Monthly Archives: May 2015

Onion Talking: Paul Kaye on Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

© JSMN Ltd / Matt Squire / BBC

© JSMN Ltd / Matt Squire / BBC

This weekend sees the long-awaited launch of BBC One’s fantasy epic Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, based on the best selling book of the same name, and adapted by the makers of Wallander, Sherlock and Dotor Who.

Set during the Napoleonic Wars in an alternate England where magic was once commonplace, the show focuses on two very different men who are drawn together by their talents in the art, and an ancient prophecy may just be their making, and their undoing.

The top notch ensemble cast including Bertie Carvel, Eddie Marsan, Enzo Clienti, Alice Englert, Charlotte Riley, Marc Warren and TVO regulars Edward Hogg and Paul Kaye, and the result is an intelligent, magical drama that’s definitely got ‘smash-hit’ written all over it.

As Paul Kaye just so happens to be one of TVO’s biggest supporters, we were itching to catch up with him to talk Strange & Norrell, and we were naturally delighted that one of the busiest men in the industry was very keen to tell us all about it, and offer up exclusive images from his archives for good measure. Enjoy…

© Paul Kaye

Exclusivinculus.

In a world where magic, at least real magic, is long thought lost, two men are forced to form an uneasy alliance to protect the realms of men – and each other – from the darker side of forgotten secrets that have been brought to the surface.  In our world, where genre television for adults, at least good genre television for adults, is long thought of as a mostly American thing, the BBC has forged ahead with an seven part adaptation of Susanne Clarke’s epic novel, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norell.

With a dynamite cast spearheaded by Eddie Marsan and Bertie Carvel, and also featuring the likes of Enzo Cilenti, Charlotte Riley, Alice Englert and Marc Warren, and both a screenwriter (Peter Harness) and director (Toby Haynes) having cut their teeth on prestigious productions such as Wallander, Sherlock and Doctor Who, and it’s safe to assume that expectations for Strange & Norrell are high.

For The Velvet Onion’s part, the impressive talent in front of and behind the camera is augmented not just by the presence of the brilliant Edward Hogg, but by a regular stamp of quality, in the form of designer turned musician turned comic turned hugely-in-demand actor Paul Kaye as the street magician and accidental prophet Vinculus.

A man of many talents, Kaye’s work on the whole over the last two decades has quality imbedded right down the middle like Blackpool rock, and – in this post Game of Thrones world, when seemingly everyone and their cousin wants to cast Kaye in their production – to actually bag the man himself is usually a sign of a production worth investigating.  This time around, however, it was remarkably easy to get Paul involved, given his admiration for the source material.

© BBC / Todd Antony

Jonathan Strange (Bertie Carvel) & Mr Norrell (Eddie Marsan) © BBC / Todd Antony

“I’ve only seen Episodes One and Two, so far,” he tells TVO as we grab a few moments in a rare bit of downtime between roles. “I was a big devotee of the book, and they’ve done a extraordinary job of visualising it and squeezing it all in. It took me a while to read it, because it has all these footnotes, which were really annoying to begin with” He refers to the near two-hundred additions to the novel made by Susanne Clarke, which illuminate her alternate history and provide an entire fictional body of magical scholarship, should you wish to engage with the book in a more ‘enlightened’ manner.

“Slowly but surely they grow on you,” Paul reveals. “You start to look forward to them. If there isn’t a footnote on the next page, you’re disappointed. They substantiate everything, and enrich it. And that book was on set every day. It was like the Oracle. Everybody loved it, and was determined to do it justice.  ”

Having never read the book, TVO is keen to point out that the series stands on its own two feet – taking the source material as a guide, but never a crutch. The first episode builds slowly, with our guide into the world of magic a curious admirer of the practise, John Segundas, played by Edward Hogg, still perhaps best known for his incredible leading performance in Bunny and the Bull. It is through Segundas that we meet Mr Norrell (Eddie Marsan), who is reluctant to demonstrate his knowledge publicly, until he realises that his skills could be of great value to the ongoing war efforts, and moral duty gets the better of him.

