THE ENDEAVOUR INTERVIEWS 2019: Russell Lewis Part I

Cavendish, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Cowley anymore…

THE PROLOGUE

1969: It is a new year; a new era for Oxford’s finest. A new unit base houses the set of the new police station where both old and new characters have been gathering since just before 8am in readiness to shoot scenes for Film 1 of the sixth series of Endeavour. Oh, and of course, Endeavour is sporting a new moustache.

It’s the 21st day of shooting for this film although it’s the 44th in total thus far as Film 2 was shot beforehand. Unlike my previous visit to unit base which was in Beaconsfield last year and its location safe to disclose as it would be used for the final time to make way for the redevelopment of the property, I’d better not reveal where we are this time. However, I can tell you that filming today at the impressive Thames Valley Police Station set are interior scenes in various individual offices as well as CID and the lobby with an equally impressive roll call including Shaun Evans, Roger Allam, Anton Lesser, Simon Harrison, Richard Riddell and Colin Tierney who plays a character called ACC Bottoms.

Bottoms! Despite various attempts, Anton gets the giggles every time he has to say the name ‘Bottoms’ and after one particular take, Shaun and the rest of the cast and crew are treated to him doing impressions of Frankie Howerd. Now, if you’ve never heard Anton Lesser, the great RADA-trained actor and former associate artist of the RSC, do Frankie Howerd while in costume as Reginald Bright, then you’d better hope and pray that ITV/Mammoth Screen include the outtakes on a DVD release one day as evidence of this most momentous of moments in television history.

Putting such titters aside, in many ways ‘69 is a new beginning for the series and yet, one can’t help but feel -my glass eternally half empty- that this might just be the beginning of the end. Shaun Evans seems to be increasingly interested in directing while Roger Allam is in constant demand across film, television and theatre. Besides which, would Endeavour really be the same show that we have come to know and love if it were set during the seventies?

I can think of no one better to ask than the man who devised the show and has written every one of its 27 episodes, please join me in paying attention to the man behind the curtain – the wonderful wizard of Oxon – Mr. Russell Lewis…

EQUAL OPPORTUNITY SLAUGHTERHOUSE

An exclusive ENDEAVOUR interview with Russell Lewis

Interview copyright © Damian Michael Barcroft 2019

DAMIAN: Russ, I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you that Endeavour has millions of worldwide fans who would be absolutely devastated if the show were to end any time soon. However, realistically, how much longer can it go on for?

RUSS:  I don’t think there’s a danger of running out of stories — but for various reasons it’s probably safe to say that we’re closer to the end than the beginning.  There’s a little way to go yet, but, for better or worse, we are starting to say goodbye.

DAMIAN: Could the show still work if set during the seventies?

RUSS:  I don’t see why not.  I’d always thought ‘69 was a natural terminus – but my long term partner in crime Damien Timmer [executive producer and co-managing director of Mammoth Screen] has always felt that we could move into the early 70s quite happily.  He’s usually right about such things. So we shall see. There’s something that appeals to me in leaving things a little ragged at the edges.

DAMIAN: Why was Film 2 shot before Film 1, don’t you usually shoot in chronological order?

RUSS:  Well — it’s no great secret, now – but Shaun Evans directed FILM 2, and that needed to shoot first so he had time to prep the film.  He couldn’t have prepped his film if he was busy shooting FILM 1.

DAMIAN: And why has Endeavour grown a moustache this year?

RUSS:  Mmm. I hope this will become clear in the watching. I’d seen Shaun do Miss Julie/Black Comedy at Chichester a few years ago — he sported a tache and, I think, a little soul patch, goatee number — and that look stuck in my head.  There may also – subconsciously – have been some wish to reflect the change from the lovable mop-tops of the early part of the decade to the altogether hairier gentlemen striding across the zebra crossing outside Abbey Road.

People change hair styles – hair colour – try a beard for a while – all the time. You might keep it a month or two – or a year or so, and then change your mind, and move on to something else.  It didn’t seem beyond the realms of possibility that it’s something he might have tried. It seems odd to me that – when it comes to their look — all fictional characters should have to be set in aspic.  That’s their look in Series 1, and that’s what they look like through to Series whatever. Particularly as Endeavour’s always been about a young man becoming an older man. We change – we evolve. So should characters.  It shouldn’t just be confined to the clothes somebody wears. Endeavour’s wardrobe – Thursday’s Wardrobe – Strange, Joan, Dorothea, Win — their clothes are subtly updated as each year rolls by.

But as I say — there’s a deeper reason for it too.

