Neil Jones interview: Bedlam season 2, new cast, and new direction
Sarah chats to Bedlam writer and co-creator Neil Jones about season 2 of Sky's UK supernatural series, which is back on our screens this week...
Last year, an interesting new horror show crept onto UK screens. Starring Will Young, Theo James, Hugo Speer, and Charlotte Salt, Bedlam was a six-part series following the inhabitants of a new luxury block of flats which just happened to be an ex-mental hospital. Naturally, the ghosts of the former inhabitants weren’t too pleased about the development, and each week, a new phantom would return to wreak his or her revenge on the new tenants.
I have to admit, I fell in love with it a little bit. I don’t get Sky, but practically inhaled episodes on DVD – and joined the throngs of disappointed but intrigued fans when season 1 ended on one hell of a cliffhanger. It’s been nearly a year now, but season 2 is almost upon us, so I grabbed Bedlam creator Neil Jones to find out what’s in store in the new season, and to take him to task about that ending…
Hi Neil! How’s filming for season 2 coming?
It looks brilliant. The place we shoot in is really scary before we’ve even done anything to it – it’s some sort of old seminary, so they used to train monks there – and then it was a girls’ school, so it’s kinda got every haunted house cliché before we’ve even gone there. You walk around and there’s bizarre stuff everywhere; there’s old record players sitting in the centre of empty rooms and grass growing inside the rooms, so the place is fantastic before we’ve even started shooting.
Season 2 has a whole new cast – or almost a whole new cast?
It’s almost a new cast, but there are some surprise returning faces along the way, and Hugo Speer, who plays Warren in the last series, is back.
I read on Digital Spy that Charlotte Salt, who plays Kate, is back – is that right?
She miiiiiiiiiight be… I think of it like Lost, really. No-one ever has to be really gone from a show like this, so even when you think people are gone, they’re not necessarily gone forever.
So will season 2 continue the story from season 1?
Yeah, we were really keen to make sure that season 1’s story was properly continued. I think of it like a double A-side, really. This series very clearly answers the outstanding questions of series 1, starting with what exactly happened to Jed at the end of season 1.
Towards the end of the final episode of season 1, I was watching the runtime ticking away and thinking, “there’s only five minutes left, there’s no way this can wrap up…”
[laughs] When it went out, Twitter just went mad. I got bombarded with tweets as the show finished, it was a bit crazy. And then it just kinda calmed down, so I was like, ‘right, I think it’s stopped now’… and then an hour later it started again, because I’d forgotten about the plus one showing!
That craziness is entirely your fault for writing such an evil ending! Did you know at that point that you’d get a second season?
We were fairly confident, because Sky were really supportive of it, and Sky had actually encouraged us to think of it as a mid-season peak rather than a season finale.
Six episodes is nothing, really.
Yeah. So you will kind of see, when you go into this series, that there was method in the madness, and that those scenes were a big game-changer for the series.
It was frustrating, in a way, that there was so much monster-of-the-week stuff going on, right up until the penultimate episode. You kind of want to get on with the mythos…
It’s interesting, actually; when we first started talking about the show, we always saw it as a very American show in terms of structure, but at that time we were still thinking of American shows in terms of episode-of-the-week stories. That’s what we’d grown up with, and that’s what we wanted to do. Bedlam had been in development for a while, and over those five or six years, everything changed – American shows started to move increasingly towards telling stories in arcs, and showing how complex a story you can tell that way. So we’ve changed our take on how we want to make it like an American show, I suppose.
Let’s talk about the beginnings of Bedlam. How did the series come about? You created it with the other two writers…
Yeah, the other two writers are David Allison and Chris Parker. We’d worked together before, and we were friends, so we were really keen to do a show together, basically.
So we all got together and we all brought an idea along which we then pitched. My idea was Bedlam, and that was the one that kind of stuck. So then we all developed that together, and even though it was my idea originally, they brought loads and loads to it, and it kind of changed from that point on.
We really wanted to do a ghost series, and we were struggling to find a framework for telling all the ghost stories we wanted to tell. So we just started looking around – I lived in Liverpool, David lives in Leeds, Chris was living in London – and at that time it seemed like all the old buildings in the city were being turned into new apartment blocks. So we thought, ‘well, how many people know about the history of the place they’re actually living in, and what if you live somewhere something really horrible happened?’ That’s where it came from.
Because we’re old mates anyway, we all sort of trust each other on story and script decisions. It’s good because we all have input on each other’s scripts, we all plot it together, so we work pretty closely. It’s good to get out of being stuck with one voice in your head all the time. Even though we live in three different places, we’re together loads; we generally try to split [the writing] up as equitably as we can, and do two episodes each.
Where do you find the inspiration for the individual ghost stories?
