Tonight’s a big one for British SF and fantasy. Not only will we see the announcement of the Eleventh Doctor, but it’s the debut of Demons, ITV1’s new Saturday night monster show. As the last descendant of the Van Helsing family, teenager Luke Rutherford (Christian Cooke), gets ready to start smiting creatures of the night, we speak to Tom Harper, director of the series opener.
Does directing the opening episode of a series put a bit of pressure on you in terms of setting a tone for the show?
“Obviously each episode’s different, but absolutely, the first episode sets the tone, the style – the whole look of the show is very much dependent on that first episode to set the tone for everything else. But that’s the fun bit, as well. You get to make those creative decisions about what it’s all going to look like.”
When you first read the script, was it clear to you what you wanted the show to be?
“Peter Tabern, the writer, has clearly watched a lot of similar genre shows and knew exactly what he wanted. What I was wanting to do with it was just to slightly move away from lots of the conventions that had gone before. Obviously vampires have been done again and again and again in films and TV shows, and I wanted to do something a bit different. But the tricky thing was making sure that it kept being appropriate for that mainstream ITV1 audience, so that means not pushing it too dark, at the same time as giving it an edge and an energy and a creepiness and a scariness, so that we’re not going to terrify people but keep people on the edge of their seats and give them all the bumps and jumps you’d expect from a show like this.”
Obviously the show features fantastical creatures, but did you feel it was important to keep it grounded in reality>
“My feeling about these things is that as long as you feel it’s real for the world it’s set in, and it’s in keeping with the story, then you can get away with anything as long as you obey the rules of the story. But one of the themes of the show is very much that above ground it’s very much a contemporary 21st century cosmopolitan city with everything that entails, and the lead character is a 18-year-old boy and Ruby [his best mate] is the same age, so they’re teenagers living in London today, and I wanted to give them a contemporary relevance. At the same time you have half-lives [the name the show gives to creatures of the night] and monsters and vampires and all sorts of creatures, so underground I wanted it to be slightly Dickensian London with the dungeons and the crypts, the disused Tube stations, and all the connotations that evokes in the history of London.”
So did you use real London locations?
“The locations that we used were for the most part real locations. We used a 17th century prison in Old Street just underneath a Victorian school, it was still there, intact, and we used one of those old Victorian pumping stations, which was fantastic, It’s all there, it’s just beneath the surface, and you walk over it every day and you never know it’s there, which is actually a nice metaphor for the half-lives in general.”
The show is based around a teenage character, which must put a lot of pressure on the lead actor, Christian Cooke. How did you approach that as a director?
“In the end it is Christian who carries the show, but it’s a gang show, really, and although Christian is Luke, it’s very much about Philip Glenister [who plays Luke’s American mentor, Rupert Galvin] and Zoe Tapper [Mina Harker] as well. And really Philip Glenister is equally a lead as Christian, and Christian has him to work with and look up to. It worked very nicely. Phil’s amazing. He knows exactly what he wants and how to get it. He’s real pro. And it’s great to work with someone who is able to deliver those performances time and time again. He’s great, a real pleasure to work with him, a real privilege.”