DAMIAN: I thought that last year’s scripts were arguably the best example so far of you structuring the various story and character arcs across the series. Do you think this might be because you knew that all the events had to lead up to the end of Oxford City Police and Cowley station, you had to write out two of the main characters, you had an extra two films to work with than usual, or simply that you’re becoming a more skilled screenwriter?

RUSS: Thanks – that’s very good of you to say – I think.  It was nice to have a larger canvas – so one could let things breathe a bit more.  We always know where we’re going to end up each Series – but the changes at the end of 1968 were perhaps seismic.

DAMIAN: Let’s focus on MUSE, the first episode from series 5 which in addition to the usual abundance of assorted cultural references, showcases an impressive knowledge of art including works by Caravaggio and Rembrandt. Now, I hope we know each other well enough by now that you won’t be offended when I mention that you didn’t receive the best education. Indeed, your days at school were rather sporadic (transcendental apex predators and suchlike) and I don’t think you ever went to college or university. However, it’s immediately obvious to anyone speaking to you in person or reading your scripts that you are undoubtedly an extremely knowledgeable and cultured man. I’m sure the internet has proved invaluable for research but you have to know what to put in the search engine in the first place (for example you wouldn’t just come across Weibermacht/Power of Women or something relevant to the theme of sexual hierarchy by chance) so where does all this knowledge and culture come from?

RUSS:  The only thing of which I’m acutely aware are the vast gaps in that which passes for the things of which I have a rudimentary grasp.  I always read a lot. One book begets another. Something catches one’s interest – and one reads around the subject. But like most con-men, frauds, bluffers and lawyers, I have a nose for knowing how to find things that are useful to my purposes.  And across 5 & 6 I’ve been aided and abetted by Amy Thurgood – who has a very fine story mind, and is very good at chivvying things out that we can press into service.

DAMIAN: You originally wrote a beautifully detailed and wonderfully epic opening for MUSE set in Russia featuring the Romanovs and Bolshevik soldiers. Did you not anticipate that all this information could be more economically conveyed to the audience in a slideshow lecture as it appears in the broadcast version?

RUSS:  Ha! Sometimes things are not realised to quite the degree one would wish.  The lecture was a late additional pick-up. But in intention at least there seemed to be a interesting parallel between 1918/1968 and knowing it would transmit in 2018.  Revolution, political upheaval, extremism of one sort or another in the air. A sense of some sort of history repeating. Prague, &c.

DAMIAN: As most Endeavour films do, MUSE begins with scenes intercut with the opening title cards which often serve to set up the story, its various subplots and characters but I was particularly intrigued with two juxtaposing scenes of the aforementioned lecture on the Fabergé egg (called ‘Innocence’ also known as ‘Nastya’s Egg’) and the demise of Oxford City Police. In addition to the more obvious parallels with the call girls and exotic dancers, was the egg also a deliberate way of symbolising the end of innocence for Endeavour and his colleagues at Cowley or a foreshadowing of new life and rebirth into Thames Valley?

RUSS:  The egg arose from wanting to include the fate of the Romanovs.  I had a dig around some of the missing eggs – and those commissioned and undelivered at the time of the Revolution — and it felt like we had the wriggle room to arrive at something meant for Anastasia.  The parallel between what had happened to her, the issue at the heart of the matter, and Artemisia Gentileschi. All of these things felt complementary – connected in some way. The Me Too Movement. Where we’d left Joan at the end of 1968.  All of that was in my mind. I wanted to do a collect the set serial killer type number — but I didn’t want to add to the long catalogue of dead women as entertainment. I think with the exception of SWAY, where it was germane to what we were about, we’ve always tried to be an equal opportunity slaughterhouse.

DAMIAN: Given that we’ve touched on the subject of James Bond so many times in our previous interviews (indeed, there’s another reference in MUSE with the Maurice Binder style of projected images onto the women at the party), might I be forgiven for thinking of Roger Moore in Octopussy every time the Fabergé egg is mentioned?

RUSS:  Yeh — it was absolutely Maurice Binder, and specifically From Russia With Love I’d had in mind.

But the idea of these images projected onto a woman’s body seemed in keeping with the general theme of the piece.

The Thomas Crown Affair
The Thomas Crown Affair

The Male Gaze, etc. We were playing around also with The Thomas Crown Affair.

MUSE
The Thomas Crown Affair
MUSE
The Thomas Crown Affair
MUSE
The Thomas Crown Affair

INT. GYMNASIUM – NIGHT 1

Boxing match. Two AMATEURS knock seven bells out of each other for the entertainment of a roaring crowd. Blood and resin.

