streets Ed must go

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ED: In short, I met a girl.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On location in the streets of Dublin

Ed at the Natural History Museum, Dublin

Nicholas Murphy

Nicholas with colour chart ball

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hyde Park

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

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

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

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

ED: Oh yes. We’ve had a little fun.

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

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

DAMIAN: What projects are you currently working on?

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

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

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

DAMIAN: Ed, thank you very much indeed.

ED: Thank you Damian.

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

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

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

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

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

~~~

All the interviews and articles on this website are original and exclusive and I would ask that the copyright be respected. Therefore, please do not use quotes or any other information contained here without permission. Thank you.
Interview copyright © Damian Michael Barcroft 2017
Ripper Street images copyright © Ed Bruce/Screen Scene/Tiger Aspect Productions 2016

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

~

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.

fink4

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:

http://dmbarcroft.com/an-exclusive-interview-with-writer-toby-finlay/

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

https://twitter.com/MrDMBarcroft

~~~

fink2

Ripper Street Interview with MyAnna Buring

Hard Medicine and Bad Money

An exclusive Ripper Street interview with MyAnna Buring

Interview copyright © Damian Michael Barcroft 2015

Damian: At the conclusion of our previous interview for series two of Ripper Street, we briefly mentioned the stage production of Strangers on a Train produced by Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson which you’d just begun rehearsing. What was it like to work with the custodians of the James Bond franchise?

MyAnna: Great fun. Barbara was very hands on and has a work ethic, generosity, and positivity that is simply extraordinary. I know that might sound over the top but she is a very impressive human being and great to work with. Having met them it is not surprising that her and Michael have managed to keep the legend of Bond flourishing all this time.

Damian: While we’re on the subject of trains… No, I’m only joking – it’s more than my life is worth to reveal too much for those who haven’t seen it yet. However, I’m reminded of our discussion about the series two opener last year when you said that “the episode should bring Ripper Street crashing back into people’s living rooms”. Do you think Whitechapel Terminus, the first episode of series three tops this?

MyAnna: I think it does. I must have some sixth sense to have phrased it so last year – or maybe my phrasing last year planted some seeds, subliminally, in the writers minds? Or not… In any case, the show is definitely coming crashing back into living rooms once again.

© Tiger Aspect

© Tiger Aspect

Damian: Previous press releases have promised that we will see you returning in more of a “starring role” this time. Was this something that you personally championed for or is it simply the natural evolution of Long Susan’s character given the story and plot lines for series three?

MyAnna: No – you can’t champion for such things… if the story doesn’t have a place for you then it doesn’t. You can’t force it to, and it is not my place to force writers to write for me if they don’t feel it’s right – I would never even attempt such a ludicrous thing! Having said that, I have always felt that Rose, Susan, and Cobden were integral characters in the show, so it makes sense that we continue to be so… Richard Warlow and the producers had always had an idea that this is where Susan would end up in her character arc – a kind of Godfather of Whitechapel is how they put it to me – and as Richard, Toby [Finlay], and Will [Gould – executive producer] mapped out this season they felt it was right to go there and I am very glad and grateful they did, as she, as always, was such fun to play.

© Tiger Aspect

© Tiger Aspect

Damian: Series creator/lead writer, Richard Warlow, and Toby Finlay, who has written more episodes than any of the other contributing writers have provided Susan with many outstanding dramatic scenes and dialogue over the past three years but I’m wondering who knows your character best. Do you ever give Richard or Toby notes on their scripts with reference to Long Susan Hart?

MyAnna: Toby and Richard both get Long Susan and as they’ve gotten to know me I have definitely found Susan using language that I myself use – for example, words such as ‘delicious’ crept into Susan’s vocabulary this year which is a very me thing to say… Also I think they know all of us actors so well now – not only personally, but also what we can do as actors – and they seem to have written very much with that knowledge in mind – this season in particular I’ve noticed that… I’ve never given them notes, although we’ve had chats about where we feel Susan is emotionally – just to confirm that we are on the same page.

