Strike - The Cuckoo's Calling

Robert Galbraith’s Cormoran Strike novels adapted for a major new tv series on BBC One

Interview with Producer Jackie Larkin

What's amazing is the unbelievable level of research that Galbraith / J.K. Rowling does for every single location. She has been to all of those places. She has sat in different windows and looked out and thought, what do you see from that angle? Who is the clientele of this little pub? Jackie Larkin, Producer
Date: 15.08.2017     Last updated: 15.08.2017 at 17.25
Category: BBC One; Drama; Casting

Can you describe where we are when we’re introduced to Strike’s world?
Yes. OK, so it’s quite interesting. Strike’s world, when we meet him, is in this pretty run-down office in Denmark Street. It’s quite shabby. Denmark Street - for anyone who knows it - has a faded glory of old guitar shops. It still attracts lots of tourists and music lovers every year. His office is above one of these guitar shops and it is kind of falling apart.

What’s wonderful about it is the contrast of the world that he has to now go into in The Cuckoo’s Calling. This is the world of high fashion, of a top model who is originally from Chelsea and lives in Mayfair. So, he’s going into some of the most exclusive parts of London and has to, whether he likes it or not, make some bit of an effort to put on a tie, or the one jacket that he owns. So it’s a wonderful contrast.

The fashion world is an interesting one to look at because it moves so fast. How do you as producer approach the way in which that show is going to look and feel?
It was interesting with The Cuckoo’s Calling because it is all about the fashion world - and as we know, that changes with the seasons. We had endless conversations in pre-production about how were we going to portray the fashion world, and what if we are already out of date by the time we’ve decided upon something. It took a lot of development and conversation with our costume designer Suzanne Cave and our wonderful designer Helen Scott and Michael Keillor the director.

We hit upon this thing that OK, it centres around this designer Guy Some, so let’s say this current collection of his is going to be quite grungy and street wear, so it’s back to where he came from.

And if you go with the street wear thing, that’s kind of timeless and that’s what we came up with and felt it worked. His key selection or his key for that period was that grungy streetwear, but every so often we were able to pop into some high fashion images and do some big billboards which was great fun as well, but that we felt that’ll work and it’ll be timeless enough for people not to say "Oh, that’s so last year" or "that’s so 2010"!

All of the photo shoots we did we had proper fashion photographers in to do those in advance and we used to laugh, saying we’ve spent so much time on these photo shoots and we haven’t shot a frame yet. But you've lost the audience if you haven’t got that authenticity and if Lula doesn’t feel like a proper supermodel or the world she inhabits it doesn't work.

You’re entering a city that is super busy. Having to practically shoot in London. What advantages did London offer you?
The thing that London offers you is its vibrancy and it is city of fashion. It’s there on your doorstep, everywhere you look it’s all about fashion and it has been for years. So that’s there for the taking.

To try and actually get into any of these designers or into their workshops to see the behind the scenes isn’t so easy, because they’re busy people and they’re busy with their next collection.

We were lucky enough to get into a fashion school, so that’s where we set a lot of the Guy Some’s scenes. It was authentic because these were students who had been training, so everything looked like it should. That was just a stroke of luck. Then we were very lucky, we got access to a really high-quality boutique in Mayfair, where we shot some important scenes and that just really looked like the real deal which was great.

Then, contrasted to that, you’ve got Strike’s own world which is his office. How did you approach that?
The wonderful thing is obviously the original material. You’ve got so much to go on with Robert Galbraith, the descriptions are fantastic, they’re so vivid. They’re written for you and are there for the taking.

We knew we had to be on Denmark Street. All of us would have been so upset if we didn’t get to film on Denmark Street. For practical reasons it’s too noisy to try and locate the interior of his office there, so we had to build that on a sound stage in West London.

We’d have loved to have filmed within that building itself, but you just couldn’t. The Crossrail work is happening right beside you. Even to get two lines of dialogue between Robin and Strike walking on the street is tricky. We were always to be found there very early on a Sunday morning when there was no one else around.

I will never forget the first day when everybody arrived on Denmark Street and we were all so buzzed up, saying, "We’re here, we’ve made it, we’re on Denmark Street and we’re allowed!"

Of course, when we meet Strike he’s literally down on his luck, he has very little money to his name. He’s sleeping in his office because he’s just had a major row with his girlfriend Charlotte. So he’s gone from her gorgeous Holland Park home to this pretty dreary looking office. But it works for Strike and it’s also I suppose a nod to all of those noir detectives. Without being on the nose, I think it’s important that we give the nod to that noir era. He’s a modern noir detective, is how I describe him.

