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A Chat with Adrian Hodges (“Survivors,” “Primeval”)

Adrian Hodges has been beloved by fans of BBC America’s ever-growing sci-fi lineup ever since presenting them with “Primeval,” which he created along with Tim Haines, but they’ll soon have a new reason to give him a hug when they seem him on the street. Americans may not be familiar with the 1970s British TV series known as “Survivors,” but, hey, that’s okay: it just means that they’ll be able to dig into Hodges’ new take on the series – which premieres this Saturday night on BBC America – without any preconceptions. Plus, as you’ll soon read in my chat with Mr. Hodges, which took place a few hours after the TCA panel for “Survivors,” he’s taken great pains to make sure even those who are familiar with the original series will, by the end of the first episode of this new version, realize that he’s got plenty of surprises in store for them, too. Oh, and listen up, “Primeval” fans: you’d well to read beyond the bits about “Survivors,” as we chatted about the status of the third series of “Primeval” as well as the oft-discussed feature film based on the show. There’s also some stuff about other items on Hodges’ C.V., and…well, you’d just better go ahead and read it for yourself, hadn’t you?

Adrian Hodges: Wow, look at your recorder. I used to do a bit of journalism when I first started out, but my tape recorder was… (Holds his hands several inches apart, then laughs) That’s technology for you!

Bullz-Eye: Hey, mine’s shrunk by two or three times in size just in the past few years! (Laughs) Well, first off, I just want to say that I’m a big “Primeval” fan.

AH: Thank you! Cool!

BE: I was not familiar with the original 1970s version of “Survivors,” but I take it that you were at least somewhat of a fan of it.

AH: Yeah, I was, in that kind of general way we are when we’re kids and we watch TV. I was maybe 15 or 16, something like that, and I remember very clearly the impact of the first episode. If I’m honest, I’m hazy about some of the other, later episodes, but I do remember the extraordinary shock of the imagery of a husband dying, of things that were stand-out images in my head, and you carry that through the years. It was something I remembered very well, so it was really kind of great to be asked to have another look at it, you know?

BE: So they pitched it to you, then?

AH: They did. What happened was that I’d done “Primeval,” as you know, and I was very actively looking for a genre show that I could do in a slightly…well, in Britain, it’s in a later timeslot. Something that was a bit more…I don’t want to say more adult, because I think that “Primeval” is adult, but not a family show in the same way. However you define “family.” (Laughs) So “Survivors” was perfect. BBC had had this great success with reviving “Doctor Who,” so they were looking at some of their old shows and saying, “Well, that one wouldn’t work, but maybe this one would.” And “Survivors” was one they thought might work again, so they basically came to me and said, “What do you think?” And I thought it was great, not so much because of the set-up, not just because of the post-apocalyptic thing, which is fascinating, but it’s kind of not the point. The point is what happens afterwards, and that’s the fun of it for me as a writer, ‘cause you don’t often get a chance to write about people in the most extreme situation. So that’s why I wanted to do it.

BE: What was the profile of the original show? Was it semi-high? I ask because I’m a kind of an Anglophile, so I was surprised that I hadn’t heard of it.

AH: I don’t think it was, really. In terms of being a success at the time, it was, but it wasn’t, like, a thing like with “Doctor Who,” where you carry that memory with you, and so that when it was revived, there was this huge desire to like it. It was one of those shows where…people didn’t want to not like “Doctor Who.” They wanted to like it. It was a nice thing to happen, and it doesn’t often happen. There aren’t many shows that people are so fond of that they can go with that attitude to them. Usually, as you know, when you remake or re-imagine a show, you get the opposite reaction, which is that people don’t really want you to do it, because they liked it the first time. And, now, there’s been such an acceleration of remaking of formats. It’s a very dangerous area. I thought “Survivors” was a good one because it was a success at the time, which proved that it was a strong idea, but it wasn’t so well known that it would be something that everybody would be saying, “Oh, but you didn’t do that scene, you didn’t do it like this, you didn’t do that.” The truth is, it was the best part of 40 years ago, and it’s not a classic. It’s a very good show. The first episode of the original is a model of brilliant series set-up writing, and, indeed, much of the rest of it. But it is fundamentally a show which was well-liked but probably not as well-remembered as some. Not everything can be a classic, you know. That’s the way it is. I couldn’t believe that “Edge of Darkness” was being remade. It’s amazing, after all these years, to suddenly see it. So stuff comes around.

