The End Of The F***ing World was a slow burn hit. First airing on Channel 4 in October 2017, the eight part series got little to no traction at first until the whole season landed on Netflix in January 2018. Suddenly this offbeat indie romance found a whole new audience – and fans loved it.
Telling the story of James (Alex Lawther) who thinks he might be a psychopath, and Alyssa (Jessica Barden) the troubled new girl at school who James is planning to kill, TEOTFW was a weird, angry, and ultimately very touching romance in the model of Bonnie and Clyde with a very British bent and for a whole new generation.
Series one ended with one hell of a cliffhanger, which we won’t spoil above the squirrel but for that reason this interview, by necessity, contains spoilers for the first half of series two. If you’ve not caught up with series one, check it out on Netflix or All4 – it really is excellent.
And if you have seen series one but need a recap – here is one! Series two, once again written by Charlie Covell and this time directed by Lucy Forbes and Destiny Ekaragha, is airing nightly on Channel 4 now.
Spoilers to follow…
Right, you’re still here. So… Den Of Geek sat down to chat with Jessica Barden, and yes, Alex Lawther whose character James is not in fact dead, about sexiness, the pressures of growing up, and what we might expect from series two of The End Of The F***ing World…
Were you sceptical when you were approached with the idea of doing a season two?
Alex Lawther: I was really excited when Charlie said ‘I’ve got an idea’.
Jessica Barden: I was as well.
AL: I just wanted to know what the idea was and then I read the first couple of episodes and the synopsis for the beginning of the season and I knew that Jess was going to be involved and it was a no brainer really.
JB: Also responding to pressure is part of being an actor if you want to have a good career. It’s not real pressure as well. Living up to expectation is a huge part of having a successful career. So I don’t think either of us wanted it to get in the way of living in the moment and enjoying the experience. We were aware that there was an expectation around it but if you want to have a successful career, then that is something that you should always want to be present in your work.
AL: I had the impression that people really responded to the show and therefore I felt we can then go even further with season two.
JB: We could take more risks with it…
AL: Exactly yeah, you don’t get that opportunity much as an actor where you do something, hoping people are going to like it, and then it’s done. And either people like it or they don’t. And people responded to it and seemed to like it. And it was like all those times in season one where I wasn’t brave enough to go a bit further, I think I can now because we’ve got an audience behind us so that was really rewarding.
How do you think James and Alyssa have changed since the first season?
AL: So sad!
JB: I think that they’re still the people that an audience will remember from the first series but they’ve obviously grown up because the series is set two years after. They still have the problems that they had before it’s just – maybe there’s a voiceover laying on top of it – I honestly think they are in an extreme way, because let’s be real, no one else has murdered someone, hopefully, that’s going to watch this, they are still relatable in that they are now 19, 20 and your life does become more stressful because you do see them going through these added pressures of trying to be adults. They’re dealing with adult things, death and marriage are prominent things in an adult life.
AL: They’re getting to become the adults that their parents already are, and the fact that their parents are human beings and are not always going to be that useful in their lives, sometimes they’re going to have to be doing a bit of parenting themselves. And then they’re having to deal with the fallout of massive trauma. On one hand it’s interesting because I think they’d like to be the same people that they were in season one…
JB: I’d like to be the same person I was when we did series one!
AL: They’re not spring chickens anymore and i think that is a big part of the tension between Alyssa and James – how do they fit in each other’s lives now?
When it started off it was James’ story but now it’s Alyssa’s journey, did you enjoy the switch to that?
JB: I haven’t seen the second series, he has, so there are certain things that I won’t have picked up on. Also a lot of our filming was separate. There’s a lot of Bonnie stuff that I haven’t seen. So I wouldn’t really call it Alyssa’s story, it’s more that in the first series Alyssa was the one that was more emotionally present but now James is emotionally present so I think that’s why it comes across like that, so it’s really interesting to see a character like Alyssa that we all saw in the first series, not be able to cope with something like this – she seemed like a very resilient person but she’s actually not.
How did Charlie pitch the second series?
JB: I just read it. I would have done it anyway. I felt really lucky that we get to work with people that I trust so much, and they trust us.
Al: Charlie came up to us with finally a first episode and episode two.
