Bedlam may not make its US television premiere until October 8, but star Theo James and creator and writer David Allison were on hand at San Diego Comic-Con to debut the pilot to an audience of hundreds.
This last Saturday, we took a break from the hustle and bustle of the event to talk with both men about the development, production, and genesis of BBC America’s newest supernatural series.
Allison, best known for the 2008 British miniseries Boy Meets Girl, expressed the joy of bringing the show to Comic-Con. “We just feel like we’re at home and the show is where it should be. It was great to do the screening yesterday. It’s the perfect venue, because it’s who we want to love the show.”
The show, co-produced by BBC America and Red Productions for US distribution, is set at an apartment complex called “Bedlam Heights,” a struggling new development previously occupying a mental asylum. Starring Theo James, Will Young, Charlotte Salt, and Ashley Madekwe, the series revolves around a small group of young roommates (“flat shares” if you want to be accurate) who get a little more than they bargain for from their flat’s previous residents.
The brain child of Allison, Neil Jones, and Chris Parker, the final pitch of Bedlam was the apparent collaborative product of one weekend, a hotel room, and plenty of “coffee and biscuits.”
“We just knocked around and came in with two ideas each and pitched them all to each other,” said Allison. “Neil Jones pitched Bedlam, and that was the idea that really stood out. When you have an idea like that, you always wonder why someone hasn’t had it before.”
According to Allison, collaborative writing is still a fairly new phenomenon in Britain, made popular with the critically acclaimed 2007 series, Life on Mars. Although Allison has known Jones and Parker for over ten years, he said “it was new for us, we learnt on the way.”
He added, “We all did serial stories together, the character bios, we read each other’s stuff, and it’s all got our names on it, because we all did it in drafts.
It’s our baby. It’s really fantastic; it feels like it doesn’t belong to one person, it belongs to all of us. We all feel very territorial and protective about it as well. It’s benefited so much from being three people’s baby, not one person.”
With so many main characters running all over the place, Allison and the team had to get their story arcs in place. On series one, “We were very clear: we had to have a ghost of the week. That would satisfy that kind of tuning in; you know you’re getting a ghost of the week. But for us, the serial story was as important.
Neil is a massive LOST fan. He’s obsessed with clues and all that kind of stuff. We wanted to put stuff in there that would stand up to repeated viewings. By no means have we resolved all the stories. There’s a big serial arc about why Jed’s (Theo James) come back, what he’s doing there, and what his connection to the family and to the building is.”
Though not officially renewed for a second series, Allison indicated that plenty of ideas are in the works if or when a new series materializes. “We’re just talking about series two ideas at the moment. We always plan to give ourselves lots of opportunities to continue to expand our serial stories.”
Newcomer Theo James, last seen in 2010’s Downton Abbey as Kemal Pamuk, plays Jed Harper, “a flawed hero” with the ability to see and talk to ghosts before they pass on to the other side. On the character, Allison stated “that we were really clear that he didn’t have a super power. He has to deal with each ghost, and he doesn’t know how. He’s not going to just come in, do his stuff, and you know every week that it’s just going to be a nice, simple solution.”
On the mood and texture of Bedlam, both he and Allison revealed that the series was based on a real asylum in Leeds called High Royds Hospital, which only closed its doors in 2003. The cast and crew visited the asylum just before filming, only to discover, ironically, that the asylum was being renovated to luxury flats.
“One of the buildings seems to be completely converted. It is properly Victorian gothic. You see it and you’re like, that is not a nice place to live,” Allison joked. “And then there’s another building yet converted, and they still have a mortuary slab in the basement. People are breaking in to get their photo taken on the slab. We phoned the security guard and he was like, ‘Yeah, I don’t like this place at night.’ And we were like, ‘This is our show!’”
Allison went on to say that several stories within the series were influenced or inspired by old patients’ archives. “We found real patients there, and it’s better than anything you could come up with in terms of the gruesome stories. People just locked up and possibly not even legitimately mentally ill.”
Like similar supernatural serials such as True Blood, Being Human, and Supernatural, each inspirations to the team of writers behind Bedlam, the series “doesn’t pussyfoot around.” According to Allison, “We didn’t want to be too polite and British about it. We wanted it to be very clear: pre-title sequence, high octane. When we first meet Jed, it’s like, whoa, bang, on the road, text message, go. We wanted to have that real thrill.
“We wanted it to look dark and creepy but sexy as well. [We wanted to] make it partly look, ‘Wow, this is kind of a place I’d like to live’ and partly, ‘No way would I want to live there.’”
James added, “I suppose you’ve got to see why these people would remain there for longer than a week, because if it was some shit flat with like feces on the floor or something, you wouldn’t hang around, would you? But it’s a lovely apartment, all decked out.”
Allison and James shared a few laughs over the lack of CGI contained within the series. Allison admitted right out of the gate, “It was not a big budget. I would guess we were at about a quarter of a budget as Supernatural. We had to work really hard to think about how we would do that.”
Capturing the ghosts, for example, was one of those challenges. “We were clear that the ghosts weren’t just going to be CGI, that they were a person and that you were acting with a person.” On the transient beings, themselves, “The ghosts were people, they’re not monsters. It’s a human story, [because] they’re angry and upset about what’s happened to them, and they want to kill you, but they were human beings.”
At the end of the day, both promised a series filled with frights and spooks as well as real “twentysomethings living their lives and doing the stuff that they do.” Allison continued, “If it was just constant ghost-ghost-ghost-ghost-ghost, it becomes less frightening, because you’re overloading.
We worked really hard with how many points of scariness are there within an episode and when do they take place and how quickly do they escalate. You need that flat share stuff to give it a bit of lightness and a bit of warmth as well. It’s really important.”
Be on the lookout for Bedlam, set to join BBC America’s “Supernatural Saturdays” line-up on Saturday, October 8 at 9 pm EST/PST.
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