© JSMN Ltd / Matt Squire / BBC

Vinclus meets Childermass (Enzo Clienti) © JSMN Ltd / Matt Squire / BBC

However, the connection between Norrell and his titular companion Jonathan Strange is made by Vinculus: a street magician who prophesises the two men will form an alliance, as fortold by the mysterious Raven King hundreds of years previously. Played with Paul’s usual vigour and punk-infused zest, Vinculus has the keys to the engine room as the story ramps up a notch, stealing materials from Norrell’s servant to persuade Strange to pursue his destiny.

Watching Kaye on screen a Vinculus, stealing almost every scene from some of the nation’s finest actors, it’s hard to imagine a universe in which he wasn’t the ideal choice for the role.

“I was playing Vinculus in my head when I read it,” Paul reveals. “I was obsessed with chapter 67, The Hawthorn Tree and read it over and over. But I never imagined I’d ever, ever get to play the part.  I love the way Vinculus floats through the story. He’s such a contradiction, because he is a charlatan, no question about that. And yet there’s real truth about him. He’s carved out a reputation and a repertoire on the street, which includes conjuring up the ‘spirit of the River Thames’!  He lives a chaotic life, he blows with the wind and he is unquestionably full of shit, but he has been blessed.”

He laughs, and deadpans: “That last bit’s not a bad description of myself, really.”

LEFT IMAGE: © Paul Kaye | RIGHT IMAGE: © HBO

Dennis Pennis & Thoros of Myr LEFT IMAGE: © Paul Kaye | RIGHT IMAGE: © HBO

Of course, in recent years, Kaye’s stock as an actor has risen tenfold. Where once the shadow of a certain loud-mouthed, red-haired former alter-ego would precede the very mention of his name, these days he is far more likely to be referred to as ‘Game of Thrones star Paul Kaye’, following his six episode stint in the sprawling fantasy epic, which may just about be the biggest show on television. “I think you’re being kind,” he laughs when TVO mentions the shift, “‘cos I’ve read on several occasions that it’s ‘Dennis Pennis’ who’s is in Game of Thrones, not me.”

Nevertheless, Paul’s been busy of late, spurred on by settling down from his wilder days to raise a family and write TVO random emails in the midle of the night to keep us updated. Recent activities have included parts on radio (including Tracy Ann Oberman’s Mrs Robinson, I Presume), and in Reece Shearsmith & Steve Pemberton’s superlative Inside Number 9, playing Richard Two Shoes in The Trial of Elizabeth Gadge. “Those guys are on another level,” he states. “It was a writing and performance masterclass working with them.”

This week, he’s filming on Sky’s new adaptation of Fungus the Bogeyman alongside Timothy Spall, Victoria Wood, Andy Serkis, Keeley Hawes and his longstanding friend and occasional collaborator Marc Warren – who also appears alongside Kaye in Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell.

© JSMN Ltd / Matt Squire / BBC

Marc Warren as The Gentleman © JSMN Ltd / Matt Squire / BBC

“I love working with Marc,” Kaye tells TVO, proudly. “No-one does dark like Marc. He was Mike Strutter’s lawyer, for fucks sake! He’s got such an extraordinary energy on set. We’ve got this great scene together later on in the show, and on the day, his intensity pushed me into doing it in a completely differently way to how I’d planned on playing the scene. I had no choice, he just turned from being a mate into a monster on a sixpence and he spooked the shit out of me.  I remember seeing him in Oliver Twist [the 1999 BBC prequel series] on the telly and it was one of those Gary Oldman moments. He turns up on screen and I think: “Who the hell is this guy?” He blew my head off, and within 24 hours of seeing that I bumped into him in Tescos, and I had to say something to him. We became great friends after that.”

Warren isn’t the only familiar face for Kaye in the production, having worked with both its leading men on previous productions: Eddie Marsan on the sublime Radio 4 series Love in Recovery, and Bertie Carvel in Tim Minchin’s highly acclaimed musical adaptation of Matilda at the RSC and in the West End.

