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Interview

Q&A With Directors Of “Surviving Jeffrey Epstein”, Annie Sundberg And Ricki Stern

Why did you think this was something that needed to be explored further?

Annie Sundberg: Last July when Epstein was arrested, I think everybody wanted to know more. I think there was a question of this is an incredibly riveting unfolding scandal that speak to some of the worst elements; there is sex abuse, there is power, there is money, there are a lot of people with famous names. I think that there will be continual fascination about how people became part of this world and what that meant for the people who are in it.

Ricki Stern: If I can just add to that, that is what directed us into focusing on the women’s voices. That there really was a lack of understanding in how so many women came to be victims of Jeffrey Epstein and so many of them found themselves in these situations, how did that happen? What was the machine that allowed this to happen? Who is behind that? And I think the series dives into that and understanding this pyramid scheme, this coercive and manipulative way that women were brought in by other women. It was like an expanding pyramid scheme and that why did women go back. That was a primary question that Annie and I were wondering ourselves and that’s a deep psychological unfolding in the series that I think we hadn’t seen before. We interview a forensic psychiatrist and a psychiatrist that help us understand the women and how their own narrative, their own background and stories played into certain vulnerabilities that allowed them to find themselves in situations with Jeffrey Epstein and that made them go back.

Was it difficult to get the women to talk part in the series?

Ricki Stern: We worked with their lawyers for the most part. Yeah it took a while to speak with the women, the lawyers were careful about the women that were ready to share their story. Annie and I spent a lot of time, for some women, speaking to them assuring them that they would be able to share their story in their own words, that speaking about their abuse would be their own words, that if they didn’t want to give details that was entirely up to them and that really want we were looking for was to tell deeper and richer stories of these women than we had seen prior on the news, which you know is very brief, or even in other shows that made the women in some ways, while they might have told some stories they were secondary. In the Lifetime series they are the spotlight, they are in the spotlight. We wanted them to feel assured that we would move at their own pace and we provide a safe and supportive environment for their interviews. Lifetime also provided psychological support before and after their interviews if they so chose to have that. That was very important for us and for Lifetime to provide that kind of space for those women.

Maybe a bit early to ask this but what do you think Epstein’s legacy will be?

Annie Sundberg: My sincere hope, I mean as part of the research we did on the series we sat down and talked with a variety of people in the criminal justice system…there were so many things that went wrong with this case from day one. I think if there is a legacy it’s that these crimes that there are changes in the criminal justice system that abolish certain statutes of limitation that really bring transparency to the ways in which power and money can corrupt the criminal justice system here. I do think that there needs to be a certain set of apologies, I think so many of these women will never have the justice that they needed, when Epstein died they were robbed of certain opportunities in court and they have a chance now with Ghislaine. But I think the legacy will be that there needs to some sort of accountability both from the criminal justice system and society to women in these kinds of abusive situations.

“Surviving Jeffrey Epstein” Brand New And Exclusive To Lifetime

Surviving Jeffry Epstein airs on Lifetime (DStv 131) Monday, 7 September and Monday, 14 September, from 20:05

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Interview

Q&A With Anna Wolf On Working With Pop Morrison And Performing On “The Unfamiliar” Soundtrack

What was it like to work with Pop Morrison on the title track, The Unfamiliar?

I became friends with Pop Morrison when I moved to London in 2018. We got along really well from the get go so it became apparent early in our friendship that it would be easy to work together. Pop Morrison is an incredibly talented producer with a genius ear for production. Working with him was easy and a lot of fun.

How and where did you meet him and have you worked with him before?

I have always been a big fan of the band called Stereophonics and Pop Morrison is the drummer for the group. After some research it became apparent that he was not only an incredible drummer but also a great producer.

I took great liking to his style and musical ideas and contacted him via Twitter to which he replied saying that he would indeed be keen on listening to my work and the rest was history. It’s crazy cool how social media has made it so easy and possible to connect with people you might have once thought you would never be able to make contact with.

Did you ever in your wildest dreams think you would perform a title track for a horror film?

