Interview with Alice Troughton
Director of Atlantis, Doctor Who, SJA, Merlin, Torchwood
As a director, when you’re given a script to work with, what processes do you go through before you begin filming?
Alice: I usually have between 4-6 weeks prep before shooting, depending on how many episodes the block is. In this time I will cast, choose locations and if it’s a CGI -heavy show like ATLANTIS I’ll spend a lot of time with a storyboard artist, sketching out FX shots.
There’s also the chance to have a tone meeting with the writer, and catch up on what other blocks have been doing. If you are working with actors on a series or serial, it’s important to watch what they’ve been playing and how their storylines have developed. Planning is really really important but when you get on set you have to be prepared to throw it all out of the window. I’m in awe by Ridley Scott who says he has every shot planned before stepping on set. It certainly would make life a lot easier but on a show like ATLANTIS the three leads have such great ideas, it would be foolish to not listen to them and then also consider whether you are still shooting it the right way. I guess it’s the difference between a TV schedule and budget and a film one. We do our rehearing on the floor in about 10 minutes, whereas they probably have days beforehand.
The programmes you have directed so far have a very science fiction/fantasy element to them, but what is it about that particular episode or series that draws you in to direct it? Are you a fan of the fantasy and mythological tales?
Alice: I do love a genre. A few years you couldn’t move for cop shows, now it’s vampires and zombies. I keep trying to have the discussion that it’s all about a generation coming to terms with mortality without the religious promise of an afterlife. That any life after death, even a shuffling, flesh-eating one, is more tempting than not existing. People do start sidling away from me quite quickly.
I binge on the writers and shows I enjoy. Recently I’ve loved THE RETURNED, THE WRONG MANS, AMBASSADORS and PEAKY BLINDERS. My kindle is full of Robin Hobb, Joe Abercrombie, Mark Lawrence, Jilly Cooper, Agatha Christie, Mary Stewart, Mary Renault, Christopher Fowler, Patrick Rothfuss and most recently Scott Lynch with amazing Locke Lamora trilogy. (recommended by Katie McGrath who also took several weeks of my life away with the GAME OF THRONES books)
I’ve also directed SILK; amazing writing by Peter Moffatt who I’d work with again at a drop of hat. And FRANKIE with the wonderful Eve Myles so I do realism occasionally. However this year does seem to be lining up all sci-fan/fi again, which is delightful.
Having worked on Doctor Who, SJA, and Torchwood, were there any memorable moments during filming that you can share with us?
Alice: For me the main thing was working with Russell. I loved his creativity and joie de vivre. You knew immediately if he liked something – or if he didn’t. Just a wonderful showrunner.
Had you always wanted to be a director or had there been another role within filming that you’d been involved in first?
Alice: I’ve always wanted to direct. Well, since I started doing drama at school. I just wanted to work with amazing actors, that was all. But I did many different jobs on the way to getting here, just to work in the right area. I ironed actors’ underpants, was a box office assistant, script reader, stage manager. I was even an agent’s assistant. I tried acting at University but I was so wooden. Good to know how exposing it feels though. All of those jobs showed me something that informs on how I direct. Even if it’s just patience (the underwear).
Out of all the actors you’ve worked with over your career, who has been the best person to direct, and who would you still love to direct on set?
Alice: Impossible to answer. I’ve just been lucky enough to work with people I’d like to work with again and again, if the opportunity arose.
Who inspired you to become a director?
Alice: Kenneth Branagh. Nick Phillipou.
As entertaining as the drama has been on the Saturday evenings, will there be more Atlantis, and will it feature the same trio? Will we see Jason voyaging out on a ship to find the Golden Fleece? Will we see more of Mark Lewis Jones at some point?
Alice: Well, it’s got a second series. As to the specifics, you’ll have to wait and see.
What are your plans for Christmas, will you be working or relaxing with family?
Alice: Both. Starting an exciting project in December, and having a two week break.
Pauline Howard: Hello Alice what was your favourite Episode of Merlin and Dr who
Alice: Hello! MERLIN has to be SWEET DREAMS with the marvellous Georgia Moffett and Kevin Eldon or SWORD IN THE STONE two-parter which ended S4. Oooh and I really liked THE FISHER KING with Donald Sumpter. And the one where UTHER dies. Too many to say!
Claudia Lindner: You have directed two wonderful episodes of TW, Small Worlds and Out of Time, how come you didn't direct further episodes, esp. in s2?
Alice: Because it filmed at the same time as DR WHO S4. I loved doing TORCHWOOD. Worked with the producer ,the lovely Richard Stokes again on SILK.
Jess Emma Towey: Which of the programmes did you most enjoy working on and why?
Alice: I’m very lucky – I can only think of one show I didn’t enjoy working on. Usually I have a great time, like the last block of ATLANTIS I did, we just had a laugh everyday and I’m really proud of those episodes ( 10 and 11). But when I did DR WHO I was also pregnant and I felt like the luckiest person ever. My son Alfie is now 5 and he’s JUST starting to watch my shows – he loves HERCULES in ATLANTIS and couldn’t quite believe it when he met Mark Addy recently.
©BBC Torchwood 2006