The Third Day, HBO’s genre-bending limited series, has taken fans on a wild, nonlinear ride right from the start. The show’s first few episodes focused on Jude Law’s grieving father figure, Sam, who arrives to a mysterious island called Osea and tries to make sense of the strange customs of its inhabitants 00 and where he fits in their grander scheme. But halfway through the series’ run, The Third Day does a bit of a 180-degree turn, transporting viewers from the bright, unsettling springtime celebrations on the island to the cold, harsh reality of winter — leaving Law’s character behind and picking up in the aftermath of his disappearance with the story of his wife, Helen (Naomie Harris), who’s come to Osea looking for him. And for answers.
We got a few — answers, that is — from Harris and director Philippa Lowthorpe that might clear up some questions, or leave you with more. (Really, the best way to watch this show is in a state of terrified confusion.)
You guys have taken a really inventive approach to telling this story. What can you say about the show’s remaining episodes and how they fit into this weird timeline?
Philippa: I can say that you will be led on a wonderful journey, through the summer and be left with a fantastic denouement of summer. And then they will pick it up by winter with a new character — Naomi playing Helen and the children — and be taken on another wonderful. So it’s like two journeys which link at the end. You will absolutely be surprised, shocked, disturbed, excited…
Definitely disturbed. Still a bit confused, but I think the mixing of genres really enhances the experience. Naomie was that something you were interested in, playing this mother-figure on a show whose tone is hard to nail down?
Naomie: Yeah, it’s this incredible world. It transports you to a world that you haven’t seen before. It’s not a true horror. It’s something other. It’s not a fantasy world either. It keeps you on the edge of your seat and you don’t know what’s happening. What drew me to Helen was really that, for me, she represents my mum and she represents all good mothers. There are so many themes in the series, but what I really focused on as a performer throughout this when I was acting was the mother’s love and how fierce it can be and how it’s so nuanced because it’s about sensitivity, being sensitive to your children’s needs. It’s about nurturing and kindness and firmness sometimes. Then it’s also about when you’re cornered, and you need to protect your children. It’s about becoming this warrior who will literally kill too. That is just such a gift of a part to be able to explore the full range of a mother’s love and what it means to truly be a good mother.
I always felt growing up that that was my mother. I always knew that if anybody tried anything with me my mom would be there protecting me. I just think it’s an honor for me to play a role that is representative of her. For me, it’s irrespective of color. This is about humanity. This is about universal motherhood and what that means.
As a mother, you’d think Helen would have better intuition. Why doesn’t she just take her family and get the hell off this island?
Naomie: [Laughs] Helen totally has all those intuitions, but there’s a very strong reason why she needs to stay there.
Philippa: That’s why you’ve got to watch all the way through.
Naomie: Exactly. I think that’s what’s so great for the audience — we’re thinking, “Why is she staying? Why is she staying?” I think that’s the hook that will keep us watching into the next episodes. We find out, we find out why.
Talking about how this show defies genre, it feels worth noting that you’re both women playing in this horror/thriller sandbox that’s traditionally reserved for men. Has #TimesUp and #MeToo changed things in that way?
Naomie: I think a great example for me of the way things have definitely changed as a result of the #MeToo movement is when Adrian Sturgess, our producer, stood up before we started our readthrough and just said, “We operate a zero-tolerance policy towards any form of sexual harassment, bullying, and intimidation of women.” I actually welled up because I realized, “How rare is that?” I’ve never, in my 30 years of being in this profession, never heard a producer ever say that. I just thought, “Wow, I was in so many other productions where I was never ever protected like this.” I always felt like you had to just fend for yourself, and it’s changed dramatically, but it depends on what production you’re a part of. I think there has been a massive shift, and I’m super excited about it and super grateful.
Philippa: Yeah, I totally agree with Naomie. I think that is the first time I’ve ever heard those words, and it was at the read-through. It was not even at the beginning of production. It was before that. So the stamp on this production was one of equality and respect. As a woman director, I think that I wouldn’t have been asked to do something like this a few years ago because many stories about women get directed by men. Let’s face it. Still, even now, that’s quite annoying. But I just don’t think that this would have been coming my way. When you watch the rest of the episodes, and you get to the last one, you’ll see why they may not have thought of a woman director, but I was actually really, really grateful to be part of this thing, and to show that women directors can direct anything. Anything you put before them, they can do.
HBO’s ‘The Third Day’ airs on Mondays at 9:00pm EST.