COLM McCarthy was just nine years old when he first decided that he wanted to become a director.

After suddenly realising his favourite movies and television shows were all “put together and filmed” by people, the Edinburgh-born film fanatic declared that this “sounded like [his] dream job.”

But, rather than immediately setting out to achieve this ambition, “the realities” of life soon held McCarthy back. “My teenage years at school kind of put that idea to bed. It just didn’t seem like something that was real,” McCarthy tells the Sunday National over the phone.

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While his love of movies never diminished, McCarthy’s mentality regarding ever becoming a director stayed the same for the next decade. Looking back, McCarthy can understand why he needed so much time to convince himself that he could become a director.

The class divide 

“There’s a huge class divide in directing. A lot of that is because directing is something that you get to do because you think you can do it. You have to prove it by doing it. You need a confidence and willingness to take the chance that’s required. Plus, there’s also a long period of time when you’re doing it that you’re not earning money. So obviously, if you come from a wealthy background, that makes it a lot easier. If you grew up on a council estate, it’s much harder.”

It took an inspirational conversation with one of his friends for McCarthy to finally give filmmaking a real shot.

“He was actually a truck driver, and he drove a prop truck at the time. So he introduced me to some people that he knew on film sets.”

Even though he was in his late 20s, McCarthy started to work his way up through the film industry while simultaneously making his own short films.

These garnered the attention of an agent who helped land McCarthy his first job as a television director. It’s safe to say that McCarthy hasn’t looked back since.

From a council estate to directing Doctor Who and Peaky Blinders

Not only has he overseen episodes of Hustle, Doctor Who, Sherlock, The Tudors, Black Mirror, and Peaky Blinders, but he also co-wrote the 2010 supernatural horror film Outcast. Then, in 2016, he directed his debut feature film, The Girl With All The Gifts, starring Paddy Considine.

Now that he’s well and truly found his footing in the industry, McCarthy has absolutely no intention of slowing down. McCarthy’s latest series, The Bastard Son & The Devil Himself, is based on Sally Green’s Half Bad book trilogy and was developed by acclaimed screenwriter Joe Barton.

The fantasy drama tells the story of 16-year-old Nathan Byrn (Jay Lycurgo), the illegitimate son of the world’s most dangerous witch. For all of his life, he’s been closely monitored, just in case there are signs that he’ll become like his father. But as war escalates, the line between good and evil becomes thinner, and Nathan begins to discover just what sort of man he is.

Already a huge fan of Barton’s previous writing on the acclaimed series Giri/Haji as well as his musings on Twitter, McCarthy had a pretty good feeling that he’d connect strongly with his scripts for The Bastard Son & The Devil Himself. But even he was shocked by Barton’s ability to make such an immersive fantasy world, which was populated by genuine and empathetic characters.

The National: Colm McCarthy with the cast of his newest production, The Bastard Son & The Devil HimselfColm McCarthy with the cast of his newest production, The Bastard Son & The Devil Himself

“The ideal thing for me has always been the idea of telling genre stories that are grounded and about real people. Joe’s adaptation of Sally’s work felt like that. But it was also very entertaining, as well as magical and horrifying. Plus, it was full of wit and fire, but there was also a normality to it. These teens felt like teenagers that I knew. I want the show to reflect that because I want people to talk about teenagers in a different way.”

While McCarthy is reticent to pinpoint all of the themes at the heart of The Bastard Son & The Devil Himself, the manner in which Barton used the show to explore identity helped to give it a presence that he hopes will connect with a modern audience.

“Genre shows are at their best when they’re about something. It felt like the scripts were really about identity, self-identity, and the ability to own one’s identity. I feel like we’re in an identity revolution. Some people are very uncomfortable with that. There are a lot of very loud voices who are in opposition. So it was fun to take a step back and make something that investigated the importance of identity to young people at the moment.”

A Scottish identity

WHEN it comes to his own identity, McCarthy is the first to admit that he isn’t the biggest patriot, as he doesn’t like to put “one’s national identity ahead of anybody else’s”.

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However, when it comes to how he was raised, he believes that his own background and being Scottish have played a key part in his own growth as a filmmaker. That’s especially true of how he collaborates with the people on set, as well as how he picks projects and even brings characters to life on screen.

“Scotland’s fundamentally a socialist country. I think that gives you a slightly interesting perspective. My grandfather was one of the founding doctors of the National Health Service. He ran a practice in Edinburgh,” recalls McCarthy.

“Growing up, we knew that society was made up of lots of different people and that people at the bottom end of the spectrum financially were of as much value as those at the top end. I think of that as a Scottish value. We have a sense of social justice and the importance of every member of society. I’m very proud to come from a country that has that as a priority.”

You’ll get to see how McCarthy explores these traits in The Bastard Son & The Devil Himself, with all eight episodes currently available to view on Netflix.