© Jean Goldsmith

Kaye & Carvel, 2014 © Jean Goldsmith

“It’s great working with Bertie again,” Paul states. “We shared a dressing room on Matilda The Musical. That was our first taste of magic together. And Eddie,” he quips, “Dear Eddie is just about as lovely and adorable as a Tottenham Hotspur fan can be. Bertie and Eddie’s relationship in Strange and Norrell has wonderful echoes of Mozart and Salieri.”

TVO wonders if the familiarity allows for a more rewarding experience on a shoot. Kaye thinks for a moment, and suggests the reason Strange & Norrell worked so well was that all involved had a shared goal. “You feel like you have an obligation,” he states. “And a duty to bring it to life in the best way possible. I know Bertie had read the book 10 years ago and felt he was born to be Strange! Toby Haynes fought so hard to direct it as well, and he was such a joy to work with. Such incredible enthusiasm. Marc Warren was told he was destined to play the Gentleman by Richard and Judy! When everyone’s pushing in the same direction for the greater good it’s like being part of one of those ginormous balls of herring, which might be my favourite thing in nature!”

Next time you see Paul going hell for leather in a role, think of those herrings. There’s a delicious moment in the first episode of Strange & Norell where Vinculus is awoken from his slumber under a bush. In a matter of moments, he manages to completely befuddle and bewitch Jonathan Strange in equal measure, before tumbling off into the distance, dancing a merry jig of his own design in the middle of a field, all by himself. It’s a moment, TVO opines, that perhaps only someone with a spirit as fiery and energetic as Kaye could pull off.

“There’s a scene in episode 6 I think,” he reveals, chuckling, “where I fell backwards and landed badly on this rock. Everyone on set thought: ‘That’s it. He’s out’, but I groaned for a while, dusted myself off and carried on. It reminds me of when I used to hurt myself at school sports days doing the high jump. I’d do the Fosbury flop onto a fucking sand-pit! I’d wind myself after every jump but it was worth it because I could jump higher using that technique than the other kids who did ‘the scissors’. I loved all the drama and attention of doing a great jump, getting injured, recovering heroically and then doing it all over again. Bit of a twat, really.”

© Paul Kaye

Mike Struter live on stage © Nickie Divine

“Basically,” he affirms, with all the wisdom of a man who actually broke his neck pratfalling with a hat during the first run of Matilda The Musical, “I always thought that if I didn’t put myself in A&E on a shoot, I hadn’t worked hard enough. Things have changed now slightly. The titanium bolt I now have in my neck post-Matilda has sadly meant I’ve had to knock things like the Mike Strutter Group on the head.” Kaye’s live punk-rock cabaret carnage featuring his alter-ego of the same name was a huge underground hit five years ago, with celebrities in the audience and Oram & Meeten’s Wingnut as regular guests. “I miss it dearly,” Paul explains, “but you can’t be fronting a car-crash band anymore if you’re not prepared to go through the windscreen”.

Following Strange & Norrell, Kaye will be seen in Gareth Tunley’s secretive movie debut The Ghoul, alongside Tom Meeten, Alice Lowe and Waen Shepherd, but more on that another time. He also makes a glorious cameo in Kayvan Novak’s new comedy Sun Trap. Again, we’re keeping schtum on that one for now! Perhaps most excitingly, following that, Kaye will next be seen on our screens making a two-part guest appearance in Doctor Who. Whilst his role is understandably shrouded in secrecy, Paul was quick to sing the praises of its production team.

© Olivia Hemmingway

RIP, Walter Sabchak © Olivia Hemmingway

“They’re so committed and passionate about that show ” he reveals, “Peter Capaldi is just the warmest man, right from the read through he gives you a big hug and you feel really buzzed about being part of it all.  I had one of those moments when I walked past my first Dalek in the corridor and thought “Jesus Christ, I’m in Doctor Who!” It was quite odd because one of the locations we filmed at was a huge semi-deserted army base out in the Welsh countryside. As we were shooting this rather intricate scene, there were territorial army guys running after fake ‘insurgents’ in robes and keffiyehs accross the hilltops. I don’t know about national security, but it looked like a Benny Hill sketch.“

And should Susanne Clarke ever finish her sequel to Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, which is set to focus on Childermass and Vinculus, would Kaye return to his role?

