The Version Interview... Tom Cullen on Harlan Coben's The Five (Sky 1).
Harlan Coben’s The Five arrives on Sky 1 this April, and it’s an exciting addition to Sky’s ever-expanding list of exhilarating original dramas. As part of a commitment to offering brand new, quality UK drama all year round, Sky 1 has in the past few months already brought viewers the likes of You, Me and the Apocalypse, Fungus the Bogeyman and Stan Lee’s Lucky Man, and The Five adds a bold new dimension to Sky’s drama offering by inviting audiences into the alluring and unsettling world of bestselling thriller writer Harlan Coben.
Harlan’s novels have sold by the tens of millions and he has won countless literary awards on his way to garnering a reputation as one of the finest thriller writers in the world. Helping him bring his idea to the screen was screenwriter Danny Brocklehurst, who brought a wealth of experience from his BAFTA® and Royal Television Society Award-winning work on dramas such as Shameless, Ordinary Lies, Clocking Off, Accused and The Street.
Tom Cullen tells us more...
What was your reaction when you first read the script?
You know the way that Harlan writes those incredible hooks and twists and cliffhangers that just make you want to carry on reading? Well, that’s what the script was like. The first time I read it I was just completely addicted. When I first got the job, only three episodes had been written and it was so annoying because I just wanted to be able to read more. It’s a really nice marriage between Danny and Harlan.
So rather than a whodunnit, it’s more like a ‘what happened?’
Yeah, it’s a bit of everything. This is set 20 years after Jesse’s disappearance so it’s as much about the unravelling of grief and guilt as it is the immediacy of trying to find the answers to what’s happened. It’s also about how your history and your past completely construct who you are and how that’s so brittle and how it can really easily fall apart. And it’s also about redemption. It’s really cool. It’s different to anything I’ve ever read before.
And when you were reading the script could you guess where the story was going?
Absolutely not. I had no idea. As we went along we were all constantly theorising and trying to work out what the hell was going to happen.
And when you eventually discovered the ending?
I was wrong! The whole time I was completely wrong, which was great!
Was that satisfying?
So satisfying. I’m not going to tell you anything but the way the last episode is done is so brilliant and so unexpected. The structure and the style of it is going to be incredibly satisfying for viewers, I think, and very different. It’ll be a satisfying watch throughout all episodes, one to 10. You won’t feel cheated in any kind of way.
What does Mark think happened? Does he have any theories at the very outset?
Well, Jesse is presumed dead. He’s been missing for 20 years. But I think Mark had always hoped that he was still alive. So when his DNA turns up I think he latches on to that idea because he feels guilty for what happened. The day Jesse went missing Mark bullied him and sent him away. His life has been completely affected by this one moment when he was 12 years old. So he’s not going to let go of the chance of redemption and the hope that it has given him. He doesn’t really have any theories but that’s why it’s quite good because it’s one of those great stories where you jump into the rabbit hole and your whole world falls apart and you start questioning everybody around you: your best friends, your parents and yourself.
What sort of effect has it had on him as he’s got older?
hat was actually really interesting for me because not only did he lose his brother that day, he also lost his childhood and his parents. They’re not the same people. They’re perpetually mourning the loss of one of their children. As much as he wants to find his brother he also hates him because he’s ruined his life. If he hadn’t gone missing that day he would have had quite a normal life. I think it’s quite telling that the four main characters all live in the town they grew up in. None of them have spread out, they’re all still friends. They’re all bound by this event and I think that it’s massively affected him. He’s never had any relationships. He struggles to fall in love. He’s a very vulnerable man I think.
Is he fundamentally alone?
Completely alone. Harlan said something when we first started shooting, which is that my character is everyone’s best friend, he’s the glue, which is nice. But although that’s the case, he’s completely alone. He’s a very nice person on the surface but inside he’s very sad and wracked with pain. It sounds quite intense… It is intense, but what’s great about the series is that it’s also full of life, really effervescent and there’s lots of great humour and love in it. The fact that it’s set 20 years after Jesse disappeared means the characters start to question the relationships in their lives and start to see them again for the first time. They stop taking their lives for granted. It’s like every single aspect of their lives turns into technicolour. They all go on these huge journeys of self-discovery.
Was it a fun set to be on?
Definitely. I’ve always heard other actors say it’s when they’re doing the darkest stuff it’s the most fun on set and that’s certainly been the case here. We’ve had a really good time and we all get on with each other. And everyone is insanely good at acting. So we had a lot of fun working with each other and everyone’s very, very funny. We will be friends for life.
Did th show have the feel of a big premium drama when you were working on it?
I’ve done some big shows and this is definitely the biggest thing I’ve ever worked on. In terms of its ambition, Mark Tonderai, the director, has this unrelenting vision and he’s done all ten episodes. He’s done an unbelievable job because there’s such specificity to it, and it’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen on British television. We’re constantly filming with two cameras, but he has cranes and drones and gadgets that I’ve never even heard of or seen before! It’s given a scale to the piece which is just so exciting to be a part of. It feels big and when you watch it the script, which is already good, is elevated to new levels. It’s incredibly engaging and sophisticated and it’s just really cool.
The Five begins 9pm, Friday 15 April on Sky 1.