News

7 Things You Should Know About Houdini & Doyle

Stars Michael Weston, Stephen Mangan, and Rebecca Liddiard say it's like a Victorian X-Files.

by | April 29, 2016 | Comments

Houdini-and-Doyle.9

 

Lots of unlikely partners have teamed up to solve crime on the small screen in recent years — a crime novelist and the NYPD (Castle), Ichabod Crane and the FBI (Sleepy Hollow), an LA detective and the Devil himself (Lucifer). And now you can add Harry Houdini and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to that list.

As improbable as that pairing might sound, however, it turns out the master escape artist and renowned author were actually friends in real life. That friendship is the basis for Houdini & Doyle, the new period detective series from co-creators David Hoselton and David Titcher and House creator David Shore, which premieres Monday, May 2 on Fox at 9 pm.

Starring former House regular Michael Weston as Houdini and EpisodesStephen Mangan as Doyle, the show takes place in turn-of-the-century London, as the two volunteer their special skills to help solve crimes for Scotland Yard, with a hand from England’s first female constable (played by Rebecca Liddiard).

Rotten Tomatoes visited the Houdini & Doyle set when the show came to Toronto to film the season’s final two episodes, where we sat down with Weston, Mangan and Liddiard to talk about the historic partnership. Here’s what we learned.


THINK OF IT AS A “VICTORIAN X-FILES

Houdini-and-Doyle7

Mangan said he was surprised to find out that Doyle and Houdini were friends, but even more shocked to learn that the prolific author was also “a fervent believer in the afterlife.”

“He obviously had a very sharp, analytical mind to be able to write a character like Sherlock,” said Mangan. “But also this very strong belief that there is something else out there…” The actor paused, laughing, “That makes it sound like a Victorian X-Files.” But when you think about it, the comparison between Fox’s newest procedural and the network’s most beloved sci-fi series actually fits. That’s because it’s similarly pitting a true believer against a skeptic as the two tackle cases with a supernatural bent (including, yes, possible ETs).

Like many people of the time, Doyle believed in the supernatural. “And Doyle was anxious to prove the existence of this scientifically,” Mangan said. “It wasn’t enough for him to have a feeling or a hunch, he wanted to show that this was all verifiable. This brings him into direct conflict with Mr. Houdini, who was the great showman, but also an enthusiastic debunker of what he saw as frauds and charlatans, pretending to be mediums and psychics and preying on vulnerable people. And that’s the heart of the show, really, the clash of those two ideologies.”

Unfortunately, it’s not much of a fair fight, at least, not as far as Mangan’s concerned. “The only annoying thing, from my point of view, is that, most weeks, what we thought might have been a supernatural event gets shown not to be,” the actor said with a laugh. “Because as far as I know, the spirit world has yet to be actually scientifically proved.” That won’t stop Doyle from searching, though. “It doesn’t mean there aren’t still some unanswered questions.”


IT’S DEFINITELY NOT A VICTORIAN CSI

Houdini-and-Doyle2

That central conflict sets up Houdini & Doyle to be a turn-of-the-century procedural, with a new mystery to solve each week. But Mangan was pleasantly surprised just how different each of the show’s ten episodes are, going from gothic horror one week, to a psychological thriller the next. “My worry with a crime drama is always that they become ‘Scooby-Doo,’” he said. “Which is the same story, just rehashed week by week, with the same beats. What I love about this is it’s got a different feeling each week.”

Just don’t expect any slick montages featuring characters hunched over microscopes. Forensic science still had a ways to go in 1901, Mangan explained, saying, “I don’t know how they ever caught any murderers, unless they were standing over them with a knife in their hand shouting, ‘I’ve just killed him!’”

“You see a big pool of blood back then, you’d just mop it up. You wouldn’t be testing it for anything. Arthur Conan Doyle came up with a lot of techniques that were unheard of before.” Which means Mangan’s Doyle spends a lot of time with his nose to the ground — literally: “That’s become almost sort of an in-joke. I smell everything I come across.”


