PRODUCER-STAR BRYAN CRANSTON CHATS TO TF ON THE SET OF ELECTRIC DREAMS, AN ANTHOLOGY SERIES BASED ON 10 SHORT STORIES FROM BLADE RUNNER CREATOR PHILIP K. DICK…
More Dick! On set with Bryan Cranston for a Black Mirror-esque TV show.
hey used to make razors in the Gillette Building in south-west London, but now it’s a production studio. “And today,” says Bryan Cranston, his voice rolling slowly over gravel, “they make those razors somewhere else. Robots make razors now.” It’s a sign, says Cranston, of just how prescient Philip K. Dick was. And why, instead of making razors, Cranston is now using this place to make something else: the future – or, rather, a vision of it; a vision from long ago: of a bright silver and red rocket, at least 20ft tall, about to blast off to the dying planet of Rexor IV.
Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams is Bryan Cranston’s passion project: an anthology series, produced for Amazon and Channel 4, consisting of 10 episodes, each adapted from Dick’s lesser-known short stories. “Blade Runner, Minority Report, Total Recall…[Dick’s] big-screen history is well-established,” he says. “This is just a different slant: as opposed to creating one two-hour story, we want to do it in an hour, with a whole bunch of different ideas.”
Cranston, an executive producer, has been instrumental in getting the show made — pitching the concept alongside writers Michael Dinner and Ronald D. Moore. But he also gives some of the credit to Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror, which Electric Dreams is essentially replacing after Channel 4 lost the show to Netflix. “I look at Black Mirror as maybe a big brother,” says Cranston. “It’s a terrific show that demonstrated there is an audience for this kind of storytelling. I guess you could say we’d like to compete with it. But in essence it’s maybe more working in conjunction with it. There’s plenty of room for different tastes.”
Cranston’s involvement is also part of the reason why Electric Dreams has been able to assemble such an impressive cast: ‘Crazy Diamond’, based on Dick’s ‘Sales Pitch’, stars Steve Buscemi and Julia Davies in a story about a robot salesman; ‘The Commuter’, which unravels the mystery of a vanishing stranger, adapts the sametitled tale and is led by Timothy Spall; while Anna Paquin and Terrence Howard will feature in ‘Real Life’, based on Exhibit Piece, a detective thriller set in a world where people can share minds. Also impressive are the series’ writers, which include Star Wars: Episode IX’s Jack Thorne, Life On Mars’ Matthew Graham and the aforementioned Moore, best known for Star Trek: The Next Generation
and Battlestar Galactica. “The [Philip K. Dick] estate offered us just over half of the 125 short stories available,” explains Cranston. “We gave them to the writers slowly — three at a time — and waited to see what resonated.”
Today, Total Film is on the set of ‘Human Is’, adapted from the 1955 short story of the same name. It stars The Babadook’s Essie Davis as Vera, a woman who’s stuck in a marriage to the cold and emotionally abusive Silas (Cranston). But that changes suddenly when Silas returns from a space mission to Rexor IV a seemingly different man. He’s the ideal husband. In fact, you could almost say he’s like Walter White in reverse.
“How long did it take to bring up a Walter White reference? I certainly don’t look at it in that regard,” chuckles Cranston. “He’s a character who’s lost his desire for love and companionship and then comes back from a harrowing experience and has regained it. Or has he? Can a person really change that much?”
Like Black Mirror, each episode has its own distinct identity. Some, such as ‘The Commuter’, are set on an Earth that looks familiar to ours, while others – such as ‘Human Is’ – take place in a future as imagined by a ’50s sci-fi magazine cover. Hence the retro rocket mentioned earlier, and the strange, Total Recall-esque home of Silas and Vera: a dome in the midst of a toxic Earth. But what’s consistent, of course, is Dick. Some of the stories have been updated. Vera, for instance, is a different character to the original Jill (“When he first wrote this,” says Cranston, “women were mostly housewives — we didn’t want that”), but the themes remain the same. Is your perception of reality the same as everyone else’s perception of reality? What constitutes authenticity? Are we sacrificing ourselves to progress?
“For the lack of a more sophisticated way to put it,” says Cranston, “I don’t need a job. I don’t have to work again in my life. So why would I work on anything I’m not passionate about? I remember seeing Blade Runner around 35 years ago and thinking, ‘Wow, what is this world?’ [Dick] just spurs the imagination. He opens up the future. ‘Could it be that way?’ He opens up your mind. Anybody can write science-fiction, but only a few can write science-fiction and relate it to you now. And Dick is one of them.”
PHILIP K. DICK’S ELECTRIC DREAMS WILL PREMIERE IN THE UK ON CHANNEL 4 IN SEPTEMBER.
‘dick’s big-screen history is established; this is different‘ bryan cranston
neW man Bryan Cranston as oddly improved husband Silas in Electric Dreams episode five ‘Human Is’ (above).