Robert Connolly: The Muddy Waters of Deep State

August 6, 2018
The helmer was on hand at Series Mania to talk up the espionage drama.

“TV has been quite adventurous about how many time-frames you can have in the air, how many parallel stories. We talked about the show being a cryptic puzzle that you enjoy solving,” said Connolly live at ACMI, in his Melbourne hometown.

The Paper Planes/Balibo/The Bank director – who started off as a producer, working alongside industry veteran John Maynard (Jirga) – has recently turned to TV with Barracuda and The Slap, and here directs four of eight episodes of the UK series Deep State. A thriller taking on multiple levels of conspiracy, Deep State stars the ubiquitous Mark Strong as a former spy pulled out of the cold and drawn back into the world of conspiracy and duplicity to investigate the death of his son, also a former British secret agent. Our hero soon finds himself in over his head – on a frantic chase around the Middle East – entrapped in multiple layers of deception.

This all happens while his wife thinks he’s on a business trip in the finance sector, with no knowledge of his or their son’s spy work. On top of all that, his family is being monitored by multiple layers of government, and the mission he’s called back for stretches all the way to the top of the CIA.

“It’s the tease of the cryptic nature of the storyline, particularly the first episode,” says Connolly.

Flashing back and forward between multiple periods, Connolly said this provided a challenge in the editing, which was ‘massively complicated’.

“How do you tease the audience with all those pieces, without it being confusing,” Connolly asks.

Whilst relentlessly paced and featuring car explosions and rooftop chases, the director said ensuring that it didn’t become too tricky was “the biggest conversation at all times.”

Additionally, navigating multiple locations in Morocco, as well as cities like Washington and London was only part of the challenge for Connolly on the spy drama.

The series used actors and crew from multiple nations – as well as dialogue in English, French, Arabic and Farsi.

“We talked a lot about how you can distinguish these places. So at least you knew you were in Beirut – the salt water air…”

Balancing these locations and myriad differences, authenticity was something the show strived for.

“Our Art Director [Sam Stokes] was incredibly detailed in her work, and she was really big on the cultural differences of these places.”

Deep State premieres on Wednesday August 22, 2018 at 9:30pm on SBS

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