I knew I would someday somehow write for film but knew that time would only tell. I have great faith in my writing and even bigger faith in the work ethic that needs to go into the music industry to get noticed. I am, however, deeply grateful that my first film that I have received the opportunity to write for is an absolute masterpiece such as The Unfamiliar. I would really like to continue to write for film and hopefully more opportunities will arise for me to do so.

Did you find anything challenging during the process and how did you handle it?

No, thank goodness not! I am very lucky in that way. I never have writer’s block. I believe that writing is something that happens to me and it’s my way of channelling whatever I am seeing onscreen and portraying it through lyrics, mood, rhythm and instrument.

Read more about Anna Wolf & The Unfamiliar.

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Interview

‘Run’ Creator Vicky Jones Talks About ‘The Best New Show Of 2020’

The first four episodes of Run, NPR’s “best new show of 2020”, have just arrived first on Showmax, with the remaining four episodes coming every Monday.

Seventeen years ago, college sweethearts Ruby and Billy made a pact: if either of them ever texted the word “RUN” and the other replied with the same, they would drop everything, board the first train after 5pm out of Grand Central Station, and travel across America together. But they’re about to discover that the reality of taking that leap may not be quite how they pictured it…

Emmy winner and Golden Globe nominee Merritt Wever (Unbelievable, Godless, Nurse Jackie) stars as Ruby, opposite Berlin Shooting Star winner Domhnall Gleeson (Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, Ex Machina) as Billy. The cast also includes Emmy and Golden Globe winner Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Fleabag), who’s also executive producer; Golden Globe nominee Archie Panjabi (HBO’s upcoming I Know This Much Is True, The Good Wife); Screen Actors Guild nominee Rich Sommer (Mad Men, Glow); and Sundance jury prize winner Tamara Podemski (Coroner).

HBO’s genre-defying rom-com thriller has an 83% critics rating on Rotten Tomatoes, where the critics’ consensus praises its “sharp subversions of romcom clichés” and “Merritt Wever and Domhnall Gleeson’s electrifying performances.”

Run is the brainchild of Vicky Jones, who was a writer on Killing Eve, directed the original stage production of Fleabag and went on to script edit that series, which won Best Comedy at both the 2019 Emmys and 2020 Golden Globes.

We asked Vicky about the romance of train trips and the appeal of running away.

Where did the idea for Run come from

Me and Phoebe [Waller-Bridge] had this old joke where we’d whisper “Run!” to each other in any situation we wanted to escape from. I also wanted to write a romance about the little routines that develop between couples, the beautiful details and minutiae of relationships behind closed doors. So we had this idea of this couple coming back together after years apart, that led to this premise of a pact [where] they would walk out on their lives, meet on a train platform and go on this journey together.

Why is the idea of breaking free and reinventing your life so alluring?

Nowadays we have so many choices but as life happens, those paths close down. Worrying that you took the wrong option and wondering about what might have been is only human. We might pin those feelings from a certain person and fantasise about the idea of dropping everything for them. In some ways, it’s a really exciting idea. Time goes so fast. You leave school or college and suddenly you’re in your late 30s, still feeling like the same person inside but with all these grown-up commitments. Maybe we’re secretly all feeling like it happened too quickly.

Did you set out to write a story that would cross genres?

Mainly we just wanted it to be exciting. We wanted to investigate what makes people fall passionately in love, what makes you feel so safe and accepted that you can say anything, do anything, and be your true authentic self with that person.

But, of course, you can’t have a drama without conflict. Other things come crashing into their world. There’s an element of “be careful what you wish for”, exploring what happens when you step outside your obligations. Wonderful, magical things happen, but terrible things too.

Apart from the Before Sunrise films, what else did you look to for inspiration?

Hitchcock’s Strangers On A Train, of course. We watched lots of road trip movies like Badlands. And I always reference Nora Ephron. When Harry Met Sally’s influence can be detected in everything I do. I aspire to the gorgeousness of that back-and-forth.

What is it about trains and romance?

I love a train journey. I love that feeling of being out of life, of stepping into another world. Time seems to operate differently on trains. It’s like a microcosm of the real world. Ruby and Billy feel like they’re secretly trying something, just to see. They’re in denial about what they’re doing and because they’re shut away from everyone with no phone signal, it’s almost like nobody will notice they’ve gone… But of course, they do notice.