Damian: You’ll undoubtedly remember some negative comments regarding the portrayal of women when the first episode of Ripper Street was broadcast back in 2012 and before such hasty commentators had even given the show, or indeed, its female characters a chance to evolve. So, it’s with a certain degree of amusement to observe that Susan, in addition to exhibiting enormous strength and determination herself, has chosen to align herself with some incredibly powerful women such as Jane Cobden (Leanne Best returning in her role from series two) who was the first woman to be elected to the London County Council and helped shape the women’s suffragette movement, and also Dr. Amelia Frayn (a new character played by Sherlock’s Louise Brealey) partially inspired by Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, Whitechapel-born political campaigner and the first Englishwoman to qualify as a doctor. “Obsidian” was introduced at the end of the last series, can you tell us a little bit about how this has now transformed into a clinic and Susan’s relationship with Jane and Amelia?

MyAnna: Yes even as a feminist – I struggled a little with the misogynistic comments… It is absolutely important in our industry that we keep an eye out for the messages we put across in our story-telling: we do still live in a society where there is inequality and in a culture where casual sexism, racism, prejudice does not help to address this inequality… we need to insist on change.

It is to be celebrated that we can voice our concerns, and as valid and right as that sometimes is, I would argue that at other times this right allows us to make bold statements about whether or not something is or isn’t misogynistic based on a crumb of evidence: one scene, one image… a little more attention may reveal the context in which the scene is shot and may flip our initial knee jerk reactions to it.

RipperStreet is at its core, structurally, a procedural cop drama set in the streets of Whitechapel – streets still reeling from the violent aftermath of Jack the Ripper’s horrific murders of local prostitutes. At its helm is a male police officer flanked by two “helpers” – one brains and one brawn – (there were no female police officers at the time, and even though the show takes liberties with the truth – there are certain constraints by which it abides in order to make the “world” of the show believable).

This is the core structure of Ripper Street and it is the streets of Victorian Whitechapel – this dirty, poor, socially unjust back drop against which all the Ripper Street characters wrestle out their lives… it is against this back drop that the characters question and challenge, and try to fight the misogyny, the corruption, the social and moral bankruptcy – without the images of inequality all around them the show could not make a case for the importance to fight it… the characters are not necessarily any of those things themselves – Reid, Drake, and Jackson are all supporters for the most part of the women in their lives, I feel they are quite evolved in this respect, and the women they are surrounded by are to a large extent written as fully fleshed out humans like the men are as opposed to simply caricatures – if they are victims of their circumstance then I would argue that all the characters in Ripper Street – male and female are fighting those very circumstances.

The nature of a TV show means that some characters develop quicker than others in order to drive the story telling – which is perhaps why some of the female characters may have felt less developed to begin with… It takes time to get to know some people, the same goes for characters… We always knew Susan was at odds with the limitations her society placed on her sex and that she would always be drawn to people and situations who challenged them, the writers had discussed this at length and that was why I was drawn to the project in the first place three years ago… The inclusion of the characters of Cobden, and Frayn was not, I believe, a response to the critics of the first episode, but the natural evolutionary result of a story based in this particular place and this particular time with these particular characters.

So, like I said, Susan always struggled with the injustice of the world she was born into and for her, especially towards the end of the last season, she becomes clear in her conviction that to swing the pendulum of power to favour a woman she needs money and a financial hold over people. She tells the dying Duggan that she will amass his wealth, make it her own, and with it take his place as the most powerful person in Whitechapel.

