Apple TV+’s beloved spy dramady, ‘Slow Horses‘ returns for its third season this week. Based on the series ‘Slough Horses’ by Mick Herron, this new go-around sees director Saul Metzstein stepping in to lead all 6 episodes with the returning cast (including Gary Oldman) and some new faces being mixed in to the scene.
To discuss more about what’s in store for the third season, Metzstein sat down to delve a little deeper into the story, which involves action, interesting characters, and an “office comedy” of epic proportions.
What interested you about this show and how did you get involved with the third season?
It’s just a fun show to make—I have shot a lot of comedy, and I’ve also shot quite a lot of action, which makes me a slightly odd director, and this seemed to be a nice fit for that sort of slightly odd director. Once I read the material and once I understood that it was an office comedy deep down, then I knew how to direct it. That’s the conceptual answer…the literal answer is I had directed something for one of the execs before when he was at the BBC many years ago. I came to help on another Apple TV+ [show] called ‘The Essex Serpent,’ and when I dropped in to help, he said, oh, you’ve got to come and do my TV series.
‘Slow Horses’ is based on the book series ‘Slough Horses’, so once you knew you were signed on for Season 3, what went into the adapting process?
I read the book before I went to the meeting about it, so I had a feeling about what it was. Will Smith, the writer [of the show], he’s very good at adapting that stuff, and Mick Heron [the author] is very relaxed about people adapting his material, which has been great. I think as long as the tone worked, Mick didn’t worry.
Will Smith is very good at finding the tone and the structure of what’s there, and on top of that, everyone is very positive [with] contributing and finding out the way that you would want to tell that story. I don’t quite know if that’s an answer to your question, but it’s just that it was a deeply logical and painless process in a way that is entirely unlike almost all television. So it was [us] being logical, looking at the material, and then chipping in and not worrying about egos. It was weirdly nice.
No, that’s a great answer to the question and I’m glad to hear that, too.
And one of the things is that because they get one director to do the whole thing, they consciously sort of say give us your version of how you would make this. I think the characters are very strong and the actors are very strong, and it’s never become a thing where you suddenly go oh is this really ‘Slow Horses’ anymore? I think it’s strong enough at its core to withstand all sorts of directors and their right or wrong decisions.
What can you tease for audiences that are eager for this third season?
It’s a fun one because firstly, it’s a total misdirect at the beginning where you think you’re sort of watching one thing, [and it] isn’t quite what you thought you were switching the television on to watch. And that’s an enjoyable process, and what’s slightly different in this is the Slow Horses get dragged into an intrigue. So it’s not them doing their job, it’s something happening to them. Then there’s a constant question as to whose side everyone is on.
It’s quite a labyrinth in plot, and I think we pushed the scale up a bit. We go a little crazier than it has gone before, but again, I think part of the fun of returning television is that you’ve got a lot of good will towards the characters. If people are going to bother to watch the third season, [it’s because] they’ve already invested 10 hours of their life into it. So you sort of feel an obligation to just push it and push it and push it. This is sort of bigger, noisier, and I think funnier—or I hope funnier—but it’s the same stuff.
You mentioned that you had directed both comedy and action before, so what was the most fun part for you getting to combine them?
In a way, the funnest bit to do is when it’s just proper funny stuff, and there are a couple of scenes that I just adore. It’s the pleasure of putting them together in the edit, to put it this way, it’s a special kind of pleasure filming them and I mean special in the broadest sense. But in terms of the actual, I actually like the characters— I love the scenes between River (Jack Lowden) and David Cartwright (Jonathan Price). I love River and Louisa (Rosalind Eleazar) and everything. I think these are all fun to watch, these nice flawed characters struggling through…that’s the stuff that immediately touches me.
Action is fun because it’s [about] how can we do this? What can we do? How can we make this fun and different and of the size and scale that it deserves? It’s like heavy engineering. It’s not an immediate pleasure, but I quite enjoy watching it, these things are all just logistical horrors. But you have to approach every scene as if you don’t want to make it that thing you’ve seen before or that sort of thing where you’d never had enough time or money—you did in this. All of us directors like that sort of thing.
Speaking of characters, my last question for you—since the show has so many great ones—which character arcs did you enjoy getting to flesh out on Season 3 of ‘Slow Horses’?
I suddenly had a clear realization of who River was, which made me smile. I like the fact that River is almost James Bond, but he’s not. I just think it’s a marvelous thing: A character who’s very close to being something that he isn’t, and he’s got a problem, which is that he can’t help himself. It’s such a lovely character flaw—he’s the guy who wants to be James Bond, but is actually Larry David from ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm.’
And I love the guy who plays Hobbs, Chris Coghill, because that’s not on the page. He’s a totally created character through the sheer force of being a great actor, and having an imagination and running with it. Because this show has a strong core, these guys can do that and in the nicest possible way, try to take over the show—which I think is great fun.
Catch the first two episodes of ‘Slow Horses’ Season 3 on Nov. 29. Following episodes will premiere every Wednesday on Apple TV+.