EXCLUSIVE: Creatives behind Alice & Jack, which stars Domhnall Gleeson and Andrea Riseborough in the latter’s first role since the To Leslie controversy, have spotlighted how they wanted the Channel 4/Masterpiece TV series to feel like an indie film.
Speaking before Alice & Jack‘s TIFF premiere, Cannes Grand Prix-winning director Juho Kuosmanen and EP Richard Yee explained that the team behind the show, which is penned by Mad Men’s Victor Levin, virtually all came from the world of independent cinema.
The idea for a romantic series about an unbreakable bond between two people emerged from long conversations between Levin, Riseborough and Gleeson during the Covid-19 pandemic and had been percolating for years, with Channel 4 then Masterpiece subsequently boarding. Also starring Aisling Bea, Sunil Patel and Sex Education’s Aimee Lou Wood, Alice & Jack follows these two people over a lengthy period of time who are bound by a connection “so powerful nothing can break it,” but “life and emotional complexities get in the way,” according to the logline.
“It was key to us that we approached this more like a film than a TV series,” said Yee, exec producer and co-founder of I Am Ruth indie Me+You Productions. “We wanted to build it up to feel very authored and didn’t want to treat it as just another TV show.”
Yee compared the series in tone to BBC/Hulu smash Normal People, which catapulted Paul Mescal and Daisy Edgar-Jones to stardom and was also shot over a long period of time with indie film sensibilities.
“Alice & Jack is obviously its own thing but that slightly more adult approach to relationships is similar,” he added. “They are observationally driven and show the messiness and imperfections of life and love. People who have watched [Alice & Jack] have said they wish there were more ‘adult’ depictions of relationships like this out there, so it has definitely connected with a lot of people.”
Kuosmanen, Yee added, felt a good fit for the project as lead director due to his prior steering of “unconventional love stories” such as Cannes winner Compartment No. 6, and he was handed the first three episodes, with Lilting’s Hong Khaou directing the rest.
Finding the director
Finding Kuosmanen proved tricky. The creative team were impressed with his work on Compartment No. 6 but he barely had representation. Only a chance trip to Finland for Riseborough, where she spontaneously asked a driver if he knew Kuosmanen, reaped rewards, with the driver turning out to be one of the director’s former students.
“That is just the way things work in Finland – people say ‘It’s not a country it’s a club’,” joked Kuosmanen.
He said he was happy to take on the challenge of transposing an indie film sensibility to TV. “The main difference between cinema and TV is really how many pages per day you are shooting but on the other hand the passion and the ambition really felt like working on a film.”
A bigger challenge was entering the show further down the line than he normally would in a project, Kuosmanen explained, along with keeping the style and tone the same across all episodes including those directed by Khaou.
“I really like Hong as a director but our style is very different,” he added. “So when I was thinking about designing and blocking scenes, I wanted something that is not so much my style but won’t be too far from his. We had the same cinematographer and that helped.”
Both Yee and Kuosmanen talked up Gleeson and Riseborough’s on and off-screen chemistry and the pair have worked on multiple projects down the years including Never Let Me Go, where they played a couple, and Shadow Dancer, where they were siblings. This brought “a shared history to the characters,” according to Yee.
“I’m an actor-driven director and felt like the way they were talking about the show meant they were really in it and were willing to do a great job,” added Kuosmanen. “It’s easier to get inspired and excited about actors over a funny scriptwriter or great producer.”
‘To Leslie’ controversy
The months preceding Alice & Jack’s announcement saw Riseborough hit the headlines due to the To Leslie controversy, a movie for which she was Oscar-nominated following public support from huge stars such as Cate Blanchett, which generated a backlash.
Yee, however, rejected the notion that this acted as a distraction for Alice & Jack, adding: “Andrea has lots of different projects on the go. She was brillant in To Leslie and the more people get to see it the better because she is an amazing performer.”
Yesterday, Deadline revealed Masterpiece had boarded Alice & Jack in the U.S.
Alice & Jack is produced by Me+You along with Academy Award-nominated Groundswell Productions, De Maio Entertainment and Fremantle. Fremantle is distributing globally. Levin is creator and EP. Other EPs are Riseborough, Gleeson, Kuosmanen, Yee, Krishnendu Majumdar, Michael London, Shannon Gaulding, Lorenzo De Maio, Rebecca Dundon and Hilary Martin.