In the Flesh: Interview: Dominic Mitchell (2014)

Trio ITFDominic Mitchell has come a long way since Sci-Fi Bulletin last spoke to him back in January 2013. Winner of the BAFTA Award for Drama at the BAFTA Craft Awards on April 27 this year, his very different zombie show In the Flesh was picked up for a second, double-length series very quickly. He spoke with Paul Simpson just before the first episode of that aired in the UK (and there are some spoilers in here for that episode)…

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Congratulations on the BAFTA

Thank you so much. I was a bit shocked, to be honest. I didn’t even write a speech because I didn’t think I was going to win, so when they called my name I was like, ‘Shit!’ It was so brilliant and good for the show, such good timing.

The second series felt different when we were on set compared with the first, yet also a logical continuation….

I’m glad you felt that way.

When you were told you’d got a double-length second series, what were your initial reactions creatively, apart from ‘oh hell, I’ve got to do six episodes’?

Creatively I was delighted because I had always seen it going on, introducing more about the mythology of the Undead Prophet, and the political parties that springs up such as Victus. I’d always imagined that in my head, but we didn’t get to that in Series 1 and I think it was right that we didn’t, because it was much more to do with Kieren’s past.

When I heard the news about the second series, I thought it was great because we could get to explore Roarton Valley more: we only got to go into the supermarket in Series 1 really, so going into the GP’s office, into the school I thought would be really interesting. We can learn more of the lay of the land, and also the expansion of the outside world. I loved the chance to do more; I love the universe so much.

And then panic set in!

But before that panic I was elated: ‘Oh great I can return to Roarton and return to these characters I’ve fallen in love with and want to know more about personally.’ It’s a weird thing when you’re writing: your characters sometimes tell you where they’re going, or tell you how they’re feeling. I wanted to get back into their heads.

Jen ITFWhen we spoke last time, you were saying In the Flesh was rather like the set-up of Battlestar Galactica: we would get into the meat of In the Flesh with the second series; has that come about as you were thinking then?

I hope with episode 1 that someone who doesn’t know the show, who didn’t see it, can come in to it and won’t be so confused. With Battlestar Galactica, when the series started you had to have seen the miniseries. That was a massive concern for us, just going into the writer’s room last year and going: “Oh Christ how do we do a first episode that doesn’t talk down to the fans of the show.” We didn’t want to go, “Do you remember when Bill shot Rick?” “Oh yes, I remember that…” Big flashback. We wanted to make it exciting and new for the fans but also hopefully for those people who don’t know it, they can get an idea of the world and don’t feel so alienated.

Rolling news is very handy for that: It can act as an exposition dump!

Totally. We can have Ken talking to his boy about Roarton, and things like that before the tragedy strikes; and then because the tragedy strikes, people are watching the news, so that’s another nice way to get exposition out. All those little tricks of the trade I knew we must use.

Going back to the model of Battlestar, definitely: that was my idea. Series 1 was the prologue, and Series 2 is the first chapter.

You lose two of your main characters from the first series in the first episode of the new season, played by Ricky Tomlinson and Kenneth Cranham; Ken was honest about it on set…

He was so good to do the interviews; he knew he was going to be a gonner, but to do that he was a star.

Ricky-Tomlinson-in-In-The-FleshWas it a conscious decision to get rid of the two oldest characters?

Vicar Oddie and Ken Burton? I wanted to show Ken this series, because in an odd way he was a big part of Series 1, because he shot Bill. I thought logically that he would have moved away, and gone to the city: he wouldn’t take people’s advice and move a couple of houses down the road; he had to go to the city. I always had it that he had forged a little life there, and was going to go back to visit Roarton.

We wanted to have this very shocking tram attack at the beginning, and I thought, ‘Who’s going to care if we don’t know the guys involved? (Of course, they’re human beings!) What is going to rebound in Roarton? What would make Maxine Martin come to Roarton in the first place?’ Of course: Ken Burton.

I think when we hit on that, we thought it was perfect – and then we thought, ‘Oh God, Ken’s going to die.’ But it serves such a story purpose for us, and it’s the catalyst for the series. If that tram attack hadn’t happened and Ken hadn’t been involved because he was from Roarton, Maxine wouldn’t have had a way in to the story: she used it as a way in to come to Roarton.

As sad as it was, it really did serve our story. I was watching an interview with [Song of Fire and Ice/Game of Thrones creator] George R.R. Martin and he was saying people get upset when characters die. But the story is king, and if the story dictates it… We have a few more deaths in this series, and the most shocking of all I won’t spoil, but it got to that point where we wanted to tell this sort of story and there was no other way to do it. We couldn’t save this character. I went away and thought, ‘We’ve got this thing where we could save [redacted]’ but then I knew we couldn’t, because we were getting in the way of the natural story progression… But that’s for later! In the first episode, I thought if Ken died it would be such a catalyst for all the other characters, for Roarton itself, and for Kieren to hear that.

