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Hunted - SJ Clarkson interview


Interview by Rob Carnevale

SJ CLARKSON talks about some of the challenges of directing BBC/HBO co-production Hunted, including shooting on location and playing with her actors. She was speaking at a launch event held at BAFTA.

Q. How do you manage all of the elements that go into Hunted – from performance to drama to secrets being kept to action? How much of the whole story do you know before you begin?
SJ Clarkson: I felt I needed to know, just to feel I was heading in the right direction. So, if there were any hints or clues to be given away we’d do them in the right way. So, Frank imparted an awful lot of information. Frank and I spent a long time discussing every character and twist and turn. So, I think in each scene what I liked to do was play with them [the actors] within the scene, so I would take them off into separate corners and give them a different motivation or something else to play or a secret that they both had, so that even though they weren’t playing the overall arc of the story, because I knew it I was able to plant in them secrets within that scene.

A good example of that is the scene during the first episode that takes place in Sam’s flat between her and Adam, where they were sort of… It was great fun for me. I got them to come across truthfully under the circumstances, even though they were sometimes playing complete nonsense really in terms of the story. But I was very firmly aware of where Frank was going with the characters. It was just about really manipulating the characters within the scene to make sure they gave us enough information.

Q. Was this all shot out on location rather than in a studio?
SJ Clarkson: Yes, it was. It was all on location, which I actually really wanted. Again, after reading the script we wanted the foreign locations to be filmed in foreign locations and to give it that international feel. It keeps it feeling more real as well and it also means that you can interpret the script more realistically and more excitingly and certainly more cinematically. For example, if you’re there, lots of things change when you go to locations and it offers things up that were often more exciting. Sometimes it would be really impossible to do what’s in the script, so you just learn to look at it in a different way and that process continued through prep with the brilliant team we had. Our designer, John Stevenson, was there on the Tangier shoot with us and he helped re-form a lot of Tangier. That scene wasn’t in a theatre originally but we found this building and we made it work. So, it was working together within what we had and the locations made for a better piece in my opinion, and gave us more of a cinematic scope than I think we’d have ever got in a studio.

Q. What challenges did you have when working with the actors?
SJ Clarkson: Well, I think we were always trying to find a truthful performance and it’s your job to create a safe space to take those risks and show those true emotions. Now, the joy of my job is that every actor is so different – some of them want a result direction, which is just telling them how I want them to say it, and others want to go deeper and really understand where it’s coming from. And both can be equally brilliant in their results. But part of the joy of my job is to figure out what actor needs what and try and create a safe environment for them to play with it… because ultimately acting is playing. They are playing. So, you want to give them a safe environment for them to be as free and uninhibited as possible. It’s a difficult one to answer. But if there was ever a time when Melissa was struggling with a line or something within a scene, or for some technical reason we were going again and again, I’d just try to give some insight, some new insight if possible, to try and find another way or a trigger point in order to sort of allow her to find a way to get to that true emotion.

But a lot of that came through preparation work. With all of my actors I do like to do rehearsal and I do an extensive amount of group rehearsal but also one on one, where I get to ask them relatively intimate questions. They’re never really personal but they’re a lot of very simple questions that open up discussions and which give me trigger points to be able to bring that back to them. Something like ‘what’s your earliest childhood memory’ is a question I often ask, and ‘have you ever hit somebody?’ And if they have, then ‘why?’ So, it’s small questions like that that give me the building blocks to enable me to allow them to find those emotions that are true and real within them. My job is to help them find the truth in these imaginary circumstances. If you can deliver that, you can give the audience a really truthful insight into where those characters are.

Read our interview with Frank Spotnitz