Mix a hard-nosed businessman, left-wing activist, and cocaine-fueled social media star and you don’t exactly have a surefire recipe for friendship.
But Stephen Merchant’s latest TV series, The Outlaws, isn’t quite what it seems. It features a group of disparate characters put together to complete community service.
They include an American thief, played by none other than Christopher Walken, and a genius lawyer played by Merchant himself, so there seems to be little that leads them to bond, other than a few bitter comic pranks at each other’s expense.
What seems to begin as a lighthearted comedy, topped off with Merchant’s signature observer wit, soon begins to turn into a haunting suspenseful tale as the group inadvertently find themselves embroiled in a gang war.
Merchant says the idea for the BBC One drama, based in his hometown of Bristol, came from the experiences of his parents, who both worked with people the courts had ordered to do community service.
“My mom was there … building or painting a play area, she talked about the kind of people coming and it was interesting because they were such an unlikely group of people.
“There was an old man who kept coming back, month after month, and he was always stealing things like cabbages from the gardens and over time she realized he was alone and he liked the social aspect of community service, which I thought. it was so sweet and weird.
“And an American businessman who was caught driving while intoxicated, and these guys who are on the wrong side of the tracks. So there was always this idea of an unlikely group of people getting together.”
But while Merchant’s latest series features a lot of hilarious lines, it also has a sinister side, influenced by Merchant’s “go to” television genre.
“I’ve always liked thrillers, and I like them when there’s humor but there’s still some thrill or drama or darkness,” he explains.
“I like that mix of the two and I think the best episodes of The Sopranos do it and Succession does it brilliantly too.
“After the last couple of years we’ve all been struggling to constantly watch very dark things, so I admire [those shows] but … I want it to be a bit light and still have some important points. “
A meeting of minds occurred when Merchant, who also co-created The Office, Extras and Lip Sync Battle, was introduced to US writer and producer Elgin James, a former gangster.
“Now he runs a show called Mayans MC. Elgin was in a gang as a young man and had been in prison. But his show is a lot of fun and we created The Outlaws together. The clash of these two worlds was interesting – it comes from this life. hard in Boston and changed his life and I spent very little time in jail!
“He talked about things we both find very funny, like the fact that he’s a great book reader. Growing up he didn’t want the other gang members to know because he thought they would see a weakness, so he secretly hid them when the gang returned.” .
Not content with teaming up with one of America’s top TV creators, Merchant then decided to sign Hollywood star Walken.
The veteran actor plays Frank in The Outlaws, a thief who deals with his family, especially his adult daughter, to build a bridge.
So how did Merchant get the Deer Hunter and Pulp Fiction actor to make his British TV series debut?
“It’s very difficult to get in touch with him because he has no email or cell phone, he just has an old landline phone. We got him the script, and then I got this call asking if I could come and see Christopher in Connecticut where he lives, so I flew to see it.
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“Someone told me in advance – which was great advice – that Chris is very comfortable with silence, and true enough, he’s about 70, has nothing to prove and is just a very caring person – he would do a question about a character, you gave him an answer and he thought about it.
“And I used to sit there too … and think about it. So the meeting as a result lasted four hours!
“In the end, he seemed to get along well with each other, he liked the idea and he liked the character and I had sold Bristol. It’s a great city and lots of great restaurants and culture and of course he came and then he didn’t. we could see none of this because we had to film during the block. “
Despite this, Walken describes Bristol as “fantastic”.
“There is a strong counterculture here. The first time I was here there were riots, a lot of noise outside. The second time there was also a lot of noise outside, but I think it was because of the football,” he says.
Frank’s fractured relationship with his loved ones is a common theme, with most characters suffering from loneliness even – or especially – within their own families.
Merchant also wanted to challenge the divisive discourse around former US President Donald Trump and Brexit that has created tension in families and groups of friends and has sometimes contributed to such isolation.
“It was the idea that them [the characters] they are all kinds. It was when Trump was in power and Brexit was happening, and it seemed like on both sides of the Atlantic we were becoming very compartmentalized and everyone was in their bubbles reading social media that reinforced their views. “
An unlikely connection is established between John (Darren Boyd), an anti-wake-up, non-PC middle-class businessman, and Myrna (Clare Perkins), a leftist activist. There is also a burgeoning romance between straight student and shoplifter Rani (Rhianne Barreto) and security guard Christian (Gamba Cole), who is trying to extricate himself and his younger sister from the gang on his estate.
“It felt like everyone was homogenizing into types in the press and in general, so it’s interesting to take those stereotypes, and then remove them and see what makes them work and also force the other characters to interact with them,” Merchant says.
“The idea was to suggest that we ultimately have a lot in common and that there is something good about talking to people you disagree with.”
Merchant himself plays Greg, a lawyer who finds himself with a motley crew who is cleaning up an old community center after having an awkward encounter with a prostitute. It also forms an unexpected connection with social media star Gabby (Eleanor Tomlinson of Poldark).
“It sounded funny – they’re kind of a useful resource because I’m already here [in Bristol] Anyway.”
Was he tempted to give himself the best lines?
“I think I’ve been very generous actually! I’ve given a lot of fun things to other people. I’m pretty happy to be the straight man in the scene.
“I probably could have given myself a more challenging role, but let’s be honest, if you need a clumsy, nerdy guy, then I might as well play him.”
The Outlaws starts Monday 25th October on BBC One at 9pm BST.
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This Article is Sourced from BBC News. You can check the original article here: Source