Tell us a bit about the characters…

Ruby is a lot braver than she thinks she is. She’s fallen into a way of behaving with her husband that isn’t who she used to be with Billy. She rediscovers her authentic self through the journey.

Even though he’s very flawed, Billy’s love for Ruby is deep and true and he’s made vulnerable by that. It’s nice to write a man who’s driven by his need for a woman.

What were Domhnall and Merritt like to work with?

I still can’t believe that I get to work with actors that extraordinary. They constantly surprise you. Sometimes you have no idea whether a line is going to work until they come out with it and then they do something that breaks your heart. They make you look good!

Watch Run on Showmax: www.showmax.com/eng/tvseries/3tl7eldr-run

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Interview

Q&A with “Bad Education” Writer Mike Makowsky

Bad Education is based on the real-life scandal that went down at writer Mike Makowsky’s high school, where the single largest public school embezzlement scheme in American history was uncovered – by a student journalist, no less. What’s more, as the movie tells it, she was encouraged in her investigation by the school supervisor, a dedicated and highly respected educator, and the very man her article would ultimately land behind bars.

What was your vision for the film?

Mike Makowsky: My goal was to revisit a pivotal incident in my hometown’s past, and to examine what happened with a renewed, more modern perspective. It was an opportunity to recreate a time and place very intimate to me, and to tackle complicated subjects that helped shape that world for me as a kid.

How do you feel about the players involved?

I was in seventh grade when the scandal came to light, and we saw a huge change happen in my town almost overnight. Frank Tassone was a man who’d done so much for Roslyn, had been held in near unanimous high regard, and all of a sudden, he became the villain of all our childhoods. I went into this process totally primed to despise him even further.

So it was fascinating to go back home and speak with people who knew and worked with him, and to read over ten years’ worth of weekly op-eds he wrote in our local paper. I quickly gleaned a different picture of Dr. Tassone, one that really surprised me. It wasn’t rooted in greed or villainy at all, but rather a clear passion for education and almost bottomless commitment to his students — to us. It was hard to reconcile this man with the criminal who participated in a $11.2 million scheme, who stole from the pockets of those same students.

It’s beyond question that Tassone caused a tremendous amount of hurt in my hometown, and to my school — some of which still has ramifications to this day. But the script is an attempt to at least try and understand his actions, and those of his cohorts, and to find some window for empathy.

What research did you do in writing the script?

I got to interview a number of people over the course of my research process, many of whom were former teachers of mine in the Roslyn school district. A handful were among my first readers on the script. All had distinct, specific recollections of the scandal that were very illuminating.

I also spoke with Roslyn parents who served on the PTA or spearheaded initiatives with Dr. Tassone, and students who dealt with him directly — including the former editor-in-chief of our school paper, the Hilltop Beacon, who first reported on the scandal in any form back in 2004. It was a big achievement for student journalism, and one that thrilled me on a personal level, having held the same job title at the paper five years later as a senior at Roslyn High.

Did you approach anyone directly involved?

We made the decision not to invite any of the perpetrators to participate in the film’s telling. As a former Roslyn student, I remember firsthand just how painful the scandal was to my community that fell victim to it. Those wounds are still very raw for many people I care about, and I felt it was important to remain loyal first and foremost to my town’s perspective.

On the surface, this could seem like a small, secular story about school board and administrative drama on Long Island. But I would hope people can receive its themes — in specific those about human nature and institutional corruption — on a broader scale. To me, at least, this kind of story feels like a microcosm for bigger elements at play in our world.

Bad Education is available now, on Showmax

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Interview

Q&A With Paterson Joseph Of Noughts + Crosses

What were the challenges of taking on the role of Kamal Hadley?

I have been writing and researching the black presence in the UK since the Roman times, and with this drama we have an incredible story that is almost in reverse, looking at what it is like to be the oppressed if you are the majority. When I took on the role of Kamal Hadley it was a question of – how do I depict a racist who is black, in a country where he is in the minority, but also where they are ruling?

