Interview: Matthew Macfadyen and Adam Rothenberg on Ripper Street Season 4
Ivan Radford | On 12, Jan 2016
Episode 1 of Ripper Street Season 4 airs on BBC Two at 10pm on 22nd August, with the whole thing available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.
Ripper Street returns for a fourth season this Friday – and with Matthew Macfadyen, Jerome Flynn and Adam Rothenberg slipping so confidently back into their roles as Edmund Reid, DI Bennet Drake and Captain Homer Jackson, it’s easy to forget that the season almost never happened at all.
After the show’s cancellation by the BBC, Amazon resurrected the series in 2014, following outcry from fans. Season 3 premiered on Amazon Prime Video in November 2014, swiftly becoming the most-watched TV show on the site. (It then aired on the BBC in an edited version in 2015.)
“It was a funny old thing,” recalls Matthew Macfadyen, as he and Adam sit down with us to talk about the show’s new run. “It must be very hard to work out which shows to keep going and which not. For us actors, you think ‘Oh, that’s it, on to the next’. Our whole career is based on that, really. So what was really nice was the support that we got from people who liked the show – it was very flattering!”
The show returns in an age where there is more TV than ever before, as Amazon, Netflix and others all produce their own original content, each one hoping to stand out from the crowd. Creator Richard Warlow seemed unfazed by the competition, though, with Season 3 taking the drama into its darkest territory yet, producing the best episodes of the show to date. (You can read our spoiler-free reviews of Season 3 here.)
“The quality and the sheer volume of it has changed the way people watch and changed what people expect,” observes Rothenberg. “The tastes of the audience has become so much higher and the fact that I’m on a show that cuts the mustard is a huge thrill for me.”
“Inevitably, it must be more sophisticated,” chimes in Macfadyen. “The quality must be better, because of the marketplace – people can choose what they watch.”
Even with the range of places for programmes to exist, though, it’s not that common for a UK series to reach four seasons – something the initial cancellation of the show after only two seasons emphasises.
“The tastes of the audience has become so much higher…”
“I feel quite proud that it’s got to, well, five seasons!” agrees Matthew (the show has already been commissioned for a fifth run by Amazon).
Does that make him a national treasure, we tease? “National treasure status, I don’t know,” he replies. “Adam’s already a nation treasure in America!”
With a bunch of fresh Golden Globes now under Amazon Studios’ belt (Mozart in the Jungle took home two at the weekend), the streaming service has forged a reputation for not interfering with its creative talent, offering more freedom than on traditional TV productions. Does any sense of that filter down to the set?
“The nuts and bolts of it are exactly the same, certainly for the actors,” says Macfadyen. “I think maybe for the writers, you know, I think they felt very left alone and supported. I think Richard was allowed to be a bit more gory and a bit more violent. And you didn’t have to cut it to a BBC hour. If it came in at a hour and a half that was fine, or vice versa, so you had a bit more freedom in the edit.”
He should know more about the violence than most, after Season 3 saw the tormented Reid develop a brutal, vengeful streak.
“It’s odd, because you think, how much more suffering can he have?!” jokes Macfadyen.
Perhaps a pet goldfish that could pass away in Season 5? He laughs. “Something to hang his grief on!”
“I think Richard was allowed to be a bit more gory and a bit more violent.”
In Season 4, we find Reid at peace and retired by the seaside – although he’s “getting a bit restless and needs to get back to work”. We’ve also jumped forward three years, with Queen Victoria celebrating her diamond jubilee. Drake, meanwhile, has risen to the level of Head of H Divisionm while Jackson continues to assist him in investigations.
Homer, though, has sobered up somewhat, as Long Susan faces the consequences of her actions in the Lemen Street locomotive disaster that opened Season 3.
“I think Jackson’s wryness, his coping mechanisms, are wearing thin. So he’s having to… I don’t want to say “grow up”, because he’s a grown man and an exceptional person, but he’s had to grow up,” says Rothenberg, who gets to show us more sides to Jackson.
“I think in this season, it’s like anyone, you need to see what isn’t working for you anymore and, in a way, recover what used to work, if that makes sense. So that’s kind of what he does. He drops a lot and resurrects a lot in himself.”
Long Susan’s role in Season 3 also marked a slight turning point for the show, as the female characters became even more prominent in the narrative – something that Adam says will also be true for Rose Erskine (Charlene McKenna), Drake’s other half.
“For Charlene, Rose, I think everyone’s been starving a bit to see more of her and it’s about time they did!” he comments. “And they will…”
“I love being able to load up your iPad or whatever and being able to watch things in one go”
The regulars are joined by a host of new faces, including Harry Potter’s Matthew Lewis as young copper Samuel Drummond, Shameless’ David Threlfall as the sinister Abel Croker and even a guest appearance by David Warner.
Adam and Matthew both light up when Warner’s name is mentioned.
“It’s very flattering to have these people come along,” says Matthew. Is there anyone they’d ever dream of having as a guest star? “Apart from Christopher Biggins…?” he jokes.
But as much as things change, they also stay the same – as soon as we see Reid wearing his hat once more, there’s a feeling that things are back to the way they should be.
“I do love my hat. I would be lost without it!” exclaims Reid, completely sincerely. “When I was at the seaside, I didn’t have my hat and I felt a bit unstuck. I felt a bit… at sea,” he quips, waiting for a reaction. (We groan accordingly.)
“You sort of have a little something,” he says of getting back into the character. “Reid and his bowler hat. I’m sort of quite proprietary about it.”
Indeed, Macfadyen actually owns the hat – and always has done.
“It’s my hat. Did you hear the fury in my voice then? Sort of defensive.”
“I bought it from Lock’s, a famous hat makers in St James, before we did the first season,” he reveals.
“So it’s my hat,” he adds, fiercely, then pauses. “Did you hear the fury in my voice then? Sort of defensive. It’s MY hat.”
“For Jackson, I like that the look,” agrees Rothenberg. “There’s something satisfying about having a broad stroke of a look, having sort of one costume throughout the whole thing. It does a lot of work for you.”
As the show prepares to premiere on Amazon Prime Video, do the pair watch things online themselves?
“I love being able to load up your iPad or whatever and being able to watch things in one go,” enthuses Macfadyen. “It’s great!”
What was the last thing they streamed?
“I watched Bloodline [on Netflix], which is great,” says Matthew. “I’m a big fan of Ben Mendelsohn. He’s wonderful.”
“The last thing I watched online was on iTunes,” says Rothenberg. “I watched Matthew Macfadyen in The Last Kingdom!”
“Really?” Matthew asks.
“I did!” replies Adam. “I was meaning to tell you.”
We congratulate Macfadyen on what happens in the first episode of the BBC series. “It’s a good one, isn’t it?” he laughs. “Terrible hat in that one, though…”
And finally, can they reveal anything about what’s in store for Season 5 next year?
“There’s an awful lot we can’t tell you about Season 5,” teases Matthew, “but I think there’s some old faces coming back. There are characters who we got to know a little bit who disappeared who may be coming back. So that’ll be exciting.”
Season 4 of Ripper Street is available to watch on Amazon Prime Video, as part of a £5.99 monthly subscription. Seasons 1 to 3 are also available. Episodes air on BBC Two at 10pm for seven weeks, starting 22nd August.