Rachael New Takes A First Go-Round In The Director’s Chair

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Related to: Miss Scarlet and The Duke, Season 3

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Miss Scarlet and the Duke series creator, head writer and executive producer Rachael New has a new title to add to her hyphenated list of roles on the show — director! In this third episode of the third season, New stepped up and swept in to the director’s chair in a charming jewel box of a bottle episode. New explains how she found the courage to take on the job, and what she learned from the process on set.

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Transcript

Jace Lacob: I’m Jace Lacob, and you’re listening to MASTERPIECE Studio.

Snow falls in rural France, blanketing a mountain hotel, where Victorian London’s finest — and only — female detective, Eliza Scarlet, is hot on the trail of a notorious con artist.

CLIP

Elza The room is booked under the name Slade,  but you are in fact Charles Percival, a rather notorious con man. Or do you prefer con artist?

Slade What are you talking about, you’re insane!

Eliza You’ve defrauded half of London, including my client Lord Morgan, who has offered an amount of money I can only describe as “vulgar” to bring you back to England.

Jace At least, that’s who Eliza thinks she’s captured.

CLIP

Nash Eliza Scarlet, Charles Percival. Charles Percival, Elia Scarlet.

Sebastian As I have said several times already, I have no idea who this Charles Percival is. My name is Baron. Sebastian – Baron of the Hampshire Barons.

Nash Now why wouldn’t I believe the word of a con man?

Jace In this ritzy hotel populated with potential criminals and detectives for-hire, it can be hard to tell the two apart.

CLIP

Eliza Why leave a series of clues to bring me to the same hotel he is staying in? Why not send me off to some far flung part of the world, miles from where he actually is.

Nash That’s an interesting point.

Eliza I believe there are three possible answers. One of us is right. Both of us are right. Or neither of us are right. And Charles Percival is somewhere else entirely.Jace Miss Scarlet and the Duke creator and head writer Rachael New took on a new role for this jewel box of a bottle episode — director, for the very first time. She returns to the podcast to explain why her first time in the director’s chair won’t be her last.

Jace And we’re going. We’re recording. And this week we are joined by Miss Scarlet and the Duke creator, executive producer, writer and now director Racahel New. Welcome.

Rachael New Hello, Jace. How are you?

Jace I’m quite well. How are you?

Rachael Good, I’m excellent, thank you. Yes.

Jace That’s good to hear. Episode three marks your directorial debut, not just on Miss Scarlet and the Duke, but directing full stop. You weren’t originally intending to direct this season, so how did this turn of events come about?

Rachael Well, that’s exactly right. So what was meant to happen was my writing partner, Ben Edwards, was due to direct this particular episode, and we had been filming probably for about six months. Well, we’d been in Belgrade for about six months, we’d finished most of the episodes, we broke for Christmas, and then we were we were getting back in January to do two more episodes, one of which was the episode that Ben was meant to direct. And that’s when we got hit by COVID massively. Up until that point, we had sort of done a lot of firefighting, managed to not miss a day’s production. But then in January we had various kind of casualties of COVID. Some actors couldn’t come out and crew were kind of getting hit by it. And one of the one of the people that got it was Ben. So that night, I think it was almost midnight. We got the confirmation of his test. And so, yeah, it was just like, well, I think it was, there was no one else to do it, so I had to do it. But in some ways I kind of was very, in some ways I was very prepared. I’d been on set with the actors for, for months and months previous to that. So I was sort of, you know, very comfortable, very at home with our cast and being with whichever director I was working with at the time. It’s very, very collaborative. And in some ways I wasn’t prepared because Ben had gone through and done his shot list and sort of handed me over this big thick folder and I was like, ‘Oh, okay,’ it was a bit like, you know, there’s those, well I have these dreams where I’m sitting in an exam at school and I haven’t done any revision, and I had this sinking feeling, so it was so late at night, I just thought, ‘What’s more important, me staying up all night, going through the shot list or getting some sleep and just seeing what tomorrow brings?’ And I and I chose sleep. So I put the folder down and I went to sleep and then stepped on the next day with a fantastic crew. And yeah, we, I think we did it. We did an alright job. So yeah, I was pleased. I embraced the opportunity and the challenge.