That is somewhere I have never had to go with any character I have played before, so that fascinated me. Kamal is a slick politician with a very firm idea of what he wants the country to be and that country is black ruled. The white population, or as they are referred to in our story, the Noughts, have no say in how things are run.

People who read Malorie Blackman’s books are of an age where they are now the adults watching it at home and we wouldn’t want to disappoint them with something so different. But at the same time they are not children anymore, they are fully grown participants in society and they want to know about the politics, the food, the music and fashion, how people negotiate work and what the class system is like.

That is what we are attempting to do with this adaptation – to broaden it out for a more adult audience, so we can see that this is the way the world is structured. And that is why Sephy and Callum are going through what they are going through.

Can you describe the alternative world that this drama is set within, and how it was created?

We have a visual representation of England after 800 years of colonial rule from an African nation. Everything had to be thought out properly. We were filming a scene in Kamal’s diplomatic car with Sephy, and we had extras driving in cars around us and someone pointed out that the woman in the Porsche Estate was white, and if we were picturing a world where white people didn’t have any money that would look strange. We had to reshoot the whole thing.

It’s politically quite hot. Filming in South Africa you are in an ex-apartheid country doing a show about apartheid in reverse. There are so many small moments that a lot of people wouldn’t think about, like the fact that flesh coloured plasters are not the flesh colour of anyone but white people. It is an insidious, tiny, incremental knock to you as a citizen of any country to be told what normal is in those casual ways.

There a lot of tiny things like that: the clothes you wear, the colour of them, the way you speak, things that are so important to us in Britain particularly when designating who is who, where they have come from, what their job likely is, where they live, their level of education and all the things we break down just from hearing someone speak or seeing them come into a room. Working on this drama has exercised all of our minds and made us super aware of everything.

Do you have a stand-out moment from the shoot?

My favourite scene to film was in the first week of shooting, and it was Kamal’s wife, Jasmine’s (Bonnie Mbuli) birthday party. There were about 80 supporting artists in this huge garden with a beautiful swimming pool, it was amazing. Just seeing that many black supporting actors dressed so finely, a lot of them in stunning African clothing, was thrilling.

What is your understanding of Kamal, and how do you make sense of his heinous behaviour?

As an actor you try to find reasons for actions taken by your character, which is what I did with Kamal, so he is not just a two-dimensional villainous character.

Starting with his name, Hadley – this is such an English sounding name, I figured there must have been a white man who was part of his family line. Knowing that could, if you become radicalised about race, lead you to want to reject it, and that is part of his motivation. It was part of my justification as to why he has that blind side to the Noughts. He is denying a major part of his DNA in order to – he believes – fulfil his bigger destiny which is the establishment of a black superpower.

The other factor is his emotional past. That story is about something to do with his own heart and having to kill a part of himself in order to fulfil what he thinks is his destiny, which leads him to be a cold character towards most people except Sephy.

Tell us about the relationship between Kamal and Sephy.

Masali is a great performer – she broke my heart three times during filming. We filmed scenes that a lot of fathers would relate to when they realise that their daughter has grown up and is no longer going to tell them everything, and in fact is going in a very different direction.

That was heartbreaking because our relationship is very close and warm, unlike Kamal’s relationship with Minerva (Kiké Brimah), Sephy’s older sister, and Jasmine (Bonnie Mbuli), his wife, which are casual and almost cold. Sephy brings out the joy of fatherhood in Kamal, she is smart and sensitive, and she is obedient up until this story kicks off. Her ambitions are likely political which Kamal is very pleased about, and then it all turns sour because of, in Kamal’s eyes, the McGregors – the bane of his life.

Are you prepared for audiences to dislike Kamal?

I am prepared for how unpopular this character will be because he is horrible to some very nice people. Playing a character who will be seen as villainous will be fascinating, because a lot of the characters I have played are reasonably affable. Kamal however is cold and Machiavellian, and it is thoroughly enjoyable playing him because he is all these things yet charmingly, whilst wearing a smile…

Read more about Noughts + Crosses

Watch Noughts + Crosses on Showmax:
www.showmax.com/eng/tvseries/x8iovqoe-noughts-crosses