The supernatural spy thriller The Rook, airing with eight episodes on Starz, follows Myfanwy Thomas (Emma Greenwell), a woman who wakes up at London’s Millennium Bridge with no memory and no way to explain why she’s surrounded by a circle of dead bodies. While trying to piece her memories back together and figure out why she’s a target, she returns to the Checquy, where she’s a high-ranking official in what amounts to a secret service for people with paranormal abilities, in order to find answers about her own troubled past and to understand what she’s truly capable of.
During this 1-on-1 interview with Collider, actress Emma Greenwell talked about how different the TV series is from the novel that it’s inspired by, why she went into shooting the show without much knowledge about what would happen, the experience of shooting a TV series in London, the physicality of the role and the injury she got the first day, the origin of her character’s unusual name, and how we’ll have a better sense of who Myfanwy is, by the end of the season.
Collider: How much did they tell you about this show and character, or were you as clueless as she is?
EMMA GREENWELL: Yeah, kind of, because we only had two episodes when we started filming. It’s based on a novel, and I had started to read that, but they were like, “You don’t have to read it ‘cause, really, we’re only taking the premise and the characters, so it might confuse you.” Also, they really loved the idea that I wouldn’t know anything. I thought, “What a fantastic way to work,” so I didn’t ask anything and I didn’t ask for spoilers. I just let it all happen, and found it through the episodes, really, as everyone else would.
Were you ever tempted to get them to tell you more?
GREENWELL: I was tempted, but it wouldn’t have been helpful for the character. What was so lovely about this role was the fact that I was able to play so much, especially in the beginning, when we were trying to form this character and figure out who she is. There’s nothing informing who she is. She doesn’t have a memory, so how does she play each scene? How does she interact with people? What are her likes and dislikes? With Kari [Skogland], the director of Episodes 1 and 2, we got to do scenes a couple of different ways and make adjustments. It was great.
That’s cool that they were so collaborative.
GREENWELL: Incredibly so. (Executive Producers) Karyn [Usher] and Lisa [Zwerling], and the writers, Sam [Holcroft] and Ali [Muriel], were wonderful. They were so open, and very happy to talk things through and explain, and to listen, which I’m not used to. It was an amazing collaborative experience. It was fabulous.
I’ve seen your work in Shameless and The Path. What was it like to have both of those experience, and how does that differ to The Rook?
GREENWELL: This is my first lead, and I’m very nervous. I’m a very nervous person. It felt like it was a bit of a jump. I’d spoken to my team about my desires and I was like, “If I do more TV, I think it’s time to be the lead.”
Did you tell them to just find you the most bad-ass character possible?
GREENWELL: Yeah, and that preferably shoots in London, where I’m from, ‘cause that would be great. No. I felt like it was a big step up for me, in terms of the work. And genre wise, it’s totally different to anything that I’ve done, and I really loved that. She’s not really the girl from the wrong side of the tracks. It’s a bit fresher. And there’s action and it’s psychological. It’s totally different, but those characters that I played previously on shows will always stay with me. I loved them, and I’ve been incredibly lucky and grateful for the work that I’ve been doing. It’s been such a ride.
How did it feel to shoot The Rook in London, especially shooting outdoors?
GREENWELL: Well, we had the heat wave, during the summer, in the UK, so it was very warm, which is unusual. It’s so different, shooting in the UK, to the US, and I hadn’t really shot in the UK before. I did it the wrong way ‘round, but I’m based back in the UK now. It was amazing. And also, having grown up in London, to shoot there, and in the locations that the show went to, was mind-boggling. We got to shoot in the Natural History Museum, which is where I grew up, begging my mom to take me, on the weekends, and we would be there before it opened and I’d be taking pictures of the dinosaurs. It was so cool. And then, I was up on the roof because that was my green room, and it was so amazing. I felt so naughty, going into restricted areas of the museum. It was fabulous. And the opening is iconic London, with the Millennium Bridge and the Tate Modern. I was like, “We’re really shooting there? We’re not green screening it?” And they were like, “Yeah, you will be lying on the floor.” It was great. It was amazing and so much fun, and not too cold, which was very unusual. For reasons that probably aren’t the best, it was very warm.
What sort of training did you have to do for this? Were there specific skills that you had to learn?