JB: Actually I wasn’t going to do this I just realised! It wasn’t that I wasn’t going to do it but I did have a really long time, about a year before we came back and did it I started to feel insecure about it because I felt like I was so much older than the characters. And I think the only thing that Charlie told me in advance was that she was making them older to be able to deal with more adult things, because I was thinking I can’t really play a teenager any more. So she told me that side of it.
AL: Alyssa and James have grown up, the audience that watched them has grown up and we have grown up a bit as well, hopefully. They’re dealing with things as young adults now and that has a lot of humour in it but there’s a lot of darkness in that too. In the way that season one was maybe a bit more rock ‘n’ roll, then now having to actually deal with the consequences of something, which they’ve never been asked to before – deal with the consequences of Clive Koch and the consequences of running away and now being forced to face up.
JB: The consequences of marriage.
Was there anything you did before filming to get back into your James and Alyssa bond?
JB: I was in Ohio until the day before, I was genuinely in the middle of nowhere in Ohio.
AL: We were in the car together.
JB: I did nothing, I literally just came here! I’d been making a movie about scrap metal in Ohio and came back here to do this, I didn’t do anything. I went to the wedding dress fitting quite a long time before they started filming, I didn’t do anything i just read the lines. This is actually really easy to make because the scripts are really good and I trust Alex and I like working with him so, it’s easy to just be in the moment. It’s not a show that you really plan, or think about doing, because Charlie, her skill is writing 50 lines of dialogue in about five words. You can’t really think about it too much otherwise it wouldn’t really work.
AL: There’s a lot about rhythm with this show, if you get the rhythm right, and then once you’ve worked out what that rhythm should be or sound like, you’re kind of away. We really enjoy scenes in the car together where we spend most of the day shooting it. It’s quite obvious how our two ways of playing work together.
JB: I think we just remain in the moment with it. It’s quite easy for us to work together, we both know our characters well, there’s no point in over-thinking the show, it is what it is.
AL: I sometimes think of season one was like doing this really in-depth character biography, like we’ve done all this back story, that was season one and therefore season tw we’ve already got this foundation from which to play with, we don’t have to work out who these characters are, how they react in certain situations, we’ve done all of that work, so it feels like in season two we’re able to be playful and cheeky and enjoy the characters we had already got to know.
It’s going beyond the graphic novel, did that give you more creative freedom?
JB: A lot of the characters do exist in the graphic novel they just don’t go in the same story order, but a lot of them are there, there are just some slight differences with them. It’s still influenced by it to a point.
AL: In the comic book there is a character that stalks James and Alyssa – is she called Bonnie as well?
JB: No, I don’t think so
AL: I was really excited to see all the new stuff that Charlie brought in as well, like Bonnie, and Todd and your Aunt, they were all sort of surprises to this extension of the End Of The World world.
I like the Twin Peaks vibe, were there any other influences?
AL: Maybe a Fargo vibe…
JB: It’s the same influences as before. A lot of the visual stuff and the way that it’s shot and the music and the costumes, all the things that you see, and the tone, it was all the same references as before. I think it was really important that the show, so that we could challenge the audience more with the storylines the way that it looks, it was all the same influences as before.
AL: I think we had two directors who were leading season two, Lucy and Destiny who were very cine-literate and who had lots of their own references which were part of the same visual world as season one which they enjoyed bringing to season two.
Both the directors are female and Charlie is female as well, do you think that’s had an influence on the show?
JB: I don’t really think about it. All the directors I’ve worked with this year – I’ve worked with six directors this year and they’ve all been women. I didn’t do it on purpose and I don’t really think about it. I feel like we should be in a place now where we continue to talk about pushing more women into positions of being more proactive about – I don’t know how to explain this – there should be more opportunities for women but it should just be what you expect. And I think that’s the next place we should progress to where it’s like why wouldn’t it be like that? It’s not necessarily because someone is a man or a woman, it’s just the best person for the job. The people that work on this show, whether they are male or female, are the best people for the job. I don’t think it’s because they’re women, they’re just good at their jobs.
What were some of your filming locations?
JB: It wasn’t as weird as you think. This was in Wales, a lot of it was in Swansea, I feel like Port Talbot was the main place that we went to. Oh my god I’m obsessed with Port Talbot I honestly am. I am obsessed with it. I love it there. It has this environment that I’m in love with. It’s an iconic place, all the factories, this smoke, but then it’s really beautiful and all these really creative men come from there. In Wales or in Gloucester, we spent a lot of time in the car driving places in this one.
