Paranormal spy drama The Rook premieres tonight on Crave and Starz, and it’s going to be a fun mystery to follow over the summer. If you haven’t heard about it yet, it tells the story of Myfanwy Thomas, “a woman who wakes up in the rain beside London’s Millennium Bridge with no memory of who she is and no way to explain the circle of latex-gloved dead bodies splayed around her. When Myfanwy discovers she is a high ranking official in the Checquy, Britain’s last truly secret service for people with paranormal abilities, she will have to navigate the dangerous and complex world of the agency to uncover who wiped her memory – and why she is a target.”
I sat down with The Rook stars Emma Greenwell (Shameless) and Joely Richardson (Nip/Tuck) during their recent stop in Toronto to discuss the series and their roles. In part two of the interview, we’ll get deeper into the relationship between their characters — Myfanwy and Lady Farrier — as more is revealed.
How much did you know about the book before you started filming?
Emma: It’s no secret that we were quite quickly told not to read the book. For me, they didn’t want me knowing any information. Apart from the premise, the narrative is different. It takes a much darker, more adult-themed [path]. It’s supernatural but more based in reality. Daniel [O’Malley], the author, is very happy with the show [and] it’s amazing to see what his book has inspired. It’s a very different story, which is amazing when you think about how things are adapted. The show was inspired by the novel, but it is its own thing.
Daniel wrote a second book and he’s currently writing the third. He has the most incredible mind. I have since gone back to the book — I had read a bit before they told me to stop — and the level of detail that goes into it is actually amazing. He really creates the whole world and the history of it.
One of the key differences between the book and the series is that Myfanwy, Farrier and Monica are more fully developed characters who take centre stage in the story. Were you pleased with those changes? And how did working with a primarily female team behind the camera affect your experience?
Joely: It was quite fun the day we did the photo shoot of me, Emma and Olivia [Munn].There was something quite cool about the image of these three women [who are] all different ages. Usually you’re on the arm of a guy, and it was the three of us there in our trench coats. I’d actually like a copy of that picture.
Emma: People keep asking what’s the difference having all these women behind and in front of the camera. It didn’t feel different and it wasn’t run differently, but I felt very supported. As women, we champion each other and we’re all very aware of the times that we’re in. It was exciting to be part of this movement and heading in this direction where there is that opportunity. People want to see shows about women. They care about the feminine point of view. Myfanwy could’ve quite easily been been a male character. The fact that she’s a woman doesn’t really change anything in terms of the topics and themes that the show explores.
While there is a supernatural element to The Rook, the spycraft aspect is very much rooted in reality. Did you look to any stories from women who have worked as spies or private investigators for inspiration?
Joley: Yes. Stella Rimington was the head of MI5 [from 1992 to 1996]. It’s really remarkable that a woman was the head of the secret services. [In watching] the interview she does on Youtube as she’s talking about marrying the different aspects of her life, I was amazed that she could be so open and vocal about it. I had imagined her as this Margaret Thatcher-type character that you couldn’t get a read off of. Whether it was a very clever technique she learned or a manipulation, she was so personable that she immediately engaged you. She explained later in the interview that it was one of the techniques that she was taught. You have to ease into a situation to enable [your target] to hand over more information than they would have.
Emma: I had a friend who who worked for private investigator straight out of university. He exclusively hired young girls because they’re inconspicuous. No one thinks they’re being followed by a young girl, so it’s easier for them to infiltrate. She ended up quitting because it was absolutely terrifying and it got a bit dark. Most of the girls who worked at the agency for this guy were young women. No one gave them a second look. It just looked like they’re having a drink with their friends.
There is something about [women] not being as threatening, so people open up to them a bit more. As stranger, I can talk to someone and they probably feel less threatened. You can use your gender to your advantage occasionally, for good or bad. This is the whole idea of the show. That’s why it’s interesting to have these three female leads, and especially to have Joely as the king of this organization.
For both Myfanwy and Farrier, it’s not clear if they’re on the side of “good” or “bad” in the episodes I’ve seen so far.
The Checquy is for the “greater good,” but [Farrier] is totally in charge of manipulating not only the people that work for her, but the media. One of my favourite things about [The Rook] is this idea of the media being manipulated by government agencies, and if what you’re seeing on the news is being reported as fact.
Do you have any final thoughts or teases for viewers before the premiere?
Emma: Pay attention to everything that Myfanwy touches. Everything she touches is a clue, and you have to really stay aware. It all circles back. These are little pieces of a puzzle that we’re putting together. I hope that when you’re finally shown what happens, you get it.
Joely: It’s a mystery. Nothing’s a random choice. I would also say just trust whilst you’re watching it that you will understand what’s going on. It is the kind of series that when you get to the end of it, it’d be really interesting to go back to the beginning with what you know.
Emma: Kari [Skogland], the director, and the showrunners discussed it, but I was unaware of it all until Episode 7 when they [told me]. I didn’t know anything. I was guessing the whole time. It’s very clever of the showrunners, the writers and the directors to create this whole world where every little detail adds up. Enjoy the puzzle.
Photos Courtesy of Starz