CORSETS WEREN’T DESIGNED FOR CRIME-FIGHTING

Houdini-and-Doyle3

It’s not just the lack of DNA testing that makes crime-fighting in the 1900s difficult; the clothes don’t help either, especially when it involves chasing down the bad guys in a three-piece suit. “It’s not easy to move around in,” Mangan said of Doyle’s wardrobe. And even though he doesn’t do as much brawling as Weston’s Houdini — “he does a lot of the Action Jackson-type stuff, and I do a lot of the long words” — Doyle still gets his hands (and suits) dirty from time to time. “I punch the odd person. I’m handy when I need to be.”

Although that’s nothing compared to Liddiard, whose period-appropriate police uniform comes complete with a corset. According to the actress, wearing that under her costume was fun for “about a week,” and then? Not so much. That’s because, as the pair’s Scotland Yard-appointed “babysitter,” Liddiard’s Adelaide Stratton is expected to keep up with Houdini and Doyle, and more importantly, to keep them out of trouble. “There’s a lot of running around in this show and digging in the dirt and chasing people, and yeah, that’s not easy,” she said. “I’ve ripped a few costumes.” (Someone might want to tell Leo what suffering for a role really looks like…)


EXPECT TO SEE FAMILIAR NAMES

Houdini-and-Doyle5

Being two of the biggest celebrities of their time doesn’t just help Houdini and Doyle’s name recognition with audiences, it also helps the two solve cases. “It gives them a certain entrance into things where other guys wouldn’t have access,” said Weston. But they won’t be the only famous historical figures on the show. The episode they were filming while we were on set involved Thomas Edison and his “spirit phone,” a telephone that supposedly placed calls to the dead. Meanwhile, Mangan teased an episode involving Bram Stoker and — what else? — vampires. “It’s a very rich time, because there were some really interesting characters around,” he promised.

Weston was quick to caution that the show shouldn’t be confused for a history lesson, though, saying that the writers take a lot of poetic license, using Houdini and Doyle and this time period as more of “a blueprint” to jump off from. Which is exactly what they did to create Liddiard’s police constable, one of the few characters who isn’t a real figure. “If you Google her, nothing comes up. I’ve tried,” Liddiard said. “I believe there was an Adelaide Stratton somewhere in history, but the character that I play is pretty fictionalized.” In reality, England’s first female constable wasn’t appointed until 1915 (you can Google it).


THIS IS A BROMANCE FOR THE AGES

Houdini-and-Doyle

While the famous cameos and whodunits of the week are designed to draw in viewers, it’s the relationship between Houdini and Doyle that they hope will keep people watching. “They’re such opposites in so many ways. I’m the stiff upper lip Brit from the Old World, he’s the brash American showman from the New World,” said Mangan. “These are the kinds of guys, if they’re walking down the block together, they’ll race to see who gets to the end first,” added Weston. That competitive streak fuels their rivalry, with both sides looking to prove to the other that they’re right about the existence of the spirit world (or lack thereof).

Houdini “has a deep respect and admiration for Doyle, and I think he’s sort of befuddled that this man that he holds in such high regard could actually be duped by this bulls–t,” Weston explained. “Like, ‘C’mon! You’re smarter than this!’” Yet despite their opposing worldviews, the two end up forming a good team. They balance each other out, he said: “It’s a little bit of a bromance where we discover that we actually need and care about each other.” Even though neither would ever admit it. The partnership “helps them evolve as men.”

As does the third member of their team. Despite Constable Stratton initially being assigned to the pair as a “punishment,” Houdini and Doyle end up becoming “major cheerleaders” for her character, said Liddiard, helping balance out the misogyny of the male-dominated Metropolitan Police. “We all end up needing each other more than we ever could have imagined, and I think that’s what makes this a very tight little triangle,” said Weston. Both on-screen and off.


