ELEC­TRIC DREAMS

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…

Total Film - - Contents - WORDS STEPHEN KELLY

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).

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