Cut to season three, four years later she has done just that… however, her dream is to use this power to build a better Whitechapel for its people…She builds a clinic – Obsidian clinic – and brings in a female doctor to run it, and is in the process of building affordable housing for which she has received governmental support in the shape of Jane Cobden. Two women who, like her, are challenging the perceptions of what women can do – however, in the case of the first she is doing it, not through business, but through her education and medicine, and in the case of the last through the means of politics: political campaigning, engaging with and drumming up the support of the disenfranchised people she represents… all equally impressive means to achieve the same end…

Damian: In previous interviews with female Ripper Street cast members, I’ve discussed the Gilbert and Gubar feminist theory concerning how women during the Victorian period were portrayed in fiction as either “angel” or “monster”. To be absolutely clear on this, I have always defended the women of Whitechapel as depicted in the show as incredibly complex and multifaceted but I found Susan’s actions in series three, with particular reference to end of the second episode, The Beating of Her Wings (by Toby Finlay) to be unforgivable and, indeed, truly monstrous. Does the end always justify the means and, on a moralistic level, has Susan passed the point of no return?

MyAnna: It is an incredibly monstrous act she commits… I would argue it is no more or less monstrous because she happens to be a woman – wouldn’t you agree?

Damian: I dare not do otherwise!

MyAnna: It is written – as are so many of Rippers’ scenes – precisely so, in order that we question whether the end justifies the means – that is one of the over riding themes of Ripper – we keep coming back to it… There is a wealth of source material in the world to draw from; look around us at the acts committed everyday in the world – that we, our communities, politicians and bankers justify… what is justifiable? Ripper does beg the question, however, from whose perspective are you shown the series of events? And how does this influence our judgement of them? Susan is driven, due to the world she has suffered in and for, by a vision of a greater, safer, fairer world – an altruistic vision – which without her to ensure it’s manifestation will simply never materialise – not in the way she sees it.

She feels incredibly strongly that she needs to protect this vision. Also, she has been presented with information that makes her question the behaviour of Inspector Reid – and until she is certain his actions were innocent she will definitely NOT risk losing all she has strived so very hard for to protect him – but it’s not as if it doesn’t cost her…

© Tiger Aspect

© Tiger Aspect

Damian: Although I fully empathise with Susan’s history, ambition and protective loyalty towards her friends such as Rose Erskine, why can’t she forgive Captain Homer Jackson (Adam Rothenberg) despite his copious collection of flaws and certain peculiarities of temperament?

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

Damian: *Clears throat*

© Tiger Aspect

© Tiger Aspect

MyAnna: Having said all this there is and always will be an inexplicable bond between these two characters – that unquantifiable and mysterious connection, gravitational pull some people just have between them… so the question lingers will that ultimately pull them together despite the deep hurt between them? Or have the actions of the past cut scars too deep and wide to overcome?

© Tiger Aspect

© Tiger Aspect

Damian: It seems to me that almost all of Jackson’s actions leading up to the shocking climax of series two were made because of his love for you. There were some truly heartbreaking scenes between the two of you as evidenced in the following excerpts of dialogue between the two characters from the last year’s grand finale, Our Betrayal (by Richard Warlow):

SUSAN: A moment comes in a woman’s life when she may no longer deal in dreams. This? This is fantasy… or is it death? – and it might well be both. No. Captain Homer Jackson. Matthew Judge. Husband. No. I will have no more of you and your dreams. The world is what it is. And I must live with that.
JACKSON: Look, whatever it takes darling, till my blood be spilt, I will find what it takes to make you smile again. Only allow it. Allow me the opportunity, this opportunity.

Without any more pain to feel, has Long Susan Hart become the heartless or might she smile again?

MyAnna: I don’t think anyone ever becomes heartless, but the protective wall Susan has built around her heart, is thick and tall… She cannot allow herself to feel too deeply, because to do so is too painful…she wrestles with this, but, ultimately, the best she can hope for is to help those in need and less fortunate than herself, to create some kind of monument to make her existence worthwhile, and to protect herself, make herself infallible to all the people who threaten her independence, her dignity, and to the man who took her heart and smashed it to smithereens…

© Tiger Aspect

© Tiger Aspect

Damian: For me personally, and I’ve told you this before, one of the many pleasures of the show is watching the relationship between Susan and Rose, played so wonderfully by the voice of gaiety herself, Charlene McKenna. I remember thinking that one of the tragedies of cancelling Ripper Street, and I genuinely mean this, was the thought of your two characters not sharing the screen again. Did you and Charlene keep in touch during the show’s hiatus?