BE: So did you revisit that first episode of “Survivors” before you made this new version, or did you just kind of go from memory and dive into the new version?

AH: I watched the whole of the first series before I started writing, and I don’t usually do that with things where there’s existing material. I mean, in a completely different genre, I’ve just done a new version of a film called “The Go Between.” I’ve adapted the L.P. Hartley novel, and I didn’t look at the film of that, because I deliberately didn’t want to be influenced by it. I’ve only looked at it relatively recently, and it’s interesting to see what they did and what I did, and that’s fine. But with “Survivors,” I thought that it was…well, because I was basing some of my material on that original material, it seemed respectful and sensible to look at the way they’d done it, and also to remind myself what they’d done well and maybe what they hadn’t done quite so well, just to see how it would go. I always knew I was going to move away from that version quite quickly, but I wanted to make sure that whatever was good…I mean, I’m not crazy: if it’s good, I’m going to do it again. (Laughs)

BE: How did you go about selecting your cast? Was it a case of finding folks you’d worked with in the past, or was it more of a standard audition process?

AH: There’s a little bit of that. I mean, because of the way television works, as you know, there’s a certain pressure to use a certain profile of actor in certain roles. We knew we needed a leading lady that meant something to the British audience, and that’s, in truth, not that big a pool of people. It’s tough to find exactly the right person, particularly a woman who’s grown up, a woman with children who’s believable as an ordinary woman. So Julie (Graham) was actually pretty straightforward, because she was one of only one or two who really fit the bill…and, luckily, she wanted to do it! So at that point, we closed that. That was done. The other guys…it’s an interest process. Paterson (Joseph), funnily enough, was a very early choice, and then we went ‘round the houses looking at other people and then came all the way back to Paterson. And that sometimes happens, ‘cause it’s a bit like when you get something right first time, and you think, “Have I really got it right?” And you go and try prove it sixteen other different ways, but you still come back to the right answer, so that was Paterson. The others…it’s just a question of trying to find the right faces for the roles, the right talent and the right look, and that’s hopefully what we did.

(SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t watched the first episode of “Survivors” yet, then you’ll want to head off for a bit and pop back ‘round after you’ve had a chance to see it.)

BE: Freema Agyeman, I would think, would be considered high profile, especially here, given her time on “Doctor Who.”

AH: Well, Freema was…you’ve seen the first episode?

BE: I have, yes.

AH: As you know, we do something with Freema where…I was very keen that we make it clear to people that nobody was safe, and that was the thinking behind that. The decision to actually approach Freema wasn’t mine. That was the BBC who thought that would be a cool thing to do. I wanted to do something both to the original fan base and to the people watching the show now, and…the character that Freema plays – Jenny – was one of the ones who did survive in the original. I wanted to make sure that people didn’t think they knew where it was all going. In the original, Jenny goes to see the doctor, and the next morning, the doctor’s dead and Jenny goes off to London. But in this, the doctor survives and Jenny dies. So, y’know, it’s kind of funny, that. (Smiles)

BE: Speaking of that aspect, where nobody is safe, one of the things I liked best about the first episode is that with Julie’s character, Abby, you constantly believe that her son could very well be dead. That made it extremely gripping.

AH: I hope so.

BE: Obviously, that’s a thread that continues throughout the series…

AH: And he may well be dead. We’ll just have to see! It’s very important that you believe it, I think. And I think the thing there that I find so moving is tha,t if you knew he was dead, you could either commit suicide or begin living again. If you don’t know, you’re in a state of suspended animation. You are forced to hope. As I say more than once in the show, and it’s a phrase that other people have used, it’s not despair that kills you, it’s hope.

BE: You mentioned during the panel that you have high hopes for a third series of “Survivors.” Do you have an end game in mind? Not necessarily how long you’d want it to run, but whenever it does end, do you know how you’d like it to end?

