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'Slow Horses' Season 3 director on Gary Oldman's 'interesting' tell when a scene's not working

The Apple TV+ hit continues to be one of the most engaging, thrilling and hysterical shows to watch

'Slow Horses' Season 3 director on Gary Oldman's 'interesting' tell when a scene's not working (Apple TV+)
'Slow Horses' Season 3 director on Gary Oldman's 'interesting' tell when a scene's not working (Apple TV+)

Slow Horses continues to be a highlight in the British spy genre and Season 3 director, Saul Metzstein, continues to elevate Will Smith's thrilling and incredibly funny series, starring Gary Oldman, Jack Lowden, Kristin Scott Thomas and Saskia Reeves.

"I liked the ambition and the scale of it, I have to say," Metzstein told Yahoo Canada about coming onto the project this season.

"You can do big stuff within it and it's got really good characters, and it's funny."

Apple TV+

Watch Slow Horses on Apple TV+. Start watching with 7 days free, then $12.99 a month.

$13 at Apple TV+

The director cites a scene in the very opening moments of the season, set in Istanbul, Turkey. It sets up a leak of a "sensitive file," Footprint, with a chase sequence involving boats and a car chase. It all ends with Katherine Waterston's character, MI5 agent Alison Dunn, falling to her death, with former head of security at the British embassy in Istanbul, Sean Donovan (Ṣọpẹ Dìrísù), looking down at her.

"Every director wants to shoot a sequence like that, that we shot in Istanbul," Metzstein said.

Filming with Gary Oldman: 'You can see it when it's not going to work'

While Metzstein is new to Slow Horses much of his cast has had years to sit with their character, working to embody these roles. The director said this is a circumstance where he gave the actors space and "[acknowledged] their ownership of the characters."

"One of the things I do personally, I almost never storyboard anything like that, I need to keep it just a little bit free for these people," he said.

"Very rarely is it annoying that somebody else owns the character. The annoying one is when they don't own the character. That's the one that kills you. These are all very good actors and it's a successful program, so they're already happy doing these parts. ... I think it's just giving them space, also being able to adapt very quickly."

Gary Oldman in
Gary Oldman in "Slow Horses," now streaming on Apple TV+.

Talking about Oldman in particular, Metzstein said the actor does something "interesting," where the director could see something doesn't work.

"He's not the guy who will come and say, 'This doesn't work. I'm not doing this,'" Metzstein said. "He is very respectful of directors, he just doesn't behave like that, but you can see it when it's not going to work."

"What you have to do then is think of something to really not ruin the story, not ruin what the scene is about, but some other way of doing it. In this kind of situation, you have to be very alert and able to improvise, in that sense. That to me it was crucial. But I think in normal television, you actually have to be able to do that anyway, because normal television tends to be shot so quickly that you can plan all you like, but in the end somebody says 'Well you've got 10 minutes.' ... I've certainly shot a lot of much cheaper television than this, which is good training for being alive in television."

Rosalind Eleazar and Christopher Chung in
Rosalind Eleazar and Christopher Chung in "Slow Horses," now streaming on Apple TV+.

'I like character stuff and I like blowing things up'

While there's so much visually to get excited about in Slow Horses, something that has become so signature to the show is the way Smith blends comedy with all the action. The comedy isn't just a few chuckles here and there, it includes incredibly powerful sarcasm from Oldman's Lamb, and the character's farting gags that have continued throughout the three season. We don't think there's another show that would be able to pull that off.

For Metzstein, the director said it was "liberating" to be able to work with such a dynamic story.

"I think if you have very strong characters like that, the audience is very tolerant of pushing it off in different directions, because you have this grounded thing that works very well," Metzstein said. "So actually, there were very few moments, almost none, where you're sort of worried, 'Oh is this Slow Horses?'"

"I really liked that because firstly, I like comedy. I like funny stuff. I've shot a lot of action stuff, so I sort of have an understanding of how that stuff works. Shooting [it] over 104 days, it literally keeps you sort of fresh in a way because you can explore all these different types of filmmaking ... I think it's just the range of stuff that I'm quite into. I like character stuff and I like blowing things up."

Saskia Reeves and Ṣọpẹ́ Dìrísù in
Saskia Reeves and Ṣọpẹ́ Dìrísù in "Slow Horses," now streaming on Apple TV+.

'You're forcing yourself to up the game'

Speaking of blowing things up, there's plenty of those exhilarating moments in Season 3 of the show, but Metzstein said there was particular attention made to ensure what you see in Slow Horses isn't just a repeated beat you've seen in other spy, thriller and action shows, or movies, including things like introducing more unusual lighting.

"There is an element where you just think, I've seen the scene before, how do I add something to it?" Metzstein explained. "It sounds like quite a simple thing that, but you put yourself under pressure not to do the same stuff."

He added that there was the additional "enjoyment" in Season 3 of characters splitting up as individuals, or smaller groups, and doing different things.

"Cross cutting just helps a hell of a lot," Metzstein said.

"It's one of these things where the whole action ramps up and then it becomes complicated, because actually if you look at it, it starts with, in a way, a simple story. [You] don't quite know what's going on at the beginning. Then it just goes out in different directions, so you have that to play with as well. But when you have the money and you have a great crew, and you have a writer who will adapt stuff to ideas you have and things like that, you're kind of obligated to push it."

As Metzstein stressed, there's no entity "forcing" the Slow Horses cast and crew to work like this, but he described it as, "you're forcing yourself to up the game."

"You don't always get an opportunity to shoot like this," Metzstein said.

"It's just that there's a bit of game to the whole thing, how do you make this season better than the last one? Or aspire to that. ... You have an advantage, the audience has already invested in the characters, so you have more leeway to do crazy things with them."

Apple TV+

Watch Slow Horses on Apple TV+. Start watching with 7 days free, then $12.99 a month.

$13 at Apple TV+

Where to watch 'Slow Horses'

Slow Horses Season 3 is streaming now on Apple TV+, with weekly episodes on Wednesday.

Previous seasons are also available to watch on the streaming platform