MyAnna: We are all aware of your soft spot for dear Rose and Charlene – we all share it with you and join the queue! She is simply joyful. Rose is one of Susan’s few close friends and luckily for me Charlene is one of mine. We all keep in touch – it is a very close show…

Damian: Charlene painted a wonderful portrait of the relationship you both share when she told me that the two of you “snot, sing and laugh all over each other”…

MyAnna: Yup – pretty much sums it up!

Damian: MyAnna, it is always a great pleasure and a privilege to do these interviews – thank you very much indeed.

MyAnna: Thank you.

~

Damian Michael Barcroft

~

https://twitter.com/MrDMBarcroft

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

Crimson Noise: The Sound of RIPPER STREET

Interview copyright © Damian Michael Barcroft 2015
Photography copyright © Peter Podworski/Dominik Scherrer

In an exclusive interview, Damian Michael Barcroft talks to the prolific film and television composer, Dominik Scherrer. We discuss Jack the Ripper, East End history and his stunning music score for Ripper Street

DOMINIK SCHERRER composes the majority of his innovative and often delightfully unconventional music at Crimson Noise Ltd. This is his recording studio at the Old Truman Brewery, Brick Lane in Spitalfields, London.

Looking out of the window of Dominik’s office, you can see Christchurch and the Shard hiding behind it. In addition to the bells of Christchurch, there is also the sound of the Muezzin from the East End Mosque in Whitechapel and Chinese tap dancers outside. As the sun departs this significantly historical part of the city so beloved by Ripperologists, the evening presents its own distinctive soundscape including drunken revellers and the nightclub below pumping out dance music late at night. At this precise moment there is the sound of someone beatboxing at Brick Lane Market and I wonder to what extent these evocative sounds influence and inspire Dominik’s music…

Dominik'sView

DAMIAN MICHAEL BARCROFT: Dominik, your studio has been here for almost 17 years and you have been based in the East End for more than 22. Crimson Noise is in an old Georgian house on Brick Lane which is of course the same area where Annie Chapman, Jack the Ripper’s second victim was murdered. I must confess that I take ghoulish delight to consider that the music score for Ripper Street was conceived in such a significant location. Can you describe what attracts you to this area and how its environment and atmosphere might flavour your music?

DOMINIK SCHERRER: Indeed as I left the studio last night there were four competing Jack the Ripper tours visiting Annie Chapman’s murder site. It’s the most I’ve seen and I fear that we have been part of reviving interest in this dark chapter of east end history with Ripper Street.

I landed in Spitalfields in the 1990s when studio spaces were affordable. Artists and musicians came. My ancestry is partly Huguenot, so technically I’m one of the last Huguenots to settle here, 250 years after the French silk weavers arrived here.

Times have changed and Spitalfields is now less trendy but has become more mainstream. Artists have moved further out. But drastic changes are part of the area’s history and there is always buzz here. The sheer amount of live music available is inspiring. For a while I was writing and producing for Bengali artists, both for the UK and the Indian market. It was enriching to explore Indian music and exciting to combine it with my own western musical background.

DAMIAN: I understand that you are interested in local history and this was part of the reason that you wanted to get involved with Ripper Street. Did you actively pursue the project or were you already asked to write the music for the show?

DOMINIK: I already had a happy working relationship with lead director Tom Shankland who put me forward. It struck me as a great show and I did my best to pitch good ideas.

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DAMIAN: At what point did you become creatively involved with Ripper Street, were you given the script to read or was there a particular discussion with series creator and lead writer Richard Warlow?

DOMINIK: When I came on board, the first two episodes had already been shot so we could immediately try out ideas. Richard Warlow, Tom Shankland and Will Gould, the executive producer for Tiger Aspect, came for creative meetings to my studio, and we started to bounce around ideas.

