A politician in post-war Berlin might seem a long way from his cult character Dexter Morgan for actor Michael C. Hall – but in fact, the two roles have something big in common: a secret.
In the award-winning series Dexter, Hall played a blood-splatter analyst working for the Miami police department who led a secret life as a serial killer, dealing out justice to murderers and other bad sorts. In Shadowplay, he’s Tom Franklin, the American Vice Consul in Berlin in 1946. Officially he looks after nebulous matters such as humanitarian aid; in reality, he’s in intelligence.
Berlin in the summer of ’46 is a jungle, where no one can be trusted.
Hall took some time out during filming to talk secrets, learning about “the nooks and crannies” of this unsettled post-war period of history, and working with writer Måns Mårlind.
What is Shadowplay?
Shadowplay is a broad canvas about a lot of things. But essentially, I think every character in this world is carrying some fort of formidable secret. They’re presenting something to the world that is not the full picture. And I think everyone to some degree has some shadowy secret that they’re managing, and maybe a story they’re telling themselves that isn’t entirely true.
Tell us about your character
Tom Franklin is Vice Consul – an American civilian, working for the government to operate on behalf of the American interests in post-World War II Berlin.
What was it like having Måns Mårlind, who also directed, write the script?
He’s a very pleasant and kind person and generous director. And he’s written something that’s pretty heavy, pretty dark. He seems, sometimes, as non-plussed as any of us in terms of where all this came from.
What was the appeal of this show?
The quality of the scripts were, as always, the initial draw. I loved how Måns was able to fuse the historical and the fictional in a way that felt seamless. Another part of the appeal for this job was that it was populated by actors from America, from the UK, and from Germany. To do something that feels so international in its flavour, it feels appropriate for this project, it feels appropriate for this day and age. The world is getting smaller in that way, and we have a really good time. Despite the fact the subject matter is somewhat dire, we laugh a lot. When we were here in the beginning, it was very much about Franklin’s world, and now I’m doing the things that involve Franklin leaving his comfort zone.
What was it like working with two directors?
It’s a really unique situation, working with Måns and Bjorn [director Bjorn Stein] in that they co-direct. They alternate, one day on and one day off. I think it allows them to stay fresh and every other day, step back and acquire some sense of subjectivity – or objectivity rather – before they jump back in. And they support one another that way. And they sort of share a sensibility and a brain almost. So, you can, as an actor, trust that there’s going to be some continuity in terms of their sensibility and what they’re communicating and what they’re asking for. And it’s great. It keeps things fresh. It keeps things alive, in a way you can’t quite experience if it’s the same person every day. But not just any duo can pull it off. They happen to have a simpatico that allows them to do it.
Did you do much research before starting on the set?
I had some general familiarity with the second World War and what happened to Germany in its aftermath, but as far as the specifics of the city of Berlin and how it was literally carved up and occupied, I didn’t. So, a part of the fun of this has been doing my own research and learning about that time. The more time I spend with the script, and on set, the more I appreciate just how much work Måns and everyone else has done. And everyone is available to answer questions – not just Måns. They’re well-versed in the nooks and crannies of this time.
Shadowplay premiered with a double episode Thursday 4 March on SBS. Episodes will continue weekly at 9:30pm from Thursday 11 March. New episodes will be available at SBS On Demand each week on the same day as broadcast. Shadowplay will also be subtitled in Simplified Chinese and Arabic, available to stream for free at SBS On Demand. Each subtitled episode will become available at the same time as broadcast. Start with episode 1: