Laurie Borg interview: Peaky Blinders series 2

Juliette chats to Peaky Blinders producer Laurie Borg about series 2, Birmingham, Tom Hardy, violence, cocaine, music and more...

Peaky Blinders returns to our screens this autumn with some fresh faces behind the scenes as well as in front of the cameras, including Producer Laurie Borg and Director Colm McCarthy. We sat down with Laurie to chat about all things series 2.

Can you give us an overview of where we are, going into series 2?

It’s a much more expansive world. It’s a much bigger world than what Tommy Shelby’s had in the past. They go from Birmingham and they’ve now started to get their claws into London. So we’ve got into a much more cosmopolitan world, a bigger world, both in terms of set design and locations, and he’s got more successful.

I think the one thing which has really defined this series [as opposed to] the last is that the last series was opium and this series is cocaine, because cocaine was rife in the ‘20s, I mean people went mad. There’s a film called Cocaine, it’s a brilliant 1921 film that shows young people just… bonkers. They just went absolutely crazy for this stuff, and it was legal.

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Would you say that the heart of the show is still Birmingham? (For those of us from Birmingham who were really happy to see Birmingham on screen!)

It is. Towards the end of the series [Tommy] gets much more involved in London, but no, we have Watery Lane, we have the whole world that he was in in the first [series], it’s just that we’ve taken this out into a much bigger place with London coming in. Which is hard, actually, for us, the film-makers, because it’s hard to create 1920s London. But yeah, the heart is absolutely still Birmingham. I don’t know about season three, I’ve no idea what he’s gonna do, don’t have a clue!

Is there a plan, and an end point?

I think Steven [Knight, the writer] has loved doing this series and I think now that the actors have all got themselves worked out character-wise, I think it’s so much better in that respect, and therefore his writing is better. I think the actors have reacted so well to the written word, and they genuinely love their characters.

There is a plan. I don’t what it is, [Steven] never tells us anything. He’s thinking about it now, I know he is.

One of the interesting themes in series one was the depiction of PTSD. Is there a certain social responsibility for you in depicting Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?

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Yeah. And that’s still there. This year being the centenary of the First World War was very key in Steve’s thinking and our thinking as well.

I think Arthur is the one that is most troubled, and he’s the one that has the most difficulty controlling himself. And Tommy’s forever trying to keep everything on an even keel, he’s trying desperately to keep it all together. We don’t treat it lightly, but I think now we accept that Arthur is very damaged, and he plays it beautifully. And therefore the cocaine does kick in, big time. He does get involved in it more than he should. The medicine that he’s given is doing nothing for him, he takes it but it doesn’t do anything, [and] the cocaine becomes available. In those days, the poorer people did not have [cocaine], it was just the wealthy. It was still very much a middle-class drug, even though it was fairly available.

You said there are more female characters in this series – was that a conscious decision, to bring more women in?

I think it probably was. [Steven Knight] brought back people that was a surprise that you wouldn’t think would come back, but have come back in quite a force, because he liked them as characters. In the first series they were minor, on the periphery. It works out wonderfully.

Is there more violence in the second series?

Yeah, there is more violence, but it’s judiciously used, it’s done for a reason. I think the violence is far better than the first series. It’s on a bigger scale. They do things now with a real purpose. Steven really wanted to create a world where the Peakies were big. There are more of them so they have brawls, they have fights, but with a purpose.

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There are also some wonderful sex scenes in it. Quite a lot of breasts. We’ve really upped the ante in all of that.

Can you tell us about working with Tom Hardy?

Tom was great. We got him for six days, [in which] he did all his work. We kept him like a rat in a subterranean basement in Liverpool, because the only way we could do it was to shoot him in the six days and never bring him up for air, so we never see him outside. I felt that it’s better to keep him in this subterranean world that he exists in. It was a big warehouse, and he just wanders around with his dog and he’s slightly eccentric. He’s great, he’s a very interesting actor, and really brought something to the whole thing. He and Cillian have this huge dialogue that goes on for ten minutes and just fizzes. Good bloke, I liked him.

Will you be using more modern music in the soundtrack?

The music is gonna be as good as [season 1]. Different, possibly.

One of my biggest criticisms [of series one], and Colm’s as well, was that it was all American. I said, hang on a minute, we are creating something very British. There’s a wealth of music out there. I think they used it beautifully but I don’t know if it resonates enough. Sometimes it’s a little bit divisive, it was a bit on the nose, so we’re looking at it slightly differently. I’ve got some great composers. We don’t wanna ape the last season,. I think we should move on a bit and say right, OK, that was that and this is a new way of looking at things.

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Music is so difficult. People say oh, we loved the White Stripes, and you say yeah but listen to this. It can be just as good but in a slightly different way, and it’ll be just as brilliant if not better.

Will there be more variety in the music featured?

Yeah, there’ll be a really interesting and slightly avant-garde approach.

Will that blend with the jazz of the era?

There are jazz bands and brass bands, very much of the period. [The Peaky Blinders] go into the club [in London] and [hear] the music and think “what is this row?” They can’t bear the music because it’s just so modern to their ears, which is such a funny scene. They get really hacked off. So how do you get that across to a modern audience, to 20-year old kids? It’s a hundred years ago. So if you’re playing trad. jazz, it’s very difficult to make that work.

Because it sounds old-fashioned?

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Yeah. They’ll go, what is that?!

On the first series you had a historical advisor – do you have one on this series as well?

The designer, Grant, kind of knows it fairly well, so we don’t have any advisors. He takes a little bit of liberty. You have to keep fairly close to the period as best you can. We’ve bent the rules a little bit, occasionally, a la the music.

How much of a part have the outdoor filming locations played this year? Will we see sweeping street scenes?

Yeah. I think we’ve tried to open it up a little bit more. Last year they only really had the big street, shot in Liverpool. We’ve shot there, but we’ve got London streets. We shot a lot in Liverpool. Manchester has some great interiors but it doesn’t really have the streets, Liverpool has the streets.

Will we still see the canals? In Birmingham we’re very proud of our canals.

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Yep, and we went to Dudley and shot there.

It’s really exciting to see something reasonably positive about Birmingham – we’ve got really attractive gangsters!

Well Steve was so proud of Birmingham and of coming from there. There’s a whole group of Birmingham football supporters who dressed up as Peakys this season. And we’ve got a boy cast from Birmingham, Harry.

This year we’ve tried to keep the accents as good as we can. We’ve managed to prep the actors, get them a voice coach, let them train a little bit and rehearse.

Is it ever in your mind that if you want the show to do well in America, you need to make sure the accents aren’t too strong?

It hasn’t opened in the States yet, so we’re waiting for that to happen. it’ll be interesting to see how Americans react.

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I really want this to be great. I think it will be great.

Laurie Borg, thank you very much!

Peaky Blinders series 2 starts on BBC Two on Thursday the 2nd of October.