DAMIAN: I consider your music score for Ripper Street to be not only richly atmospheric in its own right but also an important contribution to the identity of the show. For example, your main theme and the title sequence is a perfect marriage of sound and imagery which I believe to be one of the most distinctive television opening credit sequences in recent memory. What were your initial thoughts and ideas on how the music should sound?

DOMINIK: My instinct was for the score to be down to earth and non-classical, as if it emanated from the streets of Whitechapel – but presented with of a contemporary cinematic feel. Richard, Tom and Will had similar feelings so we started to experiment. I normally let the opening titles of a show emerge gradually during the writing of the episodes’ scores. We may then pick up on certain themes and develop them further. For example the opening titles music evolved from the theme for Maude Thwaites, the very first victim in episode 1. She was a violinist and hence had a solo-violin theme. In the end the Maude Thwaites theme is not really recognisable in the title tune, but nevertheless was the actual starting point.

DAMIAN: I must say that the themes and their orchestration were rather a bold and pleasingly unconventional choice which extends to your choice of instruments including the fiddle and banjo. I’ve had quite a few conversations with Toby Finlay (collaborating writer on all three series of Ripper Street) about the influence of Western films and history on the show. Was your sound and choice of instruments also a deliberate attempt to evoke the genre?

DOMINIK: Absolutely, Richard Warlow was a great advocate of the Western feel for Ripper Street. It’s not inappropriate to portray Victorian Whitechapel as a kind of Wild West. Conversely though, the use of banjo is historically appropriate. Guitar would have been exotic in Victorian London, whereas banjo was popular in music halls. Still, the Daily Mail complained about the use of banjo and fiddle and suggested that the sound of a barrel organ would be appropriate for 1890s London. There is in fact a little bit of barrel organ in the score, but scoring an action scene or a romantic scene with barrel organ just wouldn’t work.

DAMIAN: There are certain sounds in Ripper Street and some of your other scores that I can’t quite put my finger on but are more like sound effects rather than conventional music and this also reminds me of many Western scores especially Ennio Morricone’s early work. Do you particularly enjoy experimenting with music to create different sounds?

DOMINIK: I spend a lot of time creating special sounds for Ripper Street. It’s certainly enjoyable but it also gives the show an individual feel. The main challenge is to create sounds that are tense and driving without being too massive in origin – again to fit in with the street music concept. Then we use a lot of special recording techniques and postproduction techniques to shape the sound try to keep it earthy and organic at the same time. And there is a wealth of European and exotic solo instruments: Mandolins, Mandola, Kemençe, Sethar, Dobro. The solo on the theme tune is played on a Norwegian Hardanger fiddle. Those instruments are played by excellent, creative musicians. And often an entire string orchestra is playing too – for added gravitas.

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DAMIAN: I think it was Howard Shore who used whale cries in his score for The Silence of the Lambs to disconcert the audience. Have you ever used nonhuman performed instruments or sounds in any of your music?

DOMINIK: Good idea, I’ll book a few banjo-playing cetaceans next time.

DAMIAN: Like your scores for the sixties-set Inspector George Gently series, the music for Ripper Street avoids the clichés of its period setting, was there ever a temptation to write something rather more conventional or typical of the Victorian era?

DOMINIK: A film composer will always use some aspects of the period and locale, compositionally or orchestration-wise and makes them part of a modern cinematic soundscape but to directly compose in the style of music-hall, Gilbert & Sullivan, classical composers like Parry or Elgar would be tricky in a crime-drama context. It’s frustrating that the supposed anachronism of identifiable instruments such as banjo and fiddle is more readily criticised, compared to music played by standard orchestra. For example, my colleague John Lunn’s (excellent) Downton Abbey score is a modern composition, and musically quite distant from Edwardian England. Still, it is not questioned perhaps because it’s played by string orchestra and piano – a more universal instrumentation.

