Critics loved Top of the Lake, Jane Campion’s dark crime drama, starring Mad Men‘s Elisabeth Moss as Robin Griffin, the police detective tasked with finding out why a pregnant 12-year tried to kill herself in a freezing lake in rural New Zealand.
The series, which aired on BBC Two in the U.K. and on Sundance TV stateside, won Moss a Golden Globe for best performance by an actress in a miniseries and picked up seven Emmy nominations, including one win for best cinematography for a miniseries for lenser Adam Arkapaw.
After a long break, Top of the Lake returns this year with Moss reprising her role as Robin and joined by Game of Thrones star Gwendoline Christie in a story set four years after the events of season one. Campion is again directing and co-writing the season, titled Top of the Lake: China Girl, with Gerard Lee.
Top of the Lake: China Girl will first premiere on BBC Two in the U.K. before airing on Sundance TV and Hulu in the U.S. later this year.
The Hollywood Reporter caught up with one of the show’s producers, Hakan Kousetta, COO of television at London-based See Saw Films, at the annual BBC Worldwide Showcase in Liverpool, to take about the show’s second season, the company’s TV business and broader industry trends.
You guys have disclosed very little about the second season of Top of the Lake. What can you say about it?
We don’t want to ruin it for the audience. It’s a [season] that you can watch without having seen [season] one. It will be better if you have, because certain parts of the story carry over. I think it’s a more accessible show [than season one], even though there is debate about that. But I just met with our French broadcasters and one of them said it’s so much darker than the first one, but another said oh no, it’s not. It’s still very much a Jane Campion piece of work, and you can tell that instantaneously. She has carried on the themes of motherhood, which was a big part of the first [season] and is explored in much more depth in the second one. It’s about what it means to be a mother in the 21st century in both the Western and non-Western sense.
It’s a traditional story, a murder investigation, and then there’s also a family drama, and then they come crashing together. It’s very complex and challenging and brilliantly rendered.
Why is the new season moving to Australia after the first season in New Zealand?
It’s Jane’s vision in every sense. And Australia is a really interesting juxtaposition between European settlers and Asia. You really get a sense of the clash of those cultures.
How important was it to have Hulu on board for the show?
There is no way to do a show of this scale without having co-commissioning broadcasters come on board right at the beginning. The BBC was our originating producer. When Jane said she was ready for a second [season], we spoke to some of our previous partners and new people to put together something that would facilitate a much bigger budget. We got six partners on this project. It was actually not problematic at all. A lot of things have changed in the co-production landscape. A lot of networks have now done it and have a better understanding. We made sure that difficult things were talked about first, and I made sure that everyone was buying into the concept of the process, which was allowing Jane to deliver the version of the show that she wanted. And that was easy, because it’s the second season of something they have already seen and because it’s so authored and original, so they know what they are buying and getting. And Jane is very responsive, even though she is very distinctive and knows what she wants, she is definitely prepared to take on board good suggestions.
Any plans for a third season of Top of the Lake?
No, it’s Jane’s decision as to if and when. I hope she does. I am happy to remind her as often as possible. It lends itself to that possibility, but we’ll have to see.
How key is the authored approach for See Saw’s TV and overall operation?
It’s definitely one of the big things we do and are known for. We work with big directors. It’s one of our big unique selling points. We are very good at facilitating that for the talent we work with and allow them to deliver their vision. For us it’s about quality. We won’t do things that are under par. We won’t compromise, and I think talent appreciates that. We call it “see-saw-ing it.”
On the film side, Lion, Mr Holmes, The King’s Speech and other films have gotten great traction for the company. What other TV series do you have in the works?
The market right now is so competitive. All the broadcasters have so many good shows to pick from. Getting something made is an achievement anyway right now. The next one we announced recently is The North Water, which Andrew Haigh is writing and will be directing. That’s an epic six one-hour period drama thriller. At the moment it is not [scheduled to be] returning [for more]. You should read the book [by Ian McGuire]. It’s amazing and will blow you away. It’s very gritty and visceral. The pitch never does it justice. It’s about a whaling ship in the 1850s occupied by these brutal, hard men that sail to the Arctic in a time when the whales are dwindling. One of the people on the ship is the ship’s doctor who is looking to run away from his part in a terrible event in India. What they don’t know is the ship’s captain is planning to sink the ship to claim the insurance, and he is plotting with one of his most senior crew members who is a complete psychopath murderous rapist. He is the most despicable character in literature I think I have ever come across. He is Hannibal Lecter times 10. Things go wrong on the ship, and the story suddenly becomes a survival story and then a chase story. It’s very similar visually to The Revenant. It’s very fast-paced, hectic, brutal, bloody, but it’s incredibly compelling. There are no laughs or tenderness in it, but you just want to know what happens and must finish it.
What can you say about the business end of that show?
It’s going to be a very big-budget show. Tens of millions of dollars. It’s period and massive and the Arctic. It’s will be really challenging. We are developing that with the BBC. We are trying to get talent attached in the next stage and then go out to broadcasters. I was actually dreading it. Where are we going to film it? It will be really brutal. About 65 percent of it is in snow and ice.
What’s your take on the peak TV debate? Is there too much TV?
I don’t think there’s too much. There are more and more outlets for television. There is going to be some consolidation in the market of some of the smaller channels, especially in the U.S. Esquire closed recently, and the owners I’m sure are looking at their bottom line. But it will just change. It won’t be worse or better, it will just be different, and we’ll have to be ready to adapt to that. And people want to watch good stuff, that’s the bottom line – whether via the internet, on their TV, via satellite, on their phone, whatever. As a content maker, we have the privilege of being agnostic about that and just work on making the best stories we can. If you look at the last 10 years, even 5 years. It’s been phenomenal. We’ve never had so much brilliant television and so much fantastic talent coming to TV and elevating it.