“I had no idea that it would be talked in the same sentence as Broadchurch and Line Of Duty”
ITV’s Prey starring John Simm has been thrilling audiences for the last two weeks, and this Monday sees the final episode. Will Farrow prove his innocence? I spoke to writer Chris Lunt about the series and The Saint remake rumours.
Firstly congratulations on Prey, you must be thrilled at the reception it’s received. Has it surpassed your expectations?
I am yes. It’s been absolutely fantastic. When I set out to write it, I thought people would give me another job at the end of it, I had no idea that it would be talked in the same sentence as Broadchurch and Line Of Duty, that is absolutely amazing.
This is your first TV piece and many would say it’s quite a piece to make a name with, did you always want to write for TV?
I did yeah. It’s interesting. I’ve seen a lot of interviews and comments in the media about me being a TV newcomer and the truth is, I’ve been writing for like 10 years. It was only in 2010 I got made redundant and I thought ‘here’s my opportunity to try it full time and see how I do’, but a few weeks ago I looked on my computer and there were like 80 projects that I’d worked on that had an interest from a broadcaster or script commissions that fell at the last hurdle. I’ve been very lucky the spend the last few years making a name for myself. Whenever a project has failed its never been because the writing wasnt good enough, it was always because it was something in development or too high concept.
The final episode airs on Monday (12th), what can we expect?
From day one when I was developing this, I wanted to tell Marcus Farrow’s story and I wanted his story to end, I didnt have a eye on a Prey 2. I also wanted it to be a really emotionally satisfying ending so there was no questions; you know what was going on, and you know why it’s gone on. I hope the people watching it come away from it thinking ‘you know that was a story that had a really strong ending and was emotionally satisfactory to watch’.
But there’s still thrills coming. The genre changes again in the third episode, it’s less about being chased and more about pursuing the people he thinks are responsible for the murder, and there are a couple of scenes in it that if people thought it has been tense so far, it gets a lot more tense in the third episode.
Did you write the part with John Simm in mind?
I wrote the first draft of the first episode and Nicola [Schindler from RED Production Company] knew John really well and John was the only person Nicola could see playing this role. So she sent the script to John and to his agent, and within four hours it had come back saying ‘John would be very interested in doing it’ so from the second draft of episode one, it was John Simm in my mind as I wrote the character, which makes things really easy for me because you know what the guys capable of as an actor. So when you’re writing scenes, like when he finds out his son’s been killed and you need his world to literally collapse around his ears, that literally said in the script “Farrow’s world collapses” and you know that John Simm is gonna do the rest.
What’s it like to see an actor of John’s calibre reading your words?
If you think of the actors we have in this country and if you were to list the top five, John Simm would be on that list if not at the top of it. I’m very pleased to say that John is renowned for choosing his projects well, so that is a massive thrill for a debut writer, but he’s also a genuinly sound, really hard-working serious actor who treats his work very seriously and you can see that on the screen. So it wasn’t just the thrill of John simm portraying this role but when I met him and saw how seriously he took it, and what a great bloke he is, then that was the further thrill. There’s nobody that you would want playing a role in your debut series than John Simm.
The thing I find most interesting, is the two leads played by John and Rosie Cavaliero (as Sergeant Susan Reinhardt), are both very similar in that they’re both desperate to prove something and both are clinging on to past relationships. Was that a conscious move?
I wanted the situations to mirror each other little bit. Eventually, without giving too much away, when things come to a head they needed to kind of understand each other. I also wanted them to be very flawed characters and I wanted to get really strong emotional beats, so when you are doing that you try to create situations that have affected you in your life, so heartbreak, divorce, if you’ve ever been left, or the idea of your children being threatened; I’m a father I’ve got two young children and I couldn’t imagine anything worse than if anything happened to my kids or if I’ll never see my kids again, so these are things I can draw on from my own personal life that I knew I could express really well and I knew would hit strong emotional beats. So… a fantastic adventure that then took you to a place where you really feel for the characters. So you get Marcus Farrow on the run but you really have to engage with that character and understand that Rosie’s character wasnt simply the Terminator pursuing him, but she’s brought baggage to that case and she’s too engaged in her our own personal life to see Marcus Farrow for what he really is.
Rosie’s probably best known for her comedy roles, and was a nice surprise for many to see her in drama. Did you get much say in the cast?
Rosie was brought on board becuase she’d worked before with Nicola on Pat and Cabbage, and when she came in and read it she blew everyone away with her naturalistic performance, so I think it was just a no-brainer. We saw very few actors for the part and Rosie, when she did her piece, the decision was made there and then. And I think I’m right in saying, that the audition piece was the scene with the keys, when she asks her ex-husband for the house keys to let her in the house. She’s fixated on these keys and the idea him handing these keys back to her is the final link between them; the final evidence that a relationship ever existed between them. Rosie knew that was the tipping point for the character that would move her forward and you see a change in Reinhardt’s opinion, because that final connection, this simple idea of these house keys has been broken – whether I put that into the script I dont know, but the fact that she read it and saw that was very intelligent. She’s a revelation in the part.
