The Steven Knight-created Peaky Blinders has a rabid fan base both at home and abroad. A big success for BBC Two over its first two seasons, it also airs on Netflix under a 2014 deal with The Weinstein Co., which stepped in early and acquired U.S. rights just after Season 1 premiered in the UK in 2013. That has created an even bigger host of faithful who have been waiting anxiously for Season 3 to begin—which is expected in early 2016. Cillian Murphy, Sam Neill, Helen McCrory and Annabelle Wallis starred in the first season, with Tom Hardy, Charlotte Riley and Noah Taylor joining in Season 2.
The period crime saga is originally set in Birmingham, England, where the Shelby family leads the Peaky Blinders—a gang feared for its practice of sewing razor blades into the peaks of their caps. Murphy is Tommy, the complex and ambitious brother who rises to lead the family and expand the empire. The star of The Dark Knight trilogy and Ron Howard’s upcoming In the Heart of the Sea, Murphy currently is shooting Ben Wheatley’s Free Fire. Knight, the Oscar-nominated scripter of Dirty Pretty Things as well the upcoming Adam Jones with Bradley Cooper and World War Z 2, directed Hardy in the tense thriller Locke in 2013.
The last time we saw Murphy as Tommy Shelby, he was climbing out of a grave at the end of Season 2 after narrowly escaping assassination. I caught up with him and Knight this week to talk about what’s in store for Season 3 and why the Caryn Mandabach Productions and Tiger Aspect show has struck such a chord.
Where are you on Season 3?
Steven Knight: Sitting in front of it right this second, the scripts. I’m finishing the last episode. We start shooting September 10 in Birmingham and in the north, but as much as possible in Birmingham.
Do you write the whole season ahead of time?
Knight: I write the whole thing before I start; I can’t let it go. The way I do it is to write all six then look at it again as if it’s a six-hour movie and give it a beginning, middle and an end, bearing in mind that each hour has to have an ending or cliffhanger of some sort. Then I try to calibrate the character progress over six hours. Because we’ve got such great actors, they help.
People have been chomping at the bit for Season 3 since the end of Season 2. What are they in store for?
Knight: (Laughs.) Good, I want them to keep chomping! In my opinion in the third series it really comes into its own. I think (Seasons) 1 and 2 were great, 2 was better than 1 and 3 is an exponential step up.
Is the entire cast returning? Tom Hardy? Anyone new?
Knight: Yes, Tom is coming back. We have new big roles that are written and have enormous interest from really good people. We’re hoping to land some good names. The response from everyone and people in the business has been unbelievably good, so we’re in a good place for approaching people who wouldn’t normally do this sort of thing.
How was the dynamic different, if at all, on Season 2 with the new cast members? You’ve worked with Tom before…
Cillian Murphy: I think it is a tribute to the show and the writing that it can attract the caliber of actor like Tom Hardy. It was great to catch up with him and work with him again, he and I are pals of old and obviously he has worked closely with Steve Knight so it very much kept the family vibe of the show going. Hopefully in season 3 we will be introducing some new characters again through some exciting new actors.
You’ve said of Season 3: “Life will become more lucrative, more dangerous and more international. Expect births, marriages and deaths and a further expansion of the Shelby empire.” Can you expand on that at all?
Knight: What I explore in the whole thing is: We start off with a family in the wrong part of town in England and can they ever escape? No matter what, can they get away? It’s a relatively familiar story of someone from the mean streets who fights his way up and becomes respected, builds an empire and becomes very respected, and that’s what I’m looking to see how that’s going to work. Each step they are stepping up or down into higher society—can they ever escape their past?
With regard to marriages, will the issue of Tommy and Grace and May be addressed?
Knight: Yes, that is going to get resolved in the opening set-up.
What is the scheduling process like? It must be difficult given the film careers of Cillian, Tom and Annabelle (Wallis), who seems to be booking something new every day. And, you are incredibly busy as well. Must be like herding cats.
Knight: We start with the actors is the main thing. I can fit in around it and most of us can; it’s mostly making sure the actors are available. I don’t want them to feel restricted; they’re all blossoming in their film careers. Peaky has been good for all of us and I don’t want to prevent that.
Murphy: What’s great about Peaky is it’s only six hours of television. It only takes four months; I don’t think I could deal with a 10-episode thing. I like the way it works into the schedule. You work very hard for the four months and then can go off and do other work.
