Interview With Kieron Hawkes, Director Of ITV's 'Red Eye', Which Premieres on April 21

Red Eye, told over an adrenaline-filled six parts, is set between an all-night flight from London to Beijing, the streets of London, and the corridors of power within Whitehall



ITV Press Centre

How did you get involved with Red Eye?

I had wanted to work with the production company, Bad Wolf for a long time, and then this script came in and it was brilliant. I love thrillers and Red Eye felt ambitious and fast paced with great characters, so I was in straightaway. It also felt like a very international show, and yet still had something very British about it. I fell in love with the character of DC Hana Li and how dynamic she was, and then Nolan is just such an interesting prospect, starting as a poor innocent and then leaving you feeling not quite so sure. I was intrigued by that ever-shifting feeling towards each of the characters. Plus, I'm a massive Hitchcock fan, and it felt like there was something quite Hitchcockian and old school about the murder mystery element of the story. There were so many things that I was immediately attracted to and I could immediately see the show on screen, I understood what was required and how we would make the piece feel interesting, visual and energetic. Even though I knew there would be huge production challenges in terms of filming on a plane!

Is it tough to create and maintain that sense of suspense and tension?

Yes, it’s definitely one of the challenges when you're directing a show like this, because you can find yourself leaning into one aspect of the piece and then something else drops off. So to get the right pace, you could forget to focus on the character element, but that's the bit that people actually connect with – we care about humans and what they're going through. I needed to make sure that Red Eye had the pace and energy it deserved, while also giving the audience an emotional connection to each of the characters and delivering their personal journeys and dynamics. It’s also tough in this series, because you're asking the audience to care about people they don't necessarily trust, and that isn't an easy thing to do. Thankfully I was working with actors of the calibre of Jing [Lusi], Richard [Armitage and Lesley [Sharp], who are so good at playing complex characters, they can push and pull an audience at will, that was amazing.

How did you find the demands of filming on a plane?

It was a real challenge. This was an example of really technical filmmaking, thinking about lighting the space, working out all of the logistics and delivering the agreed schedule. One of the things I fought for very early on in the process was to shoot the plane scenes in continuity, so filming the first scene on day one and continuing in the right order. That is an incredibly rare thing in filmmaking, but it just felt like the quickest way for us to understand the story and allow it to grow. It meant that the plane became a really cool place to shoot, because we were all kind of living the story as it happened. It was a difficult location to film in, but we brought in some cameras that were quite nimble. Being on a plane is amazingly immersive and it was really beneficial to have that set, and for me to be able to walk from the cockpit all the way to the toilets at the back. Everyone sort of recognises a plane, but it’s my job as a visual storyteller to make this confined space look interesting and to develop a kind of visual language, as well as the atmosphere and claustrophobia that develops throughout the series.

Tell us about filming at Stansted Airport (standing in for Heathrow) – what was that like?

Any filmmaker would sweat listening to how we did it! We were given two days at Stansted, but the authorities couldn't give us specific times in advance of when we could shoot, because of planes coming in. So we had to be nimble on the day, it was an ever-changing schedule, which made it very difficult. We had a big scene with Nolan standing on a chair in the departure hall, shouting to everyone before he gets arrested, and we had half an hour’s notice for that. So I had to devise a lot of that in the moment at 10am, knowing we were filming at 10.30am, it was terrifying, but also exhilarating! Definitely one of the maddest filmmaking experiences I've ever had.

Were you concerned about the reactions of real-life passengers, given you were filming with actors dressed as armed police?

We had signs up, but if you’re planning to have cops bursting into an airport with prop firearms, people will react! So I decided we would shoot the sequence twice from two different camera angles. The first time we only shot up to the point where the cops come in, we didn’t shoot with the guns. Then the second time, we moved the cameras closer and did the whole scene. But the turnaround of people at an airport is very quick, so within that time lots of new people had arrived in the departure hall. It was definitely the most challenging day in terms of logistics and shifting people around the airport, it frayed the nerves, but it was good fun and exhilarating!

What was it like creating the world of MI5?

It’s always interesting to me looking at those kinds of worlds because there are so many existing references. You have to lean into them at some point because they're a recognised thing and you lose people if you totally reinvent it, but lean in too much and it becomes a cliche. It’s a really fine line. We were helped by the way Lesley handled the character of Delaney. The moment I saw her delivering those lines I knew this was a fresh take on that world – a much more considered, cerebral version than I had imagined the character to be. She wasn't talking fast and rushing down corridors, she was very in control. I just thought she was remarkable and we developed MI5 from her performance.

Was it difficult to tell this story without filming in China?

Well, I love shooting in foreign locations, and when I opened the script and saw the word ‘Beijing’ I was thrilled. But when I found out that we weren't travelling, another part of my filmmaking brain became really excited about working out how to achieve Beijing without going there, I love the artifice and make-believe of filmmaking, so for me it becomes quite thrilling working out how to deliver that. In this piece, the Beijing we see is mostly Nolan's distorted memory of the place, it’s not necessarily an honest account, so it was fun for me to create that.

As well as being a rich, complex thriller, this is fundamentally a story about strong women, isn’t it?

Absolutely. All of the women in this show are really powerful and strong, which I find really thrilling. If you look back at most of the stuff I've made, it all has very strong female leads –I don't want to tell more alpha stories from a male perspective, I'm just not interested in that. I grew up with a very strong mum and I see the world like that.

The drama also stands out for the way in which the British Asian community is depicted, was that something you had to pay consideration to?

I did. Any time I'm representing an underrepresented group of people it’s very powerful to me, and I feel very proud of this drama. Seeing so many of our cast members, like Jing and Jemma [Moore] being so thrilled about the way the show handles its themes made it feel like an amazing project to be part of. That's why I'm a filmmaker, because I want to communicate people's stories.

How do you hope the audience will respond to the series?

I just want people to go on the ride. It's a thriller and it's good fun, but it's also about the characters. It’s about big governmental conspiracies and how they affect people on the ground, as well as what’s happening behind the scenes at various governmental levels, and that's something all of us can recognise right now. I think people feel so out of control about these huge global issues, like they can't make a difference on a human level. I just want people to be hugely entertained by this brilliant story, but invest in these characters too. I think Red Eye is a real binge watch because I’ve been working on this piece for more than a year and it still thrills me watching the scenes, even though I should be sick of it by now! I’m still loving watching it, the characters really drag me in, so I think the audience will really enjoy it.


Red Eye is set to premiere on ITV1 and ITVX in the UK on the 21 April.

April 17, 2024 3:00am ET by Newsdesk  

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