Less than a month after its most-famous creation Downton Abbey drew to a rather schmaltzy close on British TV screens, U.K.-based production house Carnival Films is ready to unleash an altogether different show.
First announced last March, Stan Lee’s Lucky Man is a 10-part drama about a down-on-his-luck London murder detective – played by James Nesbitt (The Missing, The Hobbit) – who finds himself the owner of a magical luck charm. The series, which launches Friday night on Sky 1, the flagship network of U.K. pay TV giant BSkyB, also marks legendary comic book writer Lee’s first foray into British television.
The Hollywood Reporter sat down with writer Neil Biswas – who has previously penned Tom Hardy-starring series The Take alongside directing several episodes of hit series Skins – to discuss taking an idea from Lee and developing it for British TV.
How did this project come about? How does one get to work on a idea dreamed up by Stan Lee?
I basically got an email from my agent saying that there was this Stan Lee project that Carnival had, an idea about luck, and would I be interested in reading it. Stan Lee was a massive hero of mine when I was growing up – I read a lot of comics and was very into the idea of working in that industry.
I read it ,and it was basically just a one pager, setting out the idea, setting out a very simple form of the idea of this character – Harry Clayton – a homicide detective in London. He’s a compulsive gambler who’s falling apart – his family have left him, he’s losing a lot of his personal life, his professional life is under threat as well. And he’s suddenly given a lucky charm one night and it changes his luck.
But yet at the same time, there’s a price to pay. The more he uses it, he starts to realize there is bad luck as well as good luck. And that all kind of came from Stan Lee.
In what form?
It was just a page. A page from Stan Lee.
How much interaction did you have along the way?
He’s been there at various stages. He’s been there to pretty much approve what I’ve been doing, to kind of read it and have tiny, small notes and adjustments. But he’s been very hands off, but also very enthusiastic about the way we’ve taken it.
His main thing was about keeping the darker elements, keeping the compulsion elements. It was called A Compulsion originally. So really it was about the gambling and about the addiction as much as the luck. The luck has to be counterbalanced by a guy who has an addiction to luck. There’s that really interesting putting together of thinking, ‘what is the worse thing you can give a gambler?’. And it probably is a lucky bracelet because it makes him think he’s god. You’re feeding him fire.
Was it always going to be a TV project?
Yeah. Stan Lee’s done a few others, but they’re kind of lo-fi ones in America. I don’t know if he’s as personally been involved in another though, because there have been offshoots using his characters, like Daredevil and Agents of Shield, which he’s been an exec on, but because these are his characters. He’s not made up something for a particular TV project before.
Did you spend any nights in casinos for research?
I actually went and played in a poker tournament. I’ve never done it before – never even been to a casino properly. Someone I knew was a proper gambler and doing poker tournaments. So I entered a satellite tournament, while he entered the main one. And it was interesting. I did alright! I got through to the last few tables. But it was very boring, yet there was some interesting mysterious elements.
How much did you lose?
You pay £100 to get in, so I made Carnival pay that.
Sounds like something very different for Carnival given how it made its name with Downton.
It’s a very interesting time at Carnival, because they’ve also got The Last Kingdom, which is really violent. I like it. The head of development on Lucky Man was doing that at the same time.
You’ve got James Nesbitt in the lead. He’s been known in the U.K. for well over a decade, but now seems to be developing an international name thanks to shows like recent Starz hit The Missing.
I think his star is really rising. He’s got a likeability and you can’t pay for that. You could have had a different version of Harry Clayton, but you couldn’t have guaranteed that the audience would have liked him. It’s an interesting balance. He’s not necessarily doing nice things. You can see that this is a man who is torn between his compulsion and wanting to be a good guy. And he really runs that line really close to the wire. He does dark stuff that I’ve not seen done in British cop dramas for a while.
Any sign of a U.S. release yet?
NBCUniversal [which owns Carnival] are going to take it out, and I think there’s been a lot of interest. But I think we’re just waiting to have four episodes completed before we find an American [network].