Jace I mean, this was in some ways a trial by fire then. I mean, you’re handed, as you say, just sort of a shot list and told, you know, ‘No one else can do this, go do this.’ How terrifying was this or did it feel in some way like this is maybe the ideal opportunity to push yourself and direct, given that this is your creation, you know, this world inside out that you’ve created?

Rachael Yeah. So a few sort of…Patsy, one of the exec producers, my work wife I call her, she had been on at me for, for a while saying, ‘You know you really you really should direct,’ because I was sort of you know, there on set with the directors throughout the throughout the previous blocks giving notes to the actors. And as I say, it was a very kind of collaborative kind of team atmosphere between myself and the director. So I kind of was thinking about it, but I had so many other things to do because whilst we were filming I was doing post-production in Belgrade, connected to an editor in Ireland all the way through. So it just wasn’t feasible. But what happened was when we came back in January, I didn’t have that pressure of post-production that was on hold until we wrapped. So it was weirdly the perfect timing and it was also one of those things where I didn’t really have to think about it too much. I was thrown in. Had I had I been able to kind of mull over and marinate on it, maybe I would have thought, ‘You know what, I like the role I’ve got. Do I really want to do something else? You know, an extra thing?’ So I might have sort of said no, but I really didn’t have a have a choice. And it was the best thing for me because it just made it just forced me to do it. And so it was one of those things where I it did intrigued me. It did. I was thinking about it. Who knows? Even if I hadn’t done it, then maybe this year, this season that we’re filming at the moment, maybe I would have I would have said yes. But it really was such an opportunity. And I do think you’ve sometimes just got to you’ve just got to go for you got to seize the day, haven’t you?

Jace So Patty may have worn you down then, maybe? Had Ben not gotten sick by now, maybe she would have pushed and pushed.

Rachael Yeah, exactly. And Kate Phillips as well. A few times she had said to me, ‘You really should direct, Rach.’ And I was like, you know. So here were a few, the women around me sort of sort of, you know, encouraging me to consider it. So yeah, but it came at the best time.

Jace But having said that, most first-time directors have significant lead time in advance of stepping behind the camera. And you seem to have had sort of no time to prepare whatsoever. You’re sort of given Ben’s shot list. I mean, did you take 10 minutes to sort of storyboard any shots or look through the shot list or think about things in any way before yelling, ‘Action’?

Rachael Well, the answer is no. But the good thing is I knew the locations really well, and this particular episode that I directed is what we would call like a bubble or a bottle episode. It wasn’t in our usual set. It was based in a hotel in France. And so we had two locations. We had one particular location, which we’ve used a few times that we used for the reception area and the and the stairs of the hotel and the corridors. And then all the bedrooms were back on set, which we our amazing set designer and set dec team had created. So I knew the teams really well, I knew the locations really well because I’d filmed there a lot. I had an absolutely brilliant DP in Milosh Koch. I had brilliant first AD in Marko Madric, and the rest of the crew as well. So I had a very, very solid team around me. And I would say, you know, once we sort of we stepped on. It also had obviously the wonderful Kate Phillips, Felix Scott. So I had a stellar cast. So when we kind of stepped on, it was a case of just taking a moment and chatting with them about what shots we could do. And so it was, it did feel very natural. And the other thing is, is as Ben and I, we are married so over Christmas previous to that, we talked a lot about, it wasn’t necessarily that I went through a shot list, but we did talk an awful lot about, you know, the episode and so it wasn’t too terrifying. And as I said, I’d had so much experience with the other directors being on set that I tried to soak up that as much as possible as well. So yeah, I think I had the right amount of adrenaline, but it was very much a mindset of, well, ‘You’ve just, you know, don’t, don’t, don’t get in your own way, you know, just get on with it.’ And so, so I did. And what was really nice was, was I had lots of lovely messages from all of our previous directors basically going, ‘Come on. You can do this.’ You know, it was it was really it was really like everybody kind of came together and was cheering me on, which was very touching. So, yeah, I loved that bit.

Jace I mean, from the outside, it’s i’s amazing to me because all of this seemed to me to be intentional, as you say, that it is this sort of bottle episode that’s set outside the usual world of Miss Scarlet. Eliza and Nash are the only regular cast members to appear in it. If there was ever a time to have a perfect episode for a first-time director to come in, it would be something like this. But what you’re saying is it’s entirely serendipitous, which I think is amazing because it feels planned from the outside looking in.

