“My agent for nearly 30 years, before he retired, used to say to me when I was looking at a script that wasn’t the lead role or Hamlet or whatever, ‘Does this character change the situation? Can the story exist without this character? If it can exist without this character, don’t do it,'” reflects veteran British actor Jonathan Pryce. “There could have been no story without my character in Taboo and that’s why the role appealed to me.”
Fresh from his part as religious despot The High Sparrow in Game of Thrones, Pryce plays Stuart Strange, the nefarious boss of the infamous East India Company in the compelling new series Taboo, created by Tom Hardy and his father, Chips. The younger Hardy also stars as the enigmatic John Delaney, who returns to London following the death of his father to contest a piece of land on the West Coast of America called Nootka Sound – the same bit of land the East India Company are desperate to obtain at any cost.
“In Stuart Strange, I could find no redeeming characteristics…”
“That story of Taboo, from the page, is very complicated and there are so many characters and so many elements to the story,” says Pryce. “They only issued the four episodes when we started filming; they hadn’t written the second four. I found that interesting because we were making those first four episodes not knowing what happened to your character, whether he lived or died or whether he disappeared from the story after four episodes.”
In Taboo, Strange and Delaney spar incessantly over the disputed Nootka Sound; Strange the head of the most powerful company in the world, who will stop at nothing to get what he wants and Delaney, a mysterious character who practices witchcraft and hides in the shadows.
“As an actor you tend to try and find the good things about your character, some redeeming aspect of his character”, explains Pryce. “In Stuart Strange, I could find no redeeming characteristics, but that was equally as attractive. I just knew he was a bad b–tard and he was going to be a very strong antagonist to Delaney, and I relished playing it.
“They don’t give you very much freedom sometimes in filmmaking, but I can tell you the profanity that came out of Strange’s mouth was all ad lib and I was surprised they kept it in. I had a great time telling people to f-ck off left right and centre. My research for the role was based on the person I’d like to be some days when I leave the house [laughs].”
Finally, we must commend the extravagant production values of Taboo, remembering of course that Ridley Scott is an executive producer on the series. The gritty aesthetic of a filthy, grim, working class early 19th century London is remarkably detailed and well-realised.
“I think that was also part of the attraction with Taboo; its production values were as good as any major film production,” agrees Pryce. “Things like Game of Thrones have now set such a high standard in production values, that if something like Taboo doesn’t measure up to it, it’s not going to be appreciated as well. Not only did it feature some really interesting characters, it looked fantastic too.”
Did you know?
Jonathan Pryce worked alongside River Phoenix on the movie Dark Blood (1992). However, the project remained unfinished after Phoenix infamously died during filming.
You may be interested in our 5 facts about Taboo.