On the new BBC America crime drama Ripper Street, H Division is the precinct charged with keeping order, and they must work diligently to police the toughest district in the East End, in the aftermath of Jack the Ripper’s reign of terror. Inspector Edmund Reid (Matthew Macfadyen), one of the lead detectives on the Ripper case, and his team, which includes Sergeant Bennet Drake (Jerome Flynn) and forensic innovator Captain Homer Jackson (Adam Rothenberg), are attempting to solve crimes and capture murderers, while hiding secrets of their own. For more on the show, here’s Allison review.
During this exclusive interview with Collider, co-stars Jerome Flynn (who played Bronn on Game of Thrones) and Adam Rothenberg talked about doing a police procedural set in a time before that procedure was fully established, exploring the beginnings of forensic science, the challenges of establishing law in a lawless town, what their characters think of each other, that questions will be answered by the end of the season, what their favorite episodes are, how much they enjoy the physical aspects of their roles, how the costumes help them get into character, and that they’d both like to do another season of the show. Check out what they had to say after the jump.
ADAM ROTHENBERG: I auditioned for it, got it, and then showed up. That’s as simple as it was for me.
JEROME FLYNN: It was very funny, though, ‘cause when he did show up, he was like, “I don’t know how the fuck I got here!”
ROTHENBERG: I had no idea. After the first table read, I went to [Jerome] and was like, “This is a big fucking deal!”
FLYNN: It was pretty basic for me. The writer, Richard [Warlow], had seen me in Game of Thrones, playing Bronn, and asked about casting me.
What can you say about who your playing on this show and the significance of what H Division had to do, in this time period?
FLYNN: Part of what makes it fun to play, as an actor, is to go into that time. Rather than being in a modern police procedural, they were finding out, as they went along, and trying to police and unpoliceable, very intense borough of London where all the dark elements were forced into. So, they were up against that. Also, in the wake of the Ripper, it must have been one hell of an exciting and challenging time, trying to sort that out.
Do you feel like they had to really be on the same level as the criminals to get the criminals, since there were so many of them?
FLYNN: Exactly. That’s a really good way of putting it. The lines weren’t as easily defined as they are now.
ROTHENBERG: I do know that the whole idea of a police force, at that time, was in its infancy. It started as almost a governmental gang. I don’t know when all the reforms were put into place, but they were very much gangs on the side of the law.
ROTHENBERG: I think it’s even foreign to him. He definitely has a wide base of knowledge. One of the things about the show is that it’s forensic science before we had the term. I hope it comes across as a creative endeavor and journey, rather than as staid and by-the-book. I don’t think we do know what we’re doing, in this show.
FLYNN: But, that is what’s nice about it. It’s not a known science, policing or being a doctor in the police. It’s one of the reasons my character is like, “Who is this cowboy, walking in here and taking my Inspector off of me?”
ROTHENBERG: It is an absurd premise, what my character is doing, and what Inspector Reid calls me in to do. It’s very temperamental of Reid to lavish all this money and attention on an idea. We think of it as by-the-book, standard procedure now, but back then, people would have been like, “What the fuck are you doing?!”
How did your characters end up being on the same team together?
FLYNN: Well, my character (Sergeant Drake) got their the bona fide way. A lot of the police, at that time, apparently came straight out of the army, and it was much more like a military group. I think he had a broken family, when he was young, and the army took him in and saved him and became his family. And then, Inspector Reid trusted me and took me in. It’s become my family and he’s a bit of a father figure. I’d do anything for him.
ROTHENBERG: I think we had this fantasy that maybe Jackson had been thrown in a holding cell one night and drunkenly starting diagnosing people in the room. They picked him up and, without meaning to, he started helping them out. Jackson must have gotten Reid’s attention, some sort of weird way. Because he’s boastful and a bit egotistical, he probably started showing off and it came to bite him in the ass. He’s dragged, kicking and screaming, into this little partnership. He’s a very reluctant helper.
Adam, do you think Jackson is somewhat reluctant because he has this past he’s keeping secret?
ROTHENBERG: I think it’s because of his past, and not to be boring, but I think he has authority issues. This is a guy who was probably called upon to do very horrible things in the army, with the dislocation of American Indians. As a Pinkerton, he was made to become a strike breaker. I think that policing and anything that has to do with law-backed authority, he inherently doesn’t believe in.
Will viewers get to learn more about what’s in his past?
ROTHENBERG: Oh, yeah, totally! By the end of the season, there will be no more questions about where he comes from.
FLYNN: Each one has got interesting issues. The fact that you had people trying to best the Ripper was very prevalent, at that time.
