8:15am PT by Josh Wigler
Apple's 'See': How Steven Knight Dreamed the Jason Momoa Drama Into Reality
[This story contains spoilers for the first episode of See on Apple TV+.]
Jason Momoa's Khal Drogo days are long behind him, but the actor has made a reputation for himself built on the back of his Game of Thrones barbarian. The latest hulking warrior in his creative arsenal: Baba Voss, a ferocious fighter who lives in a future world — but it's not quite the future that comes to mind when considering post-apocalyptic drama.
It's a future that came as quite a shock for the man who initially envisioned it: Steven Knight, the Peaky Blinders creator who now stands at the edge of See, one of the inaugural TV series offered up by the Apple TV+ streaming service. Written by Knight and directed by Francis Lawrence, See takes place several centuries in the future, after an enigmatic illness wipes out the vast majority of mankind and leaves the survivors blind. The result: a world where sight is forgotten, spoken of as a myth if it's spoken of at all — though whispers of its return are beginning to sound throughout the land, including in the fearsome Baba Voss' own backyard, as his new wife gives birth to a pair of twin siblings who possess the gift of sight thanks to their biological father, the mysterious Jerlamarel.
Where did the idea for See initially come from? How did Baba Voss' haunting war cry develop, or the idea for Kane (Sylvia Hoeks), the devout warrior queen who communes with god via orgasm, or any other number of world-building efforts? Ahead, Knight opens up on both those plot details and more about the development behind See.
Where did the idea for See come from?
God knows. (Laughs.) I have no idea where ideas come from! I live in England, but I was in Beverly Hills at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. I woke up one morning, I'm sure these things come from the same place where dreams come form. It's early in the morning, I have an idea for a big what if: how would people get along if they couldn't see? If they have this important sense taken away from them? I thought, how could it occur? Six hundred years into the future, how has it worked out for humanity? I began to follow that thought process. I felt the planet would be happy. The planet would be better off. It would be healed. Almost certainly, the human race would no longer be dominating the environment. There's one consequence. I kept thinking the consequences through, and started thinking about people, and then I started to write.
It happened that my favorite producer in the world, Jenno Topping, who I was working with on something else, was giving me a lift to Santa Monica two days later. We were in the car, I started telling her the story, and she started driving a little more slowly. By the time we reached the Fairmont Hotel, she was in. We sent the scripts out, and a lot of people were interested. I don't know why, but it just seemed natural that Apple would be the place to take it … because it was a groundbreaking [premise], and they're breaking new ground, so why not?
Who was the first character that came to mind?
Baba Voss. He was the dominant character from the beginning. I wanted him to be a big warrior who has children who are not his [biological] children, but he steps over that and it makes him bigger. He's the ultimate male warrior who does not have children, and yet he's still the ultimate male warrior. I wanted to examine that as a situation. The characters and the stories and the dialogue come from sitting down and doing it, though, rather than trying to plan it. The first two episodes just came out onto the screen, and then you read it back.
Is that how you developed Baba Voss' war cry, which he bellows in that first big war scene — was it a spontaneously realized choice, or was it based on something?
Yeah, New Zealand and South Pacific rugby teams begin their games against any opposition with a thing called a haka, which is a war dance. It's very stylized. It's amazing. It makes your hair stand up on the back of your neck. It's a challenge and a welcome at the same time. It says: "Come on. This is us. This is what we do." It involves a lot of physical gestures. For me, when I was watching [the first episode of See], that was the moment where I felt, "Alright, I'm in." My kids normally watch my stuff and say, "Ugh, that's boring." They're the ultimate litmus test for everything I do. They always watch prepared to be bored. (Laughs.) But I turned to them on three different occasions, watching with different members of the family, and they all said to me, "Wow, this is cool." And I felt, "That's it! I've done it! I've finally done something cool!"
