New drama for BBC One starring Matthew Macfadyen, Jerome Flynn and Adam Rothenberg
Myanna Buring plays Long Susan
Tell us about your character
I play Long Susan in this new exciting series of Ripper Street. And we’re currently sitting in a location called Tenter Street. And Tenter Street is my not so humble abode. It is a brothel. The best brothel in East London, I’ll have you know. And this is my business. I run this business. And just so you’re aware today that we’ve got lots of filming going on upstairs and they’re moving lights outside. So if you hear a bit of noise, welcome to our world.
Long Susan is an interesting anomaly. Well, first of all she’s called Long Susan and she's played by an actress who’s incredibly short. One of our editors was saying that she was surprised when she met me because she thought I looked so large (laughs) on screen. I think she meant tall but who knows, maybe wider as well.
Susan’s this well-spoken, obviously educated woman who is running a brothel in East London. We don’t really know her past when we first meet her. And we get the sense that perhaps she’s harbouring a secret. And East London is notorious for attracting characters who want to harbour secrets and run away from some kind of a past. So obviously East London has served her well in that way. And she’s arrived here with an American called Jackson, who she seems to have a sort of love/hate relationship with.
What drew you to the character?
I was really drawn to Long Susan because she was this incredibly strong independent woman who has forged a life for herself in which she is comparably autonomous to a lot of women of the time. And as opposed to being a two dimensional prop she’s a real character who has a real story arc throughout the series. And I think that’s always really interesting to play. I think it’s much more interesting as an actor to play a character who you don’t immediately understand, that you peel the layers off.
What makes Ripper Street different to other cop shows?
I mean, Jack The Ripper is such an interesting phenomenon and we’ve been fascinated by it throughout time. And we’ve so many stories about it. We’re all in love with cop series. We have so many examples of them. So why do another one? But I think as soon as I read Ripper Street I was hooked because there’s a real edginess to this story. Richard Warlow’s really discovered a really richly textured world. And above all I think he creates that with the characters he’s chosen to explore. So as opposed to just appealing to elements of the time, that we know anyway, we’re getting to know characters that are new to us. That hopefully it will be a real exciting journey for an audience to take with them.
Tell us about the people who have created the wonderful world of Ripper Street and how they have helped you form the character
They have essentially assembled the most incredible creative team to create the world of Ripper. Mark Geraghty our production designer is a genius. Every set, every location you go to is just so detailed. It’s so rich. As soon as we walked into Tenter Street, Mark brought this place to life. You know, walking into Jackson’s rooms, suddenly you got a real sense of the character. And he did what a great production designer does. He aids you as an actor because he gives you all these references to use and to work off. References that you wouldn’t necessarily have at your disposal but because they’re there you can use them. And it completely transports you into the world and the life of these characters.
And Lorna Mugan has created the most incredible costumes. Long Susan, I think, has the best costumes in the show, they’re all done from scratch. We spoke early on and decided that we wanted Long Susan to be a peacock figure. As much as she wants to hide from her past and blend into East London, she’s a character who’s made a choice to work from a place of authority as opposed to being subservient. In order to do that she dresses up. She dresses colourfully, so she can be authoritative in a man’s world.
All these costumes are handmade by an incredibly gifted team. Sharon Doyle as well, our make-up designer has done such a beautiful job on all the characters. And also all the work she does when we get bruised a lot and beaten up a lot. All of us, she’s great at that. And Eileen Buggy has, you know, created a masterpiece with hair. I most definitely do not have this kind of volume on my head normally.
Any job that you do you starts with a script that you’re given. You start with the notes you get from your director. And then you work collaboratively with your costume designer and your makeup designer and your hair designer. And all together you start to form this person. And without that collaboration it just wouldn’t happen. All actors would agree that you sort of arrive, you know, your 21st century self, possibly looking quite groggy in the early in the morning in the make-up chair. And then a couple of hours later you emerge as something else; and as you watch yourself being transformed it definitely helps you get into the character and into the sort of life and movement. And costumes like this change the way you walk for example. Wearing a corset absolutely has an effect on how you sit and how you hold yourself and, I feel so bad for Victorian women. I don’t know how they did it and I’m not surprised that corsets went out of fashion as they can be quite painful at times. I’ve got wonderful Jess who dresses me because I can’t get into this on my own. I need help. Jess has a battle every morning. She’s trying to tighten my corset, you know, literally trying to pull it. I’m going, ‘No. No.’ Apparently I arch my back and she’s like, “Stop arching your back! I can’t put it on properly.” I’m going, ‘I know but it hurts.’ She calls me a wuss, but I’ll take that, I’m okay with being a wuss, that’s fine.
