16 When worlds collide:
The Walking Dead star David Morrissey talks about his role in the new SoHo sci-fi crime drama The City & The City. James Rampton reports.
Sci-fi meets crime in new drama from The Walking Dead star.
China Mieville’s acclaimed, hallucinatory 2009 sci-fi novel, The City & The City, which is a murder mystery set across two parallel cities, was previously thought to be unfilmable. So actor David Morrissey, a huge fan of the work, was intrigued when he was invited to take the main part of Inspector Tyador Borlu in Tony Grisoni’s four-part British TV adaptation of the book. Morrissey, who has also starred in The Walking Dead, The Missing and Britannia, explains. “I have known Tony Grisoni for a long time. He was the writer of Red Riding, which I was in a number of years ago. About two years ago he told me he was writing an adaptation of China Mieville’s The City & The City. “I thought it was great that he was doing it, but I was slightly taken aback. The book is an amazing story. It is a wonderful world that China creates, but I thought, ‘How are you going to bring that to the screen?’ ’’ The 54-year-old actor got his answer 18 months later. He continues that, “I got sent the script with a letter from Tony and the director, Tom Shankland, saying, ‘We would love you to play the lead, Inspector Tyador Borlu’. When I read the script, I thought it was fantastic. But I still had big questions about how they were going to realise this strange and incredible world that China had created.
“So Tom talked me through his ideas and concepts and his design board and photographs.
“I think he is a wonderful director and one I have wanted to work with for a long time, and so I said ‘yes’.
“It was a real leap of faith, but I loved the way Tom and his team have created these two worlds.”
That leap of faith was entirely justified. The City & The City exerts a mesmerising hold on its viewers. All the same, this unorthodox universe takes some acclimatising to.
Morrissey acknowledges that, “The concept is strange. It is a detective story told in this city, which is actually two cities that share the same footprint. But there are very strict regulations. One city cannot see the other city’s populace.
“They can’t acknowledge them or interact with them and that creates all sorts of strange rules. There is a secret police force called Breach and they are there to make sure that nobody breaks those laws of interacting between the cities.”
The actor proceeds to outline his role in the drama.
“I play a copper in one of the cities, Beszel. A body is discovered there – a girl has been murdered. Over the course of the investigation, we realise that she may have been murdered in the other city and brought over. So Borlu has to go over to Ul Qoma and find out what has happened to this girl.
“It is a fish-out-of-water tale. It is about a man who has to go into another city and abide by their rules, even though he is not used to them.
“The audience will have to get used to the rules. But once they do, there is something quite fun about seeing how these two worlds are realised.”
All the same, might audiences still struggle to see how the fantastical The City & The City connects with their own lives? Not according to Morrissey.
The actor underlines that, “There is a massive relevance in this. Here is a story about one group of people living in a city who are denying the existence of another group of people living in the same city.
“The conceit is that it is a different city completely. But we don’t have to look too far in our major cities to see how people have ghettoised themselves or are living in gated communities. We walk past people begging and sleeping on the streets and have become blind to that. Our eyes are turned down.”
Morrissey adds that, “We are more and more on our screens and in denial about the world around us.
“The City & The City is taking that type of modern notion and accentuating it to a heightened level, but I don’t think it is too far a stretch of the imagination or too far from how we live in our cities today. We see people in our very own streets living in terrible conditions and we have decided to ignore them.”
“We don’t have to look too far in our major cities to see how people have ghettoised themselves or are living in gated communities.”
– David Morrissey