RINGSIDE — EDDIE NERO (50s), a small town big cheese who saw too many George Raft movies. Flanked by ICE CREAM BLONDE brasses, and a COHORT of arm-twisters and jaw-breakers, EDDIE seems to live every punch; ducking and weaving in his seat, regretful that he’s not the one in the ring dishing it out.

With his bared teeth, and goading, ‘Have him!’, EDDIE’s relish of the violence borders on the edge of something carnal.

DAMIAN: We’ve often seen rather polite and cultivated villains across Inspector Morse, Lewis and Endeavour, so I’m wondering if the creation of a character like Eddie Nero, combined with the following description early in the script for MUSE: ‘The decade has turned. The promise of the Summer of Love withered upon the vine. Comedown faces. Sour. Sallow. Tired.’, is evidence of you attempting to paint a more bleak and gritty portrait of Oxford than we are usually accustomed to?

RUSS:  I think we’ve always tried balance the ivory tower/college side of things – which is Endeavour’s world – with Thursday’s slightly more grounded world of cops and villains.  But, yes – looking at period material – newsreels, cultural material – I certainly picked up on a sense of comedown after ‘67. Hope deferred. Paradise indefinitely postponed. The Garden of Eden become rank with sedge and weeds.  The aspiration was a beautiful thing, though it took one hell of a beating – Vietnam; Doctor King; Bobby Kennedy. For a long time it’s felt as if – to borrow a phrase – ‘John Doe has the upper hand.’ The Man. The Establishment. Lately, the gangster states.  Call it what you will. But the dream endures. The reverses are painful, but temporary. ‘All you fascists bound to lose.’

DAMIAN: Didn’t Emperor Nero also have a gym?

RUSS: Up at the Golden Palace?  I don’t think he used it much.

DAMIAN: Personally, one of the highlights of series 5 were the scenes between Endeavour and Strange sharing a flat together. A beautiful example from this film would be Endeavour trying his best to focus on his Times crossword while Strange is reading a tabloid newspaper and slurping tea from the other side of the breakfast table. All a bit Morecambe and Wise wasn’t it?

RUSS:  We were going for Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple (1968) throughout.

DAMIAN: How did you come up with the wonderful idea of Strange playing the trombone?

RUSS:  It seemed his natural instrument.  

DAMIAN: Thursday was shot at the end of the second series and the third picks up months later after all the drama of his recovery and the reaction of his family happens off-screen, similarly and also off-screen, Endeavour discovers Joan is pregnant and asks her to marry him at the end of series 4 but months later, we learn in MUSE that she ‘slipped’. Would it be fair to say that you’re better at creating dramatic and emotional cliffhangers than you are at resolving them in an equally dramatic and emotional way?

RUSS:  Mmm. Well — that would be one way of looking at it.  My feeling is that a lie agreed upon – that Joan ‘slipped’ – says a deal more than a plonky, ‘well – this happened, then that happened.’  There are months of story between series — things to which we’re not privy. I find it more interesting to offer glimpses and clues, and give the audience room to draw their own conclusions.  Back to Thursday’s ‘not every question gets an answer.’ Life more often messy than coming with pat answers and tied up with a bow. Things like that… life experiences are an ongoing thing. Part of us.  There isn’t a moment where a line is drawn. Things fade – but it’s a slow, soft fade. But each to their own.

EXT. LONSDALE/QUAD/CLOISTERS – NIGHT 1

Quiet and still. Nothing stirs. Moonlight over the chimney stacks and towers. A shape takes substance. THE SHADOW.

A FIGURE IN BLACK — night’s dark agent, in balaclava and rope soled shoes, moves with feline stealth across the cloister…

Dr.ROBIN GREY, (40s), crosses the quad with the MASTER. He glances upwards, and reacts to something o.s. [off screen]

ROBIN: Good Lord. Master…

MASTER: Ho, there! You! Up on the roof!

THE SHADOW — spotted, turns and melts into the darkness.

DAMIAN: ‘Night’s dark agent’ and ‘melts into the darkness’. I think the more I do these interviews, the more elusive your intentions and motivations become. Are you being genuine or is there a certain sense of irony when you write stuff like this or simply trying to evoke pulp fiction, spy novels and other genres such as your references to the Pink Panther movies elsewhere in the script?

