Warning: contains some plot details for In The Flesh series two.
A local Salford scout hut doubles as Roarton village hall. Inside, zombie extras shuffle and chat and prod at their iPhones in between takes. It’s musty and creaky and the clock’s wrong, and everyone’s hushed as filming continues in one corner, so the overall effect is very much ‘Walmington-on-Sea church hall meets the waiting room of a very negligent doctor’. In between takes the odd firework can be heard popping in the distance. Who knows what time of year it is in Roarton but in the real world it’s Bonfire Night and the locals have started about eight hours early.
On a noticeboard outside, faded ‘Have You Seen?’ posters showing people who’ve been missing since ‘The Rising’ slap against one another in the wind. Nearby, we talk to Emily Bevan, better known as capricious zombie hipster Amy Dyer, and Emmett Scanlan, who plays newcomer Simon, a life-impaired acolyte of the Undead Prophet and a character sure to make a big impact on the show. Both are in full zombie get-up, contact lenses and all, meaning they earn their scout badges for freaking out interviewers…
On their characters at the beginning of Series two…
Emmett: Simon’s one of the twelve disciples of the Undead Prophet, and he’s a firm believer in their ethos and their theory. Simon’s first life, when he was alive, there wasn’t much meaning. He couldnt find any purpose. Life for him was completely and utterly meaningless, and it’s only in his risen state that he’s found meaning. The director himself has come up with this great statement ‘The dead are more alive than the living’, and you do feel that. And to have direction in this life and to have purpose is what the Undead Prophet has given him. He’s given him value to his life the second time around.
Simon in his first life… there’s a beautiful monologue Dom wrote where Simon says he felt like life was meaningless, we’re all just treading water until we die. He was very much a dark, charismatic guy. He did a lot of drugs and he died of an overdose from heroin. There’s track marks up and down his arms. There’s a beautiful scene where he sees Kieren’s scars and tries to relate to him and says it’s okay, everybody has their scars, we all do, how do we get past that now? We’ve been given a second chance. Let’s capitalise on that.
He was one of the rabids – one of the first few rabids – that was captured and experimented on, and there’s scars that pepper his back all over. There’s extraordinary make-up. There’s a piece that I wear on my back that’s just amazing. Stapled skin together…you can see his spine… He was experimented on in his rabid state and then they used the drugs, and that’s where he I think met the Undead Prophet, during his rehabilitation and that’s where he found his purpose, that’s where he got his life.
So he’s got track marks for the first one and he’s even got scars for his second life. He carries them everywhere, and I think that’ll have reprecussions with how he sees things and deals with things and how he interacts with people.
Emily: Throughout the whole of the first series [Amy] was looking for something, some companionship, some meaning in her life, looking for some kind of family, and she’s found that at the commune and is very much under the influence of Simon. She’s found this group where she can be herself. She’s found a place that’s really nice for her in this Undead Liberation Army.
We’re all about who we are, and ‘why should we cover up for anyone?’. We shouldn’t have to apologise; we’re out and we’re proud! We don’t want to feel embarrassed about who we are and we go au natural and we won’t have it any other way.
On the difference between Series one and two…
Emily: I suppose if you were to sum it up, the first season is all about ‘otherness’, feeling ‘other’, being frightened of ‘other’, and what happens when you don’t accept who you are and when you don’t accept other people for who they are. I think this second series is more about belief. Belief in yourself, belief in other people, belief in mythology, and what that makes you do under the name of belief and how you judge other people. But otherness is a theme that will go with In The Flesh all the way through.
On being in the show and working with writer Dom Mitchell…
Emmett: I’ve said it before; I’d never heard of In The Flesh until I was asked to come and read for Simon, and then I downloaded it on iTunes and I saw the first season and I thought it was extraordinary. Absolutely extraordinary. Perfect in every way. [Dom Mitchell] has pumped life into an otherwise tired genre. As an actor you want to be part of a zombie movie like Dawn Of The Dead, or a zombie TV series like The Walking Dead, but no actor wants to be a zombie, cos it’s not something that pushes you, artistically speaking. And then you look at the vampire genre where every actor wants to be a vampire, and the reason why is because vampires have personality.
