If Mark Strong can be distilled into a single quality, it is that of being a formidable actor (and person, as well). He is one of these rarest of performers that in anything he is featured, I always say: “Oh, Mark Strong is in this project, it has to have something good going for it”. As such, Temple, the riveting new series in which he plays a surgeon of sort of semi-questionable ethics in running an underground (in many senses) clinic, was also executive produced by Strong. This indicator provides more compelling reasons to want to attend this Temple, and we really feel that this is a series that is worth watching, as Strong is electric as Doctor Daniel Milton. He was also quite charming in our phone interview, I might add.
The following is a condensed and edited version of a recent fascinating conversation with the one and only Mark Strong of Temple.
Mark Strong: Hi, Leora! How are you doing?
Brief Take: I’m good, thank you so much for asking, Mark. How are you?
MS: I’m very fine, thanks.
BT: I have to tell you that I was so engrossed in this show and I thought your portrayal of Doctor Daniel Milton was so fascinating because he’s really an enigma. As a viewer, you learn more and more about him as each episode unfolds. How did you go about crafting your portrayal of him and what’s your take on Daniel?
MS: Well I think he’s a kind of everyman, albeit a very privileged everyman because he’s a surgeon, he’s got a great job, he’s very talented at what he does, he’s got a happy family life. Everything is pretty much going fantastically well and then he’s thrown a series of choices that he has to make. It was just like peeling away the layers of an individual to find out how they would deal with each different problem that came their way. And of course he makes these choices that are morally and ethically challenging, not just for him but also for an audience because they don’t know whether to like him or not like him, whether he’s a good guy or a bad guy. [laughs] But frankly, what I loved was that he’s essentially a conflicted individual trying to do something for love, you know? For the love of his wife and to save his wife, but just ends up getting himself into deeper and deeper trouble as he tries to choose the right thing to do.
BT: You’re also an executive producer on the program and I know you were very hands-on in the casting process and many other aspects of production. Is there something that you’re particularly proud of in terms of what you achieved as executive producer in season one?
MS: Do you know, the thing that I was proudest of was knowing that thirty years of experience of being in front of a camera actually counted for something behind the camera. I suddenly realized that some of the observations that I had to make were valid, you know? I helped out with casting, I helped out with some of the dialogue and script choices, and I really enjoyed doing that. I think often as an actor you’re introduced on to a film or television set and everything has been taken care of. There’s been pre-production meetings, the heads of department have all gotten to know each other, everyone’s cooked everything, as they rightly should, you know? When you make a production like this, it’s incredibly complicated and difficult. But a lot of it is done before you, as an actor, get on set, and then your job is to deliver the tricky truths, the emotion, the storyline, and that’s all you’re really required to do. So to be able to see the wizard behind the curtain, see all the levers that are being pulled to make a production work, I found it really fascinating and it was a real privilege.
BT: And now as an actor, is there a moment for which you are most proud? Perhaps one of those script choices that you were just mentioning.
MS: That’s an interesting question. I can’t think specifically on that first season but I was involved in the casting and I had very strong ideas as to who I thought would work. I wouldn’t want to say specifically who because I don’t know if those actors would like to know that I chose them. [laughs] But I was very keen on the people that we got and I thought we got an incredible cast together. So I feel like maybe I helped out with that a little bit.
BT: I know you filmed season one quite awhile ago, but do you have a favourite memory from filming or down time from season one shooting?
MS: I think it was when we all get together in the bunker. What happens over the course of the series is this bunker, this weird underground space that they’re in is kind of threatening and odd, and aboveground is the real world, and over the course of the series, the bunker becomes the place where this little embryo family is now existing. You’ve got Daniel and Jamie (Tobi King Bakare) and Lee (Daniel Mays) and Anna (Carice van Houten) and there’s this scene where they all sit around and have a little kneel together in one of the later episodes, as if they’re a normal family in a normal environment. [laughs] And I do remember thinking “that was kind of clever – that we got to a place where in all of this craziness that’s going on in this world that they’re living in, there’s a moment of intimacy and family and friendship”. These people have all been thrown together, a completely odd collection of people thrown together and they’re like a little embryo family. I do remember that scene and thinking it was a very clever piece of writing.
