Created by Felix Barrett and Dennis Kelly, the six-episode limited HBO series The Third Day is a psychological thriller set on the mysterious British island of Osea and is told in two parts. In “Summer” (Episodes 1-3), directed by Marc Munden, Sam (Jude Law) finds himself on the island and isolated from the mainland while being surrounded by a group of inhabitants that will go to any lengths to preserve their traditions. And then, in “Winter” (Episodes 4-6), directed by Philippa Lowthorpe, single mother Helen (Naomie Harris) comes to the island with her daughters — in search of answers but faces more questions.
During the virtual press junket for The Third Day, Collider got the opportunity to do a series of interviews with the cast and creative team, including Law, Katherine Waterston (who plays Jess, an American historian and frequent visitor to the island), Harris, Emily Watson (who plays Mrs. Martin, the foul-mouthed local pub owner), Paddy Considine (who plays the friendly Mr. Martin, husband of Mrs. Martin) and directors Munden and Lowthorpe. In this series of interviews, they talked about why the unusual project intrigued them, tackling a live episode in between the two parts, telling a really strongly emotional story, and how the location added to the atmosphere.
Collider: What was it about this project that intrigued you, drew you in, and made you want to try something that seems so challenging?
JUDE LAW: I was just intrigued by all the elements that scared me and the challenging nature and heart of the piece. The script was beautifully realized by Dennis Kelly and it was in the hands of Marc [Munden] who took us through a really detailed rehearsal process, mining it for everything it had. We felt confident that the drama we were filming was going to be quite extraordinary in the total landscape that it covered, whether it’s grief or division in society or humor and humanity. And then, of course, there was this live event that was overseen by Punchdrunk. The company was a part that element and will take over for the live event. All of those are irresistible components for someone to go, “Why not?”
KATHERINE WATERSTON: It’s a little bit tricky. I was just trying to figure out how to navigate answering this question without giving things away and I don’t really think I can answer it the way I would truly love to. There were challenges for me that I hadn’t had to deal with, with other characters I’ve played before. It’s actually not that big of a deal to me. I’m very happy to play a character that shares traits with another character that I’ve played it. That’s never really felt like a problem. But it is genuinely exciting when you come up against something you haven’t navigated at all before. I just felt like it was so obvious, from the first time I talked to Marc, that he was just going to really handle this beautiful script really intelligently.
It’s so hard to articulate but one of the things that can be really difficult in the dynamic between a director and a performer is if the director and the performer aren’t interested in the same things, like when the thing you want to show about the character, the filmmaker doesn’t know to look for, or they’re watching something else while you do this thing that you think is quite interesting. I just felt so much with Marc on what he wanted to do with it. I felt like I was going to get to try to do something I had never done before with someone who was going to be interested in that. I’ve got to be a little cryptic, because I don’t want to give too much away, but that really drew to me to it. It’s an embarrassment of riches, in terms of talent here, and the live event element is this cherry on top of an incredible group of collaborators. It’s a collaborative medium, so you want to like the people you work with. This is a bit cheesy to say with Jude [Law] online but he sets the bar really high, so you want to work with people like that, who challenge you to claw up to the level that they perform at.
PADDY CONSIDINE: It actually was one of the few scripts that I’ve read that I didn’t quite know how it was going to be pitched, even. I wasn’t quite sure. When I read Mr. Martin, I thought, “Is this guy a comedy character? What’s going on?” It took me a little while to actually figure out what was happening here. But it was a great script. It was really brilliantly written by Dennis [Kelly]. I hadn’t read anything like it, really. From my point of view, the challenge was just what I’d do to create Mr. Martin from what Dennis had written.
EMILY WATSON: I read the script and was absolutely confounded by it, from the first page. I was like, “What is going on here? He’s having this conversation, and then he’s crying by a river, and then there’s this girl.” It just kept taking another turn and another turn but in a really great, intriguing way. And then, I came across Mr. and Mrs. Martin and that was like, “Oh, yes, please. I get to swear every other line. I get to have an absolutely filthy potty mouth. And it’s rich emotional territory.” I’m used to working in that way but this is emotional territory that’s manipulative and a bit dangerous and has got a totally different edge to it. It was just really liberating and fun.
NAOMIE HARRIS: My mom’s a writer, so I grew up reading scripts and really respecting scripts. For me, it’s all about the script as the bible and if it’s not there on the page, then I’m not interested in signing up to it, no matter what other elements are involved. And I sat down and read this and devoured it because I wanted to find out what was going on in this incredibly mysterious world. I definitely wanted to sign up because of the script and also because of this character of Helen. I just love her. I love playing fierce women. I love playing women that are extremely layered, and Helen was a gift of a role because you get to play at her softness and her sensitivity and her nurturing nature towards her daughters. And then, you also get to play her as this complete warrior woman because any mother who sees her children being threatened in any way becomes this tigress who will do anything to defend them. That’s exactly what happens to Helen, ultimately. And so, I loved that character journey that I got to go on. For me, Helen represents my mum and the fierceness of my mum’s love, so it was a privilege to play that.