It’s a great start. We wanted to do something: Ricky is a name and is beloved, and rightly so but we wanted to say that in the In the Flesh world, no one is safe. You may think that this very great guy should be living in the city to a ripe old age, going to bingo and all that stuff – but no, he dies in a tram attack, because that’s the way in this world.

Oddie ITFWith Vicar Oddie: because the second series is more political in tone, I wanted politics to come into it without just having people giving speeches. I wanted someone to come to Roarton and take over.

Again for me it was a logical story point: Vicar Oddie had the village in the grip of his hands in the first series, and then a lot of people were like, ‘Whoa!, just a minute – Bill killed his own son, Bill got killed, it’s too much violence.’ When very shocking things happen, people step away and open their eyes. But Vicar Oddie is still going on: his rhetoric hasn’t changed. He’s unapologetic. In episode one we see there aren’t a lot of people in his converted barn; his leadership is losing anyway. As Maxine tells him, he’s lost control. Roarton isn’t big enough for the both of them: Maxine and Vicar Oddie.

If Vicar Oddie had lived and carried on, they would have had to battle again, because of their ideas. They’re kind of both on the same page, but their way of seeing things is different: Maxine is very reasonable. She puts forth a very grounded argument about Partially Deceased Syndrome sufferers. Vicar Oddie is all in the clouds – they’re all going to hell. We’re not going to leave religion, because we’ve got Simon, the Undead Prophet’s disciple – religion is coming from the Undead side.

Last time, it was Vicar Oddie using the Book of Revelation; now it’s the other side who are quoting from it on the tram.

The Undead Prophet is the flipside of Vicar Oddie; he uses Revelations. He believes it’s the gospel truth, it’s prophesized in the Bible: the undead are a new race, a new species and a better species. Because of that fear of dead that all living people have, it causes us to be flawed, and the wrong prototype. PDS sufferers are not demons, they’re the new species. They’ve got to cause this Second Rising: there are all these rumours going around about the Second Rising, which is a big plan for the Undead Prophet – if there was a Second Rising, the world would be taken over by the redeemed. He’s a man of plotting is our Undead Prophet. That’s going to be really interesting.

Emmett ITF 2During the set visit, over lunch, the journalists ended up spending about an hour discussing the morality behind the show with the stars, Emmett, Emily and Luke: they weren’t just invested in their characters, they seemed to really understand their characters’ viewpoints (which was occasionally quite frightening coming from Emmett!)

We’ve been so lucky with the actors; they’re very invested in the show. They’ll call me up and ask me questions, and I’m always open to talking about any person’s character. They do so much work on them.

From Series 1, they get the show, and now it’s like an extended family with Wunmi (Mosaku) coming on board as Maxine, and Emmett as Simon. They got the show, and for everyone who was involved with series two, that was what got them the job – do you understand the world and are you incredibly excited about the world? That was the real watchword. You want them like that.

All credit to Johnny Campbell, the director and [casting director] David Shaw – they saw a lot of people. It was a long audition process: they wanted unknowns but the right unknowns. People were getting called back three or four times. We saw hundreds of Kierens. Johnny and David were picking a Premiership team, and I think that shows.

Johnny left it in such good stead at the end of series 1, so we thought, ‘We’ve got this, we’re lucky enough to have these actors so let’s use them. We’re lucky enough have to the tone of the show set up, so let’s not lose that even though we’re expanding.’

I’m so happy for Luke Newberry who has been nominated for a BAFTA. It’s hard playing a supernatural character: everyone thinks, ‘oh yes, zombies’, but to do a zombie right and for people to forget that he is a zombie is the incredible thing. All the characters played it so real, and there was so much real emotion there that people forgot it was a zombie show. People were thinking, ‘oh yes this is happening’. It’s the same thing I get when I’m watching Game of Thrones: it just becomes reality. That’s really important.

Luke and Amy 2 ITFOne of the best scenes in the first episode is the confrontation in the pub when Simon and Amy come in and Kieren is put right in the middle between them and Gary; it could be Northern Ireland during the height of the Troubles.

I’m so glad – Northern Ireland was a big watchword for me to create the show, with the Human Volunteer Force I wanted it to be a paramilitary force, a freedom fighting force.

I’m glad you responded to that scene: people in Roarton are saying the PDS sufferers have a right to work in the pub and drink there as long as you follow our rules: makeup on, contacts in, no mention of anything. Especially not turning up in the clothes you were buried in. If there’s just a mention of it, or someone taking out their contacts, or someone coming into the pub without their makeup, then it’s the start of a massive ruck… and of course it gets worse…

One last question – Maxine’s secret: will we learn it this series?

Yes, we are. Episode six, you’ll find out why she’s really in Roarton.

MitchellClick here for our review of episode 1 of the second series

and here for our original interview with Dominic Mitchell, where he talks about the genesis of the series.

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