Neil Cross, creator of Idris Elba’s BBC1 police drama Luther, is heading back to the small screen with Hard Sun, a six-part “pre-apocalyptic” crime drama that stars Agyness Deyn as Detective Inspector Elaine Renko and Jim Sturgess Detective Chief Inspector Charlie Hicks.
After striking an exclusive overall deal with FremantleMedia, which owns Hard Sun producer Euston Films, Cross sat down with Deadline to discuss his latest television series as well as his feature film work, which includes a reboot of John Carpenter’s Kurt Russell-fronted Escape From New York, a sequel to Spanish horror movie Mama and supernatural thriller Inside.
DEADLINE: How did Hard Sun come about?
NEIL CROSS: We set out to make a show that’s not really like any other show and I think we’ve succeeded. We had a blast making it. We filmed from January to end of May. Of course, making TV is always difficult but there’s no reason on God’s Earth why doing what we do shouldn’t be fun. In some ways it’s been a relatively simple process in that I wrote all the episodes but, and I’m trying to find a non-clichéd way of saying creative relationship, there isn’t one. It’s been very relaxed and fruitful.
DEADLINE: Is that why you struck an overall deal with FremantleMedia?
CROSS: I have to say, there’s no way to say this without dipping briefly into industry speak, but it’s been a pleasure from beginning to end. FremantleMedia has been extraordinarily supportive. It’s been unusual [making Hard Sun] and FremantleMedia trusted me to go ahead and make this strange thing. It’s also an extension of my relationship with [Euston Films’] Kate Harwood but I’ve also got a relationship with Dante Di Loreto, [President of Scripted Entertainment at FremantleMedia North America]. Dante is someone that I like and trust and admire immensely. We worked on the US version of Luther. We are simpatico.
DEADLINE: Have you already started working on new projects with them?
CROSS: There are so many possibilities and areas we can go in. We’re already talking about various projects. I’ve always got stuff in mind and ideas that are exciting me. I’ve always got stories I want to tell without sounding trite.
DEADLINE: Luther is returning for fifth series – where are you at with it?
CROSS: I delivered the final episode of Luther series five about an hour before leaving for the airport [to head to London for the Hard Sun premiere]. We’re in prep right now and we’re doing a bit of casting and we start shooting in January. For some reason, I always seem to shoot in the depths of winter.
DEADLINE: Are you still toying with the idea of producing a feature film version of Luther?
CROSS: Absolutely. The fact is that Idris and I are bound in this shared relationship with this character and every TV [season] we think it’s going to be the end, not least because Idris is a very busy and has a successful career but we always miss him when it’s over and then I start coming up with ideas and we always come back for more. For no other reason than we love doing it. Hopefully in some incarnation, the character will continue.
DEADLINE: How would the feature version differ from the TV series?
CROSS: I don’t know. It’s always going to be slightly different because of how long you have to tell a story. Ultimately, whatever Luther story you tell, in whatever medium, has to focus on that character so in some ways it will be exactly the same because it will be about him.
DEADLINE: Have you finished writing the reboot of Escape From New York? How’s it going?
CROSS: Robert Rodriguez is attached to direct and it’s looking good and exciting. It was quite a challenging script, it’s a challenging thing to reinvent. One of the most terrifying sentences I’ve ever heard in my life is ‘we’ve given the script to John Carpenter’. I crawled around for three days thinking ‘oh my god’ but we got John Carpenter’s seal of approval. He approved it and that’s all I need. You never quite know [if it’s done] but I might need to do some rewrites and do some nip and tuck but in the first approximation, my job is done.
DEADLINE: What can you say about Inside, the Picture Company’s pitch for Fox?
CROSS: It’s a big dumb monster movie. Hopefully a super cool big dumb monster movie.
DEADLINE: Do you approach film projects any differently to your TV work?
CROSS: I don’t really approach them that differently, you’re always working in different time parameters. There’s certain practical restrictions in writing a feature or a TV episode so other than the big restrictions, I don’t treat them that differently. Everything I do is essentially character based. Film can absolutely do character as well. I think the greatest character in the history of cinema is Indiana Jones, we knew who he was in the first ten minutes of that movie.
DEADLINE: In 2015, you said you were working on a remake of Sapphire & Steel. Where did that get to?
CROSS: I was really excited about Sapphire & Steel. I wrote a pilot that I was very proud of and excited by but it just never happened, it was one of those things, maybe if we had pitched it three or six months later, things would have been different but the brutal truth of Sapphire & Steel is that it was reinventing a show not enough people knew about. The audience for the original show was devoted but was very small and it was never repeated or on VHS so it unfortunately didn’t have the fan base for us to do the show.
DEADLINE: You also worked with Darren Aronofsky on Riverview for HBO.
CROSS: I really enjoyed working with Darren and that was a script that I really enjoyed and was really proud of but as is often the case in America, usually in America, it just didn’t happen. I can’t really even articulate why because it was a great project.
DEADLINE: Are you still working on a sequel to Mama?
CROSS: God knows what’s happening with that, I really loved [writing] the sequel to Mama so I hope that happens.
DEADLINE: How do you juggle so many projects at once?
CROSS: It is a combination of living far away in New Zealand and I have no social life. I just write all day, I’m at my desk by 9am and write until 7pm and I type with two fingers, I’m just obsessive about getting it right. i get weird withdrawal symptoms if I stop, if I go on vacation, the first two or three days are lovely and then by day four i’m writing excessively long emails because I miss writing. I enjoy the process of wiring, it’s all I ever wanted to do. I’m acutely and crushingly aware of how privileged I am to be able to do it and when I think about the tens of thousands of people that would kill to be in my position, that puts the difficult days in perspective. I would be doing it even if i didn’t get paid to do it, I’d be one of those people who would have manuscripts piled up on their desks. I’m just intensely lucky.