I really do feel as if I was following the narrative as if it was coming from somewhere else. I reached a point where there's a community in an isolated place. How do you get a message out to [the world]? The idea of putting bottles in the water and hoping, waiting and being patient [for a reply], I just thought in this world — in our world — everyone is ultimately and totally impatient. You want everything immediately, because that's how you can get it. The technology we have now means I can speak with someone on the other side of the world right now. I'm speaking with you right now. Previously, it would have taken six months to get to you, and six months for your reply to get to me. This would be even more of a delayed and slow process. The span of your life is only a certain length of time. You would have to start doing things in chunks that are very different from the way we do things. We're doing things in 10-second chunks. This would be a world where people are doing things in 10-year chunks. I thought that was a really interesting reflection on what life was probably like a long time ago, and what life might be like if we're not careful a long time into the future.
How did you develop the idea for Queen Kane, specifically how the character communes with god through sexual pleasure?
As a student of mythology and human cultures through the past six thousand years, nothing is outlandish. Our own culture is outlandish in its own way, viewed from other points of view. Methods of prayer have changed over many hundreds and thousands of years. I just wondered if a particular sense was removed, the importance of other senses might increase. The sensuality of that society might be heightened. If that's the case, how would that reflect itself in one's belief system? Everyone wants an explanation of what the hell is going on. Maybe an explanation that would emerge is: "The things that make you feel good are good. That's what 'good' is, and therefore, that's what god is." It's certainly occurred in human history where people have felt that way, especially in ancient Greece and Rome as well. I felt that maybe that's how people would pray at that time.
From a writing standpoint, what kind of work was involved in consulting with people who are blind?
We did extensive work with a team of consultants where we spent a lot of time listening to people who were born with low vision or were born blind. We asked all of the questions that normally, if you're polite, you don't ask: "How do you dream? What does a dream feel like, if you're not given visual cues throughout the day?" Things that are not tangible, but also very practical questions. The first thing I learned was how incredibly capable people with low vision and people who are blind are in terms of how they thrive. Our chief consultant Joe Strechay, his best friend climbed Everest and the highest peaks of every continent on the planet, and did it unaided and blind. I don't know anyone else who has done that. There were many profound moments in the [consultation], but perhaps the most was speaking with a married couple, both of whom were born blind. They obviously had a very happy life and relationship. And I asked them — which you normally would not say in any circumstance — if you could take a pill and you would be able to see, would you take it? They both instantly said no. There's another way of addressing the world, which is without light. It's a perfectly valid way of addressing the world. I think humanity would be less able to dominate the environment, and that's another thing we're dealing with in the show.
See marks an important opening round in Apple's foray into television. As so many different streaming platforms are gearing up, what's your vision for the future of television storytelling?
There's no way for anyone to predict it. We're all novices. It's only just begun. We have no idea what's going to transpire and what's going to happen. I can only speak from my point of view and my experience in the world as a writer and creator. What was great about working with Apple was right from the time we started working with them — and it may change — was they left us alone. They gave creative people the space to do what they do. They trusted us. For me, it was most similar to working with the BBC. It was to the point where I wondered if they didn't have my number. Why weren't they calling me? (Laughs.) But they gave us space and freedom. What's been great about television is writers and creators have been allowed to take chances. They don't need to fill multiplexes on the first weekend. It's like with Peaky Blinders. People can find you. People can gradually move towards an idea and it can gradually gain its audience. I hope as long as the people paying the bills trust the creative people to do stuff that may not make an instant impact, but people will find it and get to appreciate it — and get to take risks with the concepts — then I think we're in a good place.
What's your own future with See, moving forward? Will you remain involved in season two?
Absolutely. Like many people, when you have the original idea, you create it and you hopefully hand it to brilliant people who take it forward. With season two, we're already working on it. I want it to be a story that's like anything else: when you view it in its entirety, it has a beginning, middle and an end that makes a point. You want it to be like a novel. At the end of it, you want to come away from it with a message or a point of view, so it feels like there was a reason to it. You don't want to just keep the audience going and keep this character going forever… you want to see it as a whole thing, where you know where it's going to end, and you know what the point you're trying to make is.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.