David Morrissey plays Inspector Tyador Borlú in BBC Two’s adaptation of China Miéville’s fantasy novel The City & The City this Spring 2018. China Miéville originally published The City & The City back in 2009.
The TV cast for the novel also includes Lara Pulver (Sherlock) as Borlú’s wife Katrynia, Mandeep Dhillon (Some Girls) as Constable Corwi of the Besźel Policzai, Maria Schrader (Deutschland 83) as Senior Detective Dhatt of the Ul Qoma Militsya, Ron Cook (Hot Fuzz) as Borlú’s superior Commissar Gadlem, Danny Webb (Humans) as hard-right nationalist politician Major Syedr, and Christian Camargo (Penny Dreadful) as Doctor Bowden, an American academic.
When the body of a foreign student is discovered in the streets of the down-at-heel city of Besźel, it’s just another day’s work for Inspector Tyador Borlú of the Extreme Crime Squad (David Morrissey). But Tyador uncovers evidence that the murdered girl came from Ul Qoma, a city in a linked parallel reality with Besźel, and this case will challenge everything Borlú holds dear.
China commented, “It’s been extraordinary and moving to see this huge process, whereby a book written alone is collectively transformed into something familiar yet quite new. And it is extraordinary and moving to see the final result.”
David Morrissey interviewed about playing Tyador Borlú.
“I really liked him a lot and the idea that he was a man at odds with both the worlds he was trying to find himself in. He was lost really and I had great affection for that.”
David explains how he became involved with the project and the premise behind a unique drama.
“I have known Tony Grisoni for a long time, he was the writer of Red Riding which I was in a number of years ago, and about two years ago he told me he was writing an adaptation of China Miéville’s book The City & The City. I knew the book and I thought it was great that he was doing it but I was slightly taken aback because the book is an amazing story, it is a wonderful world that China creates but I thought ‘how are you going to bring that to the screen?’
“Eighteen months later I got sent the script with a letter from Tony and the director, Tom Shankland, saying we would love you to play the lead, Inspector Tyador Borlú, and when I read the script I thought it was fantastic. I still had big questions about how they were going to realise this strange and wonderful word that China had created.
“Tom talked me through his ideas and concepts and his design board and photographs… I think he is a wonderful director and one I have wanted to work with for a long time and so I said yes. It was a real leap of faith but I loved the way Tom and his team have created these two worlds.
“The concept is strange, it is a detective story told in this city, which is actually two cities that share the same footprint, but there are very strict regulations about the fact that one city cannot see the other city’s populace, they can’t look there, they can’t acknowledge them or interact with them and that creates all sorts of strange rules. Inside there is a secret police force called Breach and they are there to make sure that nobody breaks those laws of interacting between the cities.
“I play a copper in one of the cities, Besźel, and a body is discovered there and a girl has been murdered. Over the course of the investigation we realise that she may have been murdered in the other city and brought over so I have to go over to Ul Qoma, and find out what has happened to this girl. So it is a fish out of water tale, it is a man who has to go into another city and abide by their rules even though he is not used to that. The audience will have to get used to the rules but once they do, there is something quite fun about seeing how these two worlds are realised.”
And what drew David to this character?
“He is a man living in a world in which he is very happy, as long as the rules are concerned, but he also has a real sense of loss about him. Something has happened to him in the past and it has closed him off and really thrown him. He is quite a locked up person and during the investigation, the thing that is really torturing him starts to come back. So you realise that the case he is on has a deep, personal meaning to him. He is pursuing this girl’s killer but also his own past and trying to make sense of what has happened to him.”
Borlú has working relationships with two policewomen, one in each city, played by Maria Schrader and Mandeep Dhillon.
“In his own world he has a junior colleague, Corwi, played by Mandeep, and that is a great relationship. She is very ballsy, cheeky, you feel she is trying to get him to lighten up and crack a smile. She challenges his view of the world and he grows to be very fond of her.
“When he goes into the other world he has to become subordinate to another police officer called Dhatt and she is the boss. Ul Qoma is a very militarised world, there are lots of guns, their uniforms are very military and so he has to abide by her rules and play second fiddle, which he finds very difficult. But I loved working with both of them; they were fantastic, very different actresses in a way but both really great to work with.”
Filming in his hometown of Liverpool was a great experience for David.
“We filmed totally in Liverpool and Manchester. I have filmed a lot in that region and in both cities. I am from Liverpool so my affection for Liverpool is deep rooted. It was wonderful to work there and see the city in good shape, to see those great, old building which have been restored, you can see the history of the city being preserved and then this whole new modern city being built around it as well so it felt very vibrant and wonderful to be back there. Manchester is a city I have worked in many times and I love it. Again, from an architectural point of view it worked brilliantly for us and the people were very accommodating.”
Was there anything that proved particularly challenging for David during filming?
“The challenge was the schedule because I was in almost every scene. But that is what the crew have to do so you don’t moan you just get on with it. I really miss my colleagues and the working environment. On this project it was a really close-knit group of people and we all got on very well and I loved it.