AH: Yes, pretty much, I do. I have a very clear idea of where I want the characters to be…if I keep the same group of characters. And some of that depends on actors wanting to do it. I really would like to get three years of the show, so if I could do that, I would think that it’s up to me to give a satisfying ending. If we then found that people wanted more, then we’d regenerate it and keep doing different things. There’s plenty of options. It’s just that I think, for this group of characters, three years would be about right. At that point, you’d probably begin to see where they were going. And you want to settle them. I don’t like stories where you’re left in mid-air at the end of a season.

BE: If you can answer this without giving anything away for people who haven’t seen the show yet, which character would you say will surprise viewers the most insofar as how they change from the beginning to the end?

AH: I think that’s an easy one, in some ways. I think that Tom Price, played by Max Beasley, is a constant source of surprise even to himself.

BE: Now, he’s also someone who was pretty high profile…at least from my point of view, anyway, as I was a big “Hotel Babylon” fan. He seems like a pretty decent “get.”

AH: He was great, and he was the only actor we approached for that role. I should’ve mentioned that at the beginning. He was literally the only one that we saw, and he liked it, so that was easy.

BE: He’s certainly a complex character, at least based on the first episode, where you’re thinking, “Surely he’s going to change, given the current circumstances.” But, uh, no. Not really. (Laughs)

AH: No, not really. (Laughs) And he’s…I was kind of anxious to avoid the word “redemption,” but…there is a journey to go on, but it’s a complicated one, and it’s certainly one towards levels of feeling that he didn’t know he had. But whether that makes him a good man, I kind of doubt.

BE: Did any of the characters develop as a result of the people you cast in the roles? In other words, were they originally going a different way, but you realized it was easier to play to the actor a bit more?

AH: Yeah, there is a process that goes on there. I think one of the things about writing a series that’s such a wonderful challenge all the time is that you keep on developing the series right up to the point where you shoot a scene. There was a quality, for example, about Philip Rhys as Aal that I found…there’s a kind of sweetness about him, a softness, a gentleness, that’s very appealing, and as soon as he was in that role, Aal’s character became clearer and clearer to me. I mean, I had a starting point for Aal, but writing is sometimes a bit of a mystery. You don’t always know why you go somewhere with a character. It just seems like a good idea. And I think that the interaction between Philip and Aal was just so interesting that…with another actor, it might’ve gone in a different way, but Philip’s a really masculine man who, at the same time, seems soft and gentle as well. He found something in himself that I really liked. So Aal’s journey towards a kind of uneasy but paternal relationship with Najid is very touching, I think. That could’ve gone in a different way, but as soon as I saw Phil, it began to make sense.

BE: Are there any other series that you’d consider tackling a reboot of?

AH: I’d consider it, but…is there any one thing in particular? No. That’s tricky. There are books that I’d like to do that I don’t think I’ll ever get the chance to do. There’s a book called “The Magus,” by John Fowles, which is a massive obsession of mine, but the rights are held by United Artists or something, and it’s impossible to get them. Um…are there any other series? Let me think about that. (Considers the question) In this genre, possibly not, because there aren’t that many that have the ability to be of their time and also timeless, which I think is the appeal of “Survivors.” “Blake’s 7” is the other one that people often talk about redoing, and I know that somebody’s trying to do that. That seems to me to be…in a way, other shows have come along and done the same thing and done it well, and in a way, what would you be adding if you went back to “Blake’s 7”? You have to see where the changes are that make it interesting. So off the top of my head, no. But that isn’t to say that I wouldn’t if the right thing came along.

BE: I’ve never actually seen it, but there’s a British series I’ve read about on Wikipedia that sounds like it’s ripe for revival. Have you ever heard of “Timeslip”?

AH: Hmmm. Okay, I’m trying to place that one…

BE: It was a kid’s show, I believe.

AH: It’s funny, somebody mentioned another show to me today, and I’m struggling to remember that one as well. When I was kid, time travel was absolutely my #1 fun thing, and I still love it. There’s no time travel in “Survivors,” obviously, but there’s lot of it in “Primeval”…and even more of it in the next series! (Laughs) It’s just something so endlessly appealing about the notion of time and history being rearranged, you know? It’s just very attractive.

BE: Speaking of “Primeval,” I wanted to ask you a few questions about that series as well.

