28 January 2023 The Irish Film & Television Network
Interview with Tom Conroy – Irish Production Designer of ‘Legend’
11 Sep 2015 : Seán Brosnan
Tom Hardy plays both the notorious Kray twins in ‘Legend’
With Oscar-winning writer/director Brian Helgeland’s ‘Legend’ currently showing in Irish cinemas, we talk to the creative force behind the sets of the 1960’s crime biopic.

With a CV that includes ‘Vikings’, ‘The Tudors’, ‘Camelot’, ‘Breakfast On Pluto’, ‘Titanic: Blood and Steel’ and ‘Crossbones’ it’s safe to say that – much like the Kray twins in ‘Legend’ - Production Designer Tom Conroy has been making a name for himself. He has been nominated for three Primetime Emmy Awards (winning one), ten IFTA Awards (winning two) and three Art Director’s Guild Awards on top of a hat-trick of Gemini Awards.

In ‘Legend’ much attention has been given to Tom Hardy’s double performance – a committed portrayal of the restless and reckless Ronnie and Reggie Kray. However behind every great performance is a great production designer; Here, Conroy tells us about recreating 1960’s London, the Kray twins urban myth and the constant changing of sets in ‘Legend’ to portray the twins inherently restless nature.

IFTN: ‘Legend’ is very much a fast-paced and highly stylized film –with all the glitz, glamour and grittiness that the notorious Kray twins and 1960’s London brings – was that a challenge for you or a joy to work on?

Tom Conroy: ‘It was a bit of both. There were 110 different sets made for the film and a good few of them didn’t make the cut! It was a very busy project and that was the intention of writer/director Brian Helgeland. The Kray twins were very restless – they were always on the move and we tried to express that by having a multiplicity of different scenes and sets. We do of course use the same sets a few times in the film but mostly we are changing it up.

I’d say that was definitely a challenge – constantly building and designing?

‘Yes it was. As well as that – we shot the whole thing in London and marvellous and all as the place is – it did cause some problems because the city is constantly being modernized and it is a very congested, busy place. So, you might scout a location and then when you go back to it, there are cranes and scaffolding everywhere [laughs].

And there are two London’s in the film as there was in the 60’s – the poorer East-End where the Kray Twins grew up and the more glamorous West-End where they aspired to end up - how do you strike the proper contrast there?

‘Any project like this kind of a “memory project”. You are kind of tapping into a collective memory that people have of a time and a place. With this, the Kray twins are literally an urban myth in London so we had to tap into that a little bit. We were not making a documentary on their lives – we were making a dramatic version of their lives. The story-telling would naturally alter the look of the film.’

You said it there but the Kray Twins obviously are a notorious urban myth for many – did that mythical nature inform your work at all?

‘A little bit. You can’t help but be aware that these guys are something of an urban myth. We tried to think of this film as less of a kitchen sink drama. A metaphor I came up with early on for the two of them was that they were like sharks – they were constantly moving, never stopping and constantly circling something or someone. They were constantly moving on to the next aspiration. But yeah, the mythical nature of them certainly imbued the film – it would have been hard to avoid.’

‘Having said that, nobody has heard of them in the US. So, it would be interesting to see how they react to it – it plays at Toronto this weekend.’

The same actor was playing them but you had two very different characters in the Kray twins – the more suave and level headed Reggie and the more paranoid and mentally unstable Ronnie – would there be changes made to the set when each of these characters were on screen to portray their very different personalities?

‘Absolutely. From a technical point of view, we used every trick in the book when shooting this. We used old fashioned split screen as well as motion control cameras which had their own issues because of all the equipment that comes with them – so it was technically quite difficult because all of this.’

From a character point of view, I think you can really see the contrasting personalities in the part of the film where you see Ronnie living in a flat above Reggie and his wife’s. That’s the clearest portrayal of their characters through the sets.’

‘Reggie’s flat has lots of cocktail cabinets and its’ nice and it’s obvious that someone has spent a lot of money on it. It’s relatively of the time but not too trendy because my guess for both of the twins was that they would not quite be cutting edge. They would be a bit behind the fashion of the time – perhaps not in their clothes but certainly in their décor. We had a lot of fun with Ronnie because in his place we see that he liked a bit of bling - we also know that he hung out with a lot of artists in real life so we incorporated that into his flat – we really layered his place with lots of detail and we imagined that he probably thought of himself as some sort of a mad squire of the East-End so we put in a lot of old weapons and gold and reflective things like that.’

Were you in constant contact with the director when designing the sets?

‘Yeah, I do a lot of sketches so almost every set had a fairly detailed “atmosphere sketch” which gave a fairly clear idea of what’s going on. That helps because I also worked closely with Dick Pope (DoP) as well as Caroline Harris (Costume Designer).

For something as big as ‘Legend’ – how much time out of your life is taken up working on it?

‘I think I was working on ‘Legend’ for about 10 months overall – it was pretty constant and a lot of long hours!’

With a CV that includes ‘The Tudors’, ‘Vikings’, ‘Titanic: Blood and Steel’, ‘Breakfast On Pluto’ and ‘Camelot’ and now ‘Legend’ – is there something about period dramas that interests you or is it just a coincidence that that is the work you got?

‘I think with all those dramas it has just been one thing leading to another. I think the last contemporary feature film I worked on was in 2004 [laughs]. I find period projects interesting because I am fascinated by history and the history of material culture so I would gravitate towards them. But I am equally up for contemporary projects too.’

Would you be excited by what something like ‘Legend’ would lead to? Whether or not it sells in the States – it is certainly accomplished work on your end…

‘Yes, I have gotten a lot of really good reaction for the film from various people thankfully. There have been lots of inquiries and talks about different projects – most of which are period pieces actually [laughs]. Not all actually, but most of them are! Also, Brian Helgeland has got a really fascinating project coming up – a historical project set in the US but that probably won’t happen for another eight or nine month but it would certainly be a very interesting thing to work on.’

‘Legend’ is in cinemas now. Check out the trailer below:

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