On day 67 of the shoot, the car park of a rainy Irish castle is a world away from sun drenched Hollywood or Rome for the assembled cast and crew of ‘Titanic: Blood and Steel’, not that they seem to mind too much.
In full costume and sporting a spectacular handlebar moustache, Chris Noth (Sex and the City) is enjoying his time in Ireland; “I love it, I love to travel, I have spent a lot of time on a lot of shows in New York, so I enjoy the opportunity. I had two days of beautiful sunshine before this rain, so I’ve seen Dublin in the sun and the rain. I don’t know why more film isn’t done here.”
Playing Titanic financier JP Morgan, Noth is hoping the show will give a different perspective on the ill-fated liner ahead of its centenary next year, “Most dramas have all been about the sinking, we are about the birth of it, the promise before it. The expectation was so intense, of what it was and what it could be, that promise was destroyed.”
Supported by the Irish Film Board, and co-produced by Irish based Epos films and the Italian De Angelis Group, the series has assembled a heavy weight cast to tell the story of the ships genesis.
The mythology of Titanic has captured many people’s imagination, but while the story of the ship’s infamous voyage is a well trodden path for filmmakers, few have explored how the legend came into being.
Neve Campbell & Minister Jimmy Deenihan
“When you get down onto the ground and you look at the place it was built in, you look at what was going on at the time, there is an extraordinary story here,” said Irish director Ciaran Donnelly (The Tudors), on set within the confines of Howth Castle.
The show has been filming all around Dublin, doubling for early 20th century Belfast; “we’re getting incredible material and all the best locations in town, we have an extraordinary cast,” said Donnelly, “from a directors point of view, what’s not to like?”
Irish viewers will be able to spot many Dublin landmarks in the show, with locations such as Henrietta Street and the Guinness Factory, “we have got very lucky with the co-operation of Guinness, we had incredible value for the streets around James Street, to use it as the exterior of Harland and Wolff shipbuilders. Those streets are of the period and they fit perfectly, we got access that is rarely granted, but I think people have fallen for the project and are quite taken with the story and what it’s about,” said Donnelly.
The show aims to give a picture of the period, and something different to previous interpretations of the story. “Everybody has this romantic notion of Titanic,” said Donnelly, “I suppose the James Cameron film has an awful lot to do with that. But they were right in the belly of the beast of the big struggle, the home rule movement was really strong, the labour movement was really strong, the suffragette movement were really strong, it was that time in Europe when everybody was engaging in the notion of change and breaking down the class system, and breaking down the rule from London, it’s a perfect setting for a television series.”
For Kevin Zegers (Gossip Girl), the filming of the show in Ireland gives him the chance to indulge in another of Ireland’s great attractions, its golf courses, “I play golf every weekend with my driver, so it’s great, I get to see the countryside.”
As a Canadian, Zegers is used to the weather, and has found the past 12 weeks spent in Ireland has reminded him of home; “The people are very friendly, I feel very comfortable here.”
Playing Mark Muir, a Belfast born but British educated worker involved in building the Titanic, Zegers has been on set for the majority of the shoot, “the audience will really see the story through my eyes, I weave my way into all the stories. He’s sort of the first person to throw the idea out there that there is a potential that if something happened the ship might sink.”
Star Kevin Segers on set
Having spent so long on the set, Zegers has built strong ties with the crew, extolling their virtues, “these are pretty much the same guys who did Tudors and Camelot, and they’re the best. I’ve been thoroughly impressed with everybody, its first rate from the top to the bottom. I feel like the weaklings have been weaned and it’s a strong group of people who are passionate about the show.”
Fellow Canadian Neve Cambell is also on set, in full costume complete with a corset which she says the experience of wearing “sucks.” The actress adds “they are very uncomfortable especially when you’re having lunch, but they have done a gorgeous job with the costumes.”
Playing a New York journalist covering the building of Titanic, Cambell has only been in Ireland for a week, having been part of the crew which recently filmed scenes in Serbia; “I’m having a beautiful time, look at this set, it’s absolutely gorgeous, you don’t get to be in a castle every week.” Costume Design is by Luciano Capozzi.
The 13th century Howth Castle has played host to many guests in the past, but perhaps none as glamorous or all consuming as the current guests, who have filled the grounds with trailers, crew and actors in full period costume. Smatterings of Italian can be heard among the mostly Irish crew, with the production originating with a commission for Italian TV network RAI.
For Irish producer Paul Myler, there is a very simple reason why the filming is taking place in the south rather than on-location in Belfast; Section 481.
So what connection do the Italians have to the Irish built ship? “The executives in RAI had this notion that for the anniversary of the sailing and sinking of the Titanic they wanted to look at a project around that, they came up with this notion of looking at the Titanic story from a different angle, going right back to its beginning,” said Myler, “our story opens with JP Morgan in New York, the rich industrialist who financed the building of Titanic, then we cut to Harland and Wolff and we see the ship being built from the ground up.
“We explore the working class world through these two families, and we explore the upper class family through Lord Pirrie, played by Derek Jacobi (Gladiator) and other members of the board at Harlan and Wolff.”
Jacobi, who has spent the past month in Dublin, is playing one of the historical figures who complement the fictitious characters in the show, “I was in Belfast doing a play recently, and I discovered a statue of Lord Perrie, so I had to stand beside it and have my photograph take, I look nothing like him!”
“It’s a very good combination of real characters and fictitious characters,” said Jacobi, who is not the only actor playing a historical figure with IFTA winning Irish actor Liam Cunningham (Hunger) appearing as Irish Trade Union leader Jim Larkin and Joely Richardson just confirmed to play Countess Markievicz.
Also on set was Jimmy Deenihan, Minister for Arts, Heritage and An Gaeltach, visiting a production that has been such a coup for the Irish Film Industry, “There are two hundred people employed on the production, and there will be lots of technical work and post production that people will also benefit from as well. It’s a very important production for the country; it will certainly show Ireland in a very good light.”
Emphasising the importance of Section 481 as a unique selling point, Deenihan pointed to the tax incentive as a major reason why the series is filming in the south, likening it to Ireland’s corporate tax rate. Deenihan stated his hope that the success of the production could open up Ireland as a destination for future projects of this scale.
The 12-part series will cost €22 million and is being made for RAI, Italian state television, and will be dubbed into several languages. Producers are hopeful that the show will be ready to air in April 2012.