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, starting on June 1st) 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, actor Tom Burke (who recently played Fedya Dolokhov in the BBC mini-series War & Peace and Athos in the BBC series The Musketeers) talked about why this project and character were so attractive, why he became so attached to Cormoran Strike, the helpful tip that J.K. Rowling gave him, what he enjoyed about playing Strike and exploring the dynamic with Robin, why working with Holiday Grainger was a dream come true, creating the perfect coat for his character to wear, and that he’d love to continue to play this character, as Rowling writes more stories.
Collider: I absolutely love C.B. Strike and these characters. The writing is so smart that I could easily see why it would be attractive to an actor to do this.
TOM BURKE: Yeah. Oh, good! It was attractive to me, for so many reasons.
After getting to play a Musketeer on the BBC series The Musketeers, it seems like it would be hard to find a project to follow that, that would be that exciting, but this seems like a pretty cool project to then go do. How did you come to C.B. Strike? Did you have to go through an audition process for it?
BURKE: Yes, I did. It was all quite awhile ago, really. As far as I knew, the whole of London was going up for it, which actually was the case. My agent rang me and said, “The first book is already on the way in the post, but the audition is in a couple of day’s time.” There wasn’t really a script yet, so I didn’t wait for the books to come in the post. I bought one, there and then, and started reading that night. I immediately got so into it. The first audition that I had was actually, funnily enough, on Denmark Street, where Strike’s office is because that’s where the casting director’s office was. I did a load of stuff on video for them, but there was an awful lot of road work going on, so the sound was bad and I was called in to do it again, a few months later. Then, there may have been a third one, after that. I can’t remember. It was quite a long time, waiting. A lot of people with various companies that were involved had to say, “Yes.”
Was this a character that you felt attached to pretty quickly, or was it something where you did the audition, and then tried to forget about it because you never know what’s going to happen?
BURKE: Well, a bit of both, really. I’d speed-read the first two books. And then, when I was maybe halfway into reading the second book again, I was like, “I don’t know if I want to keep reading because I’m feeling so attached to this. If I find I don’t get it, I don’t want to be in a real slump about it.” I could feel that I was really getting excited about it. I did feel that attachment, so I was trying to temper that with not having too many expectations.
When you did get the call saying that you got the role, what were the emotions then?
BURKE: I had sat with it for a long time by then, and I knew that I had the approval of J.K. Rowling, and so many other people, so by then, I already felt a sense of confidence about it.
What was it like to have J.K. Rowling at the read-throughs? Did you have questions that you wanted to ask her, and did you talk to her about the character?
BURKE: I didn’t have that many questions because so much was clear to me, from the books, and she was perfectly forthcoming about what she felt she needed to say. There were a few things that were very useful, that one might have not quite got right if she hadn’t said something. And that was all at the beginning of it all. I didn’t hear much from her again, other than, “Keep doing what you’re doing,” which is the best thing you can hear, really.
What did you find most helpful, in regard to what she said?
BURKE: She said that he never has a moment of self-pity, which was helpful because there were so many times where he was simply struggling against one thing or another, in regards to the leg. It was very important to mark those moments, but also mark them in the right way. That was a very important piece of information to have in one’s head.
I really love both of these characters. There’s just so much there, to play and explore. What did you most enjoy about playing this character?
BURKE: What I loved in the books, which was really fun in the doing of it, too, was that there was this whodunit genre, but in the middle of all of that, there was a mystery between two people who were slowly becoming each other’s access points without meaning to. I always tend to define my character by his relationship with others. Strike is very much defined by the people around him, particularly his relationship with Robin.