The Second Coming
If television in 2002 was symbolized by the great comedy renaissance and the overkill of TV reality shows, then by the very cyclical nature of the business, 2003 will see a return to engaging and exciting drama. The Second Coming by Queer As Folk and Bob & Rose scriptwriter Russell T Davies looks set to be the program which has the nation talking. Starring Chistopher Eccleston, as Steven Baxter, who is found wondering the Yorkshire Moors mumbling that he is the Son of God, it then follows his journey to produce a Third Testament in five days time.
We caught up with Russell T Davies to talk us through his idea which has been 8 years in the making, seen Channel 4 and the BBC run scared before ITV put it as the focus of their schedules, and has already seen the media focus on the extremely frivolous fact that the lead character happens to be a Manchester City Fan. Designer Magazine went on a journey to find the truth and here we deliver the gospel of Russell T Davies.
Q: I originally remember you were talking about this idea you had for The Second Coming production the last time we met (which as I recall must have been way back in Winter 1999 during the filming of the QAF 2 Special). If you could just start by talking us through from the conception of the idea until the present day?
A: This one has been on the go for ages because it was green lipped by Channel 4, which means they actually give you the money and say off you go, and then a new Dead Of Drama came in who hated it. She was very very honest and just didn't like it at all. So we had to stop really because we could have insisted and carried on making it, but there is no point when the Head Of Drama doesn't like it very much.
So it was dead in the water really and then we took it to the BBC, who said no in 2 days flat, and thank god for ITV. Everyone was saying to us that it wasn't the sort of thing ITV would like, but Nicola Shindler (Red Productions Producer) said nonsense and persisted and they loved it straight away. People are surprised it's on ITV, but then again ITV actually made Bob & Rose and in the 90s when ITV was making Prime Suspect and Cracker, the BBC was making Silent "F**king" Witness - the most boring show on earth!!!
Q: What was the actual idea of the Second Coming born out of?
A: Well, it's the greatest story ever told...it's simply that. It's an idea i've had for about 8 years and it touches on stuff which is so relevant now. The weird thing was writing the 57th draft of this when September 11th happened, because I started out writing it thinking is religion irrelevant these days and suddenly we find ourselves in the middle of a holy war. I remember sitting there thinking "Bloody hell - it's right at the front of the agenda again...even though the Holy War might in fact be to do with oil and land and Imperialism and stuff like that".
And it's not just the religious aspect of it that's relevant. To sound serious for a while it's the state of society today and where were heading and what were doing and what it's all about. The questions you ask yourself all the time - so this is one way of exploring it. I think the greatest danger about this project is that people will say that sounds boring and not bother to watch it. Like do bother watching Songs Of Praise or documentary's about bloody Moses - no you don't!!! But this is epic, it's like a huge big cinema piece with chases and devils and miracles and explosions.
Q: What's your own religious background and how did this influence the writing of the script?
A: Atheist, completely and proud of it, which is not to say this is one huge great big attack of the church. I think bits of it started out to be, but after a while you start to realize how easy that is, like when you're in the Sixth Form and you take a shot at religion. It's very very easy and I thought it was much more interesting to take it seriously because not just how the rest of us would react, but how Christians would react, if they woke up tomorrow morning and discovered it was all real. It's a mind f**k in other words!!!
Q: With a production as big as this the casting was essential for the lead roles and I think more so than any other programme you've worked on. Would you agree?
A: To be honest one of the most essential bits of casting we did was Bob & Rose. With a love story you've got to get the two exactly right and the cast used to comment on the fact that they were in the middle of such a big story that the cast are sometimes slaves of the story. What I mean by this is that for example if Rose was in a bad mood it would affect the whole episodes, whereas in the Second Coming if Lesley Sharps character is in a bad mood it's like tough shit, get out of the way we haven't got time for that love.
In some ways casting Christopher Eccleston was an obvious bit of casting, but we were lucky to get him because he's off doing Hollywood movies and he very much picks and chooses his own projects - so thank god he likes this. During the time it was commissioned and then not commissioned he waited and set aside time in his diary, which was very much appreciated, when you can certainly earn a lot more money by running off to Hollywood.
Q: The main productions you are know for such as Queer as Folk and Bob & Rose have all been made up in Manchester with Red Productions. From the very first gem of this idea did you feel it had to be in Manchester as well?
A: Yes, it never occurred to me to do anything differently. What's interesting about this is it's a very different Manchester to the one that Red normally shows, we do make things look glossy and gorgeous at times, but the important thing about this was that because the idea was so incredible it couldn't look like a fantasy at all. We removed all that surface gloss and made it a bit more gritty...it's much more a plain grey world that something like Prime Suspect would happen in because you to make it look real in order for the fantastic to happen in a very real world.
Q: Throughout the whole process of writing and re-drafting to actually making the programme you must have known that there would be reaction from the religious groups?
A: You can't always tell and because it's early days we haven't had much of a reaction yet. And if there's one thing I've learnt you can't never really predict a reaction. I mean it was announced to the press for the first time last week and what did they go on about? The fact that he was a City Fan. It's was like the last thing I saw coming when you consider that there's much bigger issues to discuss.
I know some Christians who have watched this and some Catholics who have watched it and when I was expecting them to explode and punch me in the face or something they reacted beautifully to it. They found it very spiritual and affirming in a way. But I think there will be a little religious complaining probably by people who haven't seen it and undoubtedly it will all happen before it goes out - I just hope they have the nerve to sit and watch it in a way.
Q: As some who has made some of the most interesting and exciting shows of the past few year, what do you think of the way television has been heading with the endless stream of reality TV Shows?
A: The interesting thing is how viewing figures for drama are down full stop and how reality television is much more dramatic than drama is. I think that's a very serious problem in drama at the moment because there's no drama that can be as exciting as the Pop Idol final. And I mean that. I'm not being superficial about it. That's genuinely exciting television where you're on the edge of your seat and you've no idea what's going to happen next. Drama just doesn't deliver that so I think all of us in drama should look to our laurels and something should be done soon.
The audience decides what they want to watch and if 10 million people choose to go and watch Pop Idol, and I'm one of those 10 million, then that's brilliant and you shouldn't sit there saying these programs are terrible. You've got to look at it and think that's what people want and they want it for all sorts of good reasons. It's fantastic entertainment, but it's so easy to be cynical about that stuff and much harder work to say "actually it's good and deserves an audience and what does that say about the rest us" so that's what I'm much more interested in doing.
No one ever sat there and said lets make reality television big. It's just became big because there was one and people watched it and an audience came to it that everybody had forgotten about. So all you can do is watch the ups and the downs and try and think of something new.
Q: Obviously The Second Coming is wrapped up and finished in terms of production even tough it doesn't air until February. What are you working on currently?
A: It's Casanova for ITV and that's me wanting to kick period drama up the arse because I find that so boring. How bored was I watching Daniel Daronda and Dr Zhivago...like how boring? I'm just trying to write Casanova in a way that I would tell any story, which is not pausing for people to admire the frocks and the wigs and great long speeches about gentlemanly behaviour because emotionally people felt then exactly as they do now. So it's to get rid of that slowness to be honest and to really put some energy into it. It's quite different, but at the same time it's about men and sex and men and love so when you're writing they actually don't feel that different.
The Second Coming airs on ITV on February 2nd / 3rd
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