DAMIAN: Some fans of the show have commented on the similarity in style of your score for Ripper Street and the music from the recent Guy Ritchie Sherlock Holmes films composed by Hans Zimmer. Was the signature style of those two films ever discussed as a possible sound to explore?

DOMINIK: Hans Zimmer really nailed his beefed-up folky style for the Sherlock Holmes films and initially we made it part of the portfolio of many inspirations for the new soundtrack. In any genre of music you build on previous achievements, you don’t re-invent the wheel each time. Other influences were the aforementioned Morricone, as well as a lot of baroque music, especially some baroque string techniques. There is also an ‘urban’ element in the Ripper Street soundtrack – perhaps evoking the spirit of hedonism in todays east end’s nightclubs, perhaps similar to the abandon of the late nights of the 1890s. The Victorian east end’s significant Irish population is also an influence, with Celtic elements, and there are more oriental influences brought in from overseas via the docks. With all these influences, and with the input of our great soloist, the soundtrack then goes on its own journey and asserts its own style.

DAMIAN: You started composing quite early and wrote the soundtracks to the short films that you made as a teenager. Do any of these shorts still survive?

DOMINIK: They survive and I am also making films now. For example I shot a film called Hell for Leather in the east end, conceived as an opera for the screen. It’s a biblical story with motorbike gangs. It got a surprising amount of attention and became part of the touring YBA “Sensation” exhibition. I am developing further music-driven film projects at the same time as composing for the screen.

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DAMIAN: I believe that in addition to playing the piano, you were originally a trained flautist. However, before specialising in soundtrack work, you moved here from Switzerland to study film and I was wondering what your initial career plans were at that time?

DOMINIK: Music and film can both deliver great energy and combinations of the two even more so. I think it’s that electrifying, spine-tingling energy, the thrill that makes your hair stand on the back of your neck that I’m excited about. I am constantly trying to educate myself further in music, film, and the arts in general and I am happy to be working across the disciplines – composing for the screen or the stage, performing music on stage, writing opera or musical theatre. London offered itself as the best place to pursue all these activities. We have an openness here that allows everyone to transcend the boundaries of style and discipline – I know many top classical musicians who are equally at home in jazz or pop for example.

DAMIAN: Can you remember the first time you yourself noticed soundtracks and became aware of the artistic possibilities of the synthesis between sound and screen?

DOMINIK: Because of my parents’ involvement with music I regularly attended orchestral rehearsals as a child and had a heightened awareness of music. My childhood’s soundtrack key moment was, like for many of my generation, Star Wars. It was not only John Williams’ heroic-romantic themes themselves that got me so excited, but also the confidence of the presentation, the all-out energy in the way the music is used. Let’s not forget it was with Star Wars that many of us experienced Dolby Stereo for the first time, with its heightened dynamic range and surround channels. It had a clarity, punch, scale, good tunes, spaceships and Princess Leia. The Wagnerian experience of Star Wars in the cinema would almost literally blow you away as a child.

DAMIAN: Do you think that film/TV scores get the respect and recognition that they deserve from either audiences or the industry itself?

DOMINIK: Definitely. Almost too much. On Classic FM you’ll hear a lot of film-music that was conceived to be heard with the film, and may sound simplistic on its own. But it’s perhaps the simplicity that’s appealing. I have the feeling film music is more popular than ever and it can be surprising to see Howard Shore topping Mozart in the classical charts.

DAMIAN: From my own personal point of view as a passionate admirer of film/TV composers and a collector of soundtrack CDs, I feel increasingly disappointed and actually rather cheated by the state of both record labels and many aspects of the music industry in general. For example, the few shops that actually do stock a respectable selection of soundtracks are massively overpriced in comparison to other albums and while the internet has made it easier to purchase more diverse and obscure titles from all over the world, it has also contributed hugely to the amount of piracy that is of little interest to enthusiasts such as myself and has forced specialist shops to close. The other issue is that studios and record labels continually take advantage of a limited market of consumers by releasing a substandard soundtrack album with little material when a film is released and then producing another “special” or “collector’s” edition with all the music that they could have released in the first place so that collectors have to pay for the same title twice or even several times in some instances. What do you think should be done to improve the availability and standard of soundtrack albums?

