THE financial crash of 2008 and the collapse of Lehman Brothers sent shockwaves across the world.
In its wake stood a reportedly reformed banking sector – the perfect climate in which to set a gritty new financial thriller.
Based on Guido Maria Brera’s best selling novel, new 10-part Sky Atlantic series Devils tackles the power struggles taking place at the heart of the financial world.
Placing less focus on the monetary aspects of trading and delving deeper into the dark dynamics at play at the top of the corporate ladder, Devils stars Suburra: Blood on Rome actor Alessandro Borghi, alongside Grey’s Anatomy star Patrick Dempsey and From Paris with Love’s Kasia Smutniak.
The plot centres around Borghi’s character Massimo Ruggeri, an Italian-born high-flyer and the head of trading at fictional investment bank New York London.
Having sacrificed everything to attain his title and the impending promotion to vice-CEO, a combination of personal issues and workplace politics threaten to halt his career in its tracks.
“I liked the perspective, it’s different to what we’re used to seeing, certainly here in America,” notes Dempsey, 55, of the project.
“You see the impact of what happened with the crash from the European perspective which I thought was really interesting and how we’ve weaved in real events to help highlight our narrative, which I liked a lot.”
As Massimo finds himself caught up in a scandal involving his wife, a failed artist with a history of substance abuse problems, his US mentor Dominic Morgan, played by Dempsey, abruptly withdraws his support for the promotion.
And with things going from bad to worse for Massimo when his competitor winds up dead under suspicious circumstances, the trader must find a way to clear his name.
Showcasing the repercussions of seemingly small-scale personal crises on the wider banking ecosystem, the series depicts the humans behind the computers and the emotional conflicts they face.
In relation to challenges faced by his character in the series, which can’t be revealed due to spoilers, the actor spoke openly about the processing of grief as part of the role.
“It was nice to be able to show the characters’ flaws and the vulnerability of people who, from an outside perspective, have it all together,” says Dempsey.
“They have all the power – and they don’t, they’re missing their heart.”
“People deal with grief differently. Some people go into denial, some people go right into it and feel it and I think that’s what we were trying to find.
“It’s very scary, I think, to be an actor and to come in and show that vulnerability, you need the right atmosphere.”
Shot between London and Rome, the nature of the project saw the team hop across Europe in a bid to capture the required footage in the limited timeframe.
“The scenes in London were really tough for everybody, it was really tough on the crew,” notes Dempsey.
“We would shoot one day in Rome and then be on the plane that afternoon and shooting the following day in London, so it was really a tough one for the crew.”
“We make productions with less money than Americans, unfortunately, and so we had to go faster,” interjects producer Luca Bernabei, 56, with a smile.
Bernabei also goes on to note Dempsey’s fastidious nature when it comes to the finer details of scripting and production.
“Patrick is really demanding of scripts,” says Bernabei.
“He was not satisfied with the ending and he said ‘listen’ – it was before Christmas, and he said to us ‘I’ll do my vacation with my family and then after my vacation I will come back and we will shoot the finale, we will think about it’.
“And he came back, luckily. He didn’t stay in America. And he was right. Now the ending is better than it was before.”
It’s a collaborative approach that proved a useful asset behind the scenes on Devils.
Combining expertise from across Europe, the project was a true amalgamation of skills and cultural viewpoints.
“We have been really working carefully on the scripts; there have been fifteen writers working on the show, fifteen different writers,” says Bernabei.
“From the beginning they were Italian, then came UK writers, then came Nick [Hurran] the director. Then there was an Italian director, Jan Michelini, bringing a kind of slightly different attitude.
“So, finally, this is Europe,” he declares.
“We are not happy that [the UK] left us, it’s a pity, because Europe was better with you. It’s a big loss for all of us.
“And in the next season we are going to talk about it.
“I’m excited to continue this idea and keep developing it in season 2. There’s so much opportunity here.”
Given the financial specifics tackled throughout the series, the project came as something of a learning curve for both the cast and crew.
However, getting to grips with both new terminology and an alien industry was made all the easier thanks to regular consultations with Devils novelist Brera.
“Guido was great because he gave us our vocabulary words to work on, which was fine, so we could all understand what we were saying and what it meant,” says Dempsey.
“I didn’t get a chance to read the book because it wasn’t until half way through the shoot that I got the version in English but I spent a lot of time with Guido and he was like a professor.
“His attitude and his understanding of life was really fascinating to me. He’s very successful in finance but that wasn’t what was driving him.
“His humanity and what he could do to improve society – which is his intention and his motivating force – it’s very seductive.
“I mean, we’ve seen that in the last year, just how vulnerable we are and how it’s really important for us to come together.
“Hopefully we can do that. We’ll see, that’s the challenge within society and humanity at the moment.”
All episodes of Devils will be available on Sky Atlantic and streaming service NOW TV on February 17.