What do you think is the universal appeal of the series?
I think the fascination that we have with Victorian times and Jack The Ripper is multifaceted, but partly I think it’s because Victorian times in some way, shape or form lives very much in our collective consciousness, as does Jack The Ripper. The Victorian era had such an enormous influence on society and the world, you know, in terms of industry and buildings, architecture, etc. So I think it’s something that we were affected by and we’re also intrigued by because it was such a contradiction as a society. On the one hand you can view it as incredibly strict and filled with rules and etiquettes. And it was also a time of huge change and huge social movement. It was also quite well known for being... as is the case of most rue, with repressed cultures... quite deviant. They had this really sort of dark undercurrent. And I think people are fascinated by that and it’s something that you never tire of going back to. You never tire of the stories that come out of Victorian era.
And Jack The Ripper is a figure that very much lives in our collective consciousness. Like with all serial killers or all things that are unknown to us, they tap into our basic fears as human beings. And anything that is threatening to our lives is a fear. And Jack The Ripper united people in their fear. He’s another example of the stories that we tell each other to scare ourselves.
I think there was an actually interesting episode in Luther last year where they spoke about that. One of the villains in that episode talked about Jack The Ripper being necessary because it united people, it gave them something to be scared about. And I thought that was quite an interesting way to view him, and I thought it’s probably a quite a correct way to view him. I think why are we fascinated by serial killers? Why are we fascinated by disasters, natural or manmade? It’s something that scares us and things that scare us fascinate us, and also it unites us because fear is something we all share. And also questions; we’re curious people. Why? Why? Who? Who was it? Who could it have been? Questions keep you coming back.
And beyond the interest, universal and worldwide, in Jack The Ripper, in the Victorian era, I think this show offers a lot for an audience. It’s sumptuous to look at. And there are a lot of different characters to get involved with and to connect with and to hopefully want to go on a journey with. And I also think that the story lines are fun. It’s entertaining at the end of the day, which is always important. So I think it offers a lot. You know, we’ve got action here, we’ve got romance, we’ve got loss, we’ve got love, we’ve got hate and we’ve got a lot of fighting.
Any stand-out moments?
There’s been lots of stand out moments for me on this. We filmed for almost five months. One of my favourite moments was working with our stunt coordinator, Giedrius Nagys, who basically choreographed a fight with me and these street kids who are run by a gang lord played by Joseph Gilgun. Our inimitable, wonderful Joseph Gilgun. I basically break into his gambling den and then try to escape with something that I shouldn’t be escaping with. And I get attacked by these young kids and Giedrius decided that they wouldn’t use new stunt men or women. He would use extras. And he brought these kids in who had never really done it before. Trained them up and we got this really, naturalistic, organic fight. And it was so much fun to do. Such a laugh to do. So we spent a day choreographing that and working on that. And then got onto set and I got to fight in this dress, which I have to say was a challenge but one that hopefully pays off. It was a lot of fun to do.
Who was Jack The Ripper?
I don’t know. Charlene and I always talk about it and we sort of... initially I just said, God, of course, she’s a woman. She was a woman who was annoyed at all the whores that her husband was going out and sleeping with, so she went out and took revenge. But I mean, that’s just ridiculous really. I don’t know and I think that’s partly what makes the story interesting. We don’t know. Somebody obviously was psychotic. Somebody obviously didn’t like women. Somebody who obviously had… in an incredibly dark way, a very artistic mind. As murders go those were pretty far fetched accomplishments. I don’t know if I want to know. The only thing that I’m very glad about is that I’m pretty sure that whoever Jack The Ripper was, they ain’t here anymore and that makes me quite happy.
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