Rachael Yeah, I mean, it’s astonishing, isn’t it? It’s like it ticks every single box. You know, I had, I had the cast like, you know, Felix was, was, was in it with Kate. I had the locations that I had already sort of knew really well. We were in sort of more or less two locations so we didn’t have to worry about set moves and stuff like that. So lots of the stresses and strain that you would normally get, you know, during a shoot, some of that wasn’t there. However I would say we were sometimes doing we were doing a lot of pages a day, let’s put it that way. It was a packed, packed schedule and we were slightly being battered by COVID. So at one point we lost a lot of crew. So it wasn’t quite it wasn’t quite plain sailing. There were some really, really there were some moments where I did think, ‘Oh my God,’ but we got through it. Yeah, we got through it. And poor old Ben was kind of videoing in, he was able to watch. We’ve got like remote viewing. So he was able to watch that whilst he was in isolation and he would be texting me going, ‘Oh, that was a great shot.’ Or because he could see me, he could see me directing. So it was this really crazy, crazy time, but it just brought the team together so much. It was real. It was a real blitz spirit. It really was. It was incredible, it was really amazing.

Jace There is a feeling of wintry coziness in the Hotel St. Marc, the charming hotel smack in the snowy French countryside, which could be the set up for a Poirot or something similar. Then the storm sets in. Eliza and Nash can’t leave the hotel. Did that sense of isolation here helped to create that rising sense of tension that the atmosphere required?

Rachael Absolutely. And it’s really good, that’s such a great point. And that’s all down to Ben because he wrote the episode. It’s a brilliantly written episode, and that was absolutely his intention to make it very isolated. They can’t leave. They’re kind of stuck all night long in this in this in this hotel in the middle of nowhere. There’s these kind of conmen. There’s a murder. So it was this. It was you’re right. It’s this like, lovely, classic kind of mystery. I have to give Ben his credit. He did direct for an afternoon, and that was the snowy exteriors, and then he got out. He had COVID, which was that night. And then we went inside. So I can’t take any credit for the directing of the wintry exteriors. And we also have a brilliant VFX team in Ireland, and they did some cracking, you know, we were pretty much in the middle of Belgrade with the house we used for the hotel, and they created this this icy wintery landscape and doubled the size of the house to make it look like a hotel. And so, yeah, they it was it was a huge, huge team effort to get this to get this episode looking as good as it does.

Jace This episode features the return of Felix Scott’s Patrick Nash, Eliza’s would-be rival who’s also on the hunt for Percival and who has also tracked him to the Hotel St. Marc. Nash provides both a sort of familiar presence in this unfamiliar setting, but is also the perfect foil for Eliza. How great are these two to direct as competitors?

Rachael Oh my goodness. I mean, it just doesn’t really get any better…they are absolutely exceptional, both of them. They turn up on set. They know their lines inside out. They know their characters inside out. They’ve got so much chemistry. As people, they are just so receptive, so it’s really engaging and really loving that sort of collaboration. I was with them and just generally, actually I’ve worked with them since a lot on this new season and I just feel incredibly lucky that I was able to step on and they were my principals for that episode because yeah, they were. They were they’re exceptional. They’re very talented.

Jace This episode offers the opportunity to humanize Nash significantly as he tells Eliza about his late brother, whose idea was to set up the agency and who is stabbed to death trying to locate a girl.

CLIP

Nash There was this family from Cork, fresh off the boat. They paid my brother up front to find their missing daughter. A lot of men would’ve just taken their money and spent it but not him. He went looking for her. He found her with some drunk lunatic down by the docks. A fisherman, handy with a knife. He stabbed my brother right through the heart, he was dead before he even hit the floor. That’s what you get for being honest.

Eliza So the moral of your story is lie and cheat and you’ll stay alive?

Nash There’s no moral, I’m just saying that some people are survivors. Like you and I. That’s why we should work together.

Jace Does this story perhaps explain Nash’s moral flexibility?

