“Who thought the most ruthless character I ever played would be on the BBC?”: Craig Fairbrass, Joanna Scanlan and Tchéky Karyo on Boat Story
Boat Story is a brand new six-part crime series from writers Harry and Jack Williams, which takes viewers along the windswept coast of Yorkshire to a small town where two strangers, Janet (Daisy Haggard) and Samuel (Paterson Joseph) come across a shipwrecked fishing boat full with a stash of drugs and two unidentified corpses.
The pair make a split-second decision about their discovery that puts them in imminent danger and starts an action-packed game of cat and mouse with the police, a criminal gang and a rather suave henchman known as “The Tailor” (Tchéky Karyo) that then compromises their families and the people they know. With a brilliant script that draws viewers deeply into the story, the narrative takes the form of a tense thriller with layers of trauma, obsession and love in all its many glorious forms.
The Upcoming had the pleasure of speaking to Craig Fairbrass, Joanna Scanlan and Tchéky Karyo about the complicated journey they all go on, the unpredictability of the story and what it was like to work with such an excellent fellow cast.
Can you start by telling us what the series Boat Story is all about and what viewers can expect when they watch this?
Joanna Scanlan: It’s a hard one to give an overview of what Boat Story is all about because it’s a very serpentine tale, where you go on a big journey from the beginning to the end and never quite where you expect it to go. It’s set in a fictitious town in Yorkshire on the coast and into that town comes ten tonnes of cocaine landing on the shore following a botched drug drop. Then two passersby, actually three passersby, discover this cocaine and two of them decide to take it in the hope it might restore their lives to something that is workable because both of them have broken lives. But, they fail to think through that somebody owns that cocaine and so there are massive consequences to them stealing this gear and it involves bringing in the next one down from the main King called “The Tailor” who then arrives in this town with his team of hired assassins to disrupt this cosy Yorkshire town where people make pasties and eat them, (my character is the maker of those pasties) and turn it into something akin to a bloodbath – but a very entertaining, emotionally rich and comedic bloodbath.
Craig, you have become well-versed in some of these types of gangster and action-fuelled characters before but what was it about this script and this role that you particularly liked?
Craig Fairbrass: It was just one thing. For me, it was the vulnerability. To show someone who’s this henchman, who’s a little bit more complex, a touch insecure, becoming more and more aware of what he’s doing, a guy who is vulnerable, and adding those complex layers.
Tchéky, you’ve worked with Harry and Jack Williams before on the shows The Missing and Baptiste. What was it like coming back to work with them and to see that character The Tailor that they had created for you?
Tchéky Karyo: I felt proud, I felt that again they gave me the opportunity to go through a stronger journey and deal with other characters with lots of layers and depths that are trapped within themselves. So, as an actor to play that and to fight with the arc of what you play, always on your toes, I felt it was a great opportunity along with my fellow actors, it was superb. There’s something choral in it, there were two of them writing it so they are really focused on every character. The quality of what they do – they give us real tools to be able to fight and to have fun in the ring.
Joanna, you’re all in this fictional small town in Yorkshire and you play this local shopkeeper who probably doesn’t really like anything to change, but then The Tailor comes to town and stirs up the waters, especially with your character. Can you talk about working with Tchéky Karyo and what it was like?
JS: It’s a place not known for anything very exciting happening and even a French man arriving seems to be quite an unusual event. I think for me as an actor, working with Tchéky was absolutely joyful, fun and a tremendously beautiful experience. We had a lovely time right from the beginning. We played a lot with the comedy and drama and we were able every day to bring something fresh to that. I’m not saying anything in terms of what happens in our story but as actors, as people, we discovered that we both love horses and that we’ve both swum with sharks, in real life, and as actors we are both adventurous, we quite like the animal world and taking risks with animals so we would constantly push each other on. I’m also a massive fan of French cinema, I adore it, and Tchéky is in the heart of it and has been for many decades so he knows everyone and has hundreds of stories to tell us about these superstars who we admire from a distance. It couldn’t have been any better. I mean, we hated the Yorkshire winter, we struggled with that but otherwise, it was just great and Yorkshire really is just such a great county to work in as well.
The cinematic approach to this series is really unique, the voice-over narration is something we’ve seen so many times in classic films like Goodfellas and then the title cards, like a black and white old silent movie too. Then there’s this brilliant stand-out scene for you in a police station, which is a bit like movies such as John Wick or Kin. What do you think these established techniques and references help bring to the story? Do you think they help give it more depth?
CF: Definitely. I think it’s got an international dimension to it without a shadow of a doubt. Everything about it, if you look at it, it reminds me of something I would gravitate to watch. If I saw that I would watch it because I love Fargo, No Country for Old Men. I like all that American stuff that is a little bit left-field but really different… with the British touch. Because it’s so original, the cinematography, the look, the feel, the tone, the violence, the comedic side of things and the emotional threads. It’s just so refreshing.
NS: I’m saying Quentin Tarantino meets Ken Loach. Because it’s not American, is it? But Jack and Harry have taken a lot of that tone from American work but it doesn’t come out like that.
CF: No, it’s got its own identity.
Tchéky, the tone of your character The Tailor feels familiar to other roles you have played but there’s this layer of violence that you bring to this, too. How did you approach playing that?
TK: It’s fun. It’s an outlet and plus you have the freedom to do it. I love action, so it’s a great opportunity to let the dark side of yourself come out. That’s why sometimes I heard in Japan, in the factories and companies, that they would allow the people working in the building to go downstairs below and face the owner and fight them. It’s an outlet.
NS: I think one of the things Tchéky is so good at being this character is that the brooding threat of violence is so much more threatening than the execution of the violence. He brings an elegant threat constantly, which he brings to the town and the people he meets and because we know he can do horrible things from the very beginning but later on I think the audience is not sure what he’ll do next. It’s a real elegant restraint, which makes him very threatening.
What was it like working with such a brilliant ensemble cast and on action all together?
CF: Dream come true for me, to be in the company of such stunning actors. It’s lovely to watch, when you watch somebody work you think to yourself, “Oh God, he’s good.”
TK: It was a pleasure. There’s no competition, we are just focused on the material and we accept being directed, it’s a great opportunity.
NS: It’s like tennis before the match begins when you’re not looking up. It’s like you’re both going to hit the ball and it doesn’t matter what the outcome is, you still want to meet each other at every point and it’s a delightful process, tremendously good fun. [I had a] genuinely creative experience with every actor. All the downtime too – great cast for chats.
What do you hope viewers take away from watching the show?
CF: I think they’re going to be seriously surprised. I really, really believe that and it’s so good, I can say that hand on heart because I’m a harsh critic. I may do stuff I may not want to do as an actor but I like to watch quality, and that’s what this show is. It’s different, it’s original and it’s fresh. It’s got depth, it’s got everything. Who thought the most ruthless character I ever played would be on the BBC?
TK: It’s a discombobulated, flabbergasting… (laughter).
NS: I think people will be wildly entertained and I think that’s the joy of great storytelling. There’s also a lot of hard work that’s gone into it at every level. From crew through to Jack and Harry who never stopped working on it and never had a weekend off because they were working on it and getting it better and better. We as actors had to work hard against some weather problems and things like that but that’s invisible at the end of the day because what you’re trying to do is entertain people.
Boat Story is released on BBC One and BBC iPlayer on 19th November 2023. Read our review here.
Watch the trailer for Boat Story here: