Mark Addy, Jack Donnelly and Robert Emms in ATLANTIS - Season 1 | ©2013 BBC America

Mark Addy, Jack Donnelly and Robert Emms in ATLANTIS - Season 1 | ©2013 BBC America

In the fantasy/adventure series ATLANTIS, now airing its first season on BBC America Saturday nights at 9 PM, Jason (Jack Donnelly), who will one day captain the Argonauts and wed Medea, washes up on the shores of the fabled city. There Jason teams up with a rather out-of-shape Hercules (Mark Addy), mathematician Pythagoras (Robert Emms) and a not-yet-snaky Medusa (Jemima Rooper) as he tries to puzzle out his destiny.

ATLANTIS executive producers/co-creators Johnny Capps and Howard Overman, who also created the BBC’s MERLIN, are present at a party thrown by BBC America for the Television Critics Association. There they talk about their take on Greek mythology and much more.

ASSIGNMENT X: Do you two write together as a team normally?

JOHNNY CAPPS: Well, we work slightly differently than that. We storyline together, myself, Howard and Julian Murphy – he’s the third partner in our company – and then Howard writes most of the script.

HOWARD OVERMAN: Yeah. So I’m a writer and executive producer and we all created the show together, and then Johnny and Julian are also executive producers, but I do the actual tippety-tappity-top.

AX: Are either of you directing producers?

CAPPS: We do a little bit of second unit. Julian does a lot of directing. But we mainly do a lot of the story-lining and the hands-on producing, the day to day running of the set.

AX: Have you always been interested in Greek mythology?

OVERMAN: I’ve always liked it. I remember watching the original JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS, with the skeletons and everything, when I was a kid. But I think just as a writer, you look around for what sort of stories interest you and we just gradually got more and more interested in Greek mythology and we just realized it would make a great basis for an action/adventure series.

CAPPS: Yeah. I’ve always loved Greek legends and myths. I mean, all the stories we ever do are based on the story concepts of Greek mythology. And me, Howard and Julian Murphy were always trying to find a way to make the Greek mythology work and coming up with the place name of Atlantis, and using that as a précis for the show felt right, and so we started working together.

AX: You all did MERLIN together as well?

CAPPS: Yes, we did.

OVERMAN: I was the writer on MERLIN, and these guys created it and produced it.

AX: Are there tonal differences between MERLIN AND ATLANTIS?

CAPPS: Yeah, there are tonal differences. I think that ATLANTIS is a dark show, but they’re both still very much aimed at a good, broad audience. Tonally, they’re sort of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, mini-action/adventure movies.

OVERMAN: Yeah. I think early MERLIN was a little bit lighter and softer, and then the series got darker as it went on, and probably tonally, ATLANTIS picks up in a similar sort of vein as maybe the last series of MERLIN.

AX: MERLIN is completed, correct?

OVERMAN: Yeah, that’s right. It’s over. It’s all gone.

AX: Did you grapple with how you were going to end that at all, or did you always know?

OVERMAN: We always knew that we were going to end with Arthur’s death. That was the point that we always worked towards. We debated a lot about whether or not about whether Merlin would reveal his magic to Arthur. We went through a phase where we were just thinking, “It would be great if the moment he tells him is the moment that Arthur dies.” So we were going to keep it right at that point. But then we kind of felt, no, it was like we were really cheating the audience and there was a wonderful story to tell of Arthur’s rejection and then acceptance of Merlin, and we wanted to do that, and we felt that would make a great final episode, a sort of two-hander.

AX: Is Jason in ATLANTIS comparable to any of the characters in MERLIN?

CAPPS: I think he’s comparable to any lead character in a high-concept show, where he’s struggling to step into the adult world, whilst at the same time having to deal with his destiny and his fate. He’s told in the first series – he sort of learns what his destiny is, and it’s about him trying to grow up and be a normal person, whilst at the same time wrestling with his destiny and his fate. So I think that’s very similar to Merlin in that respect.

AX: In Greek mythology, I’m not quite sure what happens to Jason after Medea kills their children and his second wife, but it doesn’t sound like he lives happily ever after.

