The Escape Artist Producers: "David Tennant is one of the most extraordinary actors I’ve ever worked with."

Interview with The Escape Artists producers, Hilary Bevan Jones and Paul Frift:

Hilary Bevan Jones

David Wolstencroft has described your relationship as a ‘will they won’t they’ romance with regards to ever working together. Why now and why this project?
David and I have wanted to work together for ages, but then he moved out of the country. Then we had a lovely lunch at BAFTA and that’s when the moment was right. He told me this idea and I leapt at it, within a couple of hours the working script had come around to my office and within another hour I’d read it and I’d told him I wanted to do it. So it all happened very quickly.
What was so appealing about the script?
There are so many different elements to The Escape Artist and that’s why I find it so appetising. When I first read it and the story unravelled something happened which actually made me jump a foot out of my seat. I was really shaken and really surprised. David’s writing always manages to surprise me and I absolutely love that.
Could you tell us a bit about the casting?
David Tennant was the first choice for Will so that was fantastic when he said yes. We then wanted somebody you absolutely believe he could have a very sexy but happy relationship with, and Ashley Jensen was again a first thought, and is perfect. For Maggie, Brian Welsh had worked with Sophie a lot, and I had been longing to work with her for years.
I think Toby Kebbell brings what Will could have been in another life, in another time to the role of Foyle. Foyle is not the most pleasant of people but there’s something attractive about him, there’s a sensuality, a charisma. They’re both magnetic and I think magnets do sometimes attract and sometimes they repel and we really needed that dynamic at the core of the piece.
What did Brian Welsh bring to the project?
It’s the first time I’ve worked with Brian. I really loved Black Mirror, it was sensational and I knew other actors that had worked with him and they all spoke very highly of him. I think what he brings is an absolute focus, he’s wonderful with the cast but he also has a real vision for the whole piece. This is quite a tapestry so you need somebody who can stand back and make sure it all comes together and he does that really well.
Why is this suited to television in particular?
To be honest TV gives you extra time, it’s that simple. There is nothing else that would warrant it not being on a big screen except that 180 minutes is a bit long. You can explore the characters more and get into the nuances, where as in a movie of 100 minutes you can’t quite have the same scope. You can have scale obviously but you can’t get into those little extras.

Paul Frift

How did you get involved with the project?
Hilary called me quite early on and I was very excited because we hadn’t worked together since State Of Play. Though since then we worked together on Restless. When she told me it was a contemporary legal thriller written by David Wolstencroft, creator of Spooks I became even more excited. Then she told me it was going to star David Tennant, and the excitement levels went straight through the roof!
What do you think the story is really about?
I guess it’s something to do with the existence of good and evil in life. Legal dramas tend to work out who is innocent or who is guilty, so it’s to do with that hunt for justice. I’ve always been fascinated by legal dramas in the sense that it is something that has been going on for centuries. When you get to the trial there’s something about that event - prosecution, defence, jury, judge - seeing that on film brings out that sense of justice in all of us.
How did you make sure everything was legally accurate?
We have a legal advisor who is a QC, Andrew Jeffries. We went to watch him at The Old Bailey and there’s certainly something of an actor in him and I think probably in every barrister because they are having to sell something to their public, the jury.
Were there any challenges on the shoot?
Shooting in Scotland was very challenging. It was snowing, very cold, possibly the coldest I’ve ever felt on a film location, and I’ve filmed in Iceland and Austria but this was very, very cold. It was a real challenge for the actors as they’re a bit more exposed than us - completely layered up in our clothing. We try and make them as warm as we possibly can but I think they are quite incredible to keep their concentration and deliver even in those circumstances. The crew too were incredibly professional, they just kept going.
Can you talk about working with David Tennant?
David is one of the most extraordinary actors I’ve ever worked with. He’s incredibly professional, very good technically, he seems to be able to remember lines like no other actor I’ve come across. I think this role will take him to places no other role has taken him recently. I think it really pushes him to give a fantastic performance.
What made you choose Brian Welsh to direct?
We looked at Black Mirror and Mayday, they were both very striking pieces of television. Brian is young, he’s fresh, he’s got a lot of new ideas and it’s been a great joy working with him. I think he is really trying to bring out the Hitchcockian tension in the drama. He’s also extremely good with actors, he’s an actors director and we like that. And he’s very good at the visual side of it. He’s doing a great job.
Could you talk more about the visuals and look of the show?
Well we’re also very lucky to have David Higgs as our cinematographer. He is extremely experienced and gives all of the visuals a very rich look. His operating style is very dynamic, and he brings out all of the different aspects of the drama.
What about the location choices?
In terms of locations, there is a distinction between the very ancient and the modern. The legal world has been around for centuries and our characters live in the modern world so we chose some very ultra modern loft apartments for both Will and Maggie, and of course The Old Bailey, Middle Temple and the High Court in Scotland bring a great contrast to the piece and it works very well.
What audience are you aiming at with The Escape Artist?
Every so often a thriller comes along that bites into what the audience wants and pushes all their buttons, and that’s what we’re hoping to do with this.