I wish I knew! I suppose we were quite heavily influenced, when we started, by new Asian horror - thinking about the kind of medium that you use to express haunting, the way those films use technology. So we were quite interested in the idea of picking a very contemporary setting and then throwing all the old haunting devices at it.
But it’s interesting: the more we’ve gone on, the more we’ve realised there are only so many different tricks in ghost stories; it’s the characters that you put into those situations and the setting that you use for it that makes it different. Although the ghost story is still an important element, it’s the characters that sell that story, so it’s all about coming up with interesting characters. That’s the inspiration – thinking about an interesting character that we want to tell a story about and dropping them into some horrible situations.
And making them suffer!
The character stuff is really interesting because Kate, for instance, is horrible: every time you think she’s going to do something nice, she’ll say something horrible. She’s great, I love that about her. It’s interesting to have someone so central to the story that’s so horrible…
During series 1, we kept finding ourselves being tempted to warm her up a little bit and have her do something a bit redeeming and a bit nicer, but I’ve got to say, it was Nicola Shindler, the boss at Red [Production Company], who said, ‘no, keep her horrible!’ And she was absolutely right, so she kept us on track with Kate.
I think that’s what makes it work; the characters kind of draw you in. There’s Ryan, who’s lovely, and Molly, who everything bad happens to, and her best friend is Kate who is always horrible to her…
Kate needs Molly more than she could ever admit, and probably ever knows, but I think Molly knows that and that’s why she’s sticking around – because she knows Kate would absolutely fall apart without Molly by her side. I think you do get a sense, hopefully, of some kind of vulnerability at her heart, especially when you get to episode 6 and you see what her dad is really about and what her background is like. She’s just kind of a chip off the old block really…
We see at least three generations of Bettanys in the show and they’re all horrible!
Yeah, yeah. The idea is that the history of the Bettanys is the history of the building, and the stories we’re telling at the moment are about the last years of the Bettany hospital, in the 1980s, when it was closed down. But there’s a big, big background story; a kind of origin story about the true nature of the building that we’ve just scratched the surface of, so there’s a lot more history to go into.
I think it was mentioned at some point that the Bettanys have owned the building for 300 years?
Yeah, it was passed down through the family since the 16th century. So that’s the big reason why Warren was obsessed with buying the place back, because it was his generation that lost control of it, and it’s always been in the family. Now it’s back: it’s all about status, that’s what makes him a proper Bettany.
So how far back have you planned the Bettany family history?
It’s planned all the way back! [laughs] I have a document!
Even if we never see it in the show, I want to believe that you know everything about them.
That’s exactly what I wanted! I thought, I don’t care if nobody ever sees this, I know I’ve got the drawing in my room.
There’s a lot of stuff going on in the first season; I especially liked the chemistry with Jed and Ryan…
The defining scene for them is when they’re trying to dig up a grave, towards the end of the series. The idea of Will Young stuck in a grave, digging, was something we loved, along with the banter between them in that scene, so we’ve tried to continue that sort of dynamic this time. The emphasis is still on the scares, but we’ve tried to add some warmth to proceedings as well.
You’ve said the building is spooky, has anything spooky happened during filming?
Well, I always resist this kind of thing, but on Monday, everyone had a story! Everyone on the crew was like “Ooh, do you know what’s happened?” The best one was that someone found a Scrabble board upstairs – I can believe it, there’s so much abandoned stuff in this place – and every time you go in the room the letters have rearranged themselves. Although I suspect some crew member interference.
Maybe that can be a new way to get messages from beyond! Last season messages came from mobiles and emails, will that still be going on?
We’re trying with every story to think how we can express the haunting through something contemporary; a contemporary device that hasn’t been used before. Like, what is it about the places we live now that can be scary?
You’ve cast a few musicians in the show, including Will Young and Lee Mead – any chance of a musical episode?
[laughs] I would love that. Every show I ever do, I pitch that, and I’ve never been able to sell it yet. I’ll choose my moment, and we’ll see.
Finally, a while ago, you mentioned that you’d bought a load of horror movies from my list of 25 horror movies you haven’t seen… have you watched any of them yet?
Do you know what, I haven’t watched a single one! They’re all piled up on my ludicrous DVD pile. I knew you were going to ask me that, as well. My excuse is we’ve just been absolutely up to the eyes shooting this - and I also went off and shot a sitcom pilot which I was producing as well. I was on set every day, like 7 in the morning till 8 at night, so my screening time has declined.
So I haven’t, but I knew you were going to ask me that and I’ve got them all piled up ready. I’ll start working my way through those.
Neil Jones, thank you very much!
Bedlam season 2 is due to start on Sky Living on Wednesday the 6th of June.