DOMINIK I share your irritation about the unavailability of some soundtrack recordings. The problem is that soundtrack releases can be complex legally. The rights of the recordings may be owned by several production companies at the same time. The publishing is administered by a number of other companies. All those parties will have to agree and sign the soundtrack agreements. In the US the contracts with the orchestras may restrict the release of original soundtracks. We are facing some of these problems for the Ripper Street soundtrack release but we are working on it!

DAMIAN: I know that you enjoy and take inspiration from a wide variety of musical genres including classical, pop, rock, jazz and world, but if you were to introduce someone to the art of film and television composition, which particular composers would you recommend they listen to?

DOMINIK: Bernard Herrmann, Danny Elfman, Alberto Iglesias, John Williams, Hans Zimmer, Mychael Danna, John Barry, Thomas Newman, Alexandre Desplat, John Brion, Franz Waxman, Dario Marianelli, Jerry Goldsmith.

DAMIAN: I understand that you develop themes on a piano at first, write them down on manuscript and then produce electronic mock-ups which are presented to the director before recording them. I imagine this can be quite a nerve-wrecking process and I was wondering if you can tell immediately if a director or producer is pleased (or not!) with the sound that you have created for them?

DOMINIK: If they are in the same room to review the draft scores, there is an immediate, intuitive understanding, even before anything is said. Music can sometimes be tricky to talk about and being in the same room helps. Apparently communication is largely nonverbal, and this really applies with music. Reviewing drafts in these situations also helps me as composer – sitting back and looking at the whole score from a distance.

DAMIAN: The American giant of film music Alex North famously had his score for 2001: A Space Odyssey rejected by Stanley Kubrick and a more recent example of this would be Howard Shore’s unused music for Peter Jackson’s King Kong remake. Have such “creative differences” ever had a significant impact on your work?

DOMINIK: Alex North’s 2001 score did get a release on vinyl subsequently and I have that album. He basically composed pastiches of the Ligeti, Richard Strauss, Johann Strauss pieces which obviously must have been used as ‘temp’–  guide music laid during the picture edit. In the end Kubrick decided to use the ‘real thing’ and abandon North’s score, possibly also because Kubrick was unscrupulous about the rights situation. Ligeti was famously neither asked permission nor paid for the use of his amazing choral, textural, music in 2001.

Composers are frequently fired, and more so in the US. Touch wood, it hasn’t happened to me yet, but it can happen that I have a favourite theme that is finally never used in the film.

DAMIAN: Many film/television composers have a distinct and instantly recognisable sound to their music, perhaps John Barry and Danny Elfman are good examples of this. Would you say that there is a particular Dominik Scherrer style?

DOMINIK: More than aspiring to have my own style I hope I can come up with something new every time. I am always trying out new ways of composition, orchestration, production. It’s what keeps me excited. Saying that, sometimes my colleagues listen to my music and say ‘this is very Dominik!’ so maybe there is a style. Perhaps it’s a certain cheekiness or directness in the melodies.

DAMIAN: I would argue that your music has a certain versatility not always found in other composers where their scores occasionally overpower or dominate a production which is sometimes detrimental to the integrity of the overall meaning of the sound. You seem to be comfortable writing for various genres such as action/adventure (Primeval) or horror (the 2006 production of Dracula) but I was particularly interested in your compositions for foreign language films such as Tutto parla di te and I do actually think your sound often has a more European quality reminiscent of such World Cinema composers as Philippe Sarde, Jean-Claude Petit, Karl-Ernst Sasse, Georges Delerue, Jurgen Knieper, Louis Crelier and Nicola Piovani. Is this a particular aspect of your music that can be more fully expressed when writing for films not in the English language?

