Photo: Sundance TV
Two-time Academy Award nominee (The Elephant Man, Midnight Express) and The Last Panthers star John Hurt discusses what sparked his interest in the show, the importance of the political landscape it portrays, and what it was like to work with Samantha Morton for the first time.
Q: Could you introduce us to your character?
A: When we first meet Tom, he’s in insurance. That’s how he gets involved with the diamonds. It’s not really until you get to episode four, which is a flashback episode, [that] you realize he was in MI6 before that. So he’s well versed in the way in which the world works, put it that way. You’d think that he’s probably something of an idealist, but one of the great things about the writing here is that it’s like a dance between the tips of icebergs — a lot is left for the audience to figure out, in a sense. It’s like giving somebody a puzzle.
Q: Is that the case with the story, too?
A: Yes. As it starts off , you think it’s going to be just a heist — I thought it was when I first read it — and then you realize there is a whole darker area to it. All these people have a history and that goes back to Serbia and the Balkans. It’s a clever mix — it uses all of the devices of a thriller, but it feeds in a whole political under-structure.
Q: What interested you about the story?
A: It’s an interesting area altogether. Although it starts by looking back some years, it’s completely contemporary in its concerns. It’s quite a political piece — it’s about modern Europe and about why, in many ways, if you’re not passionate about Europe, you ought to be — because if we’re not, there is nobody to deal with America and Russia. It’s not exactly a description of modern Europe but it hints at a lot that’s going on, and the Balkans has always been a fascinating area in that respect. We’re so concerned with our own position in Europe and whether it’s working or whether it isn’t working that we lose sight of what the concept of a united Europe is. And I can’t think of a film or television series that has really touched on the proper interests of Europe like this one does.
Q: What is Tom’s relationship with Naomi?
A: It’s a fascinating relationship, because if I was Naomi, I would have given him up ages ago. But for some reason, for somebody who is as ballsy as she is, she stays with him. She obviously finds something in him; he’s useful to her. He has the means, in terms of what’s happened to her, to be able to do something about it. So he’s using her and she’s using him as well.
Q: How have you found working with Samantha Morton?
A: Oh, she’s great to work with. I’d known her but had never worked with her before. She’s enormously analytical, much more so than I am. But you find that her instinct is invariably correct.
Q: And Johan Renck?
A: I’ve warmed to him more and more in the days that we’ve been working together. He is very, very good and he is very shrewd, very clear on what he is seeing. With directors, the dynamic is to try to be part of the same thing. You work together. You don’t work ‘for’ them. When I started, you did work for a director and it was made very clear that’s what you did — you even called the cameraman ‘Sir.’ Now the whole idea is that it is a team, and that’s been the case here.