PHILIPPA LOWTHORPE: I think this project is really original and innovative, and also has such a fabulous cast. For me, it was being able to work with Naomie, who I’ve admired for many years before from afar, looking up at her on the big screen and thinking, “Oh my God, she’s wonderful.” Being able to work with somebody of Naomie’s caliber and intelligence, who’s a real super talented woman, was incredible. That was a big thing for me. And also, with the story and the scripts, the writing was outstanding. Those two things were an absolute draw. And then, there was the whole thing about it being two trilogies, with “Summer” directed by Marc [Munden] and “Winter” by me, and then the “Autumn” live event in the middle. It was just like, “Wow, this is so unusual.” It was a real enticement.
Marc, how was it for you as a director? Did it feel like there were a lot of new things for you to tackle?
MARC MUNDEN: Definitely now that I’m involved in the live [element], yes. I’ve never done any theater or anything. My pitch was really for it to be a single camera installation. But in terms of the script, even that felt different. I’ve done two [seasons] of Utopia with Dennis [Kelly], so I know him quite well. I know his writing, which is complex. He’s a prophet and he’s interested in stuff. It’s no accident that, as we’re editing this series, we’re hit by a pandemic straight out of the last series that I did with him, which was Utopia. It absolutely forecast that, seven years ago. His writing is extraordinary. The challenges were to navigate this tonal landscape while you’re dealing with comedy, on the one hand, with characters that can be foolish as well as wise, and you’re dealing with something quite dark, on the other hand.
But also, the thing that really struck me about this piece, which unfolds as you watch the TV piece as a whole, is that it’s really, really strongly emotional. It’s about the malign effects of grief and about the way that different people deal with grief. I just thought that was a really interesting opportunity to say something really profound about grief, in a setting which was totally idiosyncratic and unique. And then, when we started casting, just having this complete embarrassment of riches in terms of the talents of the cast, allowed all that to happen. We rehearsed with this, and as we started to excavate the stuff in the script, I got so excited. I could see all this stuff coming to the fore, with the actors embodying these characters and finding stuff in the ideas that just made it so rich and immediate. That was the pleasure of it. I thought that we had a really good chance of being able to navigate this tonal landscape. There was lot of talking about what the ideas were in the script, early on in the piece and I knew that it would all come out when we started working together.
Jude and Katherine, what were those conversations like for you guys?
WATERSTON: One of the brilliant things was the perfect marriage of Marc’s preferred way of working. On this particular project, we had a lot of questions going in and it was a real gift to be able to ask them in a situation where you don’t feel the money going down the drain. As the clock’s ticking or the sun is setting, to be like, “I’m not sure that I fully understand what’s happening in this beat,” it’s not the moment for that because you’re losing the light. To be able to have these weeks of rehearsal, to get familiar with each other but to also be able to really dig around in the material in a free way really served us when it came to this mad shooting style. We were in the elements in very intense ways. To have that foundation really helped me.
LAW: To remark on the element of great storytelling which is the unknown, we did talk a lot. I’m possibly the worst at wanting to tie everything down and understand everything and going, “Where does this come from?” But there are little moments in this where, because Dennis constructs people in situations that are very weird, although they’re extreme, they’re very real. Humans change tact and opinions and how they feel, all the time. There was a lot of that going on. There were also unknown qualities. I don’t often feel like this, but there were moments that I stopped questioning and it was quite exciting just to do and have faith. It’s like free falling. Someone’s told you that you’re going to be caught at the bottom, so you just drop. Something exciting happens in that moment because there’s a trust, and there’s also a thrill and danger.
Emily and Paddy, this feels unsettling as a viewer because you’re not sure what to make of it. Did it feel that way as you read it? Did it keep shifting who you thought these characters were, as you read the story?
WATSON: Yeah, absolutely. It’s very difficult to grasp the tone of it. When you first read it, it’s like, “What is this story?” But the desire to find out and figure it out was a real driver. To me, that’s a psychological thriller, the overriding desire of the audience to figure it out and get to the bottom of what the bloody hell is going on here.
CONSIDINE: There were these big jumps between the emotional opening and one of the really disturbing scenes in the story, and then you meet the Martins. It’s this tonal shift, and it threw me at first, reading it because I didn’t quite know what it was. That was one of the real cool things about. It wasn’t pitched like anything else that I’ve ever read before. It was a page turner. It was interesting seeing where it was all going. It was a world that I’d never really read before, so it was great.
Because you have more of an idea of the story now than we do, how would you describe the tone, especially involving your characters?
CONSIDINE: I’ve only seen the first episode and I thought it was really great. I felt that Marc Munden has done an amazing job with it, from a director’s point of view. It’s very dreamlike and very surreal at times. I think it’s going to pull people in. It’s definitely a world I haven’t seen before.
WATSON: It does have a sense of humor. There are little twists and turns in it that are just weird and funny and are things that make me smile.
