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The Tourist episode 1 spoilers follow.
"She'll tease you / She'll unease you / All the better just to please you." These are the lyrics to 'Bette Davis Eyes', a song that Kim Carnes pushed to the top of the charts in 1981. But these words could just as easily apply to The Tourist, the BBC's new amnesiac thriller which opens with Jamie Dornan singing this very song – in the first scene, no less.
Once that rendition is done, it's not long before the show's first twist hits you like a truck. And then the twists just keep on coming, briefly teasing you with one idea before tearing that all apart with something new. The way this show plays with both your mind and with genre in general will please and unease you in equal measure, much like the song implies.
Digital Spy sat down with stars Jamie Dornan and Shalom Brune-Franklin (via Zoom) to discuss "the next six hours of nuttiness" that viewers will face watching The Tourist back home.
Jamie, you've had quite a year for singing with Barb and Star – 'Edgar's Prayer' is a personal fave – and now 'Bette Davis Eyes' in The Tourist. Why it was important to establish your character in this way?
Jamie Dornan: Well, I guess it was— yeah, f**k, I’ve been singing a lot.
Shalom Brune-Franklin: I want a released cover of 'Bette Davis Eyes' by you.
The perfect Christmas gift!
JD: I think I've sung in the last four, maybe five jobs I've done. And it's not planned. It's just something weird that's happened. But, listen, we'll crack on.
You know what I love about that Bette Davis moment? I love that whole opening of the show. I think it really humanises someone that we are then going to deconstruct, because he's going to lose his memory, and we’re going to piece it all together. But it gives the audience this real version of where this guy is at that time.
We see that he's super sort of confident and relaxed, and in a good place, and singing purposefully badly to that song. Usually you're in a good space in your head if you're singing along to a song on the open road – unless you're cry-singing to Adele or something, you know? [laughs]
I think it's really important for the audience to see him there, based on what we're about to be given over the next six hours of nuttiness.
Shalom, your character goes through a lot in the first episode too. Everything we think we know about Lucy is flipped round by the end. What was the challenge of playing that character within a character?
SBD: That first scene that she has... It's definitely the hardest scene I had in the whole show, because I this fear of, "OK, I don't want to give too much away for the audience, but at the same time, it needs to be realistic, because she's seeing, essentially, someone she knows very well, and trying to play that…"
I remember trying to play that moment – I was playing it over a million times in my head. And then on the day, I just remember getting really caught up in my head, because I was thinking about the audience, and what they would put onto me in that moment as well.
I remember constantly turning to Jamie and Chris [Sweeney], and being like, "Was that shit? That was shit. That was too much, wasn't it?" And Jamie’s like, "No, it was great! It was great!" I was just leaning on them like mad.
But that was the hardest scene of the whole shoot, just that. And I was always really turning to Chris. I'm so glad that there was so much trust there, because he was incredible from day one.
In every single moment, sometimes it's even just a little look that can give too much away, and things like that, until the gag's kind of up. So it was challenging. I mean, I didn't want to overplay it either, because, you know, it becomes boring to watch, I think.
Another challenging scene to film, we imagine, was that car crash at the beginning of episode one. Jamie, how involved were you with the stunts and physicality of that?
JD: Too involved. That was proper… F**k. We had a lot of time in the schedule. I think the first two weeks of the shoot was just that chase, you know? And that wasn't enough. We had to come back later, and find time to do stuff in the studio with it, on a Simtrav (a giant indoor screen for simulating vehicle action), where I was in a studio, and there was stuff going past.
You can tell how covered it is; how much drone action there is; how many different cameras there are inside; the reality of really being out there in the dirt, and getting shit stuck in my eye. It was really mad… It felt like what it must be like to shoot five months of Mad Max or something – this constant abuse in the Outback.
But I think it makes for a really great opening. At the risk of sounding like Tom Cruise, I do like to be involved as much as I can in all that stunt stuff. But there's a line sometimes where they just won't – also, that's bullshit, that he does all that, by the way. [laughs]
SBD: That should be the headline of the interview: "It's bullshit, that Tom Cruise is…"
JD: [laughs] No, I just know how things work with insurance and stuff. There is a f**king line. So we had a line, obviously, but I will do everything up to that line, because it's fun, and I enjoy it. While my body just about still works, I will do anything.
We've seen a lot of characters suffer from amnesia on TV before, and sometimes it can come across as a bit clichéd. What sets The Tourist apart from other takes on this idea?