MANGAN KEPT IT IN THE FAMILY

Houdini-and-Doyle6

There was one co-star Mangan had no problem forging a strong relationship with: Doyle’s wife was played by his real-life wife, actress Louise Delamere. It was the first time the two had acted together, an experience he described as “really good fun” and “really strange,” probably because she was in a coma for most of her screen time. “I was spending a lot of time standing over her bed in tears. So, very much like our real-life marriage,” he joked. “Then we had to do a kissing scene, which was very peculiar. With your real wife, in front of essentially 20 blokes.”

He drew the line at including the couple’s son as one of Doyle’s two children, though. “I said absolutely not, we’re not the Redgraves,” he laughed. “Two of us from the family is enough.”


WESTON DID HIS OWN STUNTS (MOSTLY)

Houdini-and-Doyle.8jpg

Still, Mangan’s willing to acknowledge that his co-star Weston had the slightly tougher job of the two, saying, “Houdini spends a lot of time being suspended upside down into tanks of water while being straight-jacketed. I spend a lot of time at a typewriter.”

To learn how to emulate those iconic escapes, Weston turned to Manchester illusionist/escapologist Danny Hunt, who’s been called a modern-day Houdini in his own right. But despite the professional tutoring, Weston admitted that when it came time to actually film the underwater stunts, it proved more difficult than he expected. “I thought, ‘Oh yeah, I can do this. I can swim. I’m not afraid of water. I’m not claustrophobic.’ And yet, when they hung me upside down and they dipped me in, I was freaking out,” he recalled. And despite being terrified on the inside, “I had to put on this face of calm. He has to be confident.”

Weston also practiced sleight of hand, so he’d be able to pull off playing the master magician on stage without needing a hand double. “I pulled off a couple fun tricks, but it’s definitely something that I would need to really work on,” he said. “I have a deep respect for people who do that well, because it takes years to really get it down.” But don’t worry, Weston thinks he’ll have it down by season two. “I need the next six months to really practice up. If season two comes along, I’ll be ready.”

 

Houdini and Doyle premieres on Monday, May 2 on Fox at 9 pm. Read reviews here.


Rick Mele is a Toronto-based entertainment writer who covers all things TV, movie, and pop culture-related, and doesn’t normally refer to himself in the third person.

Follow Rick on Twitter: @rickmele

  • Skunkdog McGee

    It’s a shame this show will likely bomb in the US market simply because of the British accents. I’ve been watching the series on ITV for the last couple of months and it’s great fun with terrific performances and strong rapport between the three leads.