“Finish it?” he asks. “I’m not sure she’s started it yet, has she? But in the event of that happening…” He pauses for a moment and grins. “Oh yes,” he confirms. “With a trillion bells on.”

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell begins on Sunday, 17th May at 9pm on BBC One and is released on Blu-Ray and DVD in the UK on 15th June. The show also airs in the US from Saturday, June 13th from 10pm (9pm Central) on BBC America, and you can read our preview of Episode One now.

Preview: Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY WRITTEN FOR THE VELVET ONION.

© BBC / Todd Antony

© BBC / Todd Antony

This weekend sees the long-awaited launch of BBC One’s fantasy epic Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, starring Bertie Carvel, Eddie Marsan, Enzo Clienti, Alice Englert, Charlotte Riley, Marc Warren, Edward Hogg and Paul Kaye.

Set during the Napoleonic Wars in an alternate England where magic was once commonplace, the show focuses on two very different men who are drawn together by their talents in the art, and an ancient prophecy may just be their making, and their undoing.

TVO recently caught the first episode ahead of transmission, and to whet your appetites, there’s a spoiler-free preview peeling below.

Ten years is a long time in television, and it’s now over a decade since Doctor Who returned to our screens, bringing back with it not only the intrepid wandering in space and time, but also the notion that good quality, fantasy television could co-exist with game-shows, reality programming and chat-host ego trips in the realm of prime-time TV.

And whilst the boom in the industry has blossomed worldwide in the years since, production companies within the UK have generally struggled to find a genre show which would have a sizeable impact since Merlin, commissioned in the post-Who flurry, called it a day three years ago. For all it’s shared DNA with Doctor WhoSherlock is hardly science-fiction and far removed from fantasy – beyond the notion of why the cleverest man in England elects to take a taxi everywhere in London when the Tube would be much faster.

The truth of the matter is this: expectations are high for Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. The push for the show to be a roaring success isn’t helped by the BBC’s previous wobbles in fantasy adaptations: Gormenghast, we’re looking at you in particular, here. The greatest cast in all the land can’t save a production that doesn’t get it right behind the scenes and on the page.

© JSMN Ltd / Matt Squire / BBC

© JSMN Ltd / Matt Squire / BBC

Which may be why the makers of Strange & Norrell, as we’ll call it for shorthand, are led by familiar names for fans of BBC Wales’ recent output. In the directing chair is Toby Haynes: who cut his teeth on Being Human and Spooks before heading up the five successive episodes that made up the end of Doctor Who‘s fifth series, it’s 2010 Christmas Special, and the start of it’s sixth ‘nu-Who’ run. Haynes was also responsible for probably the most talked about drama episode in the last five years, as he led Sherlock‘s titular detective to his apparent death in the sublime The Reichenbach Fall.

He’s not the only Who allumni on board, either, as the adaptation of Susanne Clarke’s novel comes from Peter Harness, writer of 2014’s Kill the Moon episode, and two further episodes to air later this year. Harness was also responsible for the underrated Frankie Howerd biopic, Rather You Than Me, starring David Walliams as the troubled comic, and his last adaptation of a popular novel turned out to be the Kenneth Branagh smash Wallander.

So far, so good, and collating a cast that includes Bertie Carvel (Les Mis, Sherlock), Eddie Marsan (God’s Pocket, The World’s End), Enzo Clienti (In the Loop, The Theory of Everything), Alice Englert (Beautiful Creatures) and Charlotte Riley (Edge of Tomorrow) was an impressive coup. Adding the ever sublime Marc Warren to that cast was the cherry on top, and by adding in Bunny and the Bull star Edward Hogg and the legendary Paul Kaye: Well, now you’ve really got our attention.

