‘C.B. Strike’: Ruth Kenley-Letts on Cinemax’s Miniseries Adaptation of J.K. Rowling’s Story

     June 7, 2018

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Based on the best-selling novels written by Harry Potter creator J.K. Rowling under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith, the three-part, seven-hour miniseries C.B. Strike (airing Friday nights on Cinemax) follows private detective Cormoran Strike (Tom Burke), a physically and psychologically wounded war veteran, and his new assistant and protégé Robin Ellacott (Holliday Grainger), as they take on clients and try to not let the complex and sometimes horrific cases they work bleed too deeply into their own lives. With “The Cuckoo’s Calling,” “The Silkworm” and “Career of Evil,” the writing is excellent, the casting and acting is top-notch, and the character relationships will leave you hoping for more Strike stories in the future.

During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, executive producer Ruth Kenley-Letts (Head of Drama at Brontë Film and Television and Snowed-In Productions) talked about how she started working with J.K. Rowling, why they made the decision to shoot all three of these stories, back to back, that they’re looking to continue making Strike movies, as they’re written, the challenge of casting the roles of Strike and Robin, breathing a sigh of relief when the actors had a natural chemistry, and what she looks for when developing projects, as a producer.

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Image via Cinemax

Collider: Thank you for talking to me. I absolutely loved this mini-series!

RUTH KENLEY-LETTS: Oh, I’m delighted to hear that because we’ve spoken to very few people that have seen the show, that are U.S.-based and I have absolutely no idea how the show will go down with the Cinemax audience. I’m a little bit anxious about it. Obviously, I’m a British producer and I get the audiences here. I know BBC One, and I know the audience. You’re always nervous for a new show, but I’m absolutely in a dark hole. I have no idea if people will just think, “Oh, my god, this is so boring.” I literally have no idea. In the U.K., the books have been very popular. A lot of the pressure for us making the show was knowing that the books had a lot of fans and they were going to be very vocal about things we might have changed, or what they thought of the casting. And of course, a lot of those fans are J.K. Rowling fans, so you feel a responsibility to her. If all her fans hate what you’ve done, it’s her that they’re going to be tweeting.

You’re the Head of Drama at Brontë Film and Television. How did you and J.K. Rowling start working together, and how did you end up in that position?

KENLEY-LETTS: Well, I’ve always been a freelance producer. When J.K. Rowling and her agent, Neil Blair, were approached by the BBC to produce The Casual Vacancy, which was her first adult book, and adapt it to TV, Jo and Neil decided to set up their own production company because it would allow Jo to have a bit more control over her work, so they set up Bronte. And the BBC introduced me to Jo and Neil to help produce that drama, which is how I got involved with them, in the first instance. So, I came on to produce The Casual Vacancy as a freelance producer, which worked out well. Whilst we were making The Casual Vacancy, the Robert Galbraith books had just come out and the BBC knew that they wanted to do them, so Jo and Neil asked me if I’d like to stay on as a permanent member of staff, in order to oversee the transition of the Galbraith novels into a TV series.

Because you shot all three stories at the same time, what were the logistics of that? Did you shoot each one of the stories, back to back, or did you shoot all of them together?

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Image via Cinemax

KENLEY-LETTS: We shot each story, back to back. When we first went in to BBC and we knew we were going to make them, we hadn’t gotten any scripts, at that moment, and there were only two books out, but at the time of meeting, I knew that a third book was due to come out and would already be out there before we started filming the first two books. It just made logistical sense to suggest to the BBC that, since there was a third book coming out, we should just that while we were shooting the other two, simply because, even though we didn’t have a clue who we were going to be casting, at that point, because it was very early days, I knew from experience on other shows that it’s very hard to bring your lead actors back once you lose them. It can take another year to find a moment where they’re both free to resume filming. The more successful an actor, the less likely it is that you’re going to be able to get two people free, at the same time. So, it really was a common sense thing to do, to do all three, back to back. The BBC, who were the first people involved in commissioning it, didn’t have to show it back to back, but at least we’d have them on the shelf and the job would be done, without being powerless over when we could shoot that third book because of actor availability. That’s why we decided to go for all three, in one go.

You shot these three movies in 2016, and now there’s a fourth book that’s been finished, which puts you in the situation of having to get everyone back together, if you’re going to shoot that one, too. Have you already started looking into the possibility of doing that?

KENLEY-LETTS: I’m not concerned about that because we know when that fourth book is coming out and we can pre-plan, and Tom Burke and Holliday Grainger really enjoyed working on the first three books. They made a great coupling, and they’re lovely people who are very committed to the characters. My theory as a producer is that, if you make it work the first time around and everyone has a good time, it’s much easier to persuade people to come back, and we did all have a good time. We really enjoyed working with each other, and I know that Tom and Holliday both really loved playing Strike and Robin. And if you’re only going back to do one book, then the time commitment won’t be overwhelming for them. It’s not like you’re doing Game of Thrones and signing actors up for seven seasons, where it’s going to be nine months a year of their lives that’s tied up and they’re not able to do anything else, in that time. The commitment would be maybe four months and, as long as we know well in advance when we’d like to shoot, then I can be in touch with their agents and say, “I’m thinking about filming on these dates. What do you guys think?” And then, you block out that time. The fact that we know when the book is coming out means that we can gauge how long it will take to get the scripts into good shape, and we’ll work backwards from there. It’s all about being ahead of the game rather than behind, and just planning. I think all of us are really excited about getting back together again, in the future, for the fourth book.

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