GREENWELL: I was told it wasn’t a particularly physical role, which I would slightly disagree with. I’m a very non-physical person. I don’t really work out. I walk my dog. I guess they call that exercise. So, we did like some training for specific things, but Myfanwy doesn’t really engage in fighting. I’m more attacked than fight back, if that makes sense. I fall. I fractured my wrist, on the first day. I’m accident prone, and I did warn them. I was born on Friday the 13th. If there’s moon burn, I’ll get it. I had swine flu. I saw it on the news and I was like, “I’m probably going to contract that disease,” and yep. So, there was not like a lot of training beforehand, but during, if there was a stunt, we’d have a day or two before to work it out, and I’m terrible at that. I’m not a natural fighter, but I tried really hard. I hope it looks okay. I’ve seen a couple of the action sequences, and I look relatively cool, so I’m happy with that. That’s a good outcome, I think.
When your fracture your wrist on the first day, does that make everything a bit more challenging?
GREENWELL: Yeah. It was minor. It was more like a bad sprain was more. When we were doing it, it was so cold that it didn’t swell. But I had to keep lying down, and then I couldn’t get back up again. It wasn’t until the next morning that I was like, “Oh, dear, that’s not good.” We had this flesh-colored splint, and we just delayed some stuff by a few days. It was fine. What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger. I learned my lesson. The stunt guy was like, “Don’t do this,” and I did what he told me not to do. But I think they used that take ‘cause it’s the most legitimate one of me falling, so it was worth it.
How did you shoot this? Did you shoot episode by episode?
GREENWELL: Yeah, we initially started it, episode by episode, and then it all started to mix and meld with locations. There was the World Cup in the UK. In London, we had a scene in a location that was very hard to get because of the World Cup. The people that worked in the location were thinking that England was going to get further, so they were like, “We can’t do that date because they might be playing.” So, we were at their mercy. It was mostly in sequence, but towards the end, it got a little bit discombobulated. Because it’s a mystery and I’m uncovering clues slowly, everything is relevant. Every single tiny little piece of information and everything I touch, so if we were shooting out of sequence, I had to be like, “Do I know yet that? No, I don’t know that.” What I know would inform everything. My brain was quite exhausted, at the end of it.
Will we have a good sense of who Myfanwy is and what’s going on, by the end of the season?
GREENWELL: Yes. What I really loved about the idea of this is that the audience goes with the character. It not really until Episode 3 or 4 that the audience is much further ahead than her, so you discover this person with her, and that theme continues throughout. By the end of it, you’ll have a better idea of who she wants to be and who she’s just decided to be. It’s the whole idea of, who are you? Does your past inform your future and your present? And she doesn’t have that. The most dangerous people in life are the people that don’t have anything to lose. At the end of the day, she’s already lost everything that made her, her. She has nothing to lose, so she’s incredibly dangerous. Hopefully, that comes through in the show. You see it with the other people who work in the Checquy that she’s a time bomb. She’s figuring it out, but it’s not quite sewn up entirely.
How terrifying is it for her to wake up and not know what happened to all of the people she’s surrounded by, especially being led to believe that she’s responsible?
GREENWELL: I used to compare it to The Hulk, who’s scared of his own power. The reason why she goes back to the Checquy and goes back to work is that she doesn’t really have an alternative. She has no idea how that manifests. She’s putting it together, that those people she woke up surrounded by, she probably did that. And what is she gonna do? She’s so scared. She has no other choice than to go back. If I woke up, surrounded by 10 bodies that were dead and disfigured, I would run. The only reason she goes back to work is because she’s dangerous and needs to figure it out.
The relationship between Myfanwy and Farrier (Joely Richardson) is very interesting. Will we learn more about their dynamic?
GREENWELL: I always thought it was like a teenager and her mom. She knows what’s happening, and she’s been told that she has her best interest, more than anyone else, but she’s also told not to trust anyone. The only way that Myfanwy can find out what happened is to test things, so she pushes as much as she can, without making something worse happen for herself. So, Myfanwy and Farrier have a interesting relationship because Farrier can’t give the game away. It’s all very complicated and very intertwined. What’s really lovely is that the audience is thrown into it, as was Myfanwy, and there are a lot of questions, where people will be like, “Wait, what’s happening?!” What’s nice is that it’s revealed, as you watch. It all ties together, and it’s really great.