Photo: Sundance TV
Over the course of her career, Samantha Morton has played everything from a future-seeing teen (Minority Report) to an 18th Century brother owner (Hulu’s upcoming original Harlots). Currently, the two-time Academy Award nominee (In America, Sweet and Lowdown) stars in The Last Panthers, a 6-part event series about a jewel heist that spans the modern borders of Europe which aired on Sundance TV. While filming, Morton took some time to reflect on why she wanted the part, and the rigorous military training she underwent for the role.
Q: Who is Naomi?
A: Her background is military. Her father was in the military, constantly moving from one base to another. It’s a very nomadic childhood existence — almost like the film industry. That is the reason she’s able to live the life she lives now, a life on the road where she has no family, no children, she’s not married. She’s able to go anywhere at the drop of a hat. She’s able to see these cases through with absolute dedication.
Q: What is her job?
A: She’s a loss adjuster – like an investigator for an insurance company. It’s a job that requires the confidence to go into all sorts of environments a person wouldn’t normally go into. And then to talk to a criminal and offer them money to retrieve stolen goods. But the rewards are great. She works on commission, so she’ll get a massive bonus if she can recover the diamonds.
Q: What is her relationship with Tom?
A: They go back a long way. You find out later in the series that some seriously life—changing events happened to her in her mid —to late twenties. That left her at a crossroads and facing a massive sort of identity crisis. Tom helped her, gave her a nudge in the right direction. I think that’s how she ends up in the job that she does, working in insurance. But then she very quickly proved herself to be so unbelievably dedicated and tenacious that she was promoted and promoted. And now she’s at the top of her game. She loves what she does, has a huge amount of power, earns incredible money and is a very happy bunny in her world. And then – bang! – this story unfurls and that’s when we meet her.
Q: Why did you want this role?
A: I’m a huge fan of Warp Films. Actually, “fan” is an understatement – I’ve pretty much loved everything they’ve put out and I like everything they stand for. Then I read it and I was like, “Oh my God, this is amazing. Please, I hope I get this part.” Jack, who wrote this, has worked incredibly hard for a long time making sure the accuracy of the scripts is spot—on. When I was lucky enough to get the part and I went through the scripts, it was a little bit like a research manual. Plus, they were amazingly well written in a way I haven’t seen for a long time. When a script is written so well, it leaves the actors free to go off and develop that. It’s like building a house – it’s much easier when the foundations are solid. Add Johan to that and it’s been wonderful. This project and the level of expertise and excellence from everyone… it feels epic.
Q: What was the greatest challenge in playing Naomi?
A: The hardest and most rewarding part of this was the military training aspect. I don’t want to give too much away but mid—series we cut back to Naomi two decades ago, when she was in the military. I’d never done anything like that before. Most of the time guys get to do that kind of thing for jobs. Girls don’t. So when the production said to me, “This is what happens,” I was like, “Wow, I get to play a soldier!” And that has been a real eye—opener. It required a huge amount of weight loss but also building up physical strength – you can lose a lot of weight but it’s not about that. It’s about being fit enough to play a soldier. That was amazing. I trained with military advisors but my brother was my backup – he was a soldier. I can’t tell you how many burpees a day I had to do, or the time spent hiking with a weighted backpack around the Derbyshire dales. And it wasn’t just physical preparation. There’s an emotional aspect of being a woman in the war in the ’90s, a time that was so recent in my life. I felt so privileged and honored to be playing a female in that way.
Q: Did you have any misgivings about taking a TV role when you’ve done so well in films?
A: In this day and age, I think we all understand that half of the time what’s on at the movies, in the main, is going to be pretty crap because it’s there to make money. But this project has a huge amount of integrity. It’s a combination of a bunch of hugely talented people making something that they care passionately about, yet at the same time it just so happens to be really exciting, present and relevant.