Tag Cloud

Calendar Toys Alien golden globe awards BET Acorn TV anime 007 news cancelled TV series 2017 halloween 20th Century Fox asian-american series Election football Spring TV Trophy Talk dark casting parents cancelled television children's TV diversity indie venice Drama spy thriller hist Sundance werewolf TBS CBS All Access richard e. Grant rotten movies we love TV renewals Teen TCM 2016 kong japanese psychological thriller documentary Classic Film classics VH1 justice league boxoffice Martial Arts rotten YouTube Red aliens biography History animated spain USA Network 2015 Lifetime Star Trek 72 Emmy Awards TCA Awards The Academy doctor who Nominations deadpool sag awards Bravo documentaries reboot obituary Fantasy Dark Horse Comics Western Super Bowl 4/20 Photos Crackle blaxploitation space television nbcuniversal all-time Turner Fox News Kids & Family Character Guide PBS Polls and Games Family Awards Tour comiccon Winners VICE cults breaking bad canceled TV shows Binge Guide mockumentary Cosplay canceled Opinion Disney Plus Sundance Now criterion TIFF true crime The Walt Disney Company Certified Fresh BBC America Paramount Plus FX movie DirecTV President crime drama Disney streaming service Netflix Comic Book boxing video on demand Musical Travel Channel cancelled A&E romantic comedy elevated horror Esquire cats cars Year in Review 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards Spectrum Originals docuseries OneApp zombie strong female leads adventure Walt Disney Pictures blockbusters toronto Red Carpet Funimation Thanksgiving telelvision Video Games stand-up comedy Film Festival Anna Paquin composers Superheroes HBO Go Superheroe binge AMC franchise BBC One Arrowverse RT21 RT History a nightmare on elm street robots Trailer Avengers BET Awards Writers Guild of America zero dark thirty Shondaland universal monsters Sci-Fi dc TLC unscripted based on movie chucky Marvel Mystery child's play Apple Cartoon Network 2018 A24 ESPN Discovery Channel Oscars Quiz razzies MSNBC Baby Yoda Reality Competition kids El Rey Pixar comic Premiere Dates talk show Vudu harry potter Watching Series godzilla San Diego Comic-Con mission: impossible golden globes rom-coms Infographic political drama Masterpiece singing competition 24 frames sequel fresh Awards Podcast Ellie Kemper spider-man ID Biopics south america MTV NBC Fox Searchlight 2019 green book game of thrones Musicals Sundance TV renewed TV shows crime thriller cartoon award winner screenings Ovation Comedy First Look Television Critics Association 2021 tv talk Schedule screen actors guild Freeform Fall TV YouTube adaptation Brie Larson prank films Summer kaiju period drama directors women Chernobyl Sony Pictures Rocketman travel hollywood jamie lee curtis SundanceTV Adult Swim TCA 2017 king kong what to watch sitcom black DGA GLAAD Apple TV Plus American Society of Cinematographers WarnerMedia The Walking Dead CBS free movies Creative Arts Emmys superman IFC Films Stephen King Mindy Kaling natural history cancelled TV shows french First Reviews Legendary spanish language versus Comics on TV reviews Holidays The Arrangement scorecard foreign Extras name the review Lucasfilm ratings Crunchyroll Nat Geo TCA Winter 2020 popular Exclusive Video facebook 71st Emmy Awards romance Tubi Amazon Prime Pirates E! emmy awards NYCC New York Comic Con Grammys Apple TV+ Elton John Country HBO Max Sneak Peek Hear Us Out laika BBC Animation historical drama revenge theme song Star Wars cinemax ITV superhero Marvel Television Columbia Pictures ABC Signature Women's History Month Television Academy transformers hispanic X-Men Warner Bros. italian YouTube Premium joker best CNN Amazon Prime Video HBO See It Skip It pirates of the caribbean Pop TV monster movies stop motion Food Network TV One festivals Peacock comic books LGBT witnail supernatural technology Reality dragons Broadway Mary Poppins Returns Tarantino quibi Academy Awards E3 PaleyFest 45 YA mutant rt archives scary movies Trivia GIFs book Emmys serial killer discovery Tomatazos Turner Classic Movies satire IFC anthology Chilling Adventures of Sabrina crossover Pride Month independent PlayStation FOX Hulu crime archives DC Comics BAFTA video miniseries Disney Mary Tyler Moore 2020 Comedy Central Rocky australia Lifetime Christmas movies Hallmark Christmas movies The CW TV Land 99% twilight Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt CMT Film indiana jones nfl Lionsgate Amazon TV OWN Nickelodeon 21st Century Fox sports streaming Mudbound ABC jurassic park Spike TruTV worst social media Disney+ Disney Plus dceu SDCC game show latino USA critics WGN ViacomCBS war festival Best and Worst spinoff ABC Family fast and furious Showtime concert trailers hidden camera sequels National Geographic Endgame Rom-Com Shudder finale spanish worst movies remakes batman Paramount Network Tumblr TCA DC streaming service Marathons Netflix Christmas movies Black History Month christmas movies The Witch nature medical drama Logo movies Christmas Cannes zombies thriller cops Pet Sematary Countdown Amazon Studios Hallmark Captain marvel Starz halloween tv SXSW toy story Winter TV Paramount Emmy Nominations Set visit APB Horror Rock docudrama james bond Heroines dogs Song of Ice and Fire GoT Britbox vampires Pop Mary poppins DC Universe The Purge VOD disaster LGBTQ psycho slashers Universal Ghostbusters Music TNT dramedy Interview Disney Channel teaser stoner police drama ghosts Black Mirror MCU Epix Box Office Action FXX FX on Hulu blockbuster Syfy die hard Valentine's Day politics science fiction Marvel Studios Holiday CW Seed comedies cooking comics