You get the last word with The Last Enemy writer Peter Berry. Selected from questions submitted by the audience, Berry sounds off on working with the cast, an unlikely setting for the desert shoot, and prospects for more The Last Enemy in the future.
What was it like working with Benedict Cumberbatch who played Stephen Ezard in this series?
Benedict was a joy to work with and a lot of fun too. He absolutely understood his character. It helped that he's very smart and articulate, especially when it came to explaining the math theorem to the guys at Inquirendo. He was also committed to the big questions we were trying to explore in the story such as, "How do we keep our society safe and still maintain individual freedoms?" Anamaria Marinca, who played Yasim, brought her own experiences having lived under the repressive Ceausescu regime in Romania. The casting of Robert Carlyle added the right degree of menace — a character trait he thankfully only uses on screen.
You state at the start of the series that Ezard has been in China for about four years. Then why is a quasi-fascist surveillance society such a shock to him?
Stephen Ezard went off to China to immerse himself in his work, deliberately choosing a completely foreign environment so that he wouldn't understand a thing and not have any distractions. He had little or no idea of what was going on around him. Ezard thought that in order to maintain his individuality he needed to shut himself away. What he learns in The Last Enemy is that in order to maintain his integrity as an individual, he needs to get out of his room and engage with the rest of us -- you take part in a democracy or you lose it. But even if Ezard had been aware of what was happening in China, his return to Britain after four years would still have been a huge shock. The rapid changes in Britain since the terrorist attacks and the passing of laws in reaction to those atrocities have been seismic.
Where did you film for the desert location? How were you able to film the scene in Episode 1 with the changing of the guard?
The desert location was in Romania, about a six-hour drive out of the capital, Bucharest. In fact, half the series was shot in Romania both for ease of filming and economy. As far as I know, the filming of the Horse Guards was a fluke. We had permission to film around the UK government offices in Whitehall. It just so happened that the guards were there and the director was fast enough and smart enough to grab those iconic images.
How long did it take you to write this amazing screenplay? What were your work habits? Did you hand write drafts, take walks, etc?
Research and exploring storylines took about four months, the script just under six, and the rewrites, as always, seemed to go on forever. I work a lot on the story before writing a word of the script, that way the ideas can be fluid. I was a film editor back in the days when film was cut by hand, not with software. And back then, in order to save time, I'd work on index cards, giving each scene a card. I'd shuffle them around to get a structure, and then do the edit. I use the same method now before I start writing a script. If a scene doesn't work, it's easy to discard the card and move on. That way I haven't invested a day, or even three, writing a scene. Hopefully I don't cling to elements or dead ends that are not working. Then when I come to write the script, I have a decent road map. In the process of writing things often change, but that's the excitement of telling stories.
I work regular hours every weekday, some weekends too. I start in the mornings, that's the best time for me, and go for as long as I can. Walks? Yes, lots of them but there is only one way to write: go into that room, sit at that desk.
Great story, Peter. I'm wondering if it was in any way inspired by the book of Revelation?
I'm assuming your question refers to the Book of Revelation in the context of our title — The Last Enemy and the passage from the Book being "the last enemy that shall be destroyed is death." No, it has no bearing on our story. The "last enemy" in our thriller has several meanings — some of which are only revealed in the final moments — so for now I don't want to spoil anything.
Any hope for a book The Last Enemy?
Never say "never," but at present there are no plans for a novel. There is however talk of a movie.
Will you do a sequel to The Last Enemy?
There are no plans but there's always the possibility. And an interesting one too: how do you maintain privacy and individuality in a closely monitored society. It would be Stephen Ezard's chance to fight back: the mathematician becomes a man of action...