You’re active on Twitter, do you read tweets and reviews or do you prefer to keep a distance?
I read them all… I say I read them all, I read quite a few of the tweets and reviews and I’m thrilled by the great ones, but I take it all with a pinch of salt. I know myself, I’m enough of a TV fan myself to know what we’ve done is a very good job and the team who made it.
I set out to write a thriller. I didn’t set out to write a police procedural. I want people on the edge of their seats, so thats been a fantastic thrill for me to see. I had access to all the police advisers that RED production use on Scott and Bailey and it was a decision of mine to not let the facts get in the in the way of a really exciting story.
There has been a lot of comparisons to Line Of Duty do you mind that?
It’s very interesting because I see it as an incredible compliment because the truth is, I never intended or dreamed that Prey would be talked about in the same sentence as Line Of Duty or Broadchurch. The truth is, I am really really good friends of Jed Mecurio and we worked together last year on a series called Lost Patrol. I spent a year working with Jed and he has been a big influence on my writing. Now, Jed has never spoke to me about Line Of Duty and I never spoke to him about Prey. The two projects were in production and development at the same time. If John hadn’t hurt his leg, then Prey may well have gone out before Line Of of Duty. If some of Jed Mecurio’s talent has rubbed off on me, I find that incredibly flattering. My name for Jed is the Governor, in my mind he is the governor and if people say to me ‘it’s a bit like that style of writing’, that to me is an enormous, enormous bit of flattery.
What’s a typical days writing for you? Do you set a specific time aside or just when an idea comes to mind?
I do. I work very, very hard. I have an office in a place called Colne, not far from by Burnley, and I work from 8:30 in the morning to six / seven o’clock in the night, apart from thursdays when I have the kids as my partner works on a Thursday. My first career, many, many years ago was a Lathe Turner, I used to work shifts two till ten, I had a very strong work ethic at that young age. I work the same hours, if not more hours than if I were to work in an office. I procrastinate certainly, most writers do, but I have a set time, a set working week. If I’m not working on paid projects I’ll be working on specs. At the moment I’m very pleased to say I do seem to be getting a lot of job offers and a lot paid work. If you are an emerging writer in my opinion you should always have six or seven ideas going at any one time, and you should be expecting to have those ideas knocked back once a month. If you want to establish yourself as a writer it takes really really hard work. I spend a lot of time building relationships with production companies and proposing ideas and treatments.
Has Prey opened new doors are you now flooded with offers?
Right now I’ve got three script commissions on the go. I’m off to Hollywood on Monday. I’m one of those fortunate writers who doesn’t find writing is really work because it’s something that I love so much. I’m quite lucky in that respect.
One of your new projects in the pipeline is a remake of The Saint, what made you want to adapt that particular series?
I’ve been a massive, massive Saint fan since I was a very young boy, one of my earliest memories is sitting with my dad watching the return of The Saint and then later Roger Moore’s The Saint. There is only a handful of projects that could come my way that I would leap at regardless of how busy I was and The Saint was one of them. This came from my agent, I got a phone call saying ‘look the Americans are looking at rebooting The Saint. They had a go last year and it didn’t quite turn out as they’d hoped, so they’re looking for an English writer to take it forward’. And I just said to my agent ‘get me the job, doesn’t matter what you’ve got to do just get me the gig’, and he came back very quickly and said the producers are little bit nervous – this was before Prey – because you’ve not done a great deal’. I said ‘I don’t care. I need to get this job’. My agent really pushed for the producer to meet me London, so I went to meeting at this hotel in London and within fifteen minutes he said that he wanted me to do it. And as I said, I fly out on Monday to meet with Edward, the writer. It’s only a script commission but if I can crack it, The Saint is one of those classic British series with a really interesting character that has done well, and could have a really good spot on British TV.
I’ve seen the [American] pilot with Adam Rayner, he was great. He was a brilliant Saint and we learnt many things in that pilot. We need to bring the British aspects back. We are making a British hero.
What else do you have coming up?
I have been commissioned to write a script called Driven, about Formula One racing that introduces some fictional characters into that world. It’s a bit like Mad Men meets Rush. And then I’m working on something for ITV called Dreamland, which is a cop show set in Margate in the 1920s. There is a little bit of Twin Peaks in it, some high concept stuff. At the moment it’s just at the speculation stages and I have the usual five or six things going on from treatment commissions to full-blown scripts.
You like to write Sci-fi usually. When you’re name is more well known, would you like to pursue that?
That would be a real big ambition of mine. Five years ago pre-Prey, I had things going which were very high concept and a difficult sell as an emerging writer. So you would hope the success of Prey, fingers crossed, will mean for future projects I am a stronger sell. But it comes in waves, sooner or later somebody’s gonna say, ‘you know we want you to do a sci-fi’ if I have a good relationship with the producer, I will speak to them about it. I’ve always got this tiny little package of ideas that I’ve got going on.