JD: I just think tonally what we're doing with The Tourist is different from any memory loss/amnesia show before. It's a pretty f**king serious thing, to lose your memory. So often, it’s in very dramatic, serious ways. It obviously has its place, and has been done brilliantly before, and it'll be done brilliantly again, in that realm.
But I think the way that Harry and Jack [Williams] wrote it, where we're playing constantly with genres almost, this will really – once you see beyond the first episode – tread that line between madness and comedy and drama and obscurity. So it's not just some linear thing of, "This guy's lost his memory. Now we're going to tell the audience what happened."
We do, but we do it in the most f**king warped way. So I think that, for me, helped set it apart. Because I'd done it before in stuff, and I wouldn't do it again if it was the same way of treating it that I had before.
SBD: That's such a good way of answering that, because I feel like even thinking about the character's reactions to someone who has lost their memory – it's almost mocking or "Oh my God, look at this guy". It's kind of making light of something the whole time. So it's not taking itself too seriously. Which I think is kind of interesting. A little bit different.
That idea of playing with genre really comes through with that final line at the very end of episode one. It's sort of funny, but also, it's actually pretty messed up!
SBD: That final line is like my favourite thing in the first episode. "Who is this?"
What was your initial reaction to the big twist and that final line?
JD: I guess when you're reading stuff, you're – in a big way – trying to see it as if you're an audience member, and how they… you know, how is anyone going to f**king watch this?
I feel like the tone we were talking about there, that almost being funny – get used to that, because there's so much of that madness, of like, "Should we be laughing at this?" [laughs] Or should we be not laughing here. But it's funny, and that person's doing funny shit in this very heightened moment.
There's loads of that over these six hours. And I feel that all the episodes end in a similar kind of, "F**king hell, what is going to happen next? This is mad."
One of the best things about reading these scripts was that – wanting to know more, and wanting to have more revealed about the journey of The Man. That was a big part of it for me.
SBD: I completely agree. I remember reading that first episode, and begging to try and read more. I was like, "Wait, I want to know what happens. I want to figure out what–" I mean, I was clearly auditioning for this. I was like, "I really want to play this part. Come on. It's written by Brits but it's an Australian character. I feel like if I didn't get cast, I should probably quit acting." [laughs] It felt like the perfect 'me' show.
I just remember being fascinated by what was motivating all these people, and why were people lying? And why were people trying to kill him? I wanted to figure out the mystery. It was such a page-turner.
Is there anything you can tease about what's coming next beyond episode one?
JD: There's just a lot of… I don't know how to say it without giving some stuff… He's had a lot of… It's very eventful, basically [laughs]. There's six hours of events that involve all kinds of very colourful characters, and very strange dealings, and hopefully stuff an audience haven't seen before that have brought him to that point at the beginning.
And I feel like there's just lots of thinking you understand what the relationship is between two characters in it, and then that being totally spun on its head. Which will keep people guessing the whole way.
Does this story feel complete, in your eyes, or would you perhaps like to revisit these characters one day?
JD: Well, the whole series ends with Armageddon, so life doesn't exist anymore. Nothing can—
SBD: I didn't want to say it, but yeah. I'm glad you did.
JD: It's the end of days. Also, Shalom said, to do a second series, she'd be demanding seven mil an ep.
SBD: It was actually 7.5, but yeah.
JD: The BBC can't do it. They just can't do it.
Finally, what have you enjoyed most about starring in this show?
JD: My thing is: just enjoy the work. Enjoy the job. What comes after, it's pretty much out of your control. The reception of it is often out of your control. I've had the whole gamut of reactions to stuff I've done. And that’s just, I guess, the reality of it. So I enjoy the day-to-day, and I love it when that is made easier by the people you're doing it with.
We just had a real laugh on this. It had its difficulties, this shoot. I had a personal grievance at the beginning of it. It was difficult for me, and it made it all the more lovely an experience that I had Shalom and Danielle just being rock stars. We just really, really had a laugh, you know? Like, all the Aussie crew were just brilliant. We were tight. And that's what it's all about for me. Whatever comes next is whatever.
The opportunity to work with cool, fun people that you haven’t had the chance to before, that’s everything for me.
And you, Shalom?
SBD: Yeah. I completely agree. I mean, it's hard to go off the back of that, because that's it. But I think it's so nice as well to be filming in these places that were so… let's just say they weren't very densely populated. It was really nice to be stuck with a bunch of amazing people in this town that has one pub. It was just so lovely. There was such a nice spirit on set. It was definitely the people that made this job so special.
The Tourist airs daily on BBC One while the whole first series has now dropped on iPlayer.
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