Joely Richardson’s first foray into series television came with Ryan Murphy’s dark dramedy Nip/Tuck. After stints in between as a wife of Henry VIII on The Tudors and Glinda in NBC’s dark Wizard of Oz retelling Emerald City, she returns this Sunday on The Rook.
Richardson plays Linda Farrier, the head of a top-secret government agency for people with paranormal abilities. And while the series is based on a book of the same name, the show quickly diverges from Daniel O’Malley’s work into its own story — one with three potential endings, Richardson told Rotten Tomatoes when we caught up with her ahead of the premiere.
That’s one reason why the star told us she’s excited to actually watch the series. We also discussed what she’s been watching recently — she was a big fan of Fleabag, and watched it weekly while it was airing in the U.K. (it was released all at once on Amazon Prime Video in the U.S.). Ahead of The Rook’s premiere on Sunday, June 30, find out more about Richardson’s streaming queue and what to expect from her new series.
I tend to watch more in the evening, when it gets dark. The last two things I watched in completion were Fleabag, with Phoebe Waller-Bridge, and Ricky Gervais’ After Life, and I just loved both of them. With Fleabag, I watched it weekly. And also, I happened to be in one place in London at the time that it was showing, and I watched season 2, and then I went back and watched season 1.
Usually I catch up with things later. After Life, I watched later, and I watched that pretty much back to back.
Right now I’m on the move constantly, so I have yet to crack into a new series. So, I’m tending to watch one-off films. I still want to watch Black Mirror. I’m late to the game on that. I think it’s fantastic that we live in the time where we hit this golden age for television, where there’s just such a high standard.
I’m excited about seeing The Rook too, because having not watched it. Even though, obviously, part of the story is what I had imagined based on the script. I don’t know the ending. So, honestly, hand on heart, it’s The Rook — just because I like the people that were involved so much, and I’m really curious to see that next.
Jean Bentley for Rotten Tomatoes: I’ve watched a couple of episodes of the show, but I have to confess I’m still not 100 percent sure what’s going on.
Richardson: Sometimes I feel like that. When I start a new book, I’m like, “Oh, I don’t know if I understand this well.” But I just trust it, and then it all becomes clear. It all will become clear in the series. To me, obviously, it’s clear. It’s a government agency, a secret service. They have very subtle superpowers, but we don’t know what’s going on in the bigger picture, and it [eventually] reveals itself and the character motivations. Someone at the premiere said they really loved the way each episode wasn’t all wrapped up. Lots of elements are left hanging, and I like that too, because it’s too easy if you know exactly what’s going on.
Did you read the book on which the series is based?
We were told not to. Immediately after I signed on, I thought, “Great. Time to read the book.” And then everyone said no. Although it’s the same premise, this is different. It will be misleading. So I didn’t read the book.
And like all series television — because I remember this from Nip/Tuck — you never know what the next episode’s going to be. It’s so exciting as an actor to look forward to getting the next script. As an actor doing a TV series, you live episode by episode, because you don’t know what’s going to happen to your character in the next one. Will they be good? Will they be bad? You need to cover your bases at all times.
Speaking of Nip/Tuck, what you think of Ryan Murphy’s success? What was it like working on that show?
I think Ryan Murphy is quite spectacular. I was watching the French Open and Rafael Nadal won his 12th, I think, and the commentators were saying there’s just some extraordinary thing he has. He’s not normal. And although Ryan is normal, he does have superpowers in terms of his output in writing and directing and producing. He’s just a phenomenal talent, basically. And not just in terms of his creative output, but I know that he was one of the first to implement the 50/50 in terms of diversity and female employment, and in terms of crew members. He also does that too.
The Rook was very heavy on the 50/50 crew as well — in fact, we had far more female directors than we did male. And Ryan, I think, was very much part of initiating that. The Rook, it was fantastic. It wasn’t just in terms of directors were women. It was also — speaking selfishly for a moment — these great female characters.
What was it like to work on such a female-centric show, particularly in a genre that isn’t necessarily known for that?
When I received the script, I thought, “Oh, this is really interesting. It’s going in a new direction,” with Myfanwy losing her memory. Everyone is completely intrigued by the secret service and spy world. In terms of playing Lady Farrier, I looked at the tapes of Stella Rimington, who, surprisingly, as a woman, was the head of MI5. Margaret Thatcher as first female Prime Minister. These women did have positions of great authority and it’s important that that’s represented.
What’s your character like? How does she fit into the mystery?
Well, she’s the king in terms of chess pieces. The premise of the show is obviously everything I just said, but also, in episode 1, Myfanwy touches the chess board, and that’s quite a key moment. And then it reveals a secret room that she has, and Farrier’s the king, and Grantchester, Adrian Lester, is the queen, and everyone has their positions. It’s multi-layered. It’s a spy thriller, but playing on many different levels.
So although I’m set up as the king, most people within the agency are fighting for that position. In an ambitious world, people want the top jobs. Then there’s Myfanwy, who has this extraordinary ability and is, in some respects, the chosen one. Having not seen it, I don’t know quite how it plays out, but Linda Farrier is sort of the backbone. She’s very much the structure of the agency.
You’ve only seen the premiere so far, but what can you say how the season ends?
I don’t even know what the exact ending is. We definitely shot two, but there was a third in the script. So I don’t even know what the ending is! I have a very good idea. Obviously, I’m not going to say. But you see why I said I wanted to watch The Rook? Because I don’t know the ending.
Will it open new questions for a potential season 2, or is it closed-ended?
I don’t know the end of it, so I can’t say. I think we just scratched the surface on it, actually. There are so many potential storylines to play out. But who knows? The viewers will answer that question.
The Rook premieres Sunday, June 30 at 8 p.m. on Starz.