“Towards the end of the third episode my character gets himself into a very emotional place and he starts to unravel very badly. That whole section and the end of the series was very emotional so the end of episodes three and four were the two things I remember as being quite gruelling from a physical point of view as well as anything else.”
And will city dwelling audiences find this story relevant to their lives today?
“There is a massive relevance… here is a story about one group of people living in a city who are denying the existence of another group of people living in the same city. The conceit is that what China has done is say that it is a different city completely but I think we don’t have to look too far in our major cities to see how people have ghettoised themselves or are living in gated communities and we walk passed people begging and sleeping on the streets and we have become blind to that. We see people in our very own streets living in terrible conditions and we have decided to ignore it and our eyes are turned down.
“We are more and more on our screens and in denial about the world around us and I think The City & The City is taking that type of modern notion and accentuating it to a heightened level but I don’t think it is too far a stretch of the imagination from how we live in our cities today.”
Lara Pulver interviewed about playing Katrynia.
“When I first read the scripts I was fascinated by how multi-layered Katrynia is as a character, she doesn’t feel like the same person in any scene and that is a gift but also a real challenge too. We could do a scene four or five different ways in tone and tension because she is such an enigma that anything can work. She gave me the opportunity to really play as an actress because she is such a rainbow of personalities within one person.
“Approaching playing Kat meant nothing was off limits because she lives in this world where everyone is so timid and small minded and my job as this character was to push every boundary. It felt like she was this wounded little butterfly who needed looking after and yet the second she felt comfortable she felt the need to break free and push those boundaries, to question everything.”
Lara explains how Katrynia’s inclusion in the drama helps to unveil this mysterious thriller.
“The writer Tony Grisoni has done a fantastic job of creating this wonderful mirror between the detective story and the unravelling of Borlú’s own personal relationship. Including Katrynia creates a heart at the centre of this detective story and makes you care for David’s character and so you have a bit more empathy for him and the whole situation because of this love story.”
Paying this multi-faceted role wasn’t the only factor that made Lara want to be part of this project.
“I desperately wanted to work with David Morrissey (Borlú) because I had just worked with Imelda Staunton in the award winning stage musical Gypsy and they are very much of the same wonderful school of talent, training and skill so I thought it would be such a gift to play opposite someone like David. He is phenomenal. Not only is he a brilliant and skilful actor, he is a lovely guy and he was in every scene, every day so it was exhausting for him and yet it never showed.
“I also spoke with the director, Tom Shankland, and he had the clearest vision of something that is actually very complicated, especially when it comes to shooting the two different worlds of this drama and distinguishing those worlds and all of their characteristics in colour, tone, texture and style.
“Beźel, the fictional setting Katrynia lives, feels like a drab Eastern European country in the 1970s so there was a lot of mustard, browns and greens and everything feels like it has been thrown together with no thought. There is very little structure but when you are trying to throw something together you end up having to work harder than when you are putting together something more structured because you have to go against wanting to perfect things. The costume department were amazing with allowing us to be very free. If we felt like taking something off mid scene they were happy to allow us to do that and would make it all work.”
Filming in Liverpool was an enjoyable experience for Lara because of her family connection to the city.
“My husband was born in Liverpool so I felt like I went from home to home because his mother’s side of the family are all still there. Since we have been together I have never had the chance to go to Liverpool and visit that side of the family, I have only ever seen them when they have come down to London so it was great. I was going there as a new mum with a 12 week old baby but I had this amazing support unit with all my wonderful relatives around me and I was being spoiled rotten with Sunday roasts. Liverpool has evolved so much, it is such a vibrant city and I am a bit of a foodie and the food was brilliant. There has been a real injection of money and love into that city and it shows. People were in such good spirits and were supportive of us filming in their city; it was wonderful.”
Lara reveals there were some challenges that arose during filming.
“For me the most challenging part of shooting was getting my head around when it was my reality or if it was Borlú’s projection. We filmed scenes numerous times in different ways because often you are seeing my character through Borlú’s recollection of events and then often days later we would go back and film it as my reality. We were telling stories within stories. It makes you realise, in that Black Mirror way, that what we project as our reality and what actually happens can be two different things.”
Lara tells us what she thinks makes this drama stand alone and why she believes audiences will enjoy it.
“We do detective dramas very well in this country but I think the fact that this is so much more than that is what really excited me about it. Visually, it is so cinematic and it also plays a little bit with your psyche in terms of what is real and what is not and what we hold in our subconscious. It opens one’s mind. Whether we know it or not we all tend to live in a form of bubble, even if it is a liberal and wide bubble, and this story is a bit of an eye opener on how we live, and on humanity.”
Tony Grisoni has adapted this four-part fantasy series from China Miéville’s book in a production made by Mammoth Screen and directed by Tom Shankland (Les Misérables, House of Cards,The Missing).