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This piece was written as a collaboration between FX and Adapt Studios, the branded content division of The Hollywood Reporter.
It’s London, 1814 — and James Keziah Delaney is prepared to do some “very foolish things.”
Following the death of his father, Delaney (Tom Hardy) returns home from Africa to take over his family’s shipping business, only to be met with ruthless and devious opposition. Refusing to yield to the Goliath East India Company, he’s thrust into a political and economic conflict that not only threatens his father’s business, but may also claim his life. Delaney isn’t like other men, though: he’s been cauterized by harrowing experiences and is willing to go to extraordinary lengths to protect his family’s legacy.
Taboo sees Hardy add yet another notch to his belt of deranged characters, in the same company as Bane from The Dark Knight Rises, Alfie Solomons from Peaky Blinders, and John Fitzgerald from The Revenant, but the show isn’t purely defined by Hardy’s on-screen presence. From a star-studded supporting cast to a legendary pair of producers, it’s the sum of Taboo’s parts that makes it so interesting. Here’s a look at eight people who make the show possible:
Outside of Delaney, Taboo’s most important character is arguably Sir Stuart Strange, the show’s antagonist and leader of the East India Company in London. Strange’s empire-building aspirations are greatly disturbed by Delaney’s return to the fold, and the character becomes further aggravated when Delaney — spurned by unsavory dealings with the East India Company in the past — refuses to cooperate.
Strange is played by Jonathan Pryce who is perhaps most well known for his role as Governor Weatherby Swann in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. More recently, however, Pryce tormented Game of Thrones fans during his arc as the High Sparrow of King’s Landing. Pryce’s penchant for cerebral and calculated conspiracies will surely make him a worthy foil to Hardy’s physical brand of violence.
One of Taboo’s recurring themes is the conflict between Britain and America — and Dumbarton, an American doctor, serves as an embodiment of that turmoil. Although Dumbarton isn’t an agent of the East India Company, he doesn’t intend to make life easy for Delaney, either.
Michael Kelly plays the doctor, following a 53-episode stint as clean-up man Doug Stamper on House of Cards. Kelly’s intellectual yet aggressive on-screen persona has also led him to major roles in Man of Steel, Now You See Me, and The Adjustment Bureau, and will bring dangerous and distinctively American flavor to Delaney’s feud with the East India Company.
Delaney has a short list of friends in London, and it’s possible that his own half-sister Zilpha may not be among them. Visibly shocked by Delaney’s attendance at their father’s funeral and occasionally critical of his character, Zilpha projects an air of duplicitousness. While she has the makings of an ally for Delaney, audiences will likely be better off not trusting her.
The role of Zilpha belongs to another Game of Thrones alumna, Oona Chaplin. But while most fans will recognize her for playing Talisa Stark for 11 episodes, Chaplin has also appeared in The Longest Ride, Quantum of Solace, and an episode of Sherlock.
The one person Delaney can always count on is Brace, the protagonist’s servant and companion. Unfortunately for Delaney, the frail and aging Brace won’t be of much use in combat, but his unyielding loyalty in the world filled with treachery may prove even more valuable.
Brace is played by David Hayman, whose major acting credits include Sid and Nancy, The Boy in Striped Pajamas, Hope and Glory, and The Jackal.
Sir Stuart Strange isn’t the only East India Company foe that Delaney must content with — he’ll also have to deal with the machinations of Wilton, one of Strange’s henchmen.
Wilton is played by Leo Bill, who secured a full season on Taboo after roles in Alice in Wonderland, Alice Through the Looking Glass, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and a credit on 28 Days Later.
To further complicate Delaney’s murky familial relationships, Thorne Geary, husband of the protagonist’s half-sister Zilpha, figures to influence Delaney’s dealings with the East India Company and the future of the family’s inheritance.
Thorne Geary will be featured in six episodes of Taboo, and is played by Jefferson Hall, who’s most commonly associated with the character of Torstein on Vikings, but also has credits on Game of Thrones, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and Sherlock Holmes.
Of course, a show can only go as far as its vision, and that’s where Steven Knight comes in. After writing parts for Hardy in Locke and Peaky Blinders, Knight collaborated with the star to create Taboo — and there may not have been a better man for the job. Knight’s dark vision and expertise in London period pieces has been a recipe for success thus far in his career, and his preternatural ability to craft complex characters for Hardy will be on full display in Taboo.
The most legendary person associated with Taboo is, without a doubt, Executive Producer Ridley Scott. Scott Free Productions teamed up with Hardy and Steven Knight to bring this period piece to life, and the famous director’s name adds a lot of weight and credibility to the show’s masthead. Nominated for best director by the Academy Awards for The Martian, Black Hawk Down, Gladiator, and Thelma & Louise, Scott’s influence on Taboo bodes well for the show’s future.
Taboo premieres Tuesday, January 10th at 10 p.m. on FX.
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