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Daniel O'Hara, director of Netflix's The Stranger, speaks with IFTN
07 Feb 2020 : Nathan Griffin
Richard Armitage and Hannah John-Kamen in Neflix's The Stranger.
We caught up with Irish director Daniel O’Hara, co-director of Netflix’s adaptation of Harlan Coben’s The Stranger, to find out more about the making of the show, working with Irish talent and the differences between traditional and non-linear productions.

Produced by Red Production Company, The Stranger is helmed by Irish directors Hannah Quinn and Daniel O’Hara, and produced by Madonna Baptiste. Starring Richard Armitage, Dervla Kirwan, Stephen Rea, Siobhan Finneran, Hannah John-Kamen, Brandon Fellows and Jacob Dudman, the show is based on Harlan Coben’s bestselling novel of the same name.

The Stranger follows Adam Price (Armitage), who seems to have a charmed existence; two wonderful sons, a career in law, and most of all, a watertight marriage to his soulmate, Corinne (Kirwan), a teacher at the local school. However, when a stranger (Hohn-Kamen) sits down next to him in a bar and makes a shocking claim about his wife, he becomes entangled in a mystery as he desperately searches for answers.

O’Hara is a director from Dublin, based in Edinburgh. He has directed television projects for a wide range of international broadcasters and content providers, including Netflix, BBC, Sky, RTÉ, and TG4, on shows including Harlan Coben’s The Stranger, Brassic, Doctor Who and Being Human. His first came to prominence with his critically acclaimed short films, Yu Ming Is Ainm Dom (2003) and Fluent Dysphasia (2004), which have won a combined total of 25 awards at international film festivals.

IFTN journalist Nathan Griffin spoke with Daniel ahead of the debut of the Netflix Original Series to find out more about his experience working on the project.

What can you tell me about The Stranger and your experience of working on it? 

“The Stranger is an eight-part thriller, based on Harlan Coben’s book of the same name. The book is set in the US, but like Harlan’s previous work with Nicola Shindler’s Red Production Company, the story has been moved to the UK. Richard Armitage plays Adam Price, whose perfect suburban life is thrown apart when Hannah John-Kamen’s Stranger tells him a secret about his wife Corinne (Dervla Kirwan). Lots of twists and turns ensue!

“I had a fantastic experience working on the show. I directed episodes 1, 2, 3, 7 and 8, so after shooting and editing the first block, I went straight back into shooting the finale. I was on the show for a full year - the longest job I’ve ever done, but it’s also probably the most creatively satisfying, because I was able to set things up at the very beginning and then bring them to a conclusion. I had worked with a lot of the key crew before, having shot quite a bit in Manchester, but also having built up good creative relationships on other jobs. And this cast was a dream, an incredible bunch of actors who all brought a really positive atmosphere to the set.”
 

How did you get involved with the project? 

“I directed the last block of Safe for Red the previous year. That was a similar set up in that it was a Harlan Coben / Danny Brocklehurst collaboration for Netflix. They must have been happy with what I did because they asked me to come back for The Stranger!”

There’s a strong Irish contingent working on the show including actors Stephen Rea and Dervla Kirwan and director Hannah Quinn. What was it like working with them and what does it say about the Irish industry having talent in a show of this magnitude?

“I had worked with Stephen Rea a long time ago on my short film Fluent Dysphasia. We kept in touch and it was a real pleasure to work with him again. Every actor who shared a scene with him relished the opportunity and everyone on the production loved him. He’s a legend! Dervla and I had actually crossed paths long ago on the video for Dustin’s Fairytale of New York! I think she brought a great presence to Corinne, a character who we needed to feel strongly about, despite her being off-screen a lot. 

“I didn’t know Hannah Quinn before this, though I had seen her excellent work on Blood. There is some overlap between our episodes in The Stranger, so it was nice to share some time on set. We also had two fantastic Irish DPs in Peter Robertson and Tim Fleming, both of whom did an incredible job. I think the show looks great; they helped bring a real scale to it.

“I think the top Irish talent is as good as any out there, of course, we are! The industry is a global one; geography is irrelevant a lot of the time. If you’re right for a project, whether that’s in front of or behind the camera, then you should be on it.”
 

This is now your second project with Netflix after ‘Safe’ in 2018 – How do you find working with the SVOD giant? 

“Netflix has been brilliant to work with. They don’t micro-manage. When they have an opinion or a note, they, of course, let us know and a lot of the time it would be something helpful, maybe something that needed more clarity. Having said that, they were also prepared to listen to our opinion if we disagreed with a note. It helps to have strong executive producers on the production. They all set high standards, so if our team was happy, then most likely Netflix would be happy too!”
 

How does the work differ from traditional television? 

“Obviously there are no ad breaks and we had no recaps or teasers, which was nice. People talk about the hooks at the end of episodes and that's definitely something we kept in mind throughout. It’s such a big element in Harlan’s books too; they are absolute page-turners, so his storytelling really suits the ability to binge. But if you’re making a show where the audience doesn’t get the next episode for a week, you need a pretty good hook too, so I’m not sure that’s as much of a difference as people tend to think.”

Having started your career in Ireland, you have moved towards more UK and now international productions. Have you had the opportunity to work in Ireland again or do you have plans to? 

“I’d love to work in Ireland again, of course, absolutely. We are still attracting big international TV shows, so hopefully, I’ll direct one of those at some point.”

With such a sizeable body of work in TV Drama, do you have plans to direct feature film and if so what type of project would appeal to you? 

“Yes, I would definitely love to direct features. However, I don’t think the distance or difference between top TV and movies is as big as it used to be. Not in terms of production value anyway. I think the stories that would have been mid budget films in the past seem to have found their home in TV series these days. In terms of what type of film project would appeal, I have been looking at a couple of comic book adaptations. Having had so much satisfaction directing Being Human and Doctor Who, genre definitely appeals. I think you can hide lots of great ideas in the fun of horror and sci-fi.”

 

The first season of The Stranger is available to stream on Netflix.




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