James McAvoy stole the show in last year's Filth with his all-nostrils-blazing turn as corrupt Edinburgh cop Bruce Robertson, but writer/director Jon S. Baird's adroit work on the film also caught the eye. Danny Boyle was so impressed that he's tapped Baird to direct three hour-long episodes of Babylon, the new comedy-drama he's exec-producing for Channel 4.
Speaking to Empire from Babylon's pre-production HQ as Filth's DVD release hoving into view, the director explained the job's appeal. "Two words: Danny Boyle," he enthused. "I was gobsmacked to get the call to meet him, and humbled that he was a fan of Filth. His work speaks for itself but everyone I know who knew him also spoke very, very highly of him as a person. [It's] the chance to get mentored by an absolute legend."
Boyle directed Babylon's feature-length pilot, due to air on February 9, but hands over the directorial reins for Baird to shoot his three regular episodes in mid-March.
"He’s set a style, which is a Danny Boyle style with high production values, and that's very exciting," says Baird of his new boss. "But if he’s asked you to work with him, there’s an element of trust there as well. He’s around to be a big-brother figure."
Baird pitches Babylon as "a fast-pased comedy-drama" with strong ensemble of characters, including Jimmy Nesbitt's frazzled Chief Constable Miller and Brit Marling's American media maven Liz Garvey. “I don’t want to go too much into the details because it’s Danny’s pilot, but I think I was brought on to find that fine line in tone between comedy and drama," he explains. "You don’t do that on your own, you’ve got a team to help you, but I think that’s what I’m here for.”
Behind the show are Peep Show and The Thick Of It creators Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain. This time their satirical guns are brought to bear on the Metropolitan Police, its flaws and foibles alike. If you cast your mind back to Four Lions' police snipers debating the Wookiee's standing in the bear kingdom, there may be a clue there as to what the show's absurdist elements will offer, although Baird promises plenty of dramatic beats, too. "It’s the character stuff that always interests me the most," says Baird. "Both [Filth and Babylon] have very strong characters. Babylon is more of an ensemble piece with a lot of other storylines going on as well.”
Mark your diaries for Babylon which makes its Channel 4 bow on February 9. Filth, meanwhile, is out on Blu-ray, DVD and steelbook on February 10. If you need a reason to invest, here are a few good'uns.