EXCLUSIVE: Forced to halt production after just three weeks of shooting in South Africa when the Covid pandemic struck back in March 2020, and picking up again in Romania seven months later, Around The World In 80 Days is due to have its world premiere at Canneseries on October 10.
Star David Tennant, who plays English gentleman-turned-adventurer Phileas Fogg, is expected on the Riviera to unveil the first two episodes of this mega-adaptation of the Jules Verne classic. An airdate has yet to be set, but is likely around the holidays via such outlets as France Télévisions, PBS/Masterpiece, the BBC, RAI and ZDF. Check out the first-look teaser above.
Joining Tennant in the eight-part adventure are French actor Ibrahim Koma (OSS 177) as Fogg’s irrepressible valet, Passepartout, and Leonie Benesch (The Crown) as determined journalist, Abigail ‘Fix’ Fortescue.
Life On Mars creator and 80 Days head writer, Ashley Pharoah says, “We wanted Fogg yes to be a preposterously upper middle class over-educated Englishman, but I wanted to give him a sort of childlike sense of wonder because he’s never traveled, he’s never left London or his club. As soon as I hit on that, I thought it’s a love letter to the world, if that isn’t a bit pretentious. He goes to Paris and India and Hong Kong and Yemen and he’s so excited to see a camel, the different colors and cultures. It felt like resetting our relationship with traveling and seeing the world like that.”
In terms of scoring Tennant for the lead, former Kudos boss Simon Crawford Collins, who runs Slim Film + Television, says, “We wanted somebody who could believably do the action adventure, could play the stiff-upper-lip Englishman, but at the same time you never fall out of love with him and you really want to get under the veneer of that and go, ‘Wow, this is actually a complex man.’ David manages that so brilliantly.”
Pharoah, who is also an executive producer, hints at more Fogg adventures to come. “We are in the early stages of wondering — if this goes well — if we could do it again. Taking those three characters and doing a different adventure with them.” Hopefully not under the same conditions, however, which Pharoah recalls as “a really hard shoot.”
It was also expensive, as pandemic-related issues added about £4M in costs, Crawford Collins tells Deadline. “The first lockdown was a killer, but once we got going again we felt very blessed.” Production in South Africa was originally stopped in March 2020 and picked up again in November in Romania. “In an ideal world we would have carried on filming in South Africa where our sets were, but South Africa was coming out slowly so we did the big shift to Romania,” adds the executive producer. This year, production was able to move back to South Africa and the result is “very vibrant and cinematic.”
Around The World In 80 Days counts co-production partners Masterpiece in the U.S., Peu Communications in South Africa, and Belgium’s Be-FILMS and RTBF. Daro Film associate produces. Seven West Media has also backed the production and will broadcast in Australia. The series has further been acquired by the BBC in the UK and RTS in Switzerland.
While there are myriad partners on the series, Crawford Collins says development and production were “very straightforward.” France Télévisions “came back saying, ‘We love this and really want to make it and we don’t want to be the secondary broadcaster.’ They wanted to be lead, so immediately put in a sizable amount of money. It was a wonderful building block and they then brought the Alliance partners on board.”
The entire process (apart from the shutdown), “was incredibly stress free… We never had any big disagreements… The specter of Europudding still sort of lives heavily in our minds and we all know those days. But I think the trouble with that is when you have a project originated just to secure financing then it really shows through. The difference is that we had a clear vision of what we wanted to say, but just knew we needed a lot of people to help fund it.”
Also starring as series regulars in 80 Days are Jason Watkins (Des) and Peter Sullivan (Poldark). Guest actors include Lindsay Duncan (A Discovery Of Witches), Dolly Wells (Dracula), Richard Wilson (Merlin), Faical Elkihel (The Spy), Anthony Flanagan (The Terror), Gary Beadle (Patrick Melrose) and Giovanni Scifoni (DOC – Nelle Tue Mani).
Around The World In 80 Days is adapted by a team of writers led by Pharoah and Caleb Ranson (Child Of Mine). Steve Barron (The Durrells) directs with Brian Kelly (Downton Abbey) and the late Charles Beeson (The Mentalist).
Federation Entertainment handles distribution rights. Exec producers are Crawford Collins for Slim, Lionel Uzan and Pascal Breton for Federation, Winnie Serite for Peu and Susanne Simpson for Masterpiece.
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