Sunday, 16 September 2012

Emun Elliott: 'The Paradise' interview

The Paradise
Bill Gallagher’s glittering new BBC One drama series...
Emun Elliott plays John Moray

How would you describe Moray?
He’s ambitious and he’s damaged. He thrives off and is driven by the pain of his past. His wife died three years before the story begins and he kind of feeds off that and uses that to drive himself forward.
Moray is business minded, very creative and he’s a people person too. He’s a performer - what you see of him on the shop floor is very different to what you see of him in his office when he’s alone.
He’s a multi-faceted character who, although on the surface might look like this greedy business tycoon and capitalist dictator, that’s not the real man at all. Deeper down lies something much more pained, damaged and vulnerable. And that’s what’s exciting about playing someone like that.

In the first episode we see that The Paradise has had such an effect on the high street – the smaller shops that surrounded the department store are struggling. Do you think he has a conscience about that?
I think he does, I think he’s aware of what he’s doing. He’s not just blindly taking over the street or the city. At the same time he’s all about progress.
That’s one of the key themes of The Paradise and for him everything is about moving forward not dwelling upon the past and he realises that at this time, the late 19th century, the key to success and survival is progression and a thirst for change.
The fact that these smaller shops have fallen by the wayside is just almost a natural selection in this evolution of commerce. He thinks that it’s written in the stars and he is just the catalyst for making it happen. Moray doesn’t really see it as his responsibility, but he is absolutely willing to be part of it.

The Paradise sets are incredible. What was your reaction when you first saw them?
There was a mixture of awe and terror because I’m playing the guy who’s supposed to own and run this place. It comes with massive responsibility.
The art department has done an incredible job in creating this space for us to work in and made it feel very real, so I was blown away and still am actually, every time I walk in.
It’s a joy to work in some of the sets they’ve created, and each one feels really different too. Moray’s office is very minimal, dark and dramatic. The Great Hall carries something much brighter. The Paradise is almost like another character in the story.

When Denise comes into the store asking for a job Moray is keen to employ her. What is it that he sees in Denise?
I think first of all he thinks that she’s a beautiful woman. Moray loves women as well, for many different reasons, knows that he can manipulate them but he also has a passion for the female form.
However, the thing that strikes him most of all is the fact that Denise has a genuine passion for the work and they seem to be on the same wavelength when thinking creatively. She believes in The Paradise. She is always one step ahead of her colleagues and her heart is clearly in it.
They have this mutual thought process and mutual passion for clothes and commerce and he’s not used to seeing that in anyone else but himself. Most of his employees come in just to pay the bills because they get fed and a bed upstairs but Denise is the only one that comes in and really wants to investigate and explore all avenues of it. That’s attractive and she’s good at it. There’s nothing more attractive than someone who’s talented and passionate about what they do.

Do these feelings develop into something more?
Yes, they do. He’s falling in love with her from day one. And it stems from their mutual way of thinking.
Those initial feelings develop and become more complicated as teh story unfolds. First of all, Moray tries not to get into any sort of romantic situation at all. If you’ve ever had your heart broken then you know how it feels, and it’s the only way I can relate to losing the love of your life. If that happens then you’d be very reluctant to throw yourself back into love. So he tries to keep it professional. 

The other important woman in his life is Katherine Glendenning. What’s their relationship like?
Complicated - nothing in the story is black and white. Katherine’s the opposite of Denise, she comes from a very wealthy background, she’s the daughter of Lord Glendenning who runs the city and is one of the most powerful men in town.
In a business sense, financially, it makes sense for a man like Moray to be coupled with someone like Katherine Glendenning. They would look good together and on paper it makes sense. If Moray is married to Katherine he has constant income and constant funds coming in, he gets the status of being married to a beautiful, wealthy heiress. There’s this almost animal attraction between them.
Not in the same way as Moray and Denise – which is psychological, heartfelt, beautiful and dynamic – Moray and Katherine are more aggressive, more manipulative with each other.
It’s a conundrum that Moray doesn’t always handle well.
It’s an impossible situation. One could lead to happiness and the other could lead to financial security and that’s the choice he has to make.

Miss Audrey runs ladieswear the department Denise works in. How does Moray work with her?
Miss Audrey worked at Emmerson’s – the shop was called Emmerson’s before it became The Paradise - and she’s been in the business much longer than Moray has, so Moray holds on to that, he wants to move things forward, he also wants to keep his staff and customers happy.
Miss Audrey cares about what she does and she’s good at it, not to the level that Denise is, she’s experienced whereas Denise is good at it because she has a natural instinct.
Moray respects the fact that she’s been in the same job for so long and has kept things running smoothly since. He often toys with her to get his way. He likes to keep her sweet, because if she’s happy the department will be happy, so it’s all tactical. 

Tell me about Moray’s costumes…
They’re amazing. It certainly helps you get into character, it says a lot about the time – it was so much about how you appeared, and a lot of the time you’d be judged on that alone.
There’s a lot of effort involved – my outfit takes 15 minutes to put on. The girls have it much worse! Luckily I don’t have one of those stiff starched collars that a lot of the guys have so it’s actually really comfortable.
The costume department decided Moray is going to dress more as though he is from the 1880s rather than the 1870s – he is always one step ahead in more ways than one. He often travels to Paris and he goes around Europe and picks things up along the way. The collar Moray wears came a lot later in the period and the way he ties his tie is very different to everyone else, it has individuality about it.

Source: BBC Media Centre

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