What would you say this show is about?
The biggest question is, what happens if you have a fantasy, and you act on that fantasy? And then there’s suburbia and its public surveillance. Everybody is watching each other, everybody’s filming each other, everybody’s having their opinions on everybody. It was always like that, but now I’ve got the feeling that it’s getting bigger and bigger.
Why did you take the job on?
I worked with Eagle Eye on Professor T and Suspect and I always had this great ambition to make shows for the UK. I think a lot of creatives here in Belgium have that, because we see the UK as like a Valhalla of all the great shows. We all saw all the biggest shows that you guys had in the past 20 years.
How would you describe the look and feel of this show?
It is set in Leeds, but the houses and streets, everything feels a bit off. The suburbs in Mr and Mrs Smith were one of our references as well as certain European ideas so it’s like a melange of looks that, especially during the nights, can look like a fairy-tale. There are a lot of dream sequences in there as well. And so, all these add up. It feels a little bit off, and not too realistic, and that’s what I like about it.
How do you find a location like that?
A lot is filmed in Belgium because we are a Belgium based company, but we couldn’t find the right street there and filmed the external shots in a street in the Netherlands. The area has different quarters, each supposedly representing a different country, so it’s wonderful because it’s the perfect place. There's a French quarter, there's an American quarter, there's an Italian quarter and there's an English quarter. It is extraordinary. Logistically we had to block the roads as the cars had to drive on the left. I was worried the cast would feel strange about Belgium, but it turned out well, I think. They all loved the way we work. We’re a very small crew, but also a very flexible one, so that was completely new for them to see how fast we could work.
There’s a very strong chemistry between the cast – how do you bring that out?
It’s all in the casting process. You can do as many chemistry tests as you want, but you only will see it in the first day that you’re filming. There was something between them. They have a lot of things in common – they mostly have these period franchises behind them – so they understood each other. There was this click. The only thing I could do as a director is, I can block it, get the sound in the mix, create an atmosphere with their voices and breathing and ratchet it up as the show goes on.
There is a lot of tension – physical and sexual – between the actors and most of it isn’t written. How do you create that?
I like to build up visual foreplay, if that doesn’t sound too personal. it’s always the journey that makes it more interesting. I can use light, I can use blocking, I can use lenses. On set, we were very specific on when are they looking, how long are they looking, are they close together? We changed lenses as the show went to frame people closer together and had other lenses focussing on their skin. And then of course, it’s just chemistry between Eleanor and Sam.
Hugh Dennis, who we know as a loveable, comedic buffoon, you manage to make him into a genuinely upsetting sociopath?
Yes, I don’t know why he did it. I know him of course from Fleabag and Outnumbered. We didn’t need to persuade him a lot. I think he really was up for it. I can’t spoil it, of course, but it’s going to be strange to see him in that role. In the first episode, he’s just a side character, but he has a wonderful, truly upsetting arc.
The show was originally inspired by a Dutch programme – did you watch or take inspiration from it?
No, never. Professor T, of course, was a big show here in Belgium but when I shot it in the UK, I treated it as a new script. I never look at the original, otherwise there is a trap that you are trying to be like or deliberately not be like the previous director. You must have your own voice.