How long do you see it going?
Knight: It’s a longshot, but the ambition is, I would love to end the final episode of the final series with the first air-raid fire of the second World War. We’ve been going in two-year jumps so that would be like about 10 series. We may have to start making bigger jumps to get to that point. But I’ll let the story lead (and do) what feels natural.
Murphy: The story definitely has legs. Steven always said he saw it going up to World War II. I think in the UK we’ve been slow to let our shows kind of mature and grow like you’ve done in the States. I think it’s important with a writer like Steve to give him the time. There is so much more story to tell. I love the work and I love going to work.
The season 2 finale left a lot of things in the balance and offered up some key showdowns. What for you was the key moment of Season 2?
Knight: My fondest moment is in episode 6 when Tommy thinks he’s going to get shot by the firing squad and then escapes. Cillian was absolutely brilliant.
Murphy: That scene. I remember I got sent episode 6 and I read it in the bath and it was the tensest bath I’ve ever taken. I read it and thought they were going to kill me off and I just could not predict how he was going to get out of this. I thought no one was brave enough to tell me, “We’re going to kill you.” But it was beautifully written and realized and photographed so they have to take credit for that.
What sets Peaky apart as a period drama?
Knight: Why not do Downton? It’s hugely popular; people set their diaries by it. But there is room for an alternative. On Peaky we don’t do some of the things people feel obliged to do when writing 100 years ago. The way people talk in conventional period drama is very formal. They say “do not,” not “don’t.” People didn’t talk like that. The only person who wrote vernacular (in the time) was Dickens. If one were to hope to aspire to do what Dickens did it would be to take working class life and make it relative to fiction.
It’s through the working class perspective and doesn’t feel obliged to formality. If you change the dialogue it changes the characters. They become formal and black and white. I like that Americans don’t feel any compunction to change things. When they’re doing a Western it’s the 1880s but they’re talking the way they talk now and are characters as they are now.
Murphy: It’s the writing and the fact that that period in British history has never been dealt with before. You Americans are very good at mythologizing working class heroes whereas in Britain it’s always been about the aristocracy. And the fact the character is that damaged and complex, to see his arc over two seasons has been (great). But above all is the quality of Steve’s scripts—the stunning dialogue—and it’s unbelievable and exciting to play Tommy. He’s a great character.
How would you describe Tommy?
Murphy: Well, I choose not to reduce characters to tropes really. But I’ll tell you this, he’s the most exhausting character I’ve ever played. He never seems to sleep and has this unbelievable energy and self-confidence and conviction, which is really intense to play and equally very satisfying. He’s ostensibly so fearless.
What do you think is the fascination with the show? It’s one of the series that has a rabid fan base in both the U.S., the UK, France and elsewhere.
Knight: The response in America has been amazing. Partly it’s because it’s a family that has huge problems so we can all identify. I also think with our flawed hero—and I know everyone does flawed heroes—he’s someone we aspire to be, and the other brothers maybe we recognize as ourselves. Did I tell you the Snoop Dogg story? He came to London and we met and he wanted to talk about how he felt it reflected his experience of life in that environment and I thought, “How can it?” He sees something in it that is universal and we’re obviously striking a chord.
Murphy: It grew in the right way through word of mouth, not marketing or a viral campaign. It was the best way I think. With people telling other people, “You’ve gotta watch this show.” Maybe it’s also because there are only 12 episodes; it helps make them want more. It’s really all Steve. It’s his baby. He is really passionate because it’s where he’s from—his (family members) were Peaky Blinders—it’s in his DNA.
Steve says you call it “the gift that keeps on giving.” What does that mean?
Murphy: In the first two seasons it’s how the character emerges and the unexpected path he takes and people he comes up against, Now in this next season, I read through the scripts and they are even better than Season 2. To be able to step back into the shoes of a character I know so well now, but who has so much further to go I think in his story—and historically and socially the times he’s living through—is extraordinary and Steve is cognizant of that and wants to shine a light on something not particularly well known.
Music plays a big role in the show. What’s the thinking behind going rock-and-roll rather than period?
Knight: It wasn’t a decision. This is different, like if you’re doing a rough cut and you put some music on it and it just felt right. Post-rationalizing it, I thought if you put period music, you put an extra barrier between the audience and the characters. Music allows you to have extra emotion. It unleashes a final twist for certain emotions.
To see more on Season 2 of Peaky Blinders, click play below: