The actor, who also starred in Showtime’s Penny Dreadful, told Deadline that he was late to the small-screen game but is now a full convert to a world that allows for complex characters.
Hartnett plays a man who moves back to Mississippi with his Palo Alto psychiatrist partner, played by Jane The Virgin’s Bridget Regan in the ten-part drama for Spectrum Originals and Paramount Network.
“I came a bit late to the game in television. The golden age of television had started a while ago and I was reluctant because I didn’t understand the virtue of an open ended story in the way that I do now. It’s a very organic experience, it’s as if a roadblock has been placed and has to be overcome. It becomes a much more rewarding and all-encompassing experience. I have bought in to TV now,” he said.
The show, which was formerly known as Heaven of Hell, is a mystery drama set in the south that follows Hartnett and Regan’s characters as they move from California to a small town in Mississippi where they uncover a mystery that needs solving, in a slightly unusual fashion.
The series was created by Going To See The Elephant author Rodes Fishburne, who previously wrote on Don Johnson and Chace Crawford drama Blood & Oil.
He told Deadline, “The origin story is that I’m a southerner and I’ve always wanted to tell a story in the south. I wanted to show it from the eyes of a newcomer; the south can sometimes be a caricature, where some of the old tropes are rolled out over and over and I think it’s more interesting than that. Then I decided to tell that story was to do it with a character that the south is sort of resistant to, which is a psychiatrist. She’s a strong female character and we can’t have enough of them.”
The series, which is produced by Paramount Television and Anonymous Content, is exec produced by Fishburne, who co-showruns with Arika Lisanne Mittman, who has worked on Dexter, Timeless and Elementary.
“I came in to this project because I like shows that entertain but are about something. We are in the middle of a deep cultural divide in this country and I felt like this show has veered into it rather than away from it. I love the female protagonist who leads with her brain rather than her sexuality and curiosity and follows her instinct, sometimes to her detriment,” added Lisanne Mittman.
The pilot was directed by John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side) and it was filmed in Baton Rouge, where Hartnett jokes that its 95 degrees at midnight, a far cry from his adopted home of the UK.
“It’s rare for me to find a script that is so intact with so many layers and so much mystery without trying to make itself seem mysterious. This concept of mystery and religion versus rationally minded scientific thinking, there’s a tiny little point where it comes together and all of the character have their own voices. It wasn’t necessarily the main plot mystery that drew me in rather than the mystery of the characters. You read a lot of scripts with cliffhangers. All of the characters were well drawn and they all have their own mystery to them in a way that they were interacting. Each scene was a piece of a puzzle so it felt like a much grander world,” added Hartnett.
The cast also includes Nick Nolte, Barbara Hershey (Once Upon a Time), Gail Bean (Snowfall), Danielle Deadwyler (Gifted) and Shane McRae (Sneaky Pete). Fishburne said, “Everyone always says this and it doesn’t sound authentic but we had a great chemistry in our cast; Josh became friends with everyone on the cast, Nick Nolte was a special quality on set with Barbara, not only their tone, but the way that they interact with everyone, it made for a very collegial experience.”
Paradise Lost comes out of the content partnerships between Spectrum parent Charter Communications and Paramount Network and Paramount Television parent Viacom. It will air first on Spectrum before airing on the Paramount Network.
Fishburne said it was “part of this new reality to find strategic partners” and was pleased to be part of the “freshman class” of dramas that includes Paramount’s Kevin Costner drama Yellowstone and Spectrum’ Gabrielle Union and Jessica Alba series LA’s Finest.
Paramount Pictures Worldwide Television Licensing and Distribution is now looking to close a raft of international sales deal for the series at Mipcom and both Hartnett and Fishburne believe that the story is universal enough to appeal to a global audience.
“You have to be specific in your storytelling to reach universal engagement. It obviously translates to a broader audience, it’s about families and secrets,” said Fishburne.
Hartnett added, “A story well told is universal by nature of being well told. I’m going to evoke something that is very grandiose; if you were going to sell a story about a Danish prince who can’t find his way and wants to commit suicide and we’re stuck in a castle, you’d think that was sort of niche but everybody knows and loves Hamlet. [Paradise Lost] is very relatable and will cross boundaries.”