David Thewlis Reveals the Secret He Kept From ‘The Artful Dodger’ Cast

The Big Picture

  • The Artful Dodger reimagines the life of Dodger from Oliver Twist, showing him as a surgeon named Jack Dawkins in Australia.
  • David Thewlis’s portrayal of Fagin in the series leans into moral ambiguity and comedic undertones, offering a more sympathetic and lovable Fagin.
  • The series explores the relationship between Fagin and Jack, showcasing a deep love and a gentler side of Fagin as an almost surrogate father figure.

Oliver Twist is one of Charles Dickens’ most beloved stories—and one that has lived many lives through television, movie, and stage adaptations. While Oliver Twist is the titular character, readers and audiences were always quite partial to one of the secondary characters—a clever and cunning street urchin named Dodger who worked for the criminal mastermind Fagin. Unlike true adaptations of Dickens’ work, The Artful Dodger reimagines the final pages of the novel, and gives Dodger a new life and new adventures to embark on later in life.

In The Artful Dodger, the titular character has grown up to become an accomplished surgeon named Jack Dawkins (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) who lives in Australia—far away from his tumultuous upbringing. But things go awry when a figure from his past turns up in Australia, and Jack finds him forced to play host and confidant to his erstwhile father figure Fagin (David Thewlis). Fagin presents Thewlis with a unique opportunity to toe the line of moral ambiguity, and lean into the fast-paced and often comedic undertones of the series. Which is a treat for long-time fans of the actor, who grew up watching him Dragonheart and later in more villainous roles like Ares in Wonder Woman and Grail in Enola Holmes 2. Together, Thewlis and Brodie-Sangster make for a dynamic duo as they both grapple with their past and even more dangerous tedious present.

Speaking with Drumpe, Thewlis shared the secret that he kept from the rest of the cast about Fagin, his first introduction to Charles Dickens, the aspect of Fagin that stayed with him after they wrapped, and his hopes for what could happen with The Artful Dodger if it were to secure a second season. Check out all of this and so much more in the video at the top of the article, or in the full transcript below.

The Artful Dodger
Release Date
November 29, 2023

Thomas Brodie-Sangster, David Thewlis, Maia Mitchell, Damon Herriman

Main Genre

Drama, Crime, History


James McNamara, David Maher, David Taylor

Read Our Review

Drumpe: I studied Dickens fairly extensively at uni and his stories have become the backbone of a lot of modern storytelling, specifically with historical dramas. What was your first introduction to Charles Dickens?

DAVID THEWLIS: It was Oliver Twist, really, because I’m of an age where when the musical first came out I was a young boy and it was ubiquitous. It was all over the place. We knew all the songs. We used to do the songs at school. Later in life, I actually became friends with Lionel Bart who wrote it. He was a very beautiful, beautiful man. So, through that, and I think it’s through television, drama and films, first of all, before I came across the books much later. I never studied them at school; it wasn’t on our curriculum. So, I didn’t even come across them, actually, until I started working as an actor. One of my first jobs was in Little Dorrit, and that’s the first time I ever read Dickens. And then I think in my own time, obviously David Copperfield, Great Expectations, Oliver Twist, which I have, of course, read again for this.

And your portrayal of Fagin is excellent. What was your character work for building him and fleshing him out like?

THEWLIS: I felt like it was all there, even in my first reading of the script, which I was so impressed with. I read it on an airplane, and by the time I landed, I just rang my agent and said, “I’m doing this.” It was so wonderfully written straight away and I thought it was beautifully funny, and a different take, a more sympathetic Fagin, certainly, than the novel, and really than any of the other films, which I went back and watched most things. I wasn’t sure if that was a good idea or not, but I did go back to make sure I wasn’t repeating anything or to see where people might have gone wrong in earlier portrayals. James and Andrew, their writing is so complete by the time you come to the script, it’s all done for you. Really, it was a matter of just learning it. I didn’t feel like I had to really bring a lot of interpretation to it other than what was already there.

David Thewlis’ Fagin Isn’t a Villain in ‘The Artful Dodger’

Fagin played by David Thewlis, stands in a church with a preist behind him.
Image via Hulu

You’ve had a run of playing villainous characters here in the last few years, and I love that Fagin kind of toes this line of moral ambiguity in a lot of ways because he’s a con man. What’s more fun, diving into a more villainous kind of character or playing with these very shades of gray for Fagin?

THEWLIS: The latter, I think, because, in fact, he’s not the villain in this show. We have two – we have Gaines and Cracksworth, Damon Herriman and Tim Minchin are the bad guys. I’m more of a rascal, and I think that was more enjoyable for me. There was more humor in it, which I love. I don’t get to do as much comedy as I would like and I thought he was beautifully funny in the scripts. He’s certainly a more sympathetic Fagin, as he’s written in his relationship with Dodger. There is still, obviously, the underlying criminality of his thievery, but there is also some steel to him, and there is some cruelty to him, physical cruelty he is prepared to go to in some scenes. But it was much more interesting for me than just playing some mustache-twirling bad guy with no other dimensions to him, which sometimes is what I’ve been offered and done, and they’re good as well. They’re always fun, always more fun than playing good guys, I find. But this was nice because he’s a bad guy, but he’s kind of lovable.

One of the things I think is interesting is we get this really great relationship between him and Jack. What was it like playing with something that’s been very prolifically established in the book, people know what to kind of expect coming into it, and then getting to flesh it out and explore different avenues and almost see a gentler side of Fagin with Jack? He does seem like he genuinely cares about him.

