Jack Thorne has had quite the year, with both This is England 90’ and Sky Atlantic series The Last Panthers hitting our screens. We caught up with the talented screenwriter just as he left a meeting, admitting that he loves being busy to use it as an excuse to get away from yet another game of family Monopoly over the festive season…
As a writer how to you find the right balance between humour and pain in your characters? Certainly This is England and now with The Last Panthers, these are both shows that contain really in-depth and well-rounded characters, can you tell us a bit about your process, of how you get there?
Immediately pointed out the fact that the characters created in This is England are from Shane himself – ‘The wonderful film and all I got to do was play with them, which was amazing. You cannot imagine the joy of writing Woody at the top of a piece of paper and trying to work out what on earth he would say – it’s an amazing thing. In terms of The Last Panthers, we spend a long time researching the show and a long time travelling, meeting people, talking to various experts, so the characters created were an amalgamate of the people they were based on, with our own take of course but we were trying to be true to the times. One thing I thought, my ace on the whole was dealing with the creation of the character Milan in the show. He was a Bosnian Muslim and I thought that was going to be a massive secret, when it came out be a massive thing, and we were in Serbia and they said there are two really obvious things; one, you will know from their accent where they were from and being able to create that mask a proper look was highly unlikely and two, the Panthers wouldn’t give a shit – if you can make them money, they don’t give a shit and that’s where him being The Animal came from.
He is sort of treated as one of the guys but there is also a sense of difference which marks him out, more than that what happened to him family during the war also marks him out, it’s very much what it does to him than what it does to the story. You develop something and then you find the truth, then you have to recreate it and recreate it – the truth is so importantly, especially with a show like The Last Panthers.
How difficult is it writing an era specific drama? With Panthers flipping between past and present and This is England you’ve got the 80’s and 90’s.
You got to do your research and you make sure you know what’s around. In This is England 88′, they use a Karaoke machine and I pitched that to Shane and he said there’s no way that was used back then and I went out and I found examples of karaoke machines just starting to be used in 88 and he went for it. A small example of strange research you have to do – it’s all about reading stuff. On This is England there is quite a lot of improvisation involved too, in the lines which is also a responsibility of the actors. On Panthers there wasn’t a lot of room for manoeuvre on that front they are an exceptional bunch of actors, I can’t believe how lucky we got with our cast, they are just incredible.
Naomi’s character is very strong, which is refreshing, yet she is also very fragile. Morton does a fantastic job. Did you and any of your co-writers ever have an actress in mind when writing her character?
Well Samantha would have been in our dream casting. I had more lines for her in the beginning which we didn’t end up using, as always we cut down when we got to the edit but she did so much with so little, she has got such an expressive face and she uses it so minimally- it’s a wonderful bit of acting. Goran is a face that’s new to the screen and he’s awesome, and amongst my friends has quiet a fan group as he’s quite handsome apparently! But, no I don’t really write with a certain actor in mind – you can have the surprise of who you end up with and that can be very different to what you had in your head. Our job as a writer is to be collaborative and work with them to see what they can bring. The great thing about Sam is that she was intensely collaborative.
What was it like to work with Shane Meadows and indeed on such a harrowing story that is This is England?
Well, yeah, he’s a genius! It’s a wonderful thing, you just sit back and let him work. For This is England ’90 we were working in a hotel room opposite each other and we were constantly passing scenes between each other when we were writing. The whole process of, oh I like that, no, don’t like that bit, keep that, it was exhilarating, I loved it. Shane is a brilliant man and I feel very lucky to have worked with him.
Of course, you might not be able to say, but will we be seeing anymore This is England or is that is for the cast?
Oh, I don’t know, that’s Shane’s decision. But I would love to be a part of it – everyone would.
You have delved into a lot of different projects, is there anything you would like to take a stab at that you haven’t had the chance to yet?
What I really want is to be still doing this in 10 years time! If I can still be doing this in 10 years time, I will be very happy and very lucky. There is no sort of like, ‘I wish I done that’ it’s more I hope I can still be doing this. It can all crumble away pretty quickly; I have an awareness of where I am. A show like The Last Panthers is so heavily subbed and a chance to make a show like that is really, really incredible. Sky Atlantic were prepared to invest in that sort of thing and I got so lucky with the people I got to work with. More of the same please, if you are Santa and you are able to give me a gift, that’s the gift I would like to receive.
Do you have your teeth stuck in anything else at the moment, anything we should be looking out for from you?
At the moment – Don’t Take My Baby is on iPlayer at the moment – love that hour long film we did for BBC3. Take a look at that. And I would love for more people to be watching The Last Panthers – because I am so proud of the show, and that’s the main thing.
The Last Panthers is available for catch up on Sky On Demand now.