DOMINIK: Possibly rather than the language, it may have to do with the type of production. They are arthouse movies whose scores are not genre-bound and may have a lighter touch. The story lines have less death, crime and destruction. I am indeed a fan of Nicola Piovani and went to see him live at Chelsea Old Town Hall recently. It was great see the man in the flesh perform his music but interestingly I was perhaps missing the pictures that go with the music!

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DAMIAN: Many productions, particularly those from Hollywood, suffer from wall-to-wall music which regardless to the quality of the actual music itself, suffers from overuse and having to compete with dialogue and sound effects. Some of the best director-composer relationships are those in which the music is discussed creatively throughout the entire production as oppose to just sticking the music on in postproduction. Perhaps the most celebrated illustration of this sort of creative collaboration is Alfred Hitchcock and Bernard Herrmann (for example The Birds doesn’t even feature any original “music” but is still a stunning soundtrack). However, I particularly admire the relationship between David Lynch and Angelo Badalamenti and it is evident that they both have an interest and passion in the sound of film beyond that of the music score. I was wondering if, in addition to the writers and directors you’ve worked with, you collaborate with sound departments including the sound designer, sound effects artist and dubbing mixer etc?

DOMINIK: The picture edit is a creative period, as the music can also influence the cut. I help the director to find the atmosphere and a language of the film. After the cut is locked it’s inspiring to collaborate with the sound postproduction department and we sometimes bounce ideas back and forth. I give them my draft music and they can shape some of the effects accordingly. Because their workflow doesn’t normally require presentations of draft ideas I often don’t get to hear their work. I am often a bit in the dark about their work and it can be a bit surprising what you finally get to hear in the dubbing theatre when all the dialogue sound effects and music are finally combined.

DAMIAN: I presume it must be a creative advantage for composers to own their own studio, was all the music for Ripper Street recorded at Crimson Noise?

DOMINIK: On a score like for Ripper Street it’s great to compose and record as you go along. Some of the soloists’ amazing performances can have a ripple effect on the score. You may suddenly discover new approaches or you may simplify ideas drastically, because the performance of a particular musician is so strong that you decide to cut out everything else. It helps when you have the flexibility to record at any time. I can mix the score to a high spec at my studio too and I hire in mix engineers who work at my studio. This way I’ll have the flexibility to revise at short notice later during the late stages in post production. I record all the larger ensembles at the lovely Angel Studios in nearby Islington. We have an established workflow and they specialise in these kind of recordings. They are large wood panelled rooms where the instruments can really sing out. All of Ripper Street’s larger strings ensembles are recorded at Angel Studios.

DAMIAN: We’ve discussed the idea of allowing music scores to breathe and you have had twenty-four hours worth of screentime to explore the sound of Ripper Street. How do you think your music has evolved throughout its first, second and third series?

DOMINIK: Over the 24 episodes the score has developed its style and become more individual. The musical themes started to cross-feed and I have found a method to continue the themes but at the same time keep an individuality for a particular episode’s storyline, or guest character. I am perfecting our expanding library of special sounds and favours.

DAMIAN: Dominik, thank you very much indeed.

DOMINIK: It’s been a pleasure, Damian, thanks!

FW 4578More information about Dominik and his music here: http://www.dominikscherrer.com/

Follow Damian Michael Barcroft on twitter for more exclusive interviews:

https://twitter.com/MrDMBarcroft

The Ripper Street soundtrack album will be released June 15 in the UK and is available to pre-order now:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Ripper-Street-Original-Television-Soundtrack/dp/B00WUVRTGA/ref=sr_1_1?s=music&ie=UTF8&qid=1431549771&sr=1-1&keywords=RIPPER+STREET

The US release date is June 23 and can be pre-ordered here:

http://www.amazon.com/Ripper-Street-Various-Artists/dp/B00WUVRTGA/ref=sr_1_1?s=music&ie=UTF8&qid=1431550125&sr=1-1&keywords=ripper+street

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