South Africa, particularly Cape Town, continues to grow as a unique, affordable and beautiful location for international productions to shoot in. Grethe Kemp visited the set of critically acclaimed UK spy series Deep State, which shot its second season in the Mother City last year.
The term ‘deep state’ is the idea that, below the visible government that we think runs the world, there are nefarious, hidden figures that are really pulling the strings. And, as more and more of us are starting to learn, the deep state is more real than we’d like to believe.Complex, intelligent UK series Deep State delves into this premise, with its second season shot primarily in Cape Town.
As part of a media contingent hosted by Fox television network, City Press met Matthew Parkhill, the show’s co-creator and director, who said that shooting on location was very important to him:
“Locations for me are essential to how I approach film making. As a director, I get inspiration from being in a real place, and I like actors in real places with real sounds and real smells.
“When you’re in a very controlled environment – like on a sound stage – it’s just a completely different feeling. For me as a director, it changes the way I work.”
Parkhill attributes their location choices this season to South African location scout Morten Nielsen and “beautifully talented” production designer Steve Summersgill.
In order to get the somewhat claustrophobic atmosphere of a CIA base – complete with intel offices and boardrooms – production chose the Werdmuller Building, an abandoned mall in Claremont. Hot, dirty and with dripping pipes everywhere, it looked like a challenging place to shoot, and yet perfect.
On screen you would never say you were in the heart of Cape Town – and the location delivered perfectly. I’m told that Stephen King film The Dark Tower also used this mall as one of their locations.
The second location used in the Mother City was Rhodes House on Queen Victoria Street. The interior, with its lavish wood finishes and large windows, was made to look like a US presidential office for character Meaghan Sullivan. Other parts were made to look like a presidential suite in the capital of Mali, Bamako – where some of the season’s action takes place – and yet others a gentlemen’s club in London.
Joss Agnew, the director of episodes 3 to 6, told City Press how they made Cape Town look like Mali:
“We’re about 40 days into the shoot [they shot for 50 days overall], and so far for me there haven’t been that many exteriors to shoot in Cape Town. We’re here for interiors of Washington, London and Mali. The challenges are quite vast for the production designer when you go outside. He’s brought in tonnes and tonnes of red sand which he puts everywhere outside and suddenly the screen pops and you get that lovely red earth and palm trees.”
Paul Frift, producer of Deep State, says South Africa’s affordability makes it an attractive choice:
“We did 10 weeks in Cape Town, six weeks in Morocco and a week in the UK. We came to Cape Town because we know it’s very versatile as a location and that it’s got world-class crews, so we know that we’re going to get a good product and a lot of bang for our buck.”
“We’ve worked here together before, and know that this is a very good place to film,” agrees Hilary Bevans Jones, the executive producer of the show.
Deep State boasts a host of the UK’s best stars, including Game of Thrones’ Joe Dempsie and The Crown’s Victoria Hamilton.
City Press was also happy to learn that two Africans join the cast this season – Nigeria’s Aïcha Konaté as Lily Banda and Sierra Leone’s Zainab Jah as Aminata Sissoko. Both told me during an interview that Parkhill took care in portraying characters from Africa with nuance and would often change lines at their suggestion for accuracy.
But the biggest addition to the cast this season is US actor Walton Goggins. It’s a name you probably don’t know, and a face you won’t recognise until he opens his mouth to reveal pearly, almost oversized gnashers.
Out of that mouth you are likely to hear a slick, southern drawl, which has made him perfect for characters like Confederate raider redneck sheriff Chris Mannix from Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight and sadistic slave fight trainer Billy Crash in Django Unchained. On TV, you might have seen him in Sons of Anarchy and, lord help us, Vice Principals.
Has there ever been a character as pleasingly rotten as Walton Goggins playing a maniacal vice principal in Vice Principals? No wonder The New York Times critic Mike Hale once wrote, “Goggins makes a habit of being the best thing about the television shows he’s in.”
And we’re wondering if that will happen with Deep State, in which Goggins has come on board to play ex-CIA operative and deep state “fixer” Nathan Miller.
We meet the man himself during a series of round table interviews with the cast at the Cape Grace Hotel. Goggins commands the room like only American actors can – gregarious, hilarious and infinitely charming.
“I love this country,” he tells us. “I was here for almost five months last year, so it’s really nice to come back.”
And does he get recognised here? “Well yes, I actually do,” he says, somewhat shyly.“It’s really interesting. A person on my level – you can walk into a building and either it’s a big deal, or no one has any idea who you are. I’ve been around for a long time and I think that, whether it’s a movie or a television show, if people take time out of their lives to watch what you do, they have a right to come up and talk to you about it.”
- You can read the full Goggins, Konaté and Jah interviews on citypress.co.za
- Deep State 2 will be broadcast on Fox (DStv channel 125) from May 15 at 8.45pm