RUSS:  It’s important to convey to everyone what I’m trying to invoke – an atmosphere; a vibe – to spark their imagination, and to do it with a certain economy.  So – I guess that’s where such things come from. It’s not the job of the writer to fill the screenplay out with Camera Directions or block the scene on the page — and to do so is looked on pretty dimly by those wearing the Von Stroheim pants and hunting boots.  But what one can do is suggest mood and describe the action as elegantly as possible. The golden age of Pulp writers were brilliantly economical, so maybe the pulp thing comes from that. You know, real estate on the page is at a premium. We’re not describing every location or character in minute detail — so we have to present thumbnail sketches of whatever it might be.  And hopefully that gets across to the director what one’s about – and the Heads of Department – and will set their motors running. Then, as we get closer to the first day of principal photography, we get together for a tone meeting or two, and everyone presents what they’ve drawn from the text – costume, design, hair and makeup.

You have to be prepared to be flexible – I’ve probably said it before — a location falls through, or actors’ availability changes due to unforeseen circumstances, or the schedule means you can’t get a scene – so you might have to conflate a couple of things.  What I’m saying is unless it’s specific to the plot, you might not be able to realise everything that’s on the page, but so long as what is substituted is true to the intent and the tone of the original design… Which is why those little florid, mauve passages of stage direction can be useful.

It’s as much To Catch a Thief as anything else – but, yes, the shadow of the Lugash Diamond looms large.  I think something we’ve done across the various series – and something that I find an interesting and enjoyable process – is recasting something conceived elsewhere as light or comedic in intention into something darker.

DAMIAN: It’s interesting that Endeavour mentions Simon Templar in reference to the Shadow. Do you happen to know the title of the book in which Templar made his debut?

RUSS:  Not offhand.  But having googled it, I can see why it would amuse you.

DAMIAN: Small things Russ, small things. In addition to perhaps foreshadowing the relationship between Morse and Lewis, was the creation and one of the primary functions of George Fancy to die and thus set up a chain of events that will be followed up in series 6?

RUSS:  George Fancy served a number of purposes – but you’re correct about an early incarnation of the Morse/Lewis dynamic.  We thought it would be interesting to see how Endeavour took to the role of mentor that came with his slightly more senior rank.  There was also a wish to give Dakota Blue Richards/Trewlove something to play beyond her more familiar role, and a fitting departure. We only got the word that Dakota didn’t want to do any more on the day we wrapped Series 4.  It seemed a shame that Trewlove wouldn’t get to say goodbye properly — so Damien Timmer and self had tea with Dakota and outlined what we had in mind. Thankfully, she was agreeable. Series 5 was very much about saying so long to Shirley.

DAMIAN: I loved the editing in the scene between shots of Endeavour reaching to unveil the bedsheet under which is the decapitated body of Simon Lake and Thursday reaching for the silver platter covering the severed head. Was it a dramatic or financial decision not to show any graphic detail or simply a matter of taste?

RUSS:  A matter of the Watershed.  Though we run from 8pm to 10pm — we are bound by the strictures of Ofcom for the whole running time as we start before 9pm.  The mind of the viewer can always be relied upon to come up with something more horrific than we would be able to present to them on screen.

DAMIAN: Can you describe the reaction at the readthrough to The Berserkers and what they did to the pig’s head centrepiece at the Shiplake Chase Hotel?

RUSS:  There may have been a certain amount of laughter.  Likely of the hollow variety.

DAMIAN: What can you tell us about the first film of series 6, PYLON ?

RUSS:  Things have changed.  The death of one of their number, the end of Cowley, the decade guttering to a close…  it all seems to mark a certain end of innocence. For us, too. ‘68 was the end of the Second Act.  Endeavour was notionally mid-twenties when we began – knocked about a bit, but still with something of the puppy about him.  Eager. Optimistic. Hopeful. For all his protestations to the contrary, the murder of George Fancy affected him deeply. We have, I think, said goodbye to the boy.   

2 thoughts on “THE ENDEAVOUR INTERVIEWS 2019: Russell Lewis Part I

  1. Ian Baker

    Thank you, gentlemen, for enhancing my enjoyment of my Sunday morning coffee immeasurably here west of the Windy City. I have not rewatched Muse since original transmission, so your discussion brought back my thoughts at the time about sly allusions to The Shadow. I hope that Russ’s mention of “a lie agreed upon” means that some reference to Deadwood in the pipe at some point.
    Will now drop Muse in the blu-Ray player as a warm up for episode 1 of series 6.

    Reply
  2. Paulette Smith Reeves

    Endeavour is the most cerebral, engrossing and enjoyable series I’ve ever watched. The writing, directing and acting are all superior. Thank you.

    Reply

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