'Peaky Blinders' Creator Talks Snoop Dogg, David Bowie, Reuniting with Tom Hardy for Next Feature

The third season of Steven Knight's hit drama about 1920s British gangs returns to Netflix on Tuesday.
Robert Viglasky
'Peaky Blinders'

Hit British drama Peaky Blinders returns to Netflix on Tuesday for a third season, with Cillian Murphy's real-life 1920s gangland boss Tommy Shelby orchestrating yet more post-WWI violence from the cobbled streets of Birmingham (the central English city, not the one in Alabama).

With the BBC already greenlighting seasons four and five, The Hollywood Reporter caught up with creator Steven Knight (currently in New York with his script for Sony's The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo sequel, The Girl in the Spider's Web) to discuss the show's "bonkers" U.S. fan base, the new Peaky Blinders clothing line and spending three hours talking gangs with Snoop Dogg.

Congratulations on the new season and being commissioned for seasons four and five.

It’s so un-BBC, it’s fantastic. They normally don’t re-commission until a series has ended.

Did you expect it to get this far?

No, and I certainly didn’t expect it to get this big, especially over here [in the U.S.]. The response to it is equal to if not more than the U.K. People are just bonkers about it. And the unusual step of the BBC giving permission to Netflix to air all six episodes before eps 5 & 6 play out in the U.K. means the show is eligible for this years Emmys. Hopefully, as the underdog against all these huge established shows people will vote for it. That's the wish.

Do you find it strange that people in the U.S. have responded to a drama about early 20th century gangs in Birmingham?

It’s amazing because of the numbers of them, but also because the nature of some of them. I’ve been contacted spontaneously by Dennis Lehane, Michael Mann, Snoop Dogg…

Snoop Dogg?

I had a three-hour meeting with him because he loves it so much.

What did you talk about?

About gangs, gang culture and the series. Aside from him, I hear anecdotally that [the show]’s very popular in South Central and in New York, where people are responding to it. It’s a family story, so a lot of women and men recognize themselves, but I think there’s something about the way the men are and the way they dress…it’s a sort of impossible masculinity that people respond to. There’s also the David Bowie thing—

What was that?

Cillian heard that he was a fan. At the end of the first series, Cillian was given the cap he wore throughout the shoot, in a glass case. He smashed the case, sent the cap to Bowie and Bowie sent a photo back of himself with razor blades sewn into the cap. So we contacted his people and asked if he’d like his music on the series and they were really keen. I had someone come to my house to play Black Star before it was released. They didn’t say anything about his state of health, and a couple of days later it was announced he had died. We continued talking and episode five will have Bowie’s music in it.

Has there been any talk of a feature spinoff?

We’ve always been open to that. I’ve always been baffled by the fact that it doesn’t happen and that usually people wait until a series is unpopular. And then it’s sort of the way they bow out. I’d love to do one while it’s at its height. I should also mention that there’s going to be a clothing line called Garrison, with Peaky-style clothing. People have been trying to find the clothes, so this is coming soon – in London and Birmingham first, but also online.

The series started before Netflix became the juggernaut it is today. How important has it been to have such a major brand behind it?

It’s fantastic because it gives people access. Because there’s no longer the tyranny of the schedule, this stuff is available whenever and what it’s meant, I think, is that you’ve got these dark horses, things that people are picking up on that no one thought they would. No money has ever been spent on Peaky Blinders in terms of publicity, there’s no massive campaign — because it’s the BBC you just get the trailers. But what’s happened is people have found it for themselves and I think the loyalty is greater when people find than when they’re told to watch something.

Do you ever get any figures from Netflix?

No, no figures ever. All we get is a glow of warmth, which we interpret as very good figures. I’m sure just from meeting the people that it is doing really well.

Netflix has recently started picking up U.K. shows — like Black Mirror — exclusively, taking them away from the original U.K broadcaster. Is this something you’ve heard regarding Peaky?

