Interview – Peaky Blinders Producer Caryn Mandabach

by | Aug 8, 2019 | All, Interviews

As we build up to Series 5 of Peaky Blinders at the end of the month, Our Michael Lee sits down with members of the cast to find out what we can expect.

Peaky Blinders producer Caryn Mandabach has taken the long route via horse and cart to end up in the dark streets of Small Heath. Back in her birthplace of America, she was executive producer for such hits as The Cosby Show, Roseanne and Third Rock From The Sun. Now settled in England, we have been called to this extraordinary meeting by an incoming message from the big giant head. Probably.

Was the process more daunting this year knowing the show was moving to BBC One?

“It’s a joy to be on the BBC generally. I don’t know if we’ll be more or less received, all I know is it’s a giant hit and a giant hit in my American view means that a lot of different people tend to watch it. I feel Peaky is a hit because everyone likes it, old or young, rich or poor, male or female.

Peaky has fans in Iceland, Uruguay, Mexico, Russia. There are fans everywhere largely because of Netflix but it’s still an incredible thing to think about how wide and deep. Sometimes you can have a deep hit and I believe Peaky is both wide and deep. Also, I just think it’s really good!” 

How difficult is it to make the show look so cinematic and beautiful on a relatively low budget?

Ooh! I’m just desperate to answer that question because we’re extremely good at it! It’s a crafted show, this is not a corporate effort. It is so beloved and every craftsperson, which includes anybody who has anything to do with it, loves it because they know the intention is to support Steve’s vision as realised by the director. There’s such respect for the craft. Every single decision is related to extremely talented, top of their game people. A lot of the time we get favours from people who want to be on the show. The musicians don’t have to give us their stuff.”

Caryn is gleeful in her passion and love for the show. Her excitement grows with each question. This isn’t just a job for her, this means something. If her aura was visible it’d be a warm Ready Brek glow of pride and rightly so.

Series five sees Anthony Byrne take over as director. What does that bring to proceedings?

Every season has a slightly different genre. The first one was definitely a Western. Two men meet at the bar, one guy rides in on a black horse and there’s a woman between them. The third season was psychological, almost tragedy because he lost his wife and season four was siege”.

Caryn makes strangely convincing machine gun noises but it doesn’t interrupt her flow.

You’ve got a guy with a toothpick so there’s gangster in there too. Directors are chosen for their ability to approach genre given those characters. Anthony Byrne is TOP. OF. GAME”

Anna Calvi does the soundtrack this time, how did that come about? 

The director, he really took that forward. She’s done the score – it’s unbelievable! I met her for the first time the other day and I was really in awe. I knew she was the right girl”

BBC/Caryn Mandabach Productions Ltd 2019/Jonathan Birch

Music has always been such an integral part of the show and the combination of the historical setting with contemporary songs is part of what makes the unique atmosphere.

Time shouldn’t be that important. Certain things are eternal. If you’re hearts broken it doesn’t matter who’s singing. Like, ‘A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall’ at the end of last season.. the guy is walking down, he’s just become an MP, he’s got a broad over here and a broad over there. He’s got a baby and just put a gun in his pocket after joining the Labour government. It doesn’t matter that Bob Dylan did it in the sixties, we have to choose the music that fits the emotion. It’s so chic I can barely stand up!

Also, what PJ Harvey did in series two.. to finally hear a female voice and it wasn’t Nick Cave who is our original curator of Tommy’s subconscious. You don’t want to go too far from Nick Cave and one degree of separation is PJ Harvey! Then you’re not too far from Thom Yorke. They’re cerebral and also talk about what’s going on inside a man’s head, even Anna or PJ. The score has to underscore what people are feeling and in particular, Tommy”

Having worked in both, what differences have you noticed between British and American television? 

In England, you’re not used to doing multiple series. In America, we don’t say “series four was better than series two” we just think it has to keep getting better. We anticipate and prepare for the fact that things are going to continue and that the story will continue to be as interesting. 

It’s not like a soap opera. Here’s a guy walking around with a subtext. He’s got family, he’s got a love life and he’s got a text around him that’s ever-changing. This season has a different text to Lucas Changretta coming to get him”

Steven has started writing series six with the hope of a seventh to follow, what do you think the chances are of a film or spin-off?

In principle, the ‘Peakyverse’ is my favourite place to be. When I get a new script, honestly, I’m like a kid! He’s finished thirty scripts now. That’s thirty hours. That’s fifteen movies in a span of eight years. That’s a giant achievement. That’s crazy! Who has that body of work?

Cillian once said he thought he was going to die when reading a script for the end of series two and started crying. We still have that same innocent response as you would if you were twelve and reading Dickens for the first time”

Caryn Mandabach Productions Ltd 2017/Matt Squire

What are the biggest production nightmares in the making of Peaky Blinders? 

“If we feel there’s going to be a real production problem we’ll push back or if we feel he (Steven) has already covered it but we don’t note him. The biggest problem..? 

She pauses and thinks how to answer diplomatically then clearly decides not to and pulls a sulky face.

We don’t have enough money!” That’s about it really. The whole thing is a joy

What benefits would a bigger budget give you?

“Two areas, the first is the schedule. We have to shoot out of order so Cillian can do an episode one scene in the morning and the end of episode six in the afternoon. A feat that’s insane. That’s not talked about enough – Cillian’s astonishing performance.

Secondly, we can’t afford some artists. When we started out we were told we would have to cover Nick Cave for the American version. I said, “there’ll be no covering Nick Cave or Jack White!” We had to write that cheque. I had to go into my own purse and write a cheque. So we could do a better job of marketing ourselves”

BBC/Caryn Mandabach 

Despite budget limitations, you’ve had some incredible talent take part.

All our antagonists have said, “Please don’t kill me!” Sam Neill really didn’t want to leave and neither did Adrien Brody. 

They (the guest stars) are all very very good. You can see the actors are having a good time and are at the top of their game. Helen (McCrory), who would want to be in a scene with her? She’ll kill you! It’s terrifying how they’re all so wildly talented”

Caryn has a wistful look in her eye at the mere mention of that name.

When I first met Helen she goes”who are you?” I said “I’m Caryn” and she was “let’s be friends and I was “ok!” She’s so present and very giving to the other actors. They all are”

Put it this way, if series five has even half the energy that Caryn possesses then we are in for a real treat. The show couldn’t be in better hands.

       Peaky Blinders Returns Sunday 25th August at 9.00pm on BBC One. 

Michael Lee

Michael Lee


I live in Devon and getting an accent against my will. Never one for sci-fi until I started believing in Vampires, Werewolves and Ghosts. Drama and comedy obsessive which suits the two sides of my personality - misery and bad jokes.


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