British drama examines the pressures of power
THE story of a son's tense relationship with his media mogul father would be interesting enough.
But that's only the starting point for Billy Howle in the acclaimed British psycho-thriller MotherFatherSon.
The 28-year-old actor plays Caden, a national newspaper editor crumbling under the pressure of his father Max's (Richard Gere in his first TV role in 30 years) expectation.
Numbing his pain with cocaine and anonymous sex, Caden's excess causes a massive stroke.
He's left like a helpless child. For Max, who's pulling the strings behind the scenes of an upcoming election, he has become a liability.
For Max's estranged wife Kathryn (Helen McCrory), it is a chance to reconnect with the sensitive boy Max ripped away from her.
"When I went in and auditioned one of the scenes we did was one of the most tragic moments for Caden during the course his recovery," Howle says.
"It was about him rehabilitating and recovering his speech. Obviously his motor skills are hugely affected; it's catastrophic really. He's slowly rebuilding his understanding of language, which is a really interesting conceit, narratively, to have a character who suddenly doesn't understand the words that are spoken or they take on a new weight or gravity - particularly for someone who used to run a newspaper that's pretty dangerous stuff. That became really exciting for me, and I also knew I would be put through the wringer for six months physically and emotionally."
Howle, best known for his roles in the films Outlaw King and On Chesil Beach, felt an immense responsibility to authentically portray the experience of stroke victims.
"Often when someone's had a stroke families mourn the loss of a loved one even though they're still there," he says.
"How cognisant is the person who had the stroke of them seeming different to other people? How do they wish to be perceived by others? That's always a big question for me with any character. It informs a huge amount of our behaviour, and of course everything Caden does before the stroke is very much based on that question.
"For anyone who has suffered a stroke early on in their life, I just wanted to do that justice. It can often be misrepresented, or portrayed in not the most responsible way."
Howle is full of praise for his famous co-stars, particularly McCrory (Peaky Blinders) with whom he shares some emotionally harrowing scenes during Caden's rehabilitation.
"Helen and I established this trusting, loving relationship on and off set really," he says. "I felt very safe - safe enough for what I had to do in the next six episodes."
MotherFatherSon airs Sundays at 8.30pm on BBC First.