The Version Interview... John Hurt on Sky Atlantic's The Last Panthers.
Riveting action, captivating characters and intelligent drama abound in Sky Atlantic’s breathtaking new crime drama, The Last Panthers. The series takes its name from a group of jewel thieves known as the Pink Panthers, who pull off a daring diamond heist to trigger a dark dive into Europe’s murky network of traffickers, gangsters and ‘banksters’, as seen through the eyes of a policeman, a loss adjuster and a criminal. An impressive ensemble features Oscar ® nominee Samantha Morton, Croatian star Goran Bogdan, A Prophet’s Tahar Rahim and acting legend John Hurt, while scripts from Jack Thorne (This is England ‘86, ‘88 & ‘90) and direction by Johan Renck (Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead), ensure this expansive new series will keep you gripped until the very end.
Actor John Hurt tells us more...
Could you introduce us to your character…?
When we first meet Tom, he’s in insurance. That’s how he gets involved with the diamonds. It’s not really until you get to episode four, which is a flashback episode, you realise he was in MI6 before that. So he’s well versed in the way in which the world works, put it that way. You’d think that he’s probably something of an idealist, but one of the great things about the writing here is that it’s like a dance between the tips of icebergs – a lot is left for the audience to figure out, in a sense. It’s like giving somebody a puzzle.
Is that the case with the story, too?
Yes. As it starts off you think it’s going to be just a heist – I thought it was when I first read it – and then you realise there is a whole darker area to it. All these people have a history and that goes back to Serbia and the Balkans. It’s a clever mix – it uses all of the devices of a thriller, but it feeds in a whole political under-structure.
What interested you about the story?
It’s an interesting area altogether. Although it starts by looking back some years it’s completely contemporary in its concerns. It’s quite a political piece – it’s about modern Europe and about why, in many ways, if you’re not passionate about Europe, you ought to be because if we’re not, there is nobody to deal with America and Russia. It’s not exactly a description of modern Europe but it hints at a lot that’s going on, and the Balkans has always been a fascinating area in that respect. We’re so concerned with our own position in Europe and whether it’s working or whether it isn’t working that we lose sight of what the concept of a united Europe is. And I can’t think of a film or television series that has really touched on the proper interests of Europe like this one does.
What does filming on location around Europe add to the show?
The fact that you are in these places, I think, and using the actors from these places and using subtitles and not doing things as it were, ‘out of England,’ means it is a properly European piece, if you can have such a thing. It’s very adventurous in that respect of Sky to make it that way. It affects what you’re doing as an actor as well. You immediately reflect on what your situation as a Briton is. It would have been very different if we’d done it all out of England, say, and we’d had an English director and we’d mocked the Serbian scenes up in London. It would have a very different feel, I’m sure of it. The fact that you’re working with French actors, with Serbian actors and so on, and they’re all stars in their own right, which is just as important as being a star in England, that, I think immediately colours the way in which you look at all of it, as you can imagine. You’d be making the same mistakes that Tom makes – underestimating the abilities of the Serbians – if you didn’t see that.
Tom represents an old style of Britishness in this new world. How does Britain come out of this piece?
You get an understanding that maybe we’re not everything we think we are. It’s like when you first discover Britain in its dealings with the world through history hasn’t always been right. I always thought we were always right, and I was brought up to believe we were the good people. We were always on the good side, and then you gradually gain an understanding that quite a lot of the time, or more than quite a lot of the time, we were definitely not on the right side. And that most of it was our fault – starting with India and Empire and all those things. It’s that assumed superiority – which is not popular abroad.
What is Tom’s relationship with Naomi?
It’s a fascinating relationship, because if I was Naomi, I would have given him up ages ago. But for some reason, for somebody who is as ballsy as she is, she stays with him. She obviously finds something in him; he’s useful to her. He has the means, in terms of what’s happened to her, to be able to do something about it. So he’s using her and she’s using him as well.
Is Tom based on anyone in particular?
I think he’s fictitious but I suspect that he’s drawn from all kinds of observed experience. I don’t think he’s just made-up. But then you don’t really get to know Tom that much. You get hints of who he is – sometimes you think he’s an idealist and other times you realise that he’s an idealist, maybe, but he’s fallen for corruption, as so often happens.
How have you found working with Samantha?
Oh, she’s great to work with. I’d known her but had never worked with her before. She’s enormously analytical, much more so than I am. But you find that her instinct is invariably correct.
And Johan Renck?
I’ve warmed to him more and more in the days that we’ve been working together. He is very, very good and he is very shrewd, very clear on what he is seeing. With directors, the dynamic is to try to be part of the same thing. You work together. You don’t work ‘for’ them. When I started, you did work for a director and it was made very clear that’s what you did – you even called the cameraman ‘Sir.’ Now the whole idea is that it is a team, and that’s been the case here.
The Last Panthers starts 12th November, on Sky Atlantic.