BT: When I spoke with Phoebe Fox and also Krysty Wilson-Cairns, they both singled you out as a very giving actor and a lovely person to work with. So I’m curious as to who you’ve worked with in the past or even perhaps part of this production that was either a very giving scene partner or helped shape who you are as an executive producer?
MS: Aww. Oh I’ve worked with so many! You know most of the actors that I’ve worked with in my time, I just find them all to be really open and really warm. Our job demands that when you first come on set on day one, you have to behave like this person is your wife, this person is your daughter, this person is your girlfriend, or this guy is your best friend, and you may have only met them once or twice in your life and yet you have to perform as if you’ve known them forever. So actors tend to be really open, I find. I’ve been very lucky not to come across any difficult ones, and I know there are stories of actors who are difficult. But I just think “life’s too short”. I love this job, I love what I do, I love the people and the teamwork in not just TV and film, but also theatre, and why would you want to ruin that by behaving badly? So yeah, Krysty and Phoebe are two individuals who I would say exactly the same of. They’re very warm people and very creative people, and that’s the best environment to be in. I’ve worked with heroes, like when I did the Kingsman movies, for example, I worked with Michael Caine and Michael Gambon, and these guys were guys that I grew up idolizing. I really admire both of them and to be on set with them and understand how they operate was wonderful. Also, doing plays with Ian McKellen and Brian Cox. I remember I was in one cast that did both plays, which were Richard III and King Lear, and Ian McKellen was Richard III and Brian Cox was King Lear, and they both played parts in the other play as well, so it was just one company doing both plays. And I used to get to watch those guys from the wings every night and just work out where their talent came from. But more importantly than that, I got to tour with them and find out what they were like as individuals offstage, and that’s just as important.
BT: Speaking of Kingsman, when I told people that I’d be interviewing you, I thought it was interesting that everyone had a different performance of yours that they really loved. There was a lot of love for Mr. Knightley in Emma, but also for your parts in Kick-Ass and Shazam!, and then one person just started belting ‘Take me Home, Country Roads’. Is there a character or performance of yours that you’ve really loved playing?
MS: [laughs] Do you know, what I’ve been very lucky with, I think, over the years and the thing I love more than anything is the variety. I’ve been able to play so many different kinds of parts. I mean the fact that you can mention Mr. Knightley and Kick-Ass in the same sentence when Frank D’Amico is the diametric opposite of Mr. Knightley is exactly what I’d always wanted from acting. I remember when I first started, I didn’t want to be the lead, I wanted to be the character actor. I wanted to play the old guy or just something that was as far removed from me as possible. And so, I suppose, over the years I’ve always tried to choose things that are different. I really loved playing in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, I thought that was a film that I really enjoyed making because Gary Oldman and Colin Firth and John Hurt and all these amazing actors, Benedict Cumberbatch and Ciarán Hinds and Toby Jones and Kathy Burke, it was just a roll call of really talented actors. And we made this film, I played Jim Prideaux, and I was really proud of that part and that movie. I’d hate to have a favourite but that’s certainly up there as one of them.
BT: Here in Canada we’re just about to start watching the first season of Temple on Showcase, but since you’re currently shooting season two of the series, what can you preview for viewers in terms of what’s coming up in season two?
MS: Well season one has a great ending and because it’s based on a Norwegian show originally, we adapted that show and we took bits from there. In the second season, it’s all us. We created a writers room and we sat down and decided “OK, where can we take these characters now?”. We loved the humour in the show and that sort of dark, wry humour, and we loved the slightly absurd craziness of it as well, so we’ve kind of taken those bits from the first season and all the characters reappear but they’re all just dialled up slightly to make it even more fun and even more absurd and even more tense. So I think if people enjoy season one, they’re going to love season two.
BT: Thank you so much for your time, Mark. It was lovely speaking with you! Have a wonderful day.
MS: Thank you, Leora. You too. It was nice to talk to you.
Temple premieres tonight at 9pm ET on Showcase