Douglas Booth portrays bounty hunter Red Bill in That Dirty Black Bag, a gritty new series that premiered on AMC+ on March 10, 2022.
That Dirty Black Bag is a gruesome, unflinching look at the Old West. It fuses the iconic feel of Sergio Leone’s Spaghetti Westerns with brutality exceeding even Tarantino’s takes on the genre.
In anticipation of The Dirty Black Bag Season 1 DVD release, we caught up with Booth to discuss how he got through the intense filming process and what he’s looking toward for the future.
Warning: This interview contains mild spoilers for Season 1 of That Dirty Black Bag.
That Dirty Black Bag feels like nothing you’ve ever done before. What is it about the Western genre that appeals to you?
As you said, I’ve never done anything like this, so that’s a huge draw. Throughout my whole career, I’ve just tried to play very different characters, and I think I have.
From Boy George to Dan Leno to Nikki Six, I always try to take on roles that are very different from one another.
Red Bill was something that I hadn’t done before. He was a very physical character. It was a very “grown-up” role for me — for the first time, it felt like I was truly playing a [grown] man, which was interesting to explore.
I love Westerns. I love to ride, so any time I get to ride a horse, I’m happy! I loved the script, and I’m good friends with Dominic Cooper, and he was already attached, so I thought it could be a fun adventure.
Red Bill is such a traumatized character. How do you portray that level of damage without letting it get to you?
I saved all my energy for the set. We worked six-day weeks for five or six months, so it was a lot, and we were exhausted by the end.
But we had a really fun group of people, and we were in some amazing places — Spain, Italy, the Sahara Desert in Morocco. As a cast, we felt fortunate to be working during COVID and in all these beautiful places.
It was easy to go and find great food and wine and just relax at the end of the day and have a laugh and joke with each other. I didn’t find it too hard to switch off in that sense — I held that intensity for the work.
How did you shoot that scene in Episode 2 with you on the hook? What was the process there, and how difficult was it?
First, they did a test, hanging me upside down to find out how uncomfortable I was being strung up. It’s like four minutes you can do before your head explodes or something like that.
Obviously, [Red Bill] is hung up a lot longer, which is why the eyes were as bloodshot as they were. I could do about a minute and a half, two minutes before I started getting dizzy. We had a safe word. They just strung me up there!
They weren’t holding me just by my ankles, though. Underneath the costume, I had a harness on, so the weight was more evenly distributed. If all that pressure had been on the ankles, they might have popped out after a full day of it.
It was tough and painful — that was probably the hardest part to shoot! They were tying my hands up with real rope. Every time I would go for a break, they would untie me, and by the end of the day, my skin was rubbed raw.
I was completely battered and bruised.
But this was at the beginning of the shoot, so I had that feeling of commitment — it was perfect, how it was supposed to feel. By the final day of shooting, I might not have been so forgiving!
It was great. Aiden Gillen’s a very sensitive scene partner to play with. He’s a tremendous actor, very generous, and would always check if I was okay.
By the end of the Season 1 finale, many questions remain unanswered. Luckily, we’re getting Season 2, and Season 3 is also planned.
Have you seen any of the scripts yet? Do you have a sense of where it’s going?
I haven’t! I have an idea, but I don’t know fully yet. They’re being written. I would love to see [Red Bill] face up to Bronson, but I would also love to see it go further. I’d love to see him save that girl.
There are some very twisted people out there, and though I want Red Bill to find peace, at the same time, we’ve just been given tantalizing hints at what he can do when a weapon is put in his hand and has adversaries in front of him.
But he’s also not invincible, so I would love him to try and get some closure but also to kill some horrible people, to see him destroy some of those wretched characters.
You’ve only just turned 30, but you already have such an impressive résumé — Shakespeare, Dickens, Terence Malick.
Is there anything you’d still like to tackle that you haven’t done? Any particular project or people you want to work on or with?
There’s so much I haven’t done! There’s a comedy movie I’m going to shoot in Toronto next year, which is something I haven’t done as much. I’ve done a bit more comedy on stage, but I’d love to do more because it’s more of a challenge.
Richard Madden once told me, “Doug, do everything you think you’re not good enough to do.” I try to stick to that as a rule and keep pushing myself.
I’m about to start shooting a film with Michael Winterbottom, a great filmmaker, and a great British auteur. It’s a movie that’s very close to his heart. He’s been trying to make it for ten years.
Can you tell us about that one?
It’s called Promised Land. It’s a thriller set in Palestine when the British were given the keys after the First World War. I’m playing a British Palestinian police officer. It’s as the British mandate collapses there and the Jewish Israeli state is formed.
I’m very excited about that. Michael works in a very specific way — doesn’t use clapper boards, doesn’t like to rehearse, shoots continuous days. I think it will be very liberating, as an actor, to work in that way.
I just want to keep working — working with great filmmakers, playing characters I haven’t played before, keep doing what I love, and trying to maintain a healthy work-life balance!
I hear you’re an active supporter of the UNHCR. Can you tell us how you got involved with them and what that work means to you?
The UNHCR is the United Nations’ Refugee Agency. Their mandate is to protect refugees around the world, in the same way that UNICEF is there to protect children around the world.
Growing up, I’d always been conscious and affected by what I’d see on the news but didn’t quite know how to help.
At a point, I was going to play this gentleman named Dan Eldon in a movie. He was an amazing person and philanthropist who tragically died young. I became very close to his family.
I ended up not playing that part because I almost came too close to the story, but he was young, and I was young, and it got me thinking.
Through that link, I met a woman working with the UNCHR who was a big fan of Eldon’s. He inspired so many people, and he was great friends with Christopher Nolan, and they’d gone and done great humanitarian missions together.
Through that, I met someone called Coco, who worked at UNHCR. I went on a trip with them to Lesvos in Greece back in 2015 and then subsequently went with them to Iraq and met refugees and internally displaced people there.
It just completely changed my world. Living in the UK, a very safe nation with health care and security, surrounded by a big body of water, I realized I’d lived a very privileged life.
It really opened my eyes to things that are happening.
We have over 100 million displaced people around the world right now. It just struck a chord with me.
I thought, “If you have a voice, try and use it for good, and try and promote some compassion.”
Many people my age at the time, didn’t even know what a refugee was or didn’t know the difference between a refugee and a migrant.
So it was just about trying to educate people on what it means to be a refugee while in the same process as educating myself and just trying to give a little back.
The first season of THAT DIRTY BLACK BAG will be available on DVD and Blu-ray on Tuesday, July 26, 2022!
This interview has been edited for length/clarity.
Mary Littlejohn is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.