Tom Burke, best known to global audiences as the restrained, husky private detective Cormoran Strike of BBC’s adaptation of J.K. Rowling’s Robert Galbraith novels, is hanging up his hat in British indie film “The Show” to play… another detective. But one, he hastens to add, dreamt up by fantastical “Watchmen” creator Alan Moore. There’s a difference.
“I was worried it would be a little repetitive,” says a thoughtful Burke, the first to acknowledge the optics. “But in the end, the whole world of it was so kind of upside down, and through some weird lens, that it was a contrast in a really interesting way. And I’m a huge Moore fan and have been for a very long time.”
“The Show,” which is being shopped by the U.K.’s Protagonist Pictures and premieres at the Sitges Film Festival , marks a rare project for Moore that isn’t based on graphic novel source material. The iconic English writer behind “V For Vendetta” and “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” also stars in the film, which is produced by EMU Films and backed by the BFI. A phantasmagorical effort set in the East Midlands town of Northampton, “The Show” finds Burke’s Fletcher Dennis on a mission to locate a stolen artefact for a client, but soon ensconced in a bizarre world of vampires, sleeping beauties and Voodoo gangsters.
“It was a no brainer, really,” says Burke, who says he appreciates a “complicity” with a filmmaker, as he shared with Joanna Hogg in arthouse darling “The Souvenir,” where he starred as one half of a troubled couple opposite Honor Swinton Byrne.
“That character was occupying the screen in a very particular way. [You could] sense him being almost on the periphery and obscured in the shadow of his dark suit,” says the London-born actor. “With [‘The Show’], it is a totally different thing, because there was a sense of constantly messing around with the equilibrium of the landscape we were in.”
Recently, Burke has been filming “True Things” — a film adaptation of Deborah Kay Davies’ novel “True Things About Me” — with Ruth Wilson on the East Coast of England. “We were filming before lockdown and then it all went on hold,” he explains. “We picked it up a few weeks ago.” After England, production will move to Spain, says Burke.
Next up, the actor will be seen in David Fincher’s “Mank,” in which he plays Orson Welles. (Incidentally, Hogg first clocked the physical resemblance between the two in 2019). Read on for Burke’s full interview with Variety:
Were you part of the original shorts that “The Show” was based on?
No, but funny enough, I nearly was. I was asked, and I couldn’t, and then I ended up doing the voiceover on one of them.
What was it like working with Alan and director Mitch Jenkins on the feature-length version?
[There was a] sense of disorientation, which I think we all needed to feed into. So the camera would be in some angle and we’d be kind of doing anything we could to meet it halfway, even if that meant spinning around in a circle just before “action.” Everything was kind of off center, which sounds a bit random and a weird thing to be doing, but with [every film] you sort of make it up as you go along. There’s no set way of doing things. I find them very, very experimental — in a good way.
How did you find the experience of actually acting alongside Moore? Not many people have those bragging rights
He’s an extraordinary human being and would make an extraordinary actor if it was something he particularly wanted to do. He’s just got something about him; he was great to work with.
In our London-centric industry, it’s brilliant to see Northampton featured as a proper character in this film. Was that any kind of draw for you?
Yeah, definitely, and I really felt the difference of that. Sometimes, one feels like the film people arrive in some town and just grab the bits they need. In this instance, it felt very grassroots, at least because Mitch and Alan live there, but also in the way they involved so many people with all kinds of skills. They had a respect for the town and buildings and how we were using them. It’d be great if the industry went in a bit more of a grassroots direction.
We’ll next see you in David Fincher’s “Mank,” about “Citizen Kane” screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz, for Netflix. The scale of these two films is so different. What draws you to such roles as an actor?
If I don’t feel an immediate curiosity about the character, let alone how brilliant a script it is, I sort of feel like I don’t know how to do my job in it. I’m lucky to be in a position where I can choose a bit more than in the past. If there’s that curiosity there, then I’m on to a good thing, and I know how to use my energy.
How did you dig into your role as Orson Welles?
Playing people who exist on film can start to feel very outside one’s process, and it can be three times more intimidating than playing historical figures, where we don’t know what they sounded like, or looked like, or moved. So, you feel you’re spinning a lot more plates than normal. But I’d always wanted to play him and I heard the film was being made, and I immediately phoned my agent. There was a problem with the dates, but suddenly things shifted, and then I was talking to David [Fincher] himself over Zoom and going through the [scripts]. Then, I was told he wanted me to do the job and it was just a question of working out the dates. The first time I’d worked in America, I was in theater. This was the first time I’d really spent any time in Los Angeles, and it was quite intimidating, playing somebody who is so much a part of that landscape.
For one of the earliest rehearsal periods, I remember walking around one of those big studios and I had to sort of gather myself and just try not to feel intimidated. But everybody was incredibly nice to me, and David is very hands-on in terms of giving notes and I think one can only take confidence in that. It was a bit of a whirlwind. I was there right at the end of the shoot, and it was two weeks. And suddenly it was all over.
During the lockdown period, what kind of work were you involved in?
I did a lot of voice stuff. There was another thing I was trying to fit in, but [there was an issue] that’s happened a lot, where it’s not that the filming dates necessarily overlap but the self-isolating periods overlap, or there isn’t time to do it. There was slightly less work than I was maybe hoping for, but I’ve been fairly busy with filming “True Things” and doing post production work on some things. I also made a little short film. I kept busy.
Any plans to return as Cormoran Strike for a fifth season of the show for the BBC? Rowling just released the fifth book, “Troubled Blood,” at the end of September.
There are conversations about that. I think it would be filming not necessarily next year but the beginning of , just to give it time and to get it right. I don’t mind waiting, although I do love doing those, so it would be nice to get back to them.