Taking influence from films such as Lethal Weapon and Bad Boys and adding a “Law and Order rhythm”, Top Boy star Ashley Walters and Kidulthood creator Noel Clarke say that they want new show Bulletproof to be the most commercial drama on British television.
Speaking to Deadline, the pair, old friends who have never properly appeared on screen together, they discuss how their new Sky One series came about and how they figured out the tone for a funny, and action packed, buddy cop drama.
Walters also tells Deadline about the return of gang drama Top Boy, thanks to hip hop artist Drake, while Clarke opens up about his new All3Media-backed production company.
Bulletproof, which airs on the British pay-TV broadcaster on May 15 at 9pm, stars Walters as Senior Officer Ronnie Pike and Clarke as Senior Officer Aaron Bishop.
Pike is the stable half of the duo. He’s a family man from a good background and, charming and widely admired, he’s set to follow in the footsteps of his successful father and climb the ranks of the police. But he is torn between his love for his wife and daughters and his addiction to his job, and the high-speed chases, undercover work and gun battles that come with it.
Bishop is a bit of a drifter. Abandoned as a child and brought up by mild- mannered foster parents, he is unpredictable, full of fire and, without a rudder to direct him, a walking timebomb. The one person he has faith in – the only one that has never let him down – is Pike.
“Ashley and I have known each other for a while and he came to me with an idea for us to work together. We came up with a treatment, which found its way to Vertigo Films and Sky loved the ambition, they wanted something original and vibrant and aspirational,” says Clarke.
Walters says it is an action crime show. “Much like Lethal Weapon or Bad Boys, the humor and funny moments come from the relationships between the characters,” he adds.
Clarke says he hadn’t seen characters like this on television before. “We want to create something from the UK that is an international, far reaching show. This is a show that wouldn’t work on any other channel in the UK because it would probably be deemed too commercial.”
Clarke is the creator of a raft of independently funded British films such as Kidulthood, Adulthood and Brotherhood, films that have over performed at the box office against their budgets. “With the stuff I do, people will always say ‘don’t worry his films don’t do well’ and they do big box office because they are a commercial films. Sometimes that’s frowned upon. The industry would rather four people saw [a movie] about a fish in the sink who stares at a goat for 90 minutes but that’s not what I’m about, I want people to see my work.”
The six-part series is largely written by Nick Love, the filmmaker behind features such as The Football Factory, and Bulletproof marks his first TV drama. “Sky was a fan of my movie The Sweeney so we talked about writing a new show. And I’d known Noel for quite a while and we’d talked about doing something together for a long time. So then it was basically about coming up with some material that didn’t feel like normal British cop shows,” he says.
Sky drama commissioner Cameron Roach says the company was “hungry for a different tone of show, one that isn’t seen on terrestrial television in the UK”. “It’s bang on brand for Sky One,” he adds.
The series also stars The Wire’s Clarke Peters as the police chief, Lindsey Coulson as lead officer and Lashana Lynch, who is set to star in Captain Marvel, as Pike’s wife Arjana. Roach says that while it’s Fast and the Furious for British audiences, performances from the latter two mean that it’s not too male-centric. “There’s some really strong female characters so it would be a shame for this to be dismissed as something that’s for boys and just for the Strike Back audience. It’s got quite a central morality that will appeal to a family audience,” he adds.
The ambition is for it to become a franchise. “Our goal was to make something that was good enough to be a returnable show, to make a new brand. We wouldn’t be arrogant enough to think we’ll get a season two but there is scope to investigate more and it’s something that can completely carry on,” says Clarke.
Sky Vision began selling the series at Mip TV and is hoping to close a raft of global deals including a U.S. sale. “We believe we’ve made a good enough product to make it an easy sell for Sky Vision. I feel a lot of people [from around the world] can buy into this,” adds Walters.
Next up for the actor is Netflix’s reboot of British gang drama Top Boy, which originally aired on Channel 4 before Drake became involved. “Top Boy was done five years ago. We started talking about scripts for season three but Channel 4 said they didn’t want to do it anymore. We backed off but we weren’t happy about it because it was such a good show and we felt like it needed an ending.
“Drake posted a pic of Top Boy on Instagram, he’d just watched it on Netflix and was obsessed and then I was bombarded by texts. A few of my friends knew him and his manager and the next day I got a call. I was driving along and I got a random call on my way to my mother in law’s for dinner and it was Drake. He wanted to help and he said he’d do anything to get Top Boy back on screens and then got a call from Netflix, who wanted to do the show. For UK culture, it’s a huge thing,” adds Walters.
Meanwhile, Clarke has launched Unstoppable Film and TV with backing from All3Media, which will produce scripted series for UK and U.S. broadcasters
He says, “I’ve had a production company since 2007 making films. Over the last couple of years I have amassed a very interesting TV slate. For some people, it’s the worst thing that could ever happen because I’ve now got backing and money and can do the things I’ve always wanted. Shaking things up in film is one thing but that was me doing it with backing but now people [in the TV business] should be worried because we’re going to be looking at women, people of color, people of lower classes that never had a voice before and we’re going to give them a voice.”
The company has also secured its first script commission and Clarke says that he has been approached by a lot of talent wanting to work with him. “We’re going to change things or we’re going to go down in flames trying.”