Boat Story’s Daisy Haggard & Paterson Joseph

Penned by Jack and Harry Williams, Two Brothers Pictures’ Boat Story arrives in the U.S. today on Amazon Freevee. The twisty, darkly comedic thriller played out to critical acclaim in the U.K. on BBC One last November. Distributed by All3Media International, the series follows a pair of strangers—Janet, played by Daisy Haggard (Back to LifeBreeders), and Samuel, portrayed by Paterson Joseph (The LeftoversSafe House)—as they find themselves in one precarious situation after the next following their discovery of a boatload of cocaine. TV Drama caught up with Haggard and Joseph to discuss how they approached their roles, working with the Williams brothers and their takes on what’s happening in the global scripted business today.

TV DRAMA: Tell us about how Boat Story landed in your lap. What made you want to say yes?
HAGGARD: We were super lucky, weren’t we, Paterson? The brothers [Harry and Jack Williams] wrote the parts with us in their brains. So, it was one of those lovely things where it really did land in our laps, which doesn’t always happen when you do our job! And then I had the privilege of reading the script and couldn’t stop turning the pages. I was excited by the premise, the writing and the character. It felt like an absolute no-brainer.
JOSEPH: I’d worked with the brothers on Rellik, not as directors, which they have done this time. It was so convoluted and unusual. And then they mentioned Daisy was in it. I’ve admired Daisy from afar for a long time. I didn’t have to think about it too much. It’s also amazingly flattering when somebody says, We’ve written this with you in mind. I was already in before I even received the scripts properly and went into rehearsals. It was one of those jobs where I thought, I know what this is, but then each day was a surprise. What they delivered was so extraordinary. I’m so glad there was no hesitation in me.

TV DRAMA: How did you get into the headspace of these characters as they start making questionable decisions?
HAGGARD: Where Janet is in her life, it’s set up very clearly that everything is dreadful for her. She’s at complete rock bottom. In terms of getting into their heads, it wasn’t so much that as it’s such an in-the-moment show, if that makes sense. The main thing is you feel like she feels, you feel how Samuel feels, and then the show is happening to them. I like that. I’m not a big thinker. I’m quite instinctive. Everything that happens in it, you’re on this ride, and you can’t get off it. It’s a lovely engine that happens to your performance. There’s this energy behind it that’s propelling and fun to play.
JOSEPH: And also terrifying. I do like to build an arc and say this is what my character is going to be, and he’s going to change into this by the end. But this was one of those where, around about episode two, I went, you’re going to have to let go because you don’t know what’s coming. That’s a great place to perform from. This is the scene, and this is who I am in this scene, this is this next, and this is who I am. When watching it back, it had a flow and a logic. Doing it, it felt like you were just doing one piece of the puzzle but not knowing what the whole picture was. I don’t know that I’d want to do it again, it was so nerve-wracking! But at the same time, the result is extraordinary.
HAGGARD: It means that you can’t plan ahead because you don’t know what’s going to happen. You’re living it like they would be living it. You’re just going on the journey with them, which means that you have to be relaxed, open and instinctive and play the scenes as they come. Thankfully, we have great writers. You can trust that you’re in good hands.
JOSEPH: Great writers and great performers as well. It’s not everybody’s bag. Some people would like to have things that have sure boundaries. These are the lines, and this is what you’ll do and this is where you’ll go. Everybody just went with it. Sometimes, they’re seeing what we’re doing on screen in the rushes, and they’ll add a little something to [a scene] the night before. So you go, this is a whole new thing. Of course, you moan as an actor. What do they call us collectively? A grumble of actors. Oh no, I’ve got this new scene to learn in only a few hours! And actually, in the end, it turns out to be more spontaneous than anything else.

TV DRAMA: I’m wondering if the fact that these roles were written with you in mind altered how you prepared for the show.
HAGGARD: It can be a bit harder because you feel like, which parts of me did they want?
JOSEPH: Exactly! What did they see that they thought I was like that?
HAGGARD: If you’ve auditioned for it, you’ve figured it out a bit before. You’re like, oh God, am I going to get it wrong? Are they going to look at me and be like, Oh no, oh gosh, wrong woman. Let’s get someone else!
JOSEPH: The fact that they had us as performers in their heads, I don’t think they locked in any particular character that we’ve ever played. They just knew that we could go there, wherever they might send us. I approached it like Daisy did. How do I play this character? What part of me is this? Can you make it as real as possible, however absurd the character can be? Which part of me is like this person? In this case, it was a delight because you knew that you were being looked after, in a way, by people who respected the work that you can do.

TV DRAMA: You’ve both been in Two Brothers Pictures projects before. Tell me about working with Jack and Harry.
HAGGARD: They did Back to Life with me. They don’t have massive egos, which really helps with the creative process. You can say things to them. It’s an open, lovely dialogue with them. Can I say it like this? Does it feel more natural? They’ll say no if not, yes if so. They know what they want. They know what they’re doing. They’re also open to listening, which is crucial when you’re making something. I love working with them. And they’re super creative. Some elements of the show happened later. Oh, there’s a voiceover? They’re always wanting to make things more interesting and better, constantly challenging themselves, and they don’t settle. They’re very exciting to work with.
JOSEPH: A lot of people, especially British filmmakers, TV makers in particular, have said it’s not a British show in many ways. I don’t know what they quite mean by that, but I do know that the spontaneity of it and unusual events that happen within it, the cul-de-sacs they send characters down and the trap doors that open for characters, are unusual in British drama. It was fun and terrifying at the same time to jump into that.

TV DRAMA: The media business appears to be in a period of uncertainty. Commissions for new shows are down. I’m curious as to how you see what’s happening out there.
HAGGARD: I’ve just been locked away in a room trying to write a new show, so I try to ignore how hard it’s going to be to get that show made! [Laughs] Otherwise, I wouldn’t get up in the morning. I’m currently just in a very extreme state of denial! Just tune in to what you want to say. What the next show is, beyond Back to Life. I haven’t been out in the world in things since Boat Story and Breeders. I’m about to poke my head up and realize that it’s tough out there. So maybe I’ll just keep writing and hope for the best! [Laughs] JOSEPH: I have no doubt that someone’s going to snap up whatever you write, Daisy.
HAGGARD: I don’t feel like that. This is a strange time, isn’t it? I choose to play loud music and go, No! Otherwise, I won’t write. But the industry is still very much going through something.
JOSEPH: We had a couple of big hits. One was the pandemic, which affected so many people in terrible ways. Our profession was no exception. That left a bottleneck of productions that couldn’t go in ’20 and even in ’21. There was a flurry in ’22, and maybe we’re now experiencing the backwash of that. We will always want drama and comedies and entertainment, so we’ll be okay. It may just be we’re in a slightly quiet period. I’ve run off to the circus. I’m doing theater at the moment, and I’ve written a novel. Like Daisy, I’m unaware of what’s happening out there.
HAGGARD: By all accounts, I am aware, but trying to just go, “La la la!” [Laughs]