Making The Tourist


Chris Aird, the head of drama at Harry and Jack Williams’ Two Brothers Pictures, takes TV Drama inside the production of The Tourist, which arrives on HBO Max in the U.S. this week.

Things aren’t going terribly well for “The Man” in the opening minutes of Two Brothers Pictures’ six-part thriller The Tourist, commissioned by the BBC. Driving through the Australian outback, singing along to the 1981 Kim Carnes classic “Bette Davis Eyes,” the unnamed Irishman is driven off the road by a truck. When he wakes up in the hospital with amnesia, he sets off on a quest to figure out who he is and why someone is trying to kill him.

Distributed by All3Media International, the series counts HBO Max in the U.S., ZDF in Germany and Stan in Australia as co-production partners and has notched up deals in several other markets. The project was conceived by Jack and Harry Williams about three years ago, says Chris Aird, head of drama at Two Brothers Pictures, and taken to Piers Wenger, the director of drama at the BBC, who “got it straight away,” Aird notes. “It has a different tone from much of what Jack and Harry have written before. They were comedy writers in a previous life, so it melds their love of comedy with their love of hard-hitting thrillers. He absolutely understood from the get-go that it would be a different kind of proposition. It wasn’t just going to be a straight thriller.”

The pandemic delayed production of the show, with Aird having to hastily exit a location scout trip in Australia in March 2020 as borders across the globe started to close. But the new dates also worked for Jamie Dornan’s schedule, and the team at Two Brothers knew he’d be perfect for the lead role of “The Man,” Aird says. “He has this enigmatic quality, naturally, but he’s also really funny.”

Indeed, the comedic edge that runs through the piece is key, from the scripts themselves to how the show was directed. “It is more challenging than a normal thriller,” Aird observes. “Chris Sweeney, who directed the first bloc and is an exec on the show, was actually at school with Harry, so he knows [the brothers] extremely well. He could get inside their heads and know what they were looking for. He also directed Back to Life. It’s that kind of realistic, story-driven comedy, where there are plenty of funny lines, but you’re constantly throwing them away; you’re taking genre moments but putting real, fallible characters in them. He just does those things all the way through. It’s tiny little things. And then in the cutting room, it’s intensive. You can dial up and down the humor a lot. You can change the rhythm and pace of a scene so much by doing that.”

Helen Chambers, played by Australian actress Danielle Macdonald, is the local police officer tasked with investigating The Man’s accident. Viewers get to know Helen well in the first episode, in contrast with The Man’s mysterious and unknown backstory. “The Man is the antihero of the piece,” Aird says. “Jack and Harry always saw [Helen] as the big beating heart. She’s the way in for the audience. By dint of the story, it’s quite difficult to identify with a guy who has amnesia because you can’t know anything about him. But you get everything with her. She wears her heart on her sleeve. Also, Danielle is just like that in the room. She’s a very emotionally present person.”

As the episodes progress, audiences learn more about The Man as he’s piecing together what’s happened to him. The team at Two Brothers takes a careful, deliberate approach to pacing out a story, Aird explains. “It’s something Jack and Harry talk about with us a lot. Their natural instinct is to go slower, perhaps, than some. I think they have a really interesting style because they alternate between the fast-paced scenes with trucks chasing cars and things blowing up and the bits they really love to write—their favorite scenes are always the smaller, quieter, more dialogue-driven ones between characters; those in which characters express themselves to one another. The guys are always looking to structure their scripts between those two poles. They also meticulously control how much you know, so how you’re setting things up and paying them off, whether that’s massive plot points, or in this show, gags like the potato gun. They are all about careful control, in that oral tradition of storytelling. I’m only going to tell you what I want you to know.”