AH: Sure!

BE: I was actually here when you guys kickstarted the series at the TCA tour.

AH: Two years ago, yeah.

BE: It’s a great concept and great use of special effects.

AH: Oh, thank you.

BE: Now if I remember correctly…and I may not…the person who helped to design the show’s creatures actually based them in some way on scientific fact or, at least, scientific speculation.

AH: Well, what happened was…Tim (Haines) is really a scientist, anyway. That’s his background. He comes from a science background and a journalism background. Before he was a drama guy, he was a documentary guy, so the expertise that he brings to the show, apart from his storytelling ability, is in that area. And because he did “Walking with Dinosaurs,” he really made himself an expert in the special effects area. I think Tim is probably ahead of anybody in England in terms of appreciation of what special effects and CGI can do. I mean, he knows about animatronics, too, but those are slightly out of fashion because of cost, and CGI is obviously in, and Tim is brilliant with CGI. I’ll be the first to admit that that’s his thing…and it’s not mine! (Laughs) So we…yeah, obviously, we kind of muck about with the creatures and things, but their starting premise is always more or less true.

BE: To talk again about the whole nobody-is-safe thing, man, Douglas Henshall’s departure from the series…? Talk about startling!

AH: Yeah, well, it was meant to be! (Laughs) One of the things that can happen with a show like “Primeval” is that, because you’re dancing with death every week and being saved by the skin of your teeth, the audience begins to get lazy about thinking that there’s no real danger, that it won’t actually be real. And it was particularly kind of shocking to me that he would die at the end of a gun, because…it’s not a dinosaur in the end, it’s his crazy ex-wife with a gun. And that worked. That was always the ending I imagined for him. I always knew that Helen would be the end of him. It was not intended to be so early in that season, however, but unfortunately that was how it worked out with Douglas, because he wanted to go on and do different things, so we brought it in early in the series.

BE: How thrilled was he about his demise?

AH: He was great about it. He wanted the character to die. He didn’t want to just step through the anomaly and maybe reappear one day. He wanted it, so he was fully behind it and was okay with that. When he told us that he was going to move on, it was a big shock, because I thought that he was going to do the whole series, and it was very late in the day and we’d done a lot of storylining at that point, so we had to really reconsider everything pretty sharpish. But he was cool, and I said, “Look, you know, I think Cutter’s going to have to die, because it’s better from a storytelling point of view. I’ve got to give him that, because I can use that legacy in the drama for the rest of the series.” And he was absolutely on the side of that. He was cool about it.

BE: So what’s the status of the series? Is there going to be another series? And is there going to be a movie? Because I know there’s been talk about it for awhile.

AH: I hope there’ll be both! There will be another series, yeah. There’s going to be 13 more episodes, which we start shooting in March, so I’m right in the middle of that when I get home. We’ll start…I imagine they’ll start transmitting in the UK early next year, so it’s probably right about the same in America. It’s a longer gap than I would’ve wanted, but unfortunately there was a problem with ITV, and it took us awhile to get it sorted out. The film, I’m afraid, is just endless. It’s… (Sighs) Man, you know, my whole life is ticking by during these negotiations! (Laughs) There is still every intention of doing it, but we are still not completely finished with the deal with Warner Brothers, and the guy who’s writing it…oh, now it’s gone out of my head for a second, but…oh, Akiva Goldsman! He’s absolutely cool, he wants to do it, he’s very, very keen. We talk to him on a fairly regular basis. But it has been a living nightmare trying to get a deal sorted out. But I think we’re nearly there.

BE: When you do that, is that going to be moving on from the series, or will it be a different tale altogether?

AH: Yeah, it will be a different tale, but that’s going to be an interesting question, because what we have to do with Akiva when the deal is finally signed is sort out the parameters of where he can go with it and where we can’t let him go because it would ruin the franchise. So, clearly, we don’t expect him to follow the storyline of the TV show particularly, but we do expect him to make it possible for us to come back to the TV show intact. He can’t do something with the big-screen version that would make ours completely wrong, you know? So we have a three-month option with him at the outset whereby he comes to us with his story ideas, and Tim and I have the right to say “no” if that doesn’t fit with what we want to do with the show. I mean, I hope we won’t have to say “no,” but Akiva understands that, and he’s known that from the beginning, so it would be pretty silly if he came and said, “Oh, we’re going to do it completely differently.”

