London Spy is Tom Robb Smith’s (author of Child 44) first original drama for TV, it begins this week on BBC Two and stars Ben Whishaw as a young man drawn into the world of espionage when his lover dies in mysterious circumstances. Here Whishaw explains what drew him to the role and the joy of working with Jim Broadbent.
How did it feel reading the script?
It felt incredibly fresh and I didn’t know what on Earth was going to happen, or what sort of a story I was in even.
I think it’s a fascinating story, a fascinating series, because although I think it is a thriller, it doesn’t really conform exactly to what you expect a thriller to do. It creates its own version of that genre.
What stood out about London Spy?
I’m amazed by how Tom Rob Smith has written a story for every single character that features in the drama, and there are many characters that Danny encounters along this journey. It’s unique and exciting because it happens so much in Danny’s head – it’s a very subjective story and all the more exciting for that I think.
What was filming like?
It’s been wonderful to work on a really fantastic piece of writing, of new writing that’s not based on anything else. It’s contemporary and challenging.
The vision that director Jakob Verbruggen has brought to it, the visual style and the energy I think is a defining quality of the series.
Tell us a bit about your character, Danny
Danny is the central character, who falls in love at the beginning of the story with Alex, and they have a very intense, deep connection. The relationship mysteriously ends abruptly. Danny doesn’t really understand. Alex then dies in mysterious circumstances. From there, the story follows Danny’s journey to try and understand what happened to his lover.
At the beginning, Danny doesn’t know he is in a spy story: he doesn’t know he is in love with a spy, he doesn’t know anything about the world of spying, and he is in a world that is quite alien to him the rules of which he does not understand at all.
I also think that Danny has a few surprises up his sleeve. He’s a complicated person and there are parts of him that are revealed slowly over the course of the five hours. It’s all part of this world that Tom has created where you aren’t quite certain of anything.
What is the relationship between Danny and Scottie?
Danny and Scottie have been friends for a very long time, and in a way it’s the central relationship in the series. That’s another thing I love about London Spy – it features this friendship between two gay men, one who is in his sixties and one who is in his twenties, so two very different generations.
There are unspoken feelings from Scottie towards Danny, but over the course of the story we realise that Danny does in his own way reciprocate those feelings of love and tenderness towards Scottie, who is a wonderful, wise and humane person, with a core of sadness in him.
Jim (Broadbent) is an incredible actor, and it’s impossible to say how he does what he does. He’s got an incredible range as an actor, so he can inhabit vastly different people.
What do you hope audiences will get from the series?
I really hope that it is as an exciting and moving and layered experience as I found it to read. I think there is something about watching a character go to the limits of an experience, to watch a character get dragged over the coals and plunge into something very dark and painful, and to come through that experience, it’s really powerful for an audience to watch.