THEWLIS: I think there’s a great love there, and that was going back to the idea of the characterization. I think that is something I did want to bring to it myself. Often, when I do things, almost always, I just keep one piece of information secret to myself and I don’t discuss with the directors or the other actors or the writers. That for this was his actual deep, deep love for, essentially, a surrogate son, and that most things he does in the course of these stories is aimed towards that. That’s the real treasure. That’s actually why he’s here, to try and save this relationship.

And of course, it’s all there to be developed because we’re seeing, certainly in the case of Jack, a figure who is much more evolved than the last time we saw him in the books or in the movies, where he’s become something surprisingly sophisticated, of course, which is the whole twist of the storyline. He’s now a surgeon, he’s rather educated in his own way, he speaks beautifully, he’s been a naval officer. He’s quite brilliant and he’s a rather attractive young man, so he’s very different to the young boy we met. I think that’s what’s gonna interest people, is making that leap that Thomas does so beautifully from what you might expect the little boy to grow up to be and, actually, this young man that we see here.

I completely agree. I think that was one of the most surprising aspects of the series. I think a question that actors get a lot is, what part of yourself do you bring to a character, but I’m curious, what part of Fagin kind of stuck with you after you wrapped?

THEWLIS: [Laughs] Well, my beard for a long time. I’ve never grown such a long beard, and my bald head. It was rather difficult to let them both go. I loved having a shaved head and I loved having that beard, and the day I had to cut it off when I got back to England, it was rather emotional because I’d lived with it for so long. [Laughs] That being said, my wife was very relieved. I’d enjoyed playing the role so much, and enjoyed looking like that so much. I felt like a different personality as myself. So, just the physicality of Fagin I miss, and I’m hoping if we do another season, I’m quite looking forward to looking like that again.

‘The Artful Dodger’ Could Bring in More Dickensian Characters in Season 2

Crowd of people stand outside investigating the ground. Including Jack Dawkins (Thomas Brodie-Sangster), Fagin (David Thewlis), and Lady Belle Fox (Maia Mitchell).
Image via Hulu

That perfectly ties into the next question I had. We’ve only seen the first half of this season. Do you think there is room to continue to tell this story and that this is just a beautiful beginning?

THEWLIS: Undoubtedly. Undoubtedly, and I say that because I know most people, like yourself, have only seen four episodes. What I can say, hand on heart, with this, it gets better and better and better, even more than I realized when I watched it. I was like, “My god, this is getting really, really good now.” I think that by the time you’re into the final three episodes, the final two, the final one, it becomes a whole different project. It becomes something that really takes you by surprise and is so moving. It becomes more political, becomes more philosophical in a way that I didn’t even realize when I read the scripts, which has a lot to do with the performances of Thomas and Maia towards the end, and Susie Porter, indeed. So, I think there’s no doubt by the time you see Episode 8 that you’re like, “Oh yeah, there’s definitely, definitely more places this could go,” and because the writers are so fantastic, I think they’re just chomping at the bit to give us more.

Well, that has me very excited for where things could go. One of the aspects I really loved about it is how beautiful it is. The scenery is gorgeous. What was it like to film in Australia?

THEWLIS: Oh, well, just wonderful. I just adore it here. I feel like it’s now my second home. I just feel great affinity with this city, with these people. You know, my favorite day on it was when we shot the duel scene by the ocean because we were often in quite claustrophobic Victorian sets, and we got to shoot one day on the cliffs by the ocean near Botany Bay. I just remember that day, most of the cast were there, and I was just thinking how lucky, lucky, lucky I am to have a job where this is the day’s work, to be in this country with this scenery, with beautiful people making this wonderful show.

Beyond the last three episodes, which seem to be really exciting, are there any particular episodes that really stuck out for the work that you got to do in bringing Fagin’s story to life in that episode?

THEWLIS: Well, as it goes on, like I say, I think Episode 6, there’s stuff in that that I really feel like the relationship between Fagin and Dodger really grew, and we get a little more backstory and it gets a little more serious, in some ways. The comedy takes a backseat sometimes. There’s a wonderful speech that James wrote for me in Episode 6 that, suddenly, I felt like I was doing something much more substantial. So, like I say, as it goes on, it’s beautifully nutty all the way through, but I think it turns a corner later on, and I really liked that. That’s why I’d love there to be more of it because I feel like now we’ve already done that, that we have to keep doing that and keep bringing some gravitas to it as well as all of the high jinks.

This might be a spoiler question, but it’s my love of Dickens and wanting to know what else to expect – are there any other Dickens characters from Oliver Twist that show up either in flashbacks or…? Because I feel like there are so many other characters out there that were left with uncertain fates at the end of Oliver Twist that could easily show up to cause trouble.

THEWLIS: Perhaps. You’ll have to see. I know, actually, there was an idea to bring in characters even from other books, or so I’m told, if in a second season. So, where therefore, there might be Mr. Micawber, which [is one of the] characters from one of the books that did come out here to Australia. So I know that would be great fun to do, but we won’t be able to tell you exactly what the plans are. You’ll have to watch!

As we wind down on this interview, what do you hope that audiences take away from the series?

THEWLIS: I hope they see a whole new way of presenting the world of Dickens because it’s never been done out here in this country, and just to enjoy all the possibilities that that brings, to take everything we love about Dickens in England, transpose it to this beautiful land, and see all the opportunities that there are exploited so, so wonderfully. Again, credit to the writers because they’ve done a fantastic job, and I’m very impressed.

Watch on Hulu

The Artful Dodger premiered earlier this week on Hulu in the U.S., where new episodes will arrive weekly. Check out the trailer below:

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