What attracts us to him? Everybody seems to fall in love with the character, but for what reasons?
I think there’s a couple of things with Strike. Firstly, he describes himself as this Cornish Giant, so he is this giant walking around the city with his heavy coat. He doesn’t quite fit in. That’s one thing that’s very charming about him. But he’s also, in a sense, an everyman. He’s not supposed to be this beautiful looking lean, fit, detective who’s running around town. That’s not him. Neither does he wear these really flash suits. I think it’s all of the things that make up the character of Strike that you can’t just help falling for him.

He’s slightly overweight, he loves junk food. He’s not quite a techno-phobe, but you’re not going to see him flashing his iPad any minute now. But he’s got his old ways of doing things and they work.

People take him for granted. He sees things the cops don’t and that’s how he gets his crime solved.

Why is his private life so disastrous?
I just think that’s the kind of character he is, he’s chaotic. It’s to do with his past, obviously. His mother, Leda Strike, was an ex-groupie. She was a beautiful model who hung around with all the rock stars. His Dad was Johnny Rokeby, who is an ageing rock star, who never had any time for Strike. He grew up living in various squats with his mother, so it was quite a chaotic childhood, so I think that had something to do with it.

Also, possibly when he was in the military, he stuck with a straightforward military regime and he was obviously very good at what he did, as former SIB, but it kind of all went to hell a bit when he was obviously involved in a very serious explosion in Helmand, where he lost his leg. He’s trying to recover and restore his life back and that’s not easy. I think it’s about focusing on what the important things are, which in this instance when we meet him, is survival.

Physically, as a character, he’s lost a leg. But you’re not using that as mechanism for the story-telling, but it is a part of his character. How do you make sure you maintain that balance?
That goes back to the character of Strike himself. He’s stoic. When we meet him he’s barely two and a half years out of Helmand, but he’s determined and he’s not going to let this disability get in his way. So as storytellers we can’t let it get in the way either.

We met several other advisors and people who helped us along the way who had experienced that very thing. We had one advisor, Barney, who had lost his leg in Helmand and works at an outdoor education centre. He’s just a joy and he’s getting on with his life and he’s not letting it get in the way. I suppose we’re seeing that in real life and that inspires Strike as well, that story. You have to survive and get on with it as there really is no alternative.

We didn’t want it to just colour everything he did, because that’s not him. He gets with it. There are times when it gets in the way, like when he’s in a chase and he can’t keep running and he’s so frustrated because it holds him back. Then there’s the physicality of how you have to maintain the leg, with creams and rubs and typically of Strike he doesn’t do that. He only does it when it’s very severe. So, I think it is a fine balance but it’s in the background. The story isn’t Strike as a character, it’s these mysteries he has to solve. He has to find the culprit, that’s his job.

How much of Strike's character visually is defined by his coat?
Yes, the coat is the genius of our costume designer Suzanne Cave. Really, she painstakingly had that coat handmade, finding the right swabs. She knew in her head what it needed to be, I think from the get go. She had something in her head that was this mix of tweed and wool. This coat is very good quality. If you imagine it, Strike would have bought himself one good coat and this coat probably had to last him for 20 years, but it’s a good coat.

Once he puts it on, he becomes that Cornish Giant. It’s a proper private investigator coat. It’s just part of who he is and it almost makes him grow five inches I think. When he puts it on, with the broad shoulders, it’s a part of him, it’s part of the fabric of the man.

Can you tell us what research went into Strike's prosthetic leg?
It was very important to get aspects of the leg correct, and movement. So that’s where we had a movement coach with us, because there are certain things that are difficult when you’ve got a prosthetic leg: climbing stairs, slippery surfaces or uneven surfaces.

It was really important to Tom as an actor to get that right and to get that authenticity right. People will know that he’s not going to be able to run up the stairs, because he wouldn’t be able to get up the stairs.

Galbraith describes the locations so well and in so much detail; how much pressure does that put on you?
I honestly would hand this baton over to Jethro Ensor, our Supervising Locations Manager, because he adored the books. He just saw it as a challenge; he just thought, if it’s written in the book then I’m getting in there. Unless that location doesn’t exist anymore, I’m getting us in there.