OVERMAN: In Greek mythology, I think he sat down and leant against a palm tree, and a coconut or something fell on his head and killed him, is what happened. I’m not sure we’ll be going down that road.

CAPPS: [laughs] It’s not a great ending.

OVERMAN: [laughs] “He leans against the tree and dies.” It’s something random like that – he’s a broken man, if I remember rightly, and he leans against a tree and something falls on his head, a branch or a coconut. I’m pretty sure we won’t be using that.

CAPPS: You say that now …

OVERMAN: Well, if I’m stuck for ideas … [laughs]

CAPPS: In the final series … [laughs]

AX: If ATLANTIS goes long enough, will you be dealing with Medea?

CAPPS: Absolutely, yeah, we will. We always work towards various story sign posts, markers, and Medea will be absolutely something that we will explore, and we’ll give it our typical kind of reinvention and play around with it and have fun with it, definitely.

AX: Do you have any sense at this time how long Medusa will part of the team?

OVERMAN: Well, that will be giving it away, a little bit, but we’ve got long plans for her character and how we want to keep her in the life of the show, definitely.

AX: You have said elsewhere that ATLANTIS won’t show the Greek gods directly, but do you have monsters?

CAPPS: Yes, we have lots of monsters.

OVERMAN: Yeah. Rather than the gods themselves, we see the results of their actions and their curses, and you get some of the gods through their acts rather than actually seeing them physically.

CAPPS: We play around with it. In Episode One, we play around with the story of the Minotaur, so we meet the Minotaur. We have satyrs, and then all sorts of other interesting creatures and mythology come along later in the series.

AX: You’ve had some experience with CGI creatures earlier on MERLIN – obviously, you had the dragon –

CAPPS: Yeah.

AX: Does that experience give you the technical know-how to realize these things, or on ATLANTIS, have you thought, “Well, we’ve written this and now how do we film it?”

CAPPS: We always learn from our mistakes and our understanding of CGI is a lot greater than it used to be when we started on MERLIN. I mean, the big thing that we’ve done in the final year of MERLIN was, we brought all the CGI in-house. So we control that very carefully now. Whenever we’re story-lining, we’re always thinking about, “Can we really visualize this? Can we make that monster work? How well can we make that monster work?” To us, that’s a very important part of the story-lining process. If we think we can’t visually realize it well, then we won’t go there. But at the moment, nothing really visually scares us now, because we’ve had so much experience that we’re a lot more confident now of what we can achieve on television time and money than we were the first season of MERLIN.

AX: With Atlantis as a setting, are there any mermaids or sirens or sea monsters?

CAPPS: Well, Atlantis is very much in its heyday. It’s not a city that’s been consumed by water yet. I mean, we tip a wink to the fact that it’s a doomed city and that everybody worships Poseidon, the earth-shaker, and the image of the Bull is very important to us, and later on in the series, to answer your question, we play around with the song of the siren.

AX: With casting, how did you arrive at all the actors you’ve chosen?

OVERMAN: It varied from part to part. With Jason, we looked at a huge number of young actors before we settled on Jack.

CAPPS: And that was the hardest part to cast.

OVERMAN: Absolutely. With Hercules, we initially looked at a couple of people, but as soon as – I can’t remember who it was, I think Julian thought of Mark Addy, he was just Hercules and with Jemima, Johnny and Julian had worked with her on a couple of previous shows –

CAPPS: We worked with her on HEX

OVERMAN: And SUGAR RUSH and AS IF, and we just knew that she was right to play Medusa, so that was just a straight offer.

AX: Do you have anything else you’re working on right now?

CAPPS: Well, yeah, because we’ve just set up our own company, Urban Myth Films, we’re working on lots of projects. Howard’s working on a number of projects for us and we’re working with a lot of other writers and with our other writers from MERLIN as well, we’re working with them on different projects. So it’s a really exciting time for our company – it’s our first year, we’ve got this big commission and we’ve got a pretty healthy development slate. So hopefully we’ll get some more shows away. We hope we’ll be working creatively together for a long time.

Related: Exclusive interview with ATLANTIS star Jemima Rooper


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: Exclusive interview with ATLANTIS creators Johnny Capps and Howard Overman


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