AL: We revisited one location in particular from season one that becomes quite key, so that was the only time we revisited something. Oh but actually the school, you went back to – your hair’s growing out and you’ve got that wig…
JB: We went to Swansea and you’ve got that graffiti of Catherine Zeta Jones and Richard Burton outside Swansea train station, it’s a true gem of the UK.
AL: It’s cool because you’ve got people asking you things like ‘where in America did you shoot this?’ or ‘where is this set’ – a lot of the locations were just sitting there in Wales or parts of Britain. That hotel in episode four, that was all there. The wonderful art department did an amazing job fitting it with furnishings etc but the cabin by the river just exists in Wales.
JB: Yeah, in Port Talbot!
AL: These things that you don’t think of when you think of visual stuff in Britain or landscapes in the UK, we have this amazing cinematic landscape.
Is the cafe really a cafe?
JB: No they built that.
AL: They made it just in the middle of the forest.
JB: It actually did feel like a real cafe as well.
Did you engage with any fan theories about what was going to happen after the end of the first series?
AL: People come up with really inventive theories as to what might happen next. We saw some of them yesterday, we did a bit of press and we got given some ideas of what fans thought. And all of the creative responses to the first season we both really enjoyed. Jess sometimes sends me memes.
JB: I send him a lot of pictures.
AL: All the funny things people put on instagram.
JB: I’ve remembered one fan theory in particular but I can’t say it because it’s majorly inappropriate. Some of the instagrams are proper funny, they just are. I really like the random ones but I like dark humour online anyway, like all the meme stuff is really funny to me.
AL: And that we’ve made something that inspires people to go on photoshop and create something or draw something or write something, that’s really lovely.
Some fans think that James is dead…
JB: He might be…
AL: Someone from Channel 4 – I watched season two last week – someone from Netflix had just posted that picture of Jess with the urn and they showed me a comment that someone had written underneath it saying ‘James looks so cute in this picture’ with a crop of the urn.
Do you think they’ll be surprised that you’re not dead?
AL: I hope they’ll be surprised. I remember watching episode two. I’ll ask you this: When you see the car that following Alyssa, do you think ‘oh that’s James?’
No I thought it was Bonnie…
AL: That’s so nice, just what we wanted. I don’t think we show the outside of the car that Bonnie drives in episode one and therefore we wanted to keep wrong-footing the audience until the last moment.
What was it like having Bonnie around, was it nice having a third actor? How many scenes did you have all together?
JB: We have a lot more in the last four than in the first ones, we only worked with her for three days in the first one And then in the last block we do a lot more with her. But we’ve decided not to spoil the surprise of what happens for any of you guys.
What do you think James and Alyssa’s advice would be for people who are having some bad luck in life?
AL: James has to learn to give Alyssa the space that she needs. Because he’s there like ‘I love you, I love you, I love you!’ and she’s like I’ve got so much on my mind right now! I think it takes him the whole of season two to chill out.
JB: Yeah that would be my advice, you just need to chill out. It’s not usually as bad as it seems, even if you’ve killed someone. Your life gets easier, it just does, it’s fine.
AL: Things do get better.
I like the slow build of their romance…
JB: Yeah it’s like life isn’t it, how slow does your romantic life go? Mine’s felt like it was dead for a while [laughs], glacial pace! I like that we deliver a romantic story line to a young audience isn’t fast and revolves around sex or being sexy or anything like that because there’s a lot of really great things that do that really well but I don’t know how much anxiety that’s going to build in young kids. I didn’t really feel sexy when I was younger, I don’t really feel sexy now, I’m never going to wear a pencil skirt and seduce a guy, I’m just not really going to do that. Like Derry Girls, I feel really happy to be a part of something like what Derry Girls does where this is actually what young people are like, where it’s dysfunctional and you feel awkward in relationships and you’re trying to find something that makes you feel comfortable. So I feel proud that we represent that side of a romantic life.
Is a series three off the table?
JB: We don’t even know how this one is going to do. I haven’t even seen it.
AL: We’re just going to see how season two goes.
JB: People might not even like it, it might not even be good. People might think this is awful and really shit!
The End Of The F***king World is airing Mon-Thu on Channel 4 at 10pm and is now available to stream on All4.