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7 Questions with… David Schwimmer and Nick Mohammed: Intelligence season 2 is ‘firing on all cylinders’
Intelligence is finally back! Nick Mohammed and David Schwimmer talk about why they think the show's second season is even better than the first.
Maverick former-NSA agent Jerry Bernstein (David Schwimmer) and hapless junior analyst Joseph Harries (Nick Mohammed) are back at GCHQ with more hilarious antics.
When an American cyberweapon nicknamed Eternal Blue falls into the wrong hands, it’s all hands on deck as the team try to avoid a nuclear disaster – but as time runs out and with a mole at large, boss Christine Clarke (Sylvestra Le Touzel) must decide whether to stick with them.
Nick, who also created the series, and David reveal why they think this new series will satisfy the show’s fans.
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1. Was this series easier to make, or did you feel more pressure given how popular the first one was?
Nick Mohammed: This series is, I hope, a big step in the right direction. I’m super proud of the first series but I just feel like we’re firing on all cylinders this time round.
I suspect that’s because I knew what I was doing a lot more as a writer: you know who your cast are and who your characters are, and what dynamics work really well. And I hope that we’ve taken what worked in series one and just built on that.
But yeah, there is absolutely... not a pressure... but a personal desire to deliver more than we delivered in series one. Everyone wanted to step up again and have even more fun with it.
David Schwimmer: We’d settled in by the end of series one as an ensemble and by the time we started series two, everyone hit the ground running because we felt pretty confident in the characters and the dynamics and the relationships. So, it seemed like slipping into a really comfortable jacket.
2. You described series one as 90% script and 10% improvisation – would you say it’s the same this time?
Nick: I think so. It jumped around because there were some scenes where we knew that we were allowed to have a little bit more fun so we’d add on a few extra lines or something.
But because of Covid there was slightly less time to indulge improv. We were under a little bit more pressure and although the time scale was the same, it felt shorter because we had to factor in all the Covid regulations.
The flip side of that was that we had a lot more time to work on the scripts. We were meant to be filming in July, but because of Covid we didn’t film until September, so I’d been able to spend a bit more time on the script, and David collaborates loads on that as do the other execs in terms of chipping in with ideas. So we were pretty confident with the scripts going into filming.
But when you read it out with the cast, and you’re on the set, there are always little things that creep in that you want to play around with or explore further, and we made sure we still made time for those opportunities, because often that can be really fun and rewarding.
David: There’s a kind of natural thing where performance kind of falls away, and it’s just Nick and me, and we have a chemistry and ease with our characters.
As actors we can forget about acting, in a way, and just be present. There’s a lot of trust in the other actor and a comfort and ease and we just kind of fall into this nice dynamic that’s a real pleasure.
My favourite scenes are those where you just stay with those two characters for a little while. At the best times, I found myself totally forgetting we were filming; we were just in a state of flow and those moments are an absolute dream as an actor.
3. Why do you think there’s great chemistry between you on screen?
Nick: It’s almost an electricity, isn’t it? David and I first met through Julia Davis whilst on a pilot Julia and I had written and she’s another person I could definitely tune into.
And once you’ve done that, and you can improvise around a subject matter, then it really starts to fire. And that’s a wonderful thing.
You could put together two of the best comedians, improvisers or actors on the planet and it might not work, unless the chemistry is right.
Certainly, for me, I have a genuine friendship with and respect for David and what he delivers and how generous he is and brilliant at his craft. There’s an implicit trust there. And then it’s liberating to do those scenes together because nothing else matters. You’re just doing the fun stuff.
David: I was thinking back on the shoot and this was a tough one for me personally, this year.
It was tough on everyone in terms of Covid but I was also unfortunate because I was dealing with an ear injury and I had to take different medications just to be able to get through shooting without real pain and discomfort at times.
And looking back on it I just so appreciated Nick was – as an actor, as the writer, the executive producer and as a friend – so sympathetic and supportive.
He was also totally unflappable. There were a couple of moments where Nick had to do a total rewrite of the scene because we’d start it and realise something wasn’t working, and Nick would just say, ‘OK, I’ll go rewrite it’. His whole attitude was and is consistently cheerful and unflappable.
I think in fact, everyone on set - the director, all the producers – everyone came to it with great humility and a real lack of ego which is really the best way to work.
I was quite cranky and grumpy a lot this year. And I’m really grateful, in retrospect, with how much people put up with my behaviour.
4. How did you injure your ear, David?
David: I was trying to make my daughter laugh. We’d been visiting people who had a place with a pool that we were allowed to use, with social distancing and all of that, so we took advantage of it.
I was standing at the edge of the pool and wanted to make her laugh so I did a kind of dead fall into the pool and I slammed my ear at such a perfect angle that I immediately ruptured my eardrum, and I gave myself an inner ear concussion.
That healed eventually after six weeks, but then a whole new condition migrated into both ears and gave me a combination of tinnitus and something called hyperacusis. It’s finally just on its way out now. It’s been seven months. It’s crazy.
I have bad days and good days. The thing that bothers it the most is talking. So, if I talk too much and at significant volume, it generates the ringing. That’s why being that character, who’s pretty loud, was challenging at times.
5. What’s the outline of series two?
Nick: So the general arc of series two is that there is a cyber weapon called Eternal Blue, which is based on a real weapon that was designed by the NSA but fell into the wrong hands. And it’s still used, I believe, to this day to wreak havoc across countries certainly in a cyber sense.
So we’ve created the idea that Jerry had a hand in designing this cyber weapon that has gone awry and he has to try and retrieve the weapon and regain full control of it because it’s in the hands of some rogue operatives.
We first see it being used against a nuclear power plant in the UK, which is causing a nuclear meltdown, which is a very slight nod to the TV show Chernobyl in that it’s an episode with lots of long continuous sequences within it.
Jerry is pretty victorious, then it goes pear-shaped, but I won’t give away too much more about that. But it gets everyone back up to speed with our characters doing their thing in a high-pressure, tense environment. Then we’ve got some fun individual episodic stories.
6. Jerry says some pretty terrible things to Joseph. As real-life friends, is that fun to do?
Nick: I love writing all that stuff, especially when he’s doling it out to Joseph, because they’ve got that kind of brotherly quality. It’s like an old brother taking the p*ss out of a younger brother. It has that quality to it where there’s a mutual love between them so they can get away with talking to each other like that.
And you know, as much as Jerry does that stuff to Joseph, Joseph will often pop Jerry’s balloon with an off-hand comment. He will often put Jerry in his place and so do Tuva and Christine, so the joke is always on him. It never feels like we’re punching down on Joseph.
7. How intelligent do you think you are?
Nick: I’m just going to go for a very safe seven out of 10, I think.
David: Then I’m seven point one.
Nick: We’re certainly not nearly as intelligent as the people who really work at GCHQ. I’ve got their puzzle book and I can’t do any of them. They are hard.
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