ROTHENBERG: A very Drake-heavy episode is one of my favorite episodes, which is Episode 5. I really loved that one. It’s all Jerome, but it wasn’t so much a crime caper. It was about veterans coming home after fighting foreign wars and how they’re treated. I thought that was very poignant. That was a really fucking solid episode. They’re all solid, but that one stands out.
Will your characters ever get to a place where they can respect each other?
FLYNN: Jackson is trying. I think he’s got more time for Drake than Drake has got for me. But, he’s got a wit that he’s been digging Drake with, for a few months now, and he’s not forgiving that too easily. Drake doesn’t relent or give in and say, “Let’s have a beer.” He’s not up to that yet. He’s also not trusting the guy. There’s something not right about him. Until that truth comes out, I don’t know. Maybe there’s hope, in the future, that we might have a beer together.
ROTHENBERG: Another reason I like Episode 5 is because there are these great moments where Jackson attempts to find something in common with Drake, as two ex-soldiers.
FLYNN: And we have a woman in common (Rose), which is contentious, but Jackson sees it as something bonding. Drake hates that fact. This guy has done what he’s done to the woman that is Drake’s princess, hook, line and sinker. He has his cowboy hands all over her. So, that will take a lot of forgiving. It could be Season 3 before Drake buys Jackson a beer.
How do you even have a relationship with a woman who is available to other people?
ROTHENBERG: You don’t!
FLYNN: Some of them were married and were just trying to live a normal life. I think that happened more than we think. We have this idea that, with prostitutes, that’s all that they did, but some of them were just trying to feed their families. It was prevalent then, if you were in the underclass. There was absolute destitution on the streets there, so what are you going to do?
ROTHENBERG: It was set up so that, once you fell below a certain means, it was absolutely impossible to work your way back up. That was just the way it was set up. If you didn’t have work and you didn’t have a home, they would have these walking routes because you couldn’t be caught sleeping on the streets. So, people would walk until dawn. That’s when they would open the parks up and you could actually sleep on a bench. You had these people who had no work, no money and no means, avoiding the work houses, so they would end up walking these streets all night. And then, by the time the daylight would come, it would be time for them to look for work, but they were so dissipated and exhausted. It was absolutely fucking horrible! So, it doesn’t boggle my mind that a woman who could sell it would sell it.
ROTHENBERG: I find it relaxing because I’m inherently lazy. Since I can’t possibly know, it means I don’t have to think about it. I don’t have to think about his backstory because I literally don’t know what it is. They don’t know what it is yet. I don’t just show up and do my thing, but it cuts a tendency to desperately want to overthink and overwork something.
FLYNN: And life is a bit like that. Yeah, we’ve got a backstory, but we don’t know what’s coming. That keeps it nice and fresh. But, it can also be nerve-wracking because you have to hope that the next one is as good as the last one. But, if we’ve got (show creator) Richard [Warlow] overlooking it, we know we’ll be pretty solid.
Do you like the physical aspect of these roles?
FLYNN: I do. It’s an incentive to stay in shape. And physicality is an important part of character, so I like it. I like doing stunts. I love boxing. I like punching him. I liked ramming his head into the bar, when he deserves it.
ROTHENBERG: I liked it. Jackson gets beaten up a lot.
FLYNN: As an actor, the physicality is nice. It’s a boy’s dream.
ROTHENBERG: This show has all the action stuff, but then you have these rich, thick dialogue-y scenes. Usually, it’s one or the other. You either get the drawing room or you get the action. But, this is an absolute mixture. Even speaking the words, the way Richard [Warlow] wrote them, is physically demanding. Everything is active.
Do the costumes really help you get into character?
FLYNN: Yeah, they do. It looks like we’re going to do a second series, and part of me is already thinking, “Oh, shit! What if I don’t feel Drake anymore? What if he’s not there?” But then, I realize that, when I get into the suit and the hat, it will come right back.
ROTHENBERG: I think the clothes very much make character, especially back then. I was reading that, to have a suit cleaned, you would have to turn it in and they would have to literally take it apart at the seams, clean every piece, and then re-sew it. So, what you had on was very much exactly who you were. Because the costumes don’t change that much, there’s something fantastic about not having someone come up to you with a buttoned-down shirt with a surfboard on it because they need something visually stimulating. There’s just something great about the fact that they invested so much time and effort into one piece. I think that says a lot.
Are these characters that you want to continue to explore, in future seasons?
FLYNN: There’s definitely a richness to it. I’m up for another go!
ROTHENBERG: Yes, I would love to explore the characters more. But, I would also like to just continue the relationships that we already have because they are so much fun. You need to explore more, but sometimes you just need to keep doing what works, too.
Ripper Street airs on Saturday nights on BBC America.