That’s what was amazing, the absolutely unbelievable level of research that Galbraith/J.K. Rowling does for every single location. She has been to all of those places. She has sat in different windows and looked out and thought what do you see from that angle? What do you see from there? Who are the clientele of this little pub? If you go down this Mayfair street, what are you seeing? What does it imply, what kind of an atmosphere does it exude?

That was the sheer joy for Jethro and for all of us, on the recces going into these locations, and people opening the door. When they heard why we were there they were very happy to let us in.

Why was it so hard to shoot Lula Landry’s apartment?
We can’t blame anybody for that because it was a tricky thing to find. On the advice of her uncle, Lula bought this apartment in Mayfair. It’s on the very top floor and it’s a beautiful space. You would expect her to live where her friend Ciara Porter lives, over towards Shoreditch, in a loft. But no, she’s in a loft in Mayfair. Beautiful exterior, Kensington Gardens, but we couldn’t find any with this glass box loft that we were looking for.

So in the end, Lula’s apartment and the apartments underneath is a collection of five different locations. You’ve got this gorgeous exterior in Rutland Place, which is practically the identical picture to the cover of the book itself. That was great to get in there, on a beautiful street. Then Lula’s apartment, it was in another part of town completely and it was a standalone glass box structure on the top of this building.

It was an amazing apartment. We saw several, but when we went into this one we said this is it. The glass all around, the balcony, the snow. Imagine the snowy night, the geography, the connection. For what it needed to do, it was perfect. Even the design, the interior of it was perfect.

But, unfortunately, there weren’t two identikit proper looking apartments underneath, so we had to go somewhere else to find those interiors and to somewhere else to find the interior of the stairwell. And somewhere else to find the pool.

That was the jigsaw of that location.

Let’s talk about Tom and his performance. As a producer, what does Tom bring to that role?
That’s interesting, because I spoke to Tom recently about this, looking back, having filmed over 95-odd days and how we felt seeing the first edited programme. He said, "You know, it was only when I watched it and looked back and I’ve had time to reflect, that there’s so much of me in Strike".

I felt that was very curious, I think that Tom himself has that stoic nature. I think he’s a very decent man as well, which Strike is at his core.

Tom is also clever, intuitive. He listens to people, he gives people time. They’re all qualities that Strike has; he’s a good observer, so that’s what I would say. He brought himself to the role. Tom has made Strike very attractive. You’d never question that there wouldn’t be chemistry between himself and beautiful young Robin, because he is an attractive man.

Holliday has big shoes to fill too. Robin’s such a beautifully well-rounded character. What makes Robin so fascinating to us all?
She is like the girl-next-door character. She’s an incredible beauty, she’s an incredible intelligence, but men like her and women like her the same.

She’s got a warmth to her and a curiosity to her and she’s a real doer. There’s a quiet determination.

I think the element of her coming from Yorkshire is wonderful too. She is a bit of a country lass, she rode her ponies in the gymkhana. There’s all of that side to her.

Now she’s living in London for six months in this big city. All of her friends are Matthew’s friends. She hasn’t established herself yet but she does it very quickly and she’s got great independence. And great courage. She’s offered a pretty high-profile job in HR in a corporate world, but she turns it down to go back to that shabby office in Denmark Street, to get paid half nothing.

So there’s that passion you just can’t help falling in love with and understanding.

Holliday’s done a brilliant job with the role. What’s your view of her? Did you watch her develop in it?
Yes, both Tom and Holliday you see them develop into their characters over time, but very quickly because they’re both amazing actors. I think with Holliday she brought a lot of herself to it as well and a lot of that warmth that is natural to Holliday herself; she’s just such an incredible actress, a very intelligent actress for her young age.

When people called her Robin by accident, she’d say, "Thanks, I’m flattered".

I’ll never forget the first day we brought them into the set, because we didn’t start on day one filming in the set, we started on location. I felt slightly nervous, because I thought, "Well, they own this now, this is their world and this is their office, and if they don’t feel at home here, we’ve failed."

Literally, they came into the set and they sat on the couch in the office and it was like they had been there for a hundred years.

Do you think that we’re at a moment where we’re ripe for a re-emergence of a great private detective?
Yes, I think what appealed to me most about the books themselves and the scripts, was that it’s not procedural. We have a lot of procedural shows that are amazing and they’ll continue to be and it will continue to be a format in itself.

But there’s something almost old fashioned about The Strike Series. When we spoke about it in the early days of concept and everything, that sort of nod to noir but also to the 70s, is Strike being slightly out of time. I think that’s actually really quite cool. It brings this other sense to it and a uniqueness.