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7 Questions with… Tahirah Sharif on The Tower: ‘Gemma Whelan gave birth three days after we wrapped’
We chatted with the Haunting of Bly Manor actor about starring in new ITV crime drama The Tower alongside Gemma Whelan.
Fans of The Haunting of Bly Manor and the A Christmas Prince trilogy on Netflix will recognise Tahirah Sharif – and now she’s about to showcase her skills to an even wider audience in the form of The Tower, one of ITV’s big dramas this autumn.
Based on Kate London’s novel Post Mortem, the drama follows what happens after a dramatic incident on the top of a tower block.
We spoke to Tahirah – who stars as police officer Lizzie Adama – about filming in the North West (and the weather that comes with it), starring alongside a very pregnant Gemma Whelan and what made this script stand out to her.
1. The roof scene in episode one sets off a dramatic chain of events – how did you film it, and were there any other tricky scenes or stunts to film?
A lot of that was just filmed on a stage - we weren’t actually up on a 25-storey tower block. They built this stage, everything was green screen, and I remember saying to the director, Jim: "I feel like I'm on a sci-fi because I don't think I've ever had to imagine so many different things shooting a drama."
We had guys with leaf blowers just off camera blowing wind in our face. We’ve started this really serious scene where two people have just dropped off the roof and between takes it was like "this is ridiculous!"
But it’s just part of the job and you have to block everything out and focus on what we have to deliver.
Every time we were filming outside, it was just always hailing, a thunderstorm, torrential downpours – it got to the point where I thought "Someone’s against us here".
There was one scene with me and Emmett [J Scanlan], who plays Kieran Shaw. We had a massive nine-page scene to do, just back and forth. We were filming outside in a park somewhere, and I swear the entire day the weather went from blazing hot, sunny, warm weather to absolutely lashing it down rain against our faces, to windy hair going everywhere and tents getting blown up, to a hailstorm, to thunder, to lightning.
It was so difficult to keep engaged in this massive, heavy dialogue scene throughout every single type of weather. That was quite difficult. I think what we got in the end was really good.
And then again… It was a night shoot – we were filming quite late - and it was just so cold. When you're outside for nine hours, 10 hours, the cold just seeps into your bones. I just don't deal well with the cold anyway - I just don't like it and I just get really miserable. But then you take perspective and you're like, it’s not life or death.
I would love to say that was me [sliding off the car bonnet in episode one]. I remember watching the stunt woman who did that and she was brilliant.
I don’t think there were too many stunts for me. I think there was a lot of running around and driving the car and pulling up and getting out and all that stuff. But bounding off of a car – I was very glad they had a stunt woman for that.
2. What was it like working with Gemma Whelan, who was pregnant during filming?
We didn't actually spend a lot of time working closely together… she’s trying to track me down a lot of the time. But when we did work together, she's incredibly funny. She's very, very funny, which I wasn't expecting. I don’t know why. She's got a great sense of humour. So there was always a little fun when she was on the set.
We all know how pregnancies work, your body grows and you get bigger. I remember meeting her on the first week of filming and she had this little pot belly. And I thought, OK, that's cute. And when we came back to do the pickups, it was like, "Oh, my God, you're really, really pregnant!" I guess a lot of her shots might be chest upwards or a lot of her sitting down.
It was incredible. I have so much respect for her. I think she literally gave birth, maybe three days after we wrapped on the pickups. Wow, she was just filming, all fine and great and happy. It was a pleasure working with her.
3. What were your first thoughts when you were shown the script, and did you guess the conclusion?
I remember reading all three episodes before I auditioned. I’ve auditioned for other police and crime dramas, and a lot of the time I get the scripts and they’re very hard to read, with so many different characters and DS this and DC that. I get quite lost, and I can’t get a sense of who the people are and their relationships to each other.
When I read The Tower, it was genuinely like reading a book. I couldn’t stop turning, I just wanted to keep reading each page and find out what happened. Every single character was written so well and their personality traits were so clear that it made it so easy to read. I remember thinking "This is a really good script".
When I was reading it, I had absolutely no idea [what would happen]. Obviously you have theories. But I think that’s what kept me turning the pages. Whenever you read something or watch anything and the outcome or ending is glaringly obvious, it’s like "Oh, I’ve figured it out now – what’s the point?". Whereas this, I couldn’t figure it out what on earth happened or why.
There’s a massive 15-page interview scene with myself and Gemma’s character where we’re just going back and forth. I remember reading that before my audition and just being like "What is it? What’s happened? Just say, Lizzie, for God’s sake!".
So I didn’t figure it out at all until the very end, until we’re told.
4. Are there going to be any cliffhangers?
In terms of traditionally what cliffhangers are, not particularly. I think hopefully as a viewer you’ll feel quite fulfilled.
I'm getting a bit tired actually of a lot of TV shows, constantly at the end of the series always being left on a cliffhanger. It’s just frustrating and I think we just want to know what's happened, what's going to happen, is it resolved and so on and so forth.
I think in terms of our actual storyline, yes I think it probably does get wrapped up. In terms of, more broadly - was this right? Was this wrong? Was it the right decision? - I think viewers are going to be left with a lot of questions and are probably questioning who was in the right and who was in the wrong. I think that's where it's going to be, where it's going to be left.
I guess the stuff crime or whatever you want to call it does get solved. We find out what happened on the roof and how these people fell off. But I think viewers are going to be asking questions on a more moral basis, which I think is what you want. I think that's what we’re trying to achieve with this - people ask questions of themselves, of the characters.
5. What particular messages would you like the viewer to be left with?
For me personally, I always want to evoke some sort of response or emotion in anybody who's watching - because then I've done my job. And whether that's then agreeing with and liking my character, or disagreeing with and not liking my character, so long as you feel something - whether it's anger, whether it’s disdain, or any positive feeling, then that's what I want. I'd rather that than someone go, ‘what else is on?’
I think with this show, I want people to really debate with each other, because we did this on set. Or about who they would support and what decisions they would make if they were in the same position and really think about why that is, and what's driving that thought process and their decision.
6. Did you explore many places in the North West while you were filming?
I did, yeah. I filmed a lot in Liverpool and Runcorn and a bit in Manchester.
I stayed in Liverpool the entire time we were filming. At first my schedule was so relentless and so full on that I actually didn't have any time do anything apart from go home, learn lines, eat, sleep then get up again.
I went to this area of Liverpool called Lark Lane where there was a big park and it was kind of a Camden-y, Shoreditch kind of area – lots of cafes and little charity shops.
In London, we've got those electric scooter things around but I think they were only introduced when I got back in July. But Liverpool already had it. So I was like "Oh this is really cool, I can just hire a little scooter and just scoot off everywhere!". I did it every day when I wasn’t working.
And also I did a a bit of shopping at Cheshire Oaks. And then I actually drove to Wales to the longest, fastest zipline in Europe which was amazing.
7. Would you make a good detective?
I don't know. I always say I'm very good at reading people. I can meet people and I just get a very good sense about who they are. I don't know if that's a good skill to have a detective.
The Tower will be shown across three consecutive nights on November 8, 9 and 10. Each episode begins at 9pm on ITV.