What Dom does is, he gives that personality back to the zombie, and for the first time ever it’s cool to be a zombie. That’s what it was. It’s a beautiful and unique spin on a well-used genre. Something so new and unique; that’s something you want to be a part of. I fell in love with it; I fell in love with the production, I fell in love with Dom’s writing. Dom’s writing is exceptionl. He writes characters. He doesn’t write them as good guys or bad guys, they’re multi-layered.
We all have masks that we wear. I’m not the same to you as I would be with my mam or on a night out with my mates, and that’s what he’s great at doing. He’s great at building masks and giving thick layers to characters. You become 3D and you relate to it. I know as an audience member, when I was watching the first season, you empathised with everybody. At some point you don’t even know what side you’re on – is there even a side? It’s a complicated thing, and when you see scenes Dom writes, there’s about twenty different ways of playing it. You’re spoilt for choice. I’m very excited to be a part of it; the cast is extraordinary, and Dom is brilliant.
I signed up for this without knowing anything about Simon. That’s how much I love the scripts. So it’s always a surprise. Every time I come in I go ‘I signed up to what?! I’m going to do what?!’
Emily: He’s very brave, Dom, and he picks out things we don’t notice. He picks out the little interesting nobbly things about people, and he puts them all in his scripts, and that jumps out at you. It’s a really amazing gift that he has.
Emmett: He writes scenes that are really slices of life. That don’t necessarily push the story forward but are two people talking about something. Little pieces of personality, little pieces of life.
Where Amy is now at the start of Series two…
Emily: She left under a grey cloud, but finding her place among the other PDS sufferers has given her her zing back – [plucks at her satsuma coloured coat] her orange zing! This series is more about belief; what you believe in and how that can motivate you, how that can give you a sense of belonging.
On getting used to the ‘zombie’ contact lenses…
Emily: They don’t hurt anymore, they’re not painful, but it does feel like you’re under a kind of gauze all the time. They do make me feel ‘other’, which is very handy.
Emmett: They tie the look together, don’t they? You’re in make-up and you’re in your costume, and they put in the contacts and ‘Bam!’ you’re there. And it’s intimidating to look at!
Emily: It’s the simple pleasures, during the day, like getting an eye drop!
On the Undead Prophet’s importance in Series two…
Emily: We’re looking for answers, Amy certainly; ‘why are we here?’. And that’s continued on. It’s very important. It’s a big part of the series. There’s two sides emerging: you’ve got Maxine and her political party (Victus), and she’s very anti-PDS, and then on the other side you’ve got this radical, well, not radical, but undead party who are pro-undead. That tension takes us throught he whole series. The Undead Prophet is still mysterious, but we have one of his disciples (Simon) and Amy’s path is very much about fulfilling what he wants.
On Amy’s idiosyncratic dress-sense…
Emily: Eve, the costume designer, and I get on really well, and he’s got such an incredible vision for Amy. He likes the idea that everything Amy wears is kind of her nan’s, because she was living with her nan and brought up by her nan, so she’s got a whole load of clothes her nan probably wore, but she’s wearing them in her own hipster way, sometimes less successfully! But we have a lot of fun. It means a lot to me. It’s important to feel different.
Emmett: You couldn’t imagine Amy not in those clothes now. And Eve said, ‘You’re doing your job as a costume designer, when you don’t even notice it. The costume should just blend in’. And then when you look at it you can’t imagine those characters in anything else, and that’s what’s great about Eve and the costume department.
Emily: The costumes are so cool. And also I like the fact she’s like ‘What you lookin’ at?’, and she’s wanting to make a statement. She’s artistic and she’s wanting to express herself through her clothes.
Emmett: Subtle as a sledgehammer! And I’m wearing Kurt Cobain’s clothes!
Emily Bevan and Emmett Scanlan, thank you very much!
In The Flesh series 2 starts on Sunday the 4th of May at 10pm on BBC Three.
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