Stephen Poliakoff On His Film Astonish Me, For The WWF, With Bill Nighy And Gemma Arterton
Stephen Poliakoff is a man known for putting his prolific pen behind haunting family sagas, studies of the human condition and a canon full of quality drama on both the big and small screen.
So it may come as a surprise to discover that he's put his creative weight fully behind a new film project for the WWF. As an enthusiastic ambassador for the charity, Poliakoff has produced a new 5-minute film, to be shown before the main feature in selected cinemas around the country, depicting some undiscovered wonders of our natural world.
Astonish Me takes viewers on a journey showcasing some of the world's lesser known or recently discovered species, from massive insects to colossal squid, a fish with a transparent head and birds and frogs of every colour.
Because he's a busy man (the small matters of a production company to run, a new BBC drama to polish and a return to the West End Stage are all in the pipeline for the unassuming juggernaut), Poliakoff couldn't do everything himself.
But, not being your average dog-walker, he was able to turn his animal admiration project over to a handful of equally luminary figures from the acting world...
"I got in touch with Charles Sturridge (director of TV's Brideshead Revisited) to direct it, I knew he would have a similar vision to me. Bill (Nighy) and I had worked together just before, so he got a call. And Gemma of course - I actually gave her her first acting role..."
That'll be Gemma Arterton, Bond girl, Tamara Drewe, Prince of Persia and more - Poliakoff's three decades at the helm of British drama have made for a handy speed-dial.
So what moves a man in such demand to channel such efforts into persuading others of the importance of preserving our animal landscape?
"It's a big question," he acknowledges, before calmly and logically answering it in three ways.
"For us in the western world, children have an innate connection with nature, and it seems to get knocked out of us as we get older, and we are the poorer for it.
Scientists are quite literally discovering new species every day, for example a squid far, far larger than anything you or I would contemplate... the world of nature is an ever-rich provider for our imagination - that's why the film is called Astonish Me. So it would be a tragedy if the reverse happened, and more and more things died out. I'm not sure we'd notice right away, but our landscape would be significantly barer.
More practically for developing countries, it can benefit even the poorest to invest in their wildlife and promote eco-tourism. You only have to look at Rwanda, one of the world's most devastated countries, and see how it has been helped by others wanting to flock to see the amazing gorillas.
It does surprise me that such a celebrated chronicler of the human condition should be equally fascinated by all things... furrier.
"I've always been curious," he explains. "I just never bothered to talk about it much, and then I went on Desert Island Discs and I mentioned it. The next thing I knew I was being approached for all sorts of things, including the WWF, where I've continued to learn an incredible amount.
With such an ever-curious shepherd and a stellar flock at the helm, this 5-minute offering is unsurprisingly impressive, and, at cinemas, will certainly be setting a high bar for the main feature.
Click here to watch Astonish Me in full, and keep an eye for it at your local Odeon cinema, playing until 11th August.