BE: A minute ago, you talked about a book you’d like to adapt. You actually adapted “Metroland” a few years ago.

AH: I did, yeah!

BE: How did that come about? Was it something you’d wanted to do?

AH: No, that was a weird one. It’s a long time ago now, so I’ll have to stop and think about it… (Laughs) …but the guy who produced it, Andrew Bendel, absolutely was crazy about the book. I think he really identified with it – he was kind of from that part of London – and he just kept showing it to me and kept saying, “Look, we should do this.” And I hadn’t been writing very long at that point, and I wasn’t sure of it, because it was a pretty hard book to adapt. It was in three separate parts, and it’s very hard to make that work in a movie. But he kept on saying, “Come on, come on, come on, there’s something good in it, we can do it,” so in the end, I did. And I’m glad I did.

BE: What’s the project you’ve worked on that didn’t get the love you thought it deserved?

AH: (Laughs) From the critics? Or from the audience?

BE: All of the above. Whichever one you think just deserved more appreciation.

AH: Let me think about that for just a minute. I’ve been very lucky, to tell you the truth. Things find their own level. But let me think about my CV for just a minute. (Considers the question) I did a two-part thriller a couple of years…no, more than that, more like seven or eight years ago…called “Heaven on Earth,” which probably hasn’t been seen here, but it’s about a young couple who end up in a religious community because she came from one of those communities. It’s not exactly Amish, but that kind of community, of which there are more in England than people realize. That was sort of a thriller, because basically the guy’s crazy when he goes in, and he takes it over. It did okay, but it never quite clicked, you know? And I kind of wish something had clicked for that show. I don’t know why it didn’t. So that’s one that I kind of regret not doing better. In America…not in Britain, where it won the BAFTA…I did a show called “Charles II: The Power and the Passion,” which was called “The Last King” over here for reasons that I still don’t know. That didn’t really click over here particularly, and that is a real shame. The reason that A&E showed was much shorter than the one that I wrote and the one that was seen here. It was an hour shorter than the one that was shown in the UK, and that was a horrible thing to do to it. They wanted to show it as one three-hour show, and…that was the worst of both worlds, because it was too long at three hours for anyone in their right mind to watch in one go, but it was too short for the story to make any sense, because it had lost an hour! That was a source of great upset to me, and to this day, I won’t watch the three-hour version. It’s…it’s crazy. So in this country, that would be a source of real regret, because it’s a show I’m hugely proud of. It was Joe Wright’s first big television series, and he went on to do “Pride and Predjudice” afterwards. And it’s brilliantly directed. So I remain very passionate about “Charles II” and I kind of regret that no one in America has seen the proper version.

BE: You should check with Acorn Media. They’re putting out a lot of the BBC material that Warner Brothers isn’t putting out.

AH: Oh, really? I’d like to think that they’d do it. I think that A&E obviously still owns the DVD rights, but it would be nice to think that it could be seen properly.

BE: Last question, just to bring it back to “Survivors.” I don’t know how American television you watch, but is there a point of comparison at all to one of our programs? Because to me, it certainly reminded me of “Jericho.”

AH: Yes, I did watch “Jericho,” and to me, that’s a compliment, because I think “Jericho” is a very good show, particularly in its first season. I was aware of “Jericho,” as I say, but…it’s not so much a similarity to that show in particular, although the premise is obviously not all that different. But there’s been such a kind of confident upsurge in really good American sci-fi, fantasy, or whatever you want to call it shows in the last few years. It was more a general appreciation on my part of the incredible surge of creativity in that area in recent years. There is no point of comparison between “Survivors” and “Battlestar Galactica,” but I was very inspired by “Battlestar” because it showed what you can do when you look at an older series in a fresh way. Just like “Primeval” is in no way like “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” but was very inspired by it. So it’s that kind of thing. The great work that’s being done in America, the really good stuff, is very inspiring.

BE: Excellent. Well, I think that’ll do it, Adrian. Thank you very much for your time!

AH: It’s been a pleasure.

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