Rachael Absolutely. And I think it really pulls back the layers to who he is, which we do explore even more in in in season four. It just gives you a little insight into why he is how he is. And he’s just a really fascinating character. I mean, he’s he is a feminist. I mean, he really you know, he believes in kind of equal rights. This is a very, very progressive man. He doesn’t charge you for your background. Your gender , your race, he just sees if you’ve got potential, then great, then you should have an opportunity like everybody else, because he’s an Irishman at the time the Irish were not treated well at all, very disliked. So he knows what it is to face, you know, prejudice. So he’s just a really fascinating character. Yes, he is an opportunist, but he is a survivor. And he does see the potential in people and he sees the potential in Eliza. And it’s just ironic that the one who is the one to shouts, you know, her talents and, you know, at the top of his voice, he’s the one that she doesn’t trust. So you’ve got this really fun dynamic, and sometimes you can see her slightly weakening, going, ‘Maybe, maybe I can trust him, maybe I can could work with him, maybe he could be a colleague?’ And then he always does something to make her go, ‘Oh, yeah I can’t do that. I can’t trust him.’ So it’s very fun. The bickering and bantering is very fun. It’s very different to, say, Eliza and Duke. It’s a really different relationship. It’s got a completely different dynamic. So it yeah, it’s just really, really fun to write, again, Ben a brilliant job on that episode and it was super fun to direct them. It was it was a real joy.

Jace I mean, I love that scene between the two of them, which for me is sort of the heart of this episode, the two of them sort of trapped together in this basement room. Does the encounter permanently shift Eliza’s perception of Nash? I mean, she says she’ll never work with him, ever. And then he says, very sadly, ‘His name was Michael,’ about his brother after he frees them from the handcuffs. Does Eliza change her perception of Nash because of this encounter?

Rachael I think it does, Yes. I mean, she’s never I mean, we play a little bit ambiguous because even then you’re thinking, is he telling the truth? Like even after that beautiful moment is like and, you know. Well, I’ll let the audience decide that. I don’t want to give any plot spoilers, but we  do delve into that slightly more in season four, Nash’s past, but it absolutely does make her see him as more of a vulnerable human being like she is. And so what’s really nice is the end of the episode — they are becoming friends. They are you know, she is sort of opening up to him a little bit. And he is, I think he sees her on a slightly deeper level as well, where he they connect. There’s a there’s a genuine friendship emerging between them, is all I’ll say. I don’t want to, like I said I don’t want to give any plot spoilers away, but yes, that encounter and spending time with him and they worked so well together that definitely starts to chip away at her and she thinks, ‘Well, maybe I could give him the benefit of the doubt. Maybe that there’s a decent person there within this kind of salesman-y, you know, facade.’

Jace Before this next question, a brief word from our sponsors…

 Jace One of the stars of this episode is the great Robert Will Fort, whom many American viewers might remember as Jason from Gavin and Stacey as Slade, who might also be Charles Percival. How was Robert to direct?

Rachael Just very, very he’s a very classy actor. I had seen Robert in Wolf Hall as well, which was one of my favorite shows in the last few years. He is a brilliant drama actor, but it also has that kind of those comedic sensibilities. There also Joseph May as well, who he was cracking to direct and Greg Hayes. So we had a very, very good guest cast. I think one of the best, actually. Ben, again, that was all down to Ben. He did all the casting. Well, sorry, with our casting director, but I was in the thick of it with the other episodes, and he was the one that meticulously went through and chose who who he wanted for his cast. So I really can’t take any credit for that. So again, stepping on as a first-time director when you’ve got that caliber of cast. It was serendipitous. It was just, it was perfect for me.

CLIP

Eliza Documents with your name on them were found at a house belonging to Charles Percival. How do you explain that?

Baron My father was a ruthless businessman, he had many enemies. This could be an act of revenge on his only son.

Slade Is that the best you can do?

Baron No-one was talking to you.

Slade This cock and bull story may wash with her, it will not with him.

Baron A woman who runs a detective agency is clearly no fool.

Slade You see? He seeks to avoid the issue and instead gain favor. This is the man you seek. He oozes fraud, just look at that waistcoat

Baron Well you dress like an undertaker.

