Temple, the UK version of the 2017 Norwegian drama, Valkyrien, is about a surgeon so determined to save his dying wife that he agrees to treat criminals and others for cash in an illegal underground clinic. The series stars Mark Strong (who was also responsible for securing the UK rights from its Norwegian creators), along with Game of Thrones‘ Carice van Houten. The first season already aired on British broadcaster Sky UK, and has been renewed for a second season.
Last week, Mark Strong spoke with me about playing Dr. Daniel Milton on the series, his first foray into the production side of the industry, and the different way that Temple portrays modern-day London on screen.
Daniel is rational and level-headed but willing to take huge risks. How much will we learn about why he’s inclined to take those risks during the first season?
Daniel is in the centre of the madness. He’s the guy, that the ordinary every man, in the middle of the chaos, and you’ve got all these other characters and narratives going on around him. You get to understand that, as a surgeon, his professional life is basically coping with problems.
I went and watched some surgeries at St. Thomas’s Hospital here in London before we started filming, and got to know a couple of the guys. And when I was talking to one of them, he said, “Surgery, when you basically open somebody up, you never know exactly what you’re going to find. You never know during the surgery — which could go on for hours and hours — what’s going to happen.” Essentially, you have to deal with each problem as it occurs. So if you accidentally nick an artery, you need to sew that up before you can move on. If you discover that something is diseased, you have to work out whether you’re going to take that out before you move on.
That’s what happens to Daniel. He discovers that his wife is sick, and decides to save her that he needs to make some choices. Unfortunately, a lot of those choices are morally and ethically very dubious, so he plays with the audience’s affections a little bit. You never quite know if he’s a good guy or a bad guy. I think he’s just a guy doing his best but sometimes the choices that he makes aren’t the wisest.
The entire series exists in this grey area, which I find to be realistic. Life is not black and white. There are layers to everything and everyone. It gets into medical ethics and the good and bad in everyone. What questions do you hope viewers will be asking themselves as they watch Temple?
Life is never what you think it’s going to be. Daniel Milton, the surgeon with a great career and a very happy family life, suddenly finds himself some strange bedfellows in this series. He gets into cahoots with a guy who has the keys to the tunnels underneath, Temple tube station. Down there is a guy who is on the run from the police, and a researcher who was his wife’s best friend.
More than anything, it explodes whatever you think your normal life is. We’re all living life thinking that we know what’s going to happen, but at any moment, anything can change. If nothing else, look at these lockdowns and this pandemic. Suddenly, our world has completely changed. Nobody had any inkling this was going to happen at the beginning of January this year, and now we’re in a completely different place. The show reflects that. It’s a crazy show for crazy times.
Not only do you star in the series, but you’re also a producer, and took an active role behind the scenes. Now that you’ve experienced the industry from the other side, is that something that you’d like to be a part of more often in your future projects?
I would love to do that. What you discover if you’ve never been behind the camera or been involved in producing a film or a TV program is that the scaffolding that’s required to build one of these things is unbelievable. The different elements that go into making it happen are endless. I’ve always been protected from that as an actor because your job really is to come on set when everything’s already been taken care of — locations, casting, costume, dialogue – and your job is to come on and play your part. Knowing how much goes on behind the scenes, I’m not only in awe of the production people and crews that make this happen.
It’s been fascinating being involved because I suddenly realized that after 30 years, I do have an opinion about casting and dialogue. I understand where it might be better to put the camera to save some time or get the shot that you need. By osmosis, I’ve learned all of these things and found that it was really useful from a production standpoint. So I’d love to get involved with that more.
We also see London portrayed in a way that we haven’t seen that often. Was being able to show London in a different light part of what excited you in taking on this project?
Absolutely. That was very much at the forefront of our minds. London always seems to be represented by buses, bobbies on the beat, and bowler hats and umbrellas. That’s an appropriation of what people think London is, whereas we wanted to show proper Londoners, and not only a London that we live in, but one that is absurdly underground. To be able to go into the tunnels underneath London is a step further than making a show about the kind of London that we wanted to portray. It was fascinating. There are so many tunnels and hidden spaces underneath London. They discover new ones every year that they didn’t know about. [We were] able to show London in a way that we wanted to show it, but that extra idea of what’s going on underneath the city was a bonus.
Do you have any final thoughts for the viewers about to go on this journey with you and your character?
I would say for people to be patient. We wrote a show that is meant to last eight episodes and tried to avoid an explosion at the end of every episode just to keep people interested for the next. We wanted to write something that was a slow burn, a character piece where you’re introduced to people and hopefully if they get under your skin, you’ll want to follow them all the way through to the end. In the first three or four episodes, there’s a lot of flashbacks going on, creating the characters, going back in the storyline, and coming forward again. You have to stick with it for the first three or four episodes, but then it pays off.
Photos Courtesy of Showcase