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11 March 2019

All Thriller No Filler: Louise Hooper on Directing New Female-Led 4-Part ITV Thriller, Cheat

In this guest blog post, Director and WFTV Member Louise Hooper (centre) gives us an insight into her work directing all 4 episodes of new ITV thriller, Cheat which runs from Monday 11 to Thursday 14 March on ITV One at 9:00pm each night.

Since I was a child I have been addicted to thrillers. There is nothing more intoxicating than being immersed in a world full of danger and intrigue, witnessing the twists and turns of events to guess who committed the fatal crime and why. Ultimately thrillers expose the dark underbelly of how we tick, and it is that excavation of the human condition that excites me.


‘Cheat
is not a case of cat and mouse, but cat and cat.. two equals pitted against each other, both with a huge amount to prove and to defend.’

Humans of all shapes, sizes, sex and attitude fascinate me, but when I first read Gaby Hull’s script for Cheat I was delighted that the two lead protagonists were feisty, assertive, intelligent women: Leah Dale, a lecturer, and Rose Vaughan, her student, played by Katherine Kelly and Molly Windsor respectively. Gaby’s script leans to a fresh, feminist perspective as, unlike many thrillers, it is not a woman who is killed or is the victim, and there is a refreshing ambivalence to Leah wanting a baby or not. As with Killing Eve and The Replacement we are seeing great female leads more and more – it’s inspiring and insightful to spend time with complex, difficult and charming women, and tantalising for a director to express this on screen.

Cheat is about all the slippery, tricky, tangled emotions that we all feel, but pretend that we don’t. It pushes us to think about truth, duplicity, obsession, fear, commitment, rivalry, loyalty, ambition, desire… What is it to fail, what is it to succeed, and at what cost? Katherine Kelly, Molly Windsor and I worked together to expose these deep-seated emotions; all those primal feelings that get you at the back of your brain, in your heart and in your stomach. Our aim is for the audience to constantly shift their allegiance between these two women. At times to feel empathy for Rose or Leah, then compassion, then revulsion, even anger. To be unsure who is right and who is wrong.

Molly Windsor and Katherine Kelly in Cheat

Cheat is not a case of cat and mouse, but cat and cat.. two equals pitted against each other, both with a huge amount to prove and to defend. It is the story of what happens when no one is prepared to back down… We wanted the leads to have equal prominence on screen, like two boxers in a ring. The central motif is a conversation between Leah and Rose sitting opposite each other in a prison visiting room. This catapults right into the future, the weight of guilt and a crime hangs above them both – but which one is guilty, and who has been killed? In this, and every scene when Leah & Rose were together we would be careful to discuss who had the upper hand and at what point the power shifted, so that the audience is never quite sure who is the victim and who is the perpetrator.

In working with the actors and discussing how best to represent the emotion of the script I strive to avoid any clichés of how people think women look and behave. There are a million responses to any given event, but crying, screaming and generally being a victim isn’t very interesting to me. I wanted both Leah and Rose always to have a deep-seated strength. A myriad of emotions can emanate from that, but a broken weakness was never our starting point. Similarly, I try to avoid hackneyed notions of what people think is sexy or alluring, I don’t think it’s very real or interesting to see another cookie cut version of Lolita, instead there is a multitude of more complex and exciting representations of sexual power and pleasure in the female form.

I was delighted to have such talented, clever, brilliant actors to work with, who were also downright lovely and fun to work with every day. Katherine Kelly plays Leah beautifully; she is a brilliant at showing Leah’s strength and pride whilst simultaneously giving clues to the vulnerability and self-doubt that simmers below. Molly Windsor has an astonishing hypnotic stillness, a self-confidence and attitude that brings a delicious sense of threat to Rose.

‘We wanted to make Cheat as visually stylish and arresting as possible. Cinematic in terms of beautiful lighting and composition of shots, but to have a bullet proof reality at its core.’

In terms of the look for Cheat, I was inspired by the way Gaby’s script subverts often-seen thriller tropes. For example, we don’t start with a dead body, a police chase, or a dark world full of menace. It isn’t Nordic/London noir, instead we are drawn into a blistering hot lazy English summer, with bicycles, students and sexual fantasies… So myself and the wonderfully talented DOP Ed Rutherford, wanted to respond to that by creating a sun drenched, hot, hazy summer thriller, not a cold, monochromatic urban noir.

Louise on set with DOP Ed Rutherford

We wanted to make Cheat as visually stylish and arresting as possible. Cinematic in terms of beautiful lighting and composition of shots, but to have a bullet proof reality at its core. For me that is how tension can really ratchet up. To give the audience an unnerving, uneasy mix of the very familiar, every day world, existing within a heightened reality

We used graphic, symmetrical drone shots high above Leah and Rose’s university college to create a feeling that there are forces at play that the characters can’t fully control. As we slowly, stealthily lowered them down into the quads / courts below, we wanted the feeling of a pressure cooker, pushing down on the characters, making the world close in on them, stifling and claustrophobic. A sense of fate and impending threat.


Find out more about Louise Hooper.

Cheat runs from Monday 11 to Thursday 14 March on ITV One at 9:00pm each night.

Our thanks to Louise for writing this post for us.