Jace Eliza is shot from behind in front of the evidence board as the cameras are pans and zooms to specific clues and clippings, and it manages to combine exposition and brisk movement at the same time. Was it tricky to obtain that sense of energy as exposition scenes traditionally can feel really static?

Rachael You know, because we had done various kind of little jumpcut montages before. So that was sort of in the style of the show. One thing that I really did want, though, was I wanted her to step into the frame sowe did see her from behind looking at that evidence wall. I really love that image of, it’s just everything about her, you know, the costume, our wardrobe, our head of wardrobe always does beautiful details of her costumes from behind as well. And you’ve got this slight little it’s not quite a bustle, but it’s just, you know, the jacket and so that with the hair, it’s just very iconic that for me, it’s a real Eliza shot. So I absolutely wanted that shot in that with her looking at the evidence wall and where I can actually I really do favor that shot I love we’ve just actually shot a beautiful scene set in Eliza’s kitchen with her and Ivy and we’ve got this, they’re sort of cooking together, which I know is kind of strange because Eliza doesn’t cook but we’ve just got this moment. And we’re behind both of them side by side, and it’s so beautiful. Yeah, I just love that image. I love it.

Jace I mean, it is a show that plays with silhouette really well. And it does play with those sort of silhouettes, which again, is a is a Victorian art form and makes sense in the context of this show. But I feel like that shot in particular does that quite beautifully. That’s the sort of shot from behind. And we get her silhouette and it is instantly, iconically. Eliza Scarlet.

Rachael Yeah, because the first season we opened on, Declan wanted that to be that sort of Indiana Jones moment where we see her walking up the street, we see her entering the alleyway, we don’t see her face, and then we see her framed behind this sort of cloth that’s hanging up. We just see her silhouette and then she whips the cloth away and we reveal who she is. That was something that he was you know, that was his shot. It was like, that’s what he wanted more than anything. And that sets the hairs running for us to try and, you know, to keep that, how Declan framed her, to try and keep that trickling through the seasons. So yeah, that we’ve sort of tried to do that right from the get go when we started the show.

Jace The other element of this sequence that I love, are that the shots of Eliza and the empty chairs in her office. She keeps changing positions, but the other chairs remain empty. And there’s that sense of isolation again, of movement against oppressive silence. What were you looking to stay with these shots in particular?

Rachael Yeah, that she is alone And she is, you know, she is working around the clock. She’s hungry. She’s, you know, hungry to be successful. And yes, she has very little support. So absolutely. It’s always her in her office. It’s just her relying on her. We don’t have any Moses in this in this episode. And I actually, the office, her office is one of my favorite sets, it has so many memories of season one in it for me. And I just think it if you look around it, all the bits and pieces on the on the bookshelves and the desks. A lot of that is from what I would like to think of, is from her father’s old office as well. So it’s full of this so much. It’s so characterful, that office, it’s almost like a character in itself and of which she’s very at home. So yeah, it was really fun to do that scene.

Jace This was, as I said, a trial by fire for you. This was not something you planned in advance. Looking back, what is the one thing that you wish someone had told you ahead of this experience of directing?

 

Rachael There are so many things and it’s been really interesting for me, actually, because now I am directing a few episodes in season four, and that’s been a very different experience because I have had time to prep and I have had time to be a kind of, you know, just do it the normal way, whatever that is. I think the one thing that I took away from doing this particular episode and then moving on to season four is you have to be the director that suits you. You cannot pretend to be any anything else. So I’ve worked with lots of directors, all of whom are so, so different. And I some of the things that they did, I could relate to some of the things I would maybe do a bit different. You know, everybody would, you know, they would look at each other’s work and do, I think, the same thing. So I made a decision very early on when I started this particular episode where I just thought, ‘Now I have to just do what I think is the right way to do it,’ in terms of how I am gave my notes to the actors, how I was with the crew, my relationships with the team. And so I just did it my own way. I was lucky enough to really carry on with the same style I had done before I even directed. So it’s not hugely different, but I think sometimes you can get a bit caught up with, you know, having a the title of director to panic and go, ‘Well I’ve got to, you know, be like my favorite director, you know, whether it’s I don’t know, Spielberg, Cameron, whoever,’ it’s like, ‘No, you be yourself because the actors need you to be as authentic and as genuine as possible.’ That’s so important, to be really clear. So yeah, I just did what you know, I just had my own style and I hope that when I make a decision, I make it confidently, clearly and quickly. That’s one of the things with directing. You have so much pressure on you. And so that was one thing that I did as a showrunner anyway. And I took I brought that to the floor and I’m very collaborative. So when I’m with the actors, I carried on doing that. So yeah, I just stuck with my own style. And I would say to anyone out there, if you are thinking of directing, really have confidence and trust in your own way of doing things. Because if you start trying to be something you’re not, you’re going to come on stuck very quickly because it’s a hugely pressured job.