© JSMN Ltd / Matt Squire / BBC

© JSMN Ltd / Matt Squire / BBC

Hogg’s role is our way into the story: as John Segundus, he channels innocence and devotion to his cause, as a determined scholar of magic curious to find out why conventional practise of the art died out three centuries ago. Travelling to York to join a gentlemen’s society of magicians, he is instructed that magic can never be performed, only studied, until, that is, he discovers Mr Norrell.

Played with world-weary heart by the eternally impressive Eddie Marsan, Norrell is content to keep himself to himself and practise magic only when he needs to do so, but Segundas’ curious soul manages to persuade him to demonstrate his powers to a flustered society in a sequence which features CGI so impressive, it may finally blur the lines between what Hollywood does as standard and the Beeb can do with a little effort.

Then, as if by magic (sorry, couldn’t help that one), we’re taken out of this narrative, and introduced to the other half of our title: Jonathan Strange. A drifter and clear romancer, he is enthused with ‘posh-toff-charm’ yet for all his flaws, is immediately a likeable soul, thanks in no small part to the nuances of Bertie Carvel’s portrayal. Sure, he’s hopeless, hopping about on his perpetual holiday from responsibilities, but a brief look into his family life demonstrates whose side the audience is meant to be on, and when the inevitable plot-device to free him of his predicament arrives, things begin to look up for ol’ Jonny-boy.

© JSMN Ltd / Matt Squire / BBC

© JSMN Ltd / Matt Squire / BBC

The connection between these two men is in the hands of a street magician, Vinculus, played by Paul Kaye with all his usual punk-rock gusto. He’s charming yet threatening, likeable yet disgusting at the same time, and Kaye has long since been a master of turning grubby little shits into characters you can’t help but root for.

Vinculus has received a prophecy concerning two magicians, and he approaches first Norrell, then later Strange, in his attempts to push the two together. The former has become embroiled in London’s high society, uneasy at his new-found fame after ‘The Miracle of York’, and is immediately cautious of Vinculus. Strange, on the other hand, is fascinated by his visitor, and thus begins a chain of events that could make or break everyone involved.

© JSMN Ltd / Matt Squire / BBC

© JSMN Ltd / Matt Squire / BBC

We could say more. There’s the entire matter of Marc Warren’s character, and how he becomes involved in the plot, that we haven’t even touched upon. There’s a sequence involving a pack of tarot cards that offers Kaye and Enzo Clienti a wonderful sparring match to savour. There’s the involvement of a cringeworthy society-luvvie, desperate to cling onto NorrrrrrELL for a moment in the spotlight, brilliantly brought to life by The Thick of It and Cucumber star Vincent Franklin. And there’s the story of Sir Walter Pole (Mr Selfridge star Samuel West), whose initial scepticism is disproven in ways he could never have dreamed.

But to say more would rob the opening episode of its strongest gambits. What we will say is that, though beautifully shot, and subtly scripted, the tale of Strange & Norrell is slow to get underway, and certain impressive sequences seem at odds with the majority of the episode. This is a dialogue-heavy show, and whilst said dialogue is richly nuanced, it is very much of the period and its half-truths and political implications could be hard to follow if you’re not giving it your full concentration.

Then again, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell is a show which deserves your full concentration. In an age where Twitter offers a live commentary of every programme, an awful lot of viewers on Sunday evening won’t really be paying attention, and that’s a worrying thought. Because Strange & Norrell rewards your efforts, and by the climax of the first episode, those who stick with it will be itching to find out what happens next.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell begins on Sunday, 17th May at 9pm on BBC One. It airs in the US from Saturday, June 13th from 10pm (9pm Central) on BBC America, and is released on Blu-Ray and DVD in the UK on 15th June.

Onion Talking: Tom Davis on Murder in Successville

THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY WRITTEN FOR THE VELVET ONION.

8503896-high_res-murder-in-successvilleThis week sees the launch of brand new, madcap BBC Three comedy Murder in Successville, with Tom Davis right in the middle of it all as tough, uncompromising hardman of crimesolving, DI Sleet.

Each week, a celebrity guest is made rookie partner, and asked to solve a murder in a town where famous faces have alternate lives, and are all played by top notch comedians.

