Bharat Nalluri returned to the director's chair earlier this year with Spooks: The Greater Good, the first time that the popular television series had been adapted for the big screen.
Now about to be released on DVD and Blu-Ray, we caught up with the filmmaker to chat about the film, filming in London and what lies ahead.
- Spooks: The Greater Good is about to be released on DVD, so can you tell me a bit about the film for anyone who may not have seen it yet.
Spooks: The Greater Good is a rip-roaring, action-based, thriller; if you have seen the series you really do know what you are in for. We were very keen to keep the fans of the series happy and so have some returning characters from the original series and we have kept a lot of the style, the taste, the energy, and the storylines developing from the series.
However, if you have never seen it before, it also works as a standalone movie as well. The really interesting thing about Spooks is that it has always been - unlike James Bond Jason Bourne - it is very grey as a drama, is very real, set in the real world, we are not afraid to kill out heroes, for our heroes to be villains, and for our villains to be heroes. It is a very different world.
- The movie sees you back in the director's chair - you have worked on the TV series in the past - but where did this project start for you and how did you get on board?
I was working in America making America movies. However, in America you get pigeonholed and so after I made a horror movie in the late nineties, which did very well in America, I was getting every single horror movie in town but I wanted to do something that was a little more grown up.
I started looking around and then this script came through the post from my agent and was called Spooks. I read this amazing script by David Wolstencroft, who was the original creator, and I thought that there was something really amazing to be done with it.
Everyone was convinced that I wouldn't do it because I was making movies at the time, but it was such a great script that I went and met the producers and we got on like a house on fire.
Within five minutes of meeting them, they offered me the job and we went and did it. We were all obviously on the same page because it was an instant hit, which is rare; as I have found out since (laughs). You realise what a lightening in a bottle moment it was really - everyone was on the same page and everyone was ready for a series like this. I shot the original pilot episode, did a couple more, and then went away for ten years.
I came back right at the very end to do the very last episode when they were closing out the TV series. I really enjoyed it and it was great fun. As I was walking out of the carpark on the final day, I said 'this would make a great movie. We have always wanted to make a movie so should we try to get it together as a movie?' That is what happened really (laughs). It went really quickly and people were really keen on it. People have been trying to make it into a movie for the last ten years but we have held off because we felt that there was more to do with the TV series.
After ten series of the show, we felt that we had done everything and it was time to close up. However, all of these amazing new stories happened such as Julian Assange stuck in the Embassy and it was like this bonkers world had happened again and we thought that we would make a movie. So that is how it happened really.
- We have seen a lot of TV shows make the leap to the big screen - some successfully, others not so much so. Did you have any reservations about that making that leap from very popular television show to film?
We didn't have any reservations to be honest because the TV show was set out to be mini weekly movies and all we were doing was the TV show on a grand scale. It didn't feel any different in that sense. We did go out abroad and the movie is on a different scale to the TV show.
The biggest issue was making sure that we had Peter Firth who, for me, was always the central character who I cast ten years ago for episode one. For me, that was the key. He loved the idea, loved the script and we get on like a house on fire, so that was an easy sell really. I don't think it would have worked without Peter.
- How tricky was it to keep the TV fans happy with this film as well as appeal to a new audience that were coming to this franchise for the first time?
Basically, I am a fan of the TV series so I knew what the fans really wanted and I knew how much I could veer away without upsetting them. In a way, I was the barometer and I could work out... as a huge fan of the show, I knew when we were making the TV fans angry (laughs). You really don't want to do that as they are a very loyal bunch and I would find out if I had let them down. We tested it very carefully at the end by screening it to fans and to none fans, which worked really well. On the whole, people on both sides are very pleased with it.
- Kit Harrington takes on the lead role of Will Holloway, so what were you looking for when you cast this role?
The character is a very skilled operator - or has been - but also has a sense of naivety, youth, or misplaced loyalty about him and that is what I was looking for. I am a huge fan of Kit's from Game of Thrones and I went to see him while he was filming in Belfast and had a long chat with him. He knew all about Spooks, loved the script, but had never seen a single episode of the TV show. He said 'shall I watch them all?' And I was like 'no, don't watch a single one as I want you to come with no pre-conception of what your role is or what you are in. I want you to find that as you go along.' When we finished filming, he watched the whole box set from the beginning to the end.
