Jazz Tangcay Talks to Bodyguard creator Jed Mercurio on why now is the best time to writing for TV.
Showrunner Jed Mercurio is busy. His other show, Line of Duty is still airing on the BBC and remains one of the highest rated shows. Here in the US, everyone is eagerly anticipating the return of his other show, Bodyguard. Mercurio was inspired by politics to great the hit Netflix show, “It started with the precinct and doing something in the arena of politics. It hadn’t been done over here in the UK for quite a while.” He says.
Read our chat as we talk politics, tension and working with Richard Madden.
I read about you and your link to the British Medical Association, let’s talk about that briefly. Do they hate you as much as they hate me? They fired me. [laughs]
I think I’m one of those people who drifted away from medicine so I’m regarded with a mixture of resentment and envy. I have a lot of mates still in the medical profession and there are times when I regard their careers in the same way. I do feel quite envious of the fact that they stayed in and that they’re doing really great work.
My life took a bit of a detour, I was in a very conventional career and then I saw an advert requesting advice on the medical aspect of a new series in development and through a process that took place over six months, I ended up taking over the writing of the series and with the very first thing I wrote, I had hit series on the BBC and it was a very fortunate journey.
Here we are, years later. Line of Duty and Bodyguard. What I loved about it was seeing the fan theories after episode three, did you follow it?
It was so hard to avoid because it was so big over here and it was just ongoing in print, on TV and on social media. You can’t but be delighted at the surreal experience of people talking about your fictional characters as if they’re real people and being really hooked into what might have happened and whose involvement might have been in at the mid-point of the series.
It was great standing back and watching it all happening. Also, Keeley Hawksworth was similarly amazed by the response. We did tweet each other about things that happened and it ended up fueling the general discussion.
How did this idea manifest because at the time you were doing Line of Duty?
It started with the precinct and doing something in the arena of politics. It hadn’t been done over here in the UK for quite a while. In the US, you had House of Cards, so it felt a good area to carve out. Then it was about finding a way into the show to make it a thriller.
The policy in the UK is for politicians to be guarded by high ranking police officers and I thought that was a helpful asset to us in making it a version of a cop show. Telling it from the viewpoint of the specialist protection officer allowed us to bring in the hierarchy and police institution and take the audience by the hand and guide them through this world from the viewpoint of a job they understand.
There was also the construction of Richard Madden’s character. Rather than just making him a square-jawed hero protecting the politician, we injected the possibility that he might be the assassin and that he might be involved in the conspiracy to do her harm. By imbuing that character with those two possibilities, it added the whole level of tension and jeopardy to the plot that wouldn’t have been there otherwise.
There’s so much anxiety for the viewer, where do those ideas come from?
I wanted to build the big turning point of plots around the major action sequences. There was an ambition that the first three episodes would have very tense sequences where our protagonists were in real peril. Our expert advisors were political and police ones, so they helped to create an authentic texture to the world of the series so that it felt that these events could be happening in the real world.
You didn’t shoot in Waterloo station for the opening even though it was set to take place there. What happened?
That was a huge challenge for us because we put an enormous amount of planning into shooting there and the script was all signed off to achieve that and then at the 11th hour we couldn’t do it there. So, we had to reconceive the whole opening sequence.
We couldn’t find an alternative straight away. So, we ended up shooting that at the end of the series. I ended up rewriting it to move the action on a moving train.
Talk about working with Richard because as a viewer, we’re going through it all with him.
He showed enormous physical and mental stamina to get through that. We were shooting for a number of days in quite difficult conditions. Some days it was really cold. He had a lot to do to carry those things. He was great and just delivered a fantastic performance for every challenge that came his way.
Have you started season two or are you on Line of Duty?
We’re still talking about that as Line of Duty is still on the air here.
Did anything serve as an inspiration for you?
There’s so much great TV out there. I think it’s such a great time to be a creator of TV programming. It’s not so much that there are places to take the work. What’s inspiring is the technology for people to watch when they want. They can go back to previous episodes and previous seasons. It allows the writer to develop great complexity and longer arcs. That’s something I find personally really inspiring to my work.
Stream Bodyguard on Netflix.