You’ll find it hard to believe that I know less than nothing about this side of how it goes. But obviously I’ve heard about these things. I love the BBC. I love working with the BBC. They leave you alone; they give you zero notes. It’s like being on vacation. Via the BBC, we don’t get any notes from Netflix. Not that Netflix would ever do that, but we’re happy with the way that it’s working.

Do you think the BBC doing something very un-BBC and recommissioning a fourth and fifth season just as the third starts was its way of combating any possible predatory approach from Netflix?

I have no idea. But for us all I can say is their announcement was a great vote of confidence and confidence is always good. And now I can approach the next two series really feeling like I’m writing 12 hours of television rather than six. It just means you can have a bigger arc and you can have more fun with it…it’s much better.

Julian Fellowes said that he wanted to end Downton Abbey before it started to near WWII. Do you have a similar time frame of where you’d like to take Peaky?

Oh yeah. In my mind, if we keep getting the green light and I can keep going and the actors are all happy, I would take it up to the first air raid siren of WWII. That’s always been the destination. And when the siren goes off, the series ends.

You’ve quite an impressive slate of upcoming feature films that you’re writing. With Peaky now coming back for more, how do you fit it all in?

I don’t really know. I’ve got a film called Allied coming out, with Brad Pitt. They’ve nearly finished shooting that and the word is that it’s absolutely fantastic, it’s coming out on Thanksgiving Day in the U.S. Dragon Tattoo is the thing I’m doing right now. And I’ve got a Western being shot later this year — Woman Walks Ahead. I’m just doing the final bits on that this morning.

And the World War Z sequel?

Yeah, that’s ongoing. There are long fallow periods, so that’s not troubling me at the moment. These things take time — I did the first draft for Woman Walks Ahead 10 years ago.

Do you have a preference between TV and film?

They’ve both got their advantages. With a feature you’re in and out in a sense. You’ve got a beginning, middle, end. Also, the money's good! The drawback, for me, is that it’s much more collaborative so unless you’re directing it yourself, you do hand it over. TV is a writer’s medium, the writer is in charge effectively. So what you write is what gets shot, so in that sense I prefer it. But in terms of the scale of it, features are fantastic.

Is there any other TV work at present?

There’s Taboo with Tom Hardy. I think the last piece of filming is this week, so that’ll be out I think autumn on BBC One. I’ve seen the first three episodes…. It’s fantastic. It’s really good.

With Taboo, Peaky Blinders and your last turn as director, Locke, Hardy has become a frequent collaborator. How did that start?

We met in the Soho Hotel in London because his manager had said they were going to do Taboo and wanted to know if I’d be interested in writing it. While we waited for Tom I mentioned this thing called Locke and asked if it would be OK to bring it up in the meeting. And by the end of it we sort of did a deal whereby Tom would do Locke if I would do Taboo. And then along the way Peaky came along and he loved Alfie Solomons' character.

Any other deals made in the Soho Hotel?

Not in the Soho Hotel, but I’ve written a script that I want to direct that would star him. It will be a longer shoot than 10 days, which is what we did Locke in. This will be a more conventional film, but with Tom. There’s nothing much else I can say about it, but it’ll be interesting.

So it’s not set entirely in a car, like Locke?

No, definitely not. Everyone who works with me has always worked and shot in freezing cold, horrible places so I’ve promised the next one will be 'exterior, beach, day,' that’s what this is.

And will Hardy have a thick Welsh accent, a la Locke?

Ha, no.

What was the thinking behind that, it didn’t seem vital to the story?

I was trying to make him the most ordinary man in Britain, and also wanted him to have a working-class background. Some accents people — internationally — can’t understand, also they come with baggage. London means a certain thing, Liverpool means a certain thing. Whereas with Welsh, he can be a middle-class man with working-class roots and still have an accent and it not be an issue. The other reason, which is true, is that Tom had a friend and he thought this character Locke reminded him of him, so he said he would base the way he speaks on him. The local newspaper contacted this bloke and asked him about his voice being used, and he said, ‘It’s fine, but I’m not Welsh.’ He was from Devon or somewhere.

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