Co Wexford star Charlie Murphy on your next Netflix Obsession

Coming to Netflix this week, twisty four-part thriller Obsession centres on a love triangle that spirals dangerously out of control. David Roy speaks to Co Wexford actor Charlie Murphy about playing the enigmatic Anna, the challenges of filming intimate scenes and what it was like working with Belfast directing duo Lisa Barros d’Sa and Glenn Leyburn...

Charlie Murphy and Richard Armitage in Obsession
Charlie Murphy and Richard Armitage in Obsession Charlie Murphy and Richard Armitage in Obsession

COMING to Netflix on April 13, Obsession is a new four-part thriller starring Enniscorthy-born actor Charlie Murphy (Love/Hate, Peaky Blinders, Happy Valley).

Murphy plays Anna, an enigmatic young woman who embarks on a passionate affair with a married man, William (Richard Armitage, The Hobbit, Stay Close, The Stranger). Complicating matters is the fact that Anna is about to be engaged to William’s son, Jay (Rish Shah, Ms Marvel, Strangers), but wants to continue both relationships in parallel.

Anna tells William directly that "there is no version of this with just you," but his growing obsession with her soon spirals dangerously out of control and threatens to wreck all of their lives.

Based on the 1991 novel Damage by Josephine Hart, which was previously adapted as the 1992 film of the same name starring Jeremy Irons and Juliette Binoche, the present day-set Obsession is written by acclaimed playwright Morgan Lloyd-Malcolm and directed by Belfast film-making team Glenn Leyburn and Lisa Barros D'Sa (Good Vibrations, Ordinary Love).

We spoke to Charlie Murphy about the challenges of making the show in the run-up to it hitting our screens…

Charlie Murphy as Anna in Obsession
Obsession Charlie Murphy as Anna in Obsession

What attracted you to the role of Anna in Obsession?

I watched the film adaptation years ago, but I’d forgotten about it. So, when I was reading the scripts for Obsession, I didn't realise that it was also connected to Josephine Hart's novel Damage.

I just loved it. Anna’s such an anomaly, she's just a walking contradiction. She has created not only this incredible double life, but this emotional double life. She’s very secretive. And very vulnerable, even though if you were to bullet-point what she's doing, she's doing some very, very morally questionable things.

So there was that, and then just the world that’s in it. Morgan has really set a tone. All of that really attracted me to delve into Anna and to try and make her, I don't know, understandable.

Hopefully, even if you do judge her straight off, there won’t be too many pearl-clutchers by the end of it.

What was it like working with your directing team Lisa Barros d’Sa and Glenn Leyburn?

It was incredible, I had a ball on this job. They're an incredible team, and [especially] for this subject matter, what a great dynamic to have a married couple on set that are so at ease with each other. They are just such a gorgeous couple to work with. That was a real gift.

Richard Armitage and Charlie Murphy worked with intimacy co-ordinator Adelaide Waldrop
Richard Armitage and Charlie Murphy worked with intimacy co-ordinator Adelaide Waldrop Richard Armitage and Charlie Murphy worked with intimacy co-ordinator Adelaide Waldrop

Were you concerned at all about how the more intimate scenes were going to be filmed?

Yes, because you don't know what you don't know. Reading the script, you know what needs to be done, but you haven't met the people that are going to help you achieve that.

So, there's always a real sense of trust required: you’ve gotta trust that there's going to be the right combination of people to make this primarily a safe process, and then a process where there feels like there’s due diligence, and then on top of that, when all of those are filled in, then you can play and hopefully make the work richer.

Charlie Murphy and Rish Shah in Obsession
Obsession Charlie Murphy and Rish Shah in Obsession

Lisa kind of spearheaded seeking out our intimacy co-ordinator, Adelaide Waldrop. And then along came Richard Armitage. We had a really special team to help get us to that point, and we all just kind of worked together to try and ground this and to try and make it a special piece.

We did a week of intimate scenes, and I never thought I'd say it, but we could have done more - I wish we'd done more.

Quite a lot of those scenes involve hard surfaces like wooden floors and brick walls. Did you suffer much while filming?

Oh my God, yes. Richard just posted some behind the scenes pics today and you can see that my knees and elbows are just black! That beautiful high-gloss parquet floor in Anna’s apartment was very unforgiving, I have to say.

The olive-eating scene...
Obsession The olive-eating scene...

Yourself and Richard have to generate an intense chemistry right from your very first scene – did you click straight away or did you need to spend a bit of time working it out?

We weren’t very chatty at the start, but we came in and did a chemistry read together where we did the scene where Anna and William meet for the very first time. He feeds her an olive in this very seductive way – we called it ‘the olive scene’.

He just fed me olives for about half-an-hour, and sometimes they would be particularly big olives, so there was a lot of me trying to eat them without looking like a gerbil or like I was munching on an apple! That was a good stress test of how we were going to get on.

Then we had some very important rehearsals that made it all happen, and we worked through the choreography and the psychological arc of every sex scene with Adelaide and Lisa. So we got to set having done our homework and feeling ‘armoured’, but not actually having had chats constantly every day.

Richard Armitage as William
Obsession Richard Armitage as William

Then, the way we shot it, we had group scenes first off with a week of night shoots and then we started with the intimacy stuff. So, that was like a good starting point of not knowing each other too well, not breaking the spell. There was still like the ‘unknown’ kind of fizz in the air, which was good. It was a nice way of doing it, to kind of mirror the fact that we really didn't know each other beforehand and be able to take advantage of it.

And then after that, we had a lot of scenes together where the affair in the storyline has happened and we would be looking at each other across the room, feeling like we had naturally actually had gone through something in private together because the other actors weren't there.

What are you ‘obsessed’ with in real life?

I've been obsessively re-watching Only Murders In The Building. I've been away filming by myself in Budapest and that has been such a comfort.

Only Murders In The Building: Mabel (Selena Gomez), Oliver (Martin Short), and Charles (Steve Martin)
Only Murders In The Building Mabel (Selena Gomez), Oliver (Martin Short), and Charles (Steve Martin)

Finally, Charlie, do you have any plans to film in Belfast in the near future?

Oh, I'd love to. One of my best mates lives there, so yeah, I'd love to film there and maybe bump into Lisa and Glenn again too. That would be lovely.

:: Obsession will be available on Netflix from Thursday April 13.