Adventure series Hooten & The Lady lands on Sky One from September 16th and sees the roguish American adventurer, Hooten (Michael Landes) teaming up with British Museum curator Lady Alexandra (Ophelia Lovibond) to save the lost treasures of the world. It’s a quest that sees the pair travel the globe in what turns out to be a thoroughly entertaining romp.
DIY sat down with leading man Landes to chat about the making of the show, which genuinely did film on location across four continents.
What was the audition process like?
I put something on tape in my house and then they seemed to respond to it. I didn’t hear anything for a while and I was making a movie in Thailand and they said: “They think that you’re the person for this show but they want you to do a chemistry read with five girls.” So they flew me on my way home from Thailand to London and I met five actresses, they were all lovely and Ophelia was one of them. And then that was kind of it. Tony was sort of like: “You’re my guy, I want you to do this. I have to present to Sky but I’m gonna do my best.” Then I went home and it took another few weeks. I was at peace with it because the idea of travelling all over the world and leaving my family I was sort of: “If it happens I’m excited I love this and if it doesn’t…” and then it did and I was excited.
Did you get a handle on Hooten straight off from the script?
Yeah it just felt fun to me. I liked that we were going to get to rough me up a little bit, all the cheekiness and all there’s a big part of that in me anyway. You might not know it! [Laughs]. So yeah he instantly came to me. When you read something the first thing I do is ask: “Can I be this guy? Who is this guy? Am I going to embarrass myself?”
Did you put much of yourself into him or was he there on the page?
A lot of times Tony would say: “Michael if this sounds British and you want to make it American do that,” his whole thing was: “Do what we write and if you find something funny in the circumstance or something comes up that you wanna try, do that.” What that did is it freed me up. So whether I used any of my ad libs or not it kept Hooten fresh and spontaneous and he doesn’t think before he speaks a lot of the time so it kept me loose like that which is very good. I mean a lot of the ad libs end up making it in the show as a result.
Do you think it helped that you’ve worked in UK TV before so you understand the British sense of humour but you also know the American side too?
I think so. Although this didn’t feel like a British production at all, not that British productions feel smaller, but I felt like I was going off to do a movie. But I love the British sense of humour, my wife’s dad is Scottish. I don’t know whether it’s British or from where I am from in New York City, it’s similar and always appeals to me.
Most of your scenes are with Ophelia and you clearly have great on screen chemistry…
Well, the aeroplane thing was funny it was literally like Hooten and the Lady. She was playing the damsel in distress: “Oh I flew in from New York,” all flustered and I’m like: “Thailand!” [laughs].
Did you guys have any bonding sessions before starting filming?
No, we got straight into it. We’re on an aeroplane a lot with people so you sit there, just hang out talking. You’re in different circumstances in your private small group of people so just by the nature of that you end up learning about each other. I think we just hit it off right from the get go and then as the show went on we found our characters and we were able to go: “Ok that’s more how she is…” once you have that then you just feed that and play around with it. I think she’s nice, she’s smart and she’s professional, she’s a grown up and that’s all I wanted. I was saying that if I’m going to be leaving my family on the other side of the world I have to get along with this person because I don’t want to come to work miserable, I’m already miserable when I’m at home in my hotel room. I think I had that in my head, I was trying to make it a civil thing just from day one anyway but she’s terrific, she was cool.
Did Tony give you backstory for Hooten?
He gave me a whole backstory and then I was like: “I don’t know if this will be revealed,” and then he revealed it kind of peeling away the layers over the course of the episodes which was amazing. So he was saying: “This is his past which informs his present,” and that was very helpful. He wanted him more rough and: “You don’t have to be nice all the time,” and I like that, I like that in some of the beginning of episode one he’s almost, not a jerk to her but I think that’s fun and that softens a little over the show. I mean they still go back and forth but we shot that in order so our initial us getting to know each other is what you’re seeing on film which was helpful.
We do get a sense at the close of the first episode that he may have a soft heart underneath his rough exterior. Is that something that appealed to you?
Well, I think if you just do banter and back and forth an audience will maybe give up on that so the fact that there is a past and there is something and what you find out is a lot of his smartass things is more just a cover up. So when you get to see some of those things in the series I think it helps, it gives another layer to the show than just being one dimensional.
Did you have much say in how Hooten looks?
They wanted to tattoo him up and I knew I wanted to be a little rugged. I had longer hair because the movie I was making in Thailand was set in the 80s so I normally cut my hair shorter. I thought: “It’s the jungle, I never normally wear my hair like this let’s try something more messy,” but then Tony and I came up with the tattoos, he wanted them all to have a little history. We had a great Emmy winning costume designer and I feel like it was the easiest time I’ve ever gone to fittings in my life. He’s kind of got a jungly look for a few of the episodes but then they’re in Rome and they’re in Russia and so it varies a bit.
You got to film in some amazing locations and Cape Town was something of a base for you…
We moved from there all the time. We started in Rome for two weeks then we went to Cape Town then instantly to the jungle in another part of Africa, then we returned to Cape Town and went home for Christmas. We then went to Namibia where they shot Mad Max: Fury Road, Moscow, Cambodia…I think South Africa was a bit of a base, it’s the place we were at the longest but we didn’t really cheat Cape Town for many places.
This kind of location work is hugely unusual for a TV show…
When they made that show Alias they very rarely left the Disney lot, they would have a picture of Marrakesh but we are in front of the Pantheon, we are walking up to the Vatican. It felt big and ambitious.
It certainly looks impressive, did it feel that way?
I don’t think you look at it that way but as an actor if you can be in a real environment it helps in your pretending. So when you’re in the real jungle and there are poisonous snakes and you are being dragged around and you’re really sweating because it’s really hot that only helps you. There’s moments when you’re riding on a Vespa getting a Police escort through Rome that you’re going: “Oh my God.” I’m still a film nerd at heart, I still think it’s cool to make movies and television. When I talk about it to people in America and I said: “We went to four different continents”, I don’t know a show that does that. Movies do that. I think Game of Thrones goes to Ireland, Iceland and Croatia… We’re not trying to be some dark, critically acclaimed drama, it’s literally like a little piece of chocolate, if this makes you feel good at the end of a long week, or the end of a rainy day, whenever you choose to watch it, then I think we did our job.
Is this the kind of show you would relax to?
Yeah, I think I would, I think I would watch it with my kids. I don’t know what shows there are for the family really. Everybody likes a little bit of escapism I think.
You would be happy to continue should a second season come?
Yeah. I’m reading stuff in America but if someone asked: “What do you want to do right now?”, and I know this may sound like an ‘interview answer’, I would want to make more of these. I think he’s a fun character to play. They’re not asking me to be in Mission Impossible or Bourne so this is my version of it.
What was your fondest memory filming this series?
I think watching the sunrise in Cambodia was really cool.
Do you have a favourite episode?
I think 6 where you find out a little about Hooten’s past. There’s this great actor in it Anton Lesser (Game of Thrones). For me, selfishly I like of a fight scene looks good. In episode 2 there’s a cool little fight in an aeroplane that felt kind of Indiana Jones-esque too and that looked cool.
Hooten & The Lady starts on Sky 1 on Friday September 16th at 9pm.