by Tim Birkbeck
With a number of short films and TV series already under his belt, Anders Engström came to Taboo with a wealth of knowledge in the world of television directing.
However, this project was a little bit different, and for the Scandinavian director there was a combined sense of familiarity and stepping into the unknown.
With plans for Taboo – the story of adventurer James Keziah Delaney (Tom Hardy) who returns to London during the War of 1812 to rebuild his late father’s shipping empire – to air a second series already well underway, Engström took the time to talk to VultureHound and reflect on the success of series one.
Firstly, just wanted to say congratulations on the success of Taboo
Why thank you very much, we worked really hard on the project and it is great to see that people reacted to it in such a great way.
When news of Taboo started coming out in the press there was a huge buzz surrounding it and it ended up being this massive success. When you were filming it could you feel that there was this buzz surrounding the project?
When you are inside an artistic enterprise you live inside it and you don’t really relate to the outside world while you are involved in it. So we very much enjoyed being in the world of Taboo; it was very much alive and creative all the time, and it was nourishing the imagination. Based on that we always thought we were onto something very honest and real and we could see that what we were filming had some gravitas to it. So I think we always felt we were on to something good, just maybe not the scale it came out at!
The whole project was a very collaborative effort, was that feeling present on set?
Indeed it was and I think the word “family” would describe it very well. Tom (Hardy) would know every single person’s name on set, I mean that is just the type of man he is. From that sort of energy the family is built. Chips (Hardy) became a very good friend and he was an invaluable supporter of information about the time, about the project, where it came from and what their intentions were, so we collaborated very well. And that also gave me a head start to really get into the project, understand what their intentions were and serve it to the best of my ability, adding my enthusiasm and vision to it.
You had the task of doing the latter episodes in the series. How did it feel bringing the show to its current conclusion?
Well, first of all I studied Kristoffer’s (Nyholm) script very well, so I would know where the characters came from. I probably read his scripts more than I initially read mine to know exactly the who, the why and the how. I also really studied the material in the edit to see the tone and the atmosphere and how the characters were interpreted. So I came in very well prepared. And then you need to know a few things. You need to know who the characters are, what are their relationships and what are their secrets. Then you need to know what is the story and what is the genre. So you just need to keep these things very well at hand and know absolutely everything surrounding them.
So a large part was making sure yours and Kristoffer’s work seamlessly flowed into each another?
Yes it was. Also because sometimes when you are doing a series you revisit parts when you are going through the edit. But because Kristoffer was still filming some bits whilst I was filming, we could add things of additional value to each others’ episodes when we were at certain locations. I could add a scene or two to block one and visa versa. There was no sense of competition in this project – it was all about collaboration and for the greater good of the show.
What was it like doing a project to the scale of Taboo?
In terms of visual scope it is the biggest. But when you have Ridley Scott’s hand-picked people to create the production line and the background atmosphere, you also get a depth in the picture that the producer gives you, which is big and gives certain scenes that extra bit of gravitas. So in a way, my work is to collaborate with the actors, to create a blocking which is organic for the scene with the excellent cinematographer Mark Patton. Having people like that involved made sure that this show had that grand feel to it.
Do you think because of Taboo people might seek out more of your work and look forward to any projects you have in the future?
It seems so! There have been a lot of enquires for me lately, which is great! I have been recognised and I am very happy for that. I love British cinematography and British film knowledge in general. I went to film school here in 1986, which means I have my cinematic roots in this country. So it was very easy for me to step in. I have just finished the final season of The Tunnel, which I started, and it was a true joy to work with a lot of my old buddies again in Taboo. So yes, there are more opportunities here than there are in Scandinavia and after a while people get to know who you are and what you are about.
We know that series two of Taboo is on the horizon, but for you, once the dust had settled on series one, what was the most rewarding thing for yourself?
For me it was that collaboration the with actors. The actor is a co-creator of any scene, and this is very much the directorial style of Scandinavia. It seems that the intelligent British actors who I had the privilege of working with seemed to enjoy the idea of collaboration within the Scandinavian tradition.
Taboo is out now on Blu-ray, DVD and digital platforms, courtesy of StudioCanal