Naturally, we’re very excited, and in the middle of an almighty press campaign, we quickly caught up with the busiest man of the moment, Tom Davis, to find out more.

Hi, Tom. Welcome to TVO. First off, how would you describe Murder in Successville to someone who has no idea what it’s all about?

It’s an immersive, improvised comedy centred around the town of Successville. The town is made up of weird celebrity impressions, every week there’s a murder and me and a celebrity sidekick have to solve it. Simple? It’s funny and bat shit crazy.

Your character, DI Sleet, is the epicentre of the madness. Is he someone you’ve been working on for a while?

The character has grown over time. We’ve been working on him for about three years. He’s gone through many changes and grown into what you see today. I love playing him. I spend about three months a year, talking like him, acting like him… it’s a lot of fun. 

You get to say all sorts of things to your celebrity guests. Does it feel good to baffle them with comedic gold?

One of favourite parts of the show is that twist. The show works because all the guests were willing and up for the ride. My job is to pretty much pull the rug from under their feet as soon as they think they have worked the show out. 

© BBC / Tiger Aspect / Ollie Upton

© BBC / Tiger Aspect / Ollie Upton

Do you have a favourite guest?

That’s like picking your favourite child or pet, they’re all great in their own way. We wanted a mixed bag, each of them brought something brilliant to the show that gave every episode a unique feel. Their personality is driving the show most of the time, none of them disappointed. 

The show is almost like a fusion of Star Stories and that old 90s telly version of Cluedo done properly. Did you and the writing team have any inspirations you drew upon to make this world work?

Both of those shows for a start were, but there’s a wide scope of inspiration. The writing process is a fun one. Alongside the brilliant writing team we have a production team that are very creative. Our director has a brilliant eye and has created this amazing look for the show. Added to this the cast are superb and all bring their own vision to it.

How much of what you all say is scripted? There are some dynamite lines in there!

We work through every scene with the writers beforehand in an intensive rehearsal. The scripts are all top notch and give us a point to jump of from. The nature of the show means that it changes from scene to scene. Sleet’s relationship with the rookie can change, which ultimately means so can individual lines and the feel of the show. As much we work through and prepare, nothing can ready you for Deborah Meeden going rogue on Cariad as Cheryl Cole (or whatever her new name is.)

One thing we really loved about the show was how many familiar faces are involved. How was it improv sparring with the likes of Tony Way, Cariad Lloyd and Colin Hoult?

I love it. The cast on this are immense. All of them completely smashed it, committing to character. That’s what makes the show for me. The “celeb” “rookie” has to feel like they are completely in that moment. We usually only have one or two takes so nothing can go wrong. Surprise is a big part of the show: the moment they come face to face with the impressionist for the first time is the reaction we want and the reaction you see. 

© Pett TV / Christopher Baines

© Pett TV / Christopher Baines

Of course, you’ve been working with familiar faces so often lately we’ve kind of adopted you. Gooblegarble one of us, and all that. Does the world of comedy feel like a big family to you?

Yes, for the most part it’s a supportive world. I’ve been fortunate enough to work with most of this cast on other bits. I did Cariad’s sketch show, I’ve done a few bits with Jenny Bede and I did one of my first jobs with Tony Way. He played an arm pit and I was a big alien on some crazy kids show. 

Recently you’ve managed to be in several of the more high profile shows of the year, from The Keith Lemon Show to Cockroaches and House of Fools. Are you starting to get recognised more frequently?

Not really, I like that the characters all look so different. Sometimes people stare and ask for pictures and I think they must recognise me, but then it turns out they just want a picture with a giant.

With any luck, people will be quoting Sleet at you before long. Any particular requests for the line they’ll shout across the street?

GREAT MEN DON’T SHIT THEIR PANTS…

© BBC / Tiger Aspect / Ollie Upton

© BBC / Tiger Aspect / Ollie Upton

Tom Davis, thank you. Murder in Successville starts Wednesday, 6th May at 10pm on BBC Three.