It’s such an odd town with such mysterious residents that you feel an odd sense of relief to see your characters pop up but I also wonder if I should be feeling that way or not. Should we be questioning what these people are really doing?
CONSIDINE: There is a shift in time between the two seasons. It’s so hard because we don’t know what we can and can’t reveal and it is one of those stories that we cannot reveal too much about. There is a total shift in it.
WATSON: It dips in and out of different things, in quite a cheeky way, really. It defies definition, in some ways, which is one of the things that I really like about it.
How did you guys find these characters? With the tonal shifts, how do you find a way to ground yourself in what you were playing?
WATSON: You just play the story, you play the reality of it, you play what they want and what they’re intending, and it seems normal to you when you’re doing it.
CONSIDINE: You’ve just got to tell the story, at the end of the day. That sounds really, really boring, but you just have to. You’ve got to literally just inhabit them and tell the story. It’s that simple. You go with the flow of it all, really.
Naomie, Helen is such an interesting character because she’s even keeping secrets from her daughters, including why they go to this island. Will we continue to peel those layers back?
HARRIS: Absolutely, yeah. Episode 1 of the “Winter” block asks all of these questions and there are no answers. But then, as the next two episodes go on, you start getting all of the answers. It will all become clear.
Naomie and Philippa, what was it like for you guys to work together to figure this out, but then also add the two young girls to it?
LOWTHORPE: It was brilliant. It was fantastic. It was an absolute honor and a privilege for me to work with them.
HARRIS: For me, too. It’s just so wonderful to work with a director who is as sensitive as Philippa is. It should be a given that every director is like that but it is actually incredibly rare that you find a director who is sensitive to the emotions that you, as an actor, are going through and respectful of the space that you’re trying to create, and not disruptive to it. Normally, as a performer, what you’re trying to do is create walls where you keep people out because people’s energy is so invasive of what you’re trying to create. If you’re in a really emotional state or really even a happy, joyous state, whatever you’re trying to create, people have to match that energy. Otherwise, it’s incredibly destructive.
Philippa was always so in tune and so sensitive to where you were as a performer and it was really nurturing to you because it enabled those emotions to grow. She also created a space which was completely non-judgmental, so you felt that you could be really explorative and not feel that, if you fell flat on your face and tried something, you were going to be judged in any way. That’s when any performer gives their best work, when you feel like you have a safety net, you’re being supported, you’re being nurtured but you’re also free. I would like to say that every director does that but there are a handful of directors that I’ve worked with that done that. It was a real privilege working with her.
Philippa, what do you like about working and communicating with actors?
LOWTHORPE: I absolutely love working with actors. I think that they are artists. When they say, “Bring the artists to set,” the actors are just as much a part of the creative process as any member of the team. They are at the forefront of sharing the story. I could never be an actor because I’m quite a shy person. Watching what actors do, how they un-peel the emotion, and how they unzip themselves and are able to elicit emotion and convey to the audience is an incredible thing to watch and to behold. And then, to work out how you capture that the best you can, where to put the camera and where to bring that subjective point of view out is a very, very exciting combination.
In our “Winter,” we allowed the camera to get very close to Naomie, on occasion, so you feel absolutely with Helen and feel her vulnerability, feel her fear and feel her emotion. That takes a lot of trust between the director, the DP and the actor. If you have that trust, it can create an amazing intimacy with your actor. What I loved doing with Naomie was creating an intimacy with the camera to enable her to give us her work. That’s very exciting to witness. When you’re watching her work in front of the camera, I’m literally on the edge of my seat. As the director, it’s your job to feel every atom of emotion that the actor is giving you. And then, if they’re not giving it to you, can say, “I need a bit more here.” That was very rare with Naomie. She didn’t need any directing. She just needed capturing by the camera.
How did the location add to the atmosphere?
WATSON: The location is really quite special. You’re on this island and you are caught off by the tide, so you can’t get off when you want to. You have to wait around for either the causeway to open or the tide to be right for a boat to come. A lot of people just stayed there. The crew became a real community there. It was a holiday camp movie set.
CONSIDINE: You had bikes that you could ride around. I quite enjoyed knocking about on a little bike. Someone even built a gym there and brought all of their gear. I don’t know how they managed it. They created a good little community there. When you’re filming somewhere, when a film crew lands, it becomes like a military operation and it has its restrictions but it’s not a bad old place. It’s got a donkey.
WATSON: It’s got a recording studio and there are loads of little cottages that everybody can stay. You can have an amazing bash there.
CONSIDINE: And you can go there if you want.
WATSON: All of those little cottages are available on AirBNB.
CONSIDINE: It is a strange little old place. Maybe people will visit Osea Island, as a tribute.
The Third Day airs on Monday nights on HBO and is available to stream at HBO Max.
Christina Radish is a Senior Reporter of Film, TV, and Theme Parks for Collider. You can follow her on Twitter @ChristinaRadish.