“Babyteeth” director Shannon Murphy has just been confirmed as the director of the television adaptation of the novel “The Strays” – a psycho-sexual drama, set against the hedonistic art world of 1930s Sydney, and 1970s London during the rise of the feminist movement. Murphy has also just finished shooting episodes 5 and 6 of season 3 of “Killing Eve.” “Babyteeth” is competing for the Etoile d’Or at Marrakech Film Festival, and Murphy spoke in a round-table interview about “The Strays,” “Killing Eve,” and the dominant influences that have shaped her approach to filmmaking, including her childhood in Hong Kong.
What attracted you to “The Strays”?
It’s still in a very early stage, and they’re still writing, so I’ll be involved in that. We also have to confirm whether I’ll be helming all episodes. I loved the idea of a story that is an Australian and a U.K. coproduction and I’m really interested in the story world. The kind of creative artistic world is something that I have spent a lot of time in, and I also think that it’s often not portrayed accurately. I’m also really interested in the complexities of the story that I think are complicated and very nuanced.
I think it’s going to be a challenge and I’m up for that. I’m terrified as usual – so I’m like: that’s great that means I should do it. Whenever I get my favorite creatives around me I always say we’ve got to pick something that we haven’t done before, that we want to play with. So I say to my cinematographer you get to use some other equipment or something crazy that you’ve never done before, or ask the costume designers what they want to play with. We never know if it’s going to align or necessarily pay off, but that’s always the goal. So we always feel excited and challenged and push each other very hard.
Do you always work with the same core crew?
I always like to change it a little bit. I like to throw a renegade in there, who we haven’t worked with before, just so we don’t get stale as well and get into a pattern. But I’m really quite loyal and dedicated to the people that I work with, because they inspire me so much. So for example the editor on “Babyteeth,” Steve Evans, is working with me on “Killing Eve” at the moment. He’s a very experienced editor but he’s just such an amazing artist and brings in many influences. He did “Suburban Mayhem” and has done so much Australian TV. He’s a big part of the music as well in “Babyteeth” and “Killing Eve.”
One of the key themes of “The Strays” is the rise of feminism in the 1970s, how does that chime with your own interests?
I think that period is really interesting because of how much things have changed in the meantime. Even when I was growing up anytime you went to an event, a family member or a guy might pat you on the bum or make a sexist remark and it was always like well that that’s how things are. You know they’re from that generation, so don’t worry about it. You treated it as if that behavior was completely normal and you didn’t think twice. I think that’s what’s interesting in “The Strays” to kind of approach where those sort of conversations and those ideas came from and to sort of think about the issue from the ground up. Because a lot of people still can’t quite understand feminism. They think ‘Why are you guys complaining. Don’t you like being flirted with?’ Of course, people still want to feel attraction, I mean why would you want to go to work quite frankly if you weren’t still having a bit of chemistry with people on set, particularly in our industry. I still want to make jokes on set. Flirting is fine, okay. There’s a difference.
You’ve just finished shooting episodes 5 and 6 of season 3 of “Killing Eve” what was that like?
With “Killing Eve” what was amazing was having just come off the back of “Babyteeth” into a project where the mix is also very unusual tonally, that’s often what I’m drawn to. If I think it will be difficult to execute the tone, then I’m pretty much on board. I only finished shooting the two episodes of “Killing Eve” a week ago and now I’m in the edit.
What has been amazing is that my particular episodes focus a lot on Jodie Comer’s character, Villanelle. I’ve had the most incredible time working with Jodie. She is such a performance animal. I’ve actually never really experienced anything quite like it. I just find that her range and playfulness and performance intelligence is amazing and I hope that we’ll keep working together in the future because it’s been an extraordinary experience.
You have such a powerful exploration of character, color and sound in “Babyteeth” where does your inspiration come from?
Australia is very intense in terms of color and sound, but I think an even bigger inspiration for me is my childhood spent in Hong Kong, which is always where my heart is. Because that’s where I spent all my formative years and I just love that place so much. But I guess Australia has a huge part of my heart now because my husband is Australian and my daughter was born there and that’s where our home is. But I’ve always felt like a foreigner everywhere else other than in Hong Kong.
It’s so interesting because people watch “Babyteeth” and a lot of people feel it’s got such an Australian sensibility and I’m proud of that, because I didn’t really think I had that. I’m not from these places but I’m so fascinated by different worlds and cultures because of my upbringing and spending so much time travelling around Asia, and having such a wonderful opportunity to see how vastly different people can be. I think that’s why I’m also not surprised by what people consider to be strange human behavior. In terms of color, Hong Kong is such a neon city. It’s so vibrant.
I just love the collision in Hong Kong of East meets West and old versus new. There’s no combination that doesn’t happen there. And it’s so noisy. One day I’d love to make a film in Hong Kong. The students are so brave at the moment. It’s incredible what’s happening right now.
Marrakech is making a tribute to Australian cinema this year, what makes the country special?
Australia is such a big country, but every area looks quite different. I think that is something that has always enticed audiences because it doesn’t look like other places and it also doesn’t sound like other places. Our animals sound really different and look really different. And our sense of humor is really quite unique. We often use humor in the most challenging of circumstances. I think we do that as well because we are so isolated in a way.
We often think that we’re behind other countries. We think we’re not as progressive as other countries. But actually I think because we have this paranoia, we push ourselves so much harder and therefore actually often create something quite unique.
We don’t have huge budgets. “Babyteeth” cost around $3 million for example. So we have to be really resourceful but we have very excellent crews. They’re very fast and efficient and incredibly positive and so it’s an amazing working environment. They’re a bit like an octopus – they just sort of move and everything happens so quickly.