Interview with Colin Callender (executive producer)

Category: Interview

What is the story of The Undeclared War?

CC: This is a peeling back of the veil of on a world that we read about in the headlines, but we really don’t understand. What “The Undeclared War” really does is it takes us inside GCHQ which is the nerve centre of cyber warfare – and it puts a face on all the people who are working there and their stories. The show makes this conflict very personal and takes you inside this fascinating world you never really get to see.

How did the project come to be created?

CC: Peter Kosminsky is a seven-time BAFTA winning writer/director, and he and I worked on a series called “Wolf Hall” for the BBC. We were talking together after that and discussing what we could do next – and we were both fascinated by the subject of the way in which world powers interfere with each other’s political processes – and out of that grew the idea for “The Undeclared War”.

How realistic is the central threat of the series?

CC: The central threat of the series is very real – but what’s really optimistic about this story is it shows how individuals in the middle of this cyber world can make a real difference, and how at the end of the day it boils down to individuals behaving honourably and decently and standing up for what is right.

What do you hope audiences will take from this cautionary tale?

CC: At its heart this story is a thriller – and you’re really engaged in the characters involved. What’s interesting is the characters are really a mix – there are younger characters who are caught up as sort-of cyber geeks at the forefront of this kind of warfare, as well as older characters who are strategists and politicians who are dealing with the world that we now find ourselves in. so there’s a real spectrum of characters in this drama, all of whom are engaging in their own right and pursuing their work in different ways.

What was your vision for the series?

CC: We read about cyber warfare and the threat of a cyber war all the time in the papers – but we don’t really understand what that means. What this show does is take you behind the headlines to give you an insight into what’s going on.

What makes Peter Kosminsky the right director/creator to tackle these themes?

CC: Peter Kosminsky is in a league of his own – he’s made a speciality in taking real life stories and turning them into compelling personal dramas, and he’s done the same here with “The Undeclared War”.

What themes of the piece resonate most for you?

CC: In America we’re very familiar with the way in which the recent elections have been impacted by foreign powers meddling through cyber warfare – effectively – but it’s all a bit mysterious and cloak and dagger. What this series does is pull back the veil on that and gives the audience a chance to understand what really goes on and what the stakes are.

What was the most challenging part of bringing this script to screen?

CC: One of the brilliant things that Peter has done and created in this show is very novel a way of dramatizing what’s actually entailed in hacking someone on a computer. He’s created something called Codeworld – which is a very cinematic way of showing what goes on which is very engaging and very fun.

How did the casting of the project come together?

CC: One of the things that’s particularly attractive about the series is that we have some very fresh, new faces that we’ve never seen before in lead roles – alongside some of the most established and distinguished British actors, and the combination of the two is a very exciting thing to watch on screen.

It’s very exciting to see Simon Pegg in a serious dramatic role – we’ve seen him in a variety of big, popular comedies but here he is in a new kind of character, and he’s fantastic. And of course, it’s wonderful to have Mark Rylance – one of our greatest actors – in the show. Over the years Peter Kosminsky has quite a track record of discovering young, new actors and once again he’s done that with this show – introducing us to the central character of Saara played by Hannah (Khalique-Brown) who is just glorious.

There is also such an accomplished team behind the camera, how has it been seeing them realise this show?

CC: One of the joys of working with a director like Peter Kosminsky is that he has a team of creatives who he works with all the time – the cinematographer, the production designer, editors – so he has a shorthand with them all which means that the whole production team is in synch. So, the vision that Peter had, which he discussed from the outset with our partners, he’s really been able to bring that to life in the most incredible way.

What do you think it is about “The Undeclared War” which will captivate audiences?

CC: There are many things about the show which I think are particularly interesting: one is that we are showing people the world of GCHQ which they’ve never seen before. “The Undeclared War” is at its heart a character drama – it’s the story of a young girl entering a very male-dominated world and trying to make her way in it. I think it’s very aspirational in that sense. It also shows how all these big, global stories really boil down to individuals caught in the middle of a situation where they have to make decisions about whether to do the right thing or not, and at what cost. At its core, it’s a story of a woman who takes control and decides she’s going to do what she feels it right rather than follow the rules.

The series is contemporary, of the moment, and really about what’s going on right now in the real world.