Jace I mean, in terms of prep for these new episodes that you are directing or have directed at this point, you had the opportunity of or luxury on, one might even say, of preparation. I mean, did you storyboard things in advance? What’s your style in terms of of directorial prep?

Rachael Well, it’s really interesting because it’s probably very different. I always think I wonder if, you know, when I come back, when when I’m not on Scarlet and if I direct some other show, maybe in the UK it’s like I’ve sort of been institutionalized in how we do things out there and we sort of it’s very great. So I would absolutely prepare for what transitions I’m going into, what I’m coming out of. I know the locations inside out, I know the actors, but I like, I like turning up and blocking and seeing what the actors want to do. Then obviously you have to sometimes change things up a little bit because, you know, you have to take into consideration your angles. Like we’re on a backlot and sometimes, you know, we don’t want to see a modern building, you know? So there are those times where you have to take those into consideration and ask your actors to, you know, maybe step a little, you know, to the left, right, whatever it is. And you’ve also got the lighting, you know, you have that has to come into play of where the lights can be and the natural light and stuff like that. So there is obviously a element of having to get them to sometimes maybe compromise a bit. But I like turning up and I like being with my DP and first with the actors and seeing what they give. And then from there we then make a decision about the shots. So no storyboarding. I have a very clear idea of generally what a scene would look like in the edit, particularly, as I said, the beginning and the end. Often I go into the scenes and that slightly that goes out of my head because if the actors bring something even better, then I have to recalibrate. And the reason I can recalibrate quite quickly now is because I’ve had so much experience in the edit. It’s a combination of going in as prepared as you can be, but be open to the fact that you’re going to change things, because that’s the point of actors. They come on and they give you something and often it’s that little piece of magic that you haven’t quite thought you were going to get. There’s often something slightly different that they give you sometimes that the scene is played out and it’s exactly how it’s written. And that’s the benefit of, you know, I’m lucky in the fact that I’ve written these scripts or, you know, most of them. So it’s a case of I know the characters inside out. So I have that luxury as well of being able to have that knowledge where maybe some directors are still kind of digesting, digesting the show if you see what I mean. But yeah, I like to turn up and see what happens.

Jace Well, I’m excited to see your new episodes in Series four, but I thought you did an absolutely fantastic job on this episode, and I would never have known this was your first-time directing. So very well done.

Rachael Thank you. That’s a really, really. That means a lot. Thank you so much. That’s very nice of you.

Jace Rachael New, thank you so very much.

Rachael Thank you, Jace. Really lovely to speak to you, as usual. Thank you.

Jace We stay in Victorian-Era England for a conversation with a Miss Scarlet and the Duke fan favorite — Eliza’s sharp-witted housekeeper and surrogate mother, Ivy Woods.

CLIP

Eliza I don’t have to be at Scotland Yard for another hour. Shall I make us a cup of tea…?

Ivy  I’m not thirsty. He’s a good man, I just didn’t want to see him today. That’s all there is to it.

Eliza Ivy…?

Ivy In my day people used to mind their own business. They left people to deal with things in their own way

Eliza And your way is the aggressive folding of bed linen?

Ivy When you fell over on your first day at school, you got a scab on your knee and I said leave it, don’t pick at it and it’ll heal in its own time. And what did you do? You picked off the scab and it didn’t heal for weeks. Some things are best left alone, Lizzy.

Jace Irish actor Cathy Belton joins the podcast January 29.

MASTERPIECE Studio is hosted by me, Jace Lacob, produced by Nick Andersen and edited by Robyn Bissette. Elisheba Ittoop is our sound designer. The executive producer of MASTERPIECE is Susanne Simspon.

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