It was perfect, in a way, because I could test things on him. I was also very wary that we hadn't done this for ten years, we didn't want to do the same old and we wanted to really raise the bar and up the ante; he ended up being a big of a barometer for that. On top of that he is a fine actor with a huge following and he can do a lot of layered stuff. His character has a sense of loss and yearning for something - which I won't give away - and he goes on a journey of discovery; Kit really could deliver all of that. I was very lucky to work with him.
- London looks amazing in the film - it's almost like a character in its own right - and the aerial shots of Oxford Circus were terrific. How tricky was it to capture some of these shots of the city - particularly from the air?
(Laughs) That is a very good question and a slightly embarrassing one for me - I will explain why in a moment. I was determined because I realised... you are talking to me in Washington DC, where I am living, and I realised that this was going to be my last project in London for a while. I wanted to make sure that the London I know, love, and enjoy being in was depicted; it is kind of grey love letter to London as it is filled with the dark and sexy places of London that I have always wanted to shoot (laughs). Also, there are a few locations that were a bit like Easter eggs - one of my favourite ones being the beach on the River Thames, which I have used in everyone single one of my Spooks episodes. It is a very personal location.
For the actual shooting of it, I wanted the best team in the world; if you are going to shoot helicopter stuff, you want to use Ridley Scott's camera crew. They came over to London and we went up in the helicopter for two days and flew everywhere. I have done lots of helicopter shooting during my career, but it has never been so intricate as you have the helicopter pilot talking to the camera man and I am looking at a monitor.
The police helicopters came in and allowed us to film them and we were shooting all of this amazing stuff. However, with all of this waltzing around I was horrendously sick; I am sitting there with the sick bag to my mouth, directing the whole sequence and throwing up every five minutes. That was slightly embarrassing. I am pleased you like those shots as they were very important to the film.
- The movie has been out in cinemas and is now coming to home release, so how have you been finding the response to the film?
On the whole, it has been really positive. There is a lot of love for the television series and I was a bit worried that we were going to blow ten years' worth of good work in one step by not giving them what they wanted. The fans are really excited on the whole. Of course they do miss some of their favourite characters and I would resurrect them from their deaths and bring them back if I could. We had to move on, we couldn't really linger and do a shower scene where everyone wakes up to find that they are still alive. You are going to get a little bit of negative feedback on that because their favourite characters are not in.
On the whole, people really genuinely loved it and are desperate for the next movie. They don't feel like we have let them down. Those who are not familiar with the TV series have really liked it and enjoyed the fact that it is so different to other things in the spy genre. It really does have its own footprint, which is really difficult to do when you have got these huge and wonderful movies like Bond and Bourne around. It is really hard to find your own way through but I think that's why the TV show was such a success; it had its own voice and we were careful to make sure that the movie had that as well.
- How keen are you to return for a possible sequel?
I am super keen. Spooks is part of my life (laughs). With everything that we do we always make sure that there's somewhere to go. With this film, most questions are answered so it is left in a satisfying way but it still leaves it open-ended for something to happen. Harry Pearce's character is necessarily back in the fold and there's lots of stuff that could happen. We do have an arc worked out for at least another three movies. It is still very early days - the film only came out this year - we will wait and see what happens over the next year and hopefully a lot of people will go and see it at the cinema and get it on DVD.
- Finally, what's next for you going through the rest of this year?
There's always stuff. At the moment, I am heading to New Zealand at the end of the year to make a very small drama compared to Spooks and is totally different. It is based on a New Zealand play that has been running for the last seventeen years called Krishnan's Dairy, it is about Indian immigrants who move to New Zealand in the eighties, and is a beautiful little love story. No guns in this one.
It is very different and something that I have been wanting to do for a while. I will be doing that and hopefully I will be able to get back on something like Spooks next year.
Spooks: The Greater Good is available on digital download from 14th September and available on Blu-ray and DVD from 28th September 2015, courtesy of Entertainment One.