SECOND TIME LUCKY
Superheroes often end up playing detective, but can a detective become a superhero? That’s the question the second season of Stan Lee’s Lucky Man has got to answer. Crime Scene tries its luck on-set in East London…
“Doing this show is knackering,” grumbles James Nesbitt, but he can’t help grinning as he says it. He’s taking a few minutes to chat to Crime Scene while shooting the second season of Stan Lee’s Lucky Man, and though he’s working to a gruelling schedule, one which won’t let up until Christmas, Nesbitt is clearly enjoying himself. And judging by the general mood on the set, he isn’t the only one, either.
When the supernatural crime drama first aired in January 2016, it soon found its audience, becoming Sky 1’s most successful original drama to date. And that success has given the production company, Carnival Films, licence to kick things up a notch for Series 2. So it’s no wonder that Crime Scene finds Nesbitt smiling.
To recap, the first season ended on a fairly bleak note for Nesbitt’s DI Harry Clayton. Cursed with a mysterious, luck-bending bracelet he can’t remove, Clayton was being chased by various baddies who wanted to use the charm for their own ends. The identity of the villainous Golding had finally been revealed, but only because he’d kidnapped Clayton’s wife and daughter.
Clayton managed to save the day, but let Golding escape in the process. Personally, professionally and even mythologically, things were going pretty badly for our supposedly lucky hero. And it doesn’t seem like it’s going to get any easier for Clayton in Series 2…
It’s late September, the first proper day of autumn, when Crime Scene visits and just over half of Series 2 is already in the can. The show’s crew are set up in Shadwell’s King Edward VII Memorial Park, with the actual filming taking place inside a former power station’s pump house. Inside, the building’s industrial look has been softened by the addition of some abstract art and saggy sofas, and there’s also a corpse – well, okay, an actor made up to look like one – sitting in the middle of the room. A Steadicam operator moves slowly towards the dead man, while actors Amara Karan ( The Night Of) and Darren Boyd ( Luther, Fortitude), playing officers Chohan and Orwell respectively, walk first behind the camera and then around it to discover the body. Before they can investigate further, a gunman clutching a hostage storms into the room yelling threats… and then the scene is reset for a take from another angle.
Nesbitt confirms fans can expect a lot more action from Series 2.
“It’s embracing the genre much more,” he explains. “I think in the first season of something like this, it takes its time to find its feet. What we discovered is that, by embracing the genre more, we’re also embracing the reality of the characters much more – we’re putting ordinary characters in extraordinary situations.”
In practice, that means Series 2 will take a more episodic approach to its crime element, with a standalone mystery in each episode. Nesbitt tells us there’s one about a poisoner, another involving a potential chemical attack on London, and also a “kind of Sweeney Todd” story.
Meanwhile, the supernatural side of things will continue to create problems for Clayton and his nearest and dearest, due to the fact that Golding’s still out there, and also because of a new character, Isabella Augustine, who’s about to change the rules of the bracelet all over again. Played by Dutch actress Thekla Reuten ( Hidden), Isabella serves as a sort of foil to Clayton.
“She’s got a similar bracelet,” Nesbitt reveals. “Harry has been told all along that there’s only one, so that complicates things. At first, it might seem quite good, because it’s incredibly isolating to think you’re the only one with that [ power], so the idea that someone else has it too – a mysterious, beautiful woman – that has to be an attraction for him.”
“At first” is telling – it sounds like Isabella will turn out to be bad news. Nesbitt won’t be drawn further, but he does admit that Clayton’s relationship with the bracelet is still developing.
“I think it throws up difficult choices,” he says. “If you’re saddled with it, what’s your responsibility to it? It can be a power for good, as he’s seen, and who’s to say that everything he’s been told about yin and yang is actually true?”
That’s where the superhero bit comes in, then. It’s hard not to hear echoes of another Stan Lee character’s philosophy in Clayton’s dilemma – responsibility, power, sound familiar? – and when Crime Scene gets an opportunity to talk to Steven Mackintosh ( Criminal Justice, Luther), who plays Clayton’s boss, Detective Superintendent Winter, he agrees.
“I was a massive Spider-man freak as a kid,” he laughs. “I don’t know why, but he always captured my imagination.”
Don’t let the genre fool you, it is entertainment, but it’s quite dark
Fans of the show may well be surprised to see Mackintosh back on-set for Series 2, considering that Winter took a bullet to the chest at the end of its first run.
“It was looking a bit touch and go for Winter,” he says, “But here I am!”
It turns out that, during the gap between the series, Winter has been laid up in hospital, but has decided that the force needs him too much for him to stay away any longer – even if he now needs a walking stick to get around. However, on the bright side, Winter’s relationship with Clayton has vastly improved.
“Harry is an important member of his team, and there’s always that understanding that he’s unorthodox,” Mackintosh explains. “Winter always has to think, ‘Where is Harry now? What’s he up to?’ But he has this understanding now that, wherever he is, he’s probably got a pretty good hunch about something. He cuts him much more slack now, but Winter’s still very much the boss, so what he says goes.”
Like Nesbitt, Mackintosh is extremely enthusiastic about the possibilities offered by the show’s sophomore run.
“It’s very exciting getting new scripts and thinking ‘What’s going to happen? Where’s this going to go?’” he says. “All the cases are really edge-of-the-seat, they’re brilliant.”
Most excitingly for Mackintosh, his character gets to be more hands-on this time around.
“I don’t know if you noticed in the first season,” he laughs, “but I was mostly stuck in an unglamorous office in Ealing. So I did say, ‘Is there any way that Winter could get out and about a bit more?’”
Mackintosh’s wish was granted. The riverside set we visited is only one of dozens of locations that the production has used. Some of the more ambitious locales include London City Airport, where the crew were allowed to film airside, and the Eros statue in Piccadilly Circus, one of the busiest places in London.
“We filmed at rush hour,” Nesbitt says. “That was incredible. It’s a very dramatic moment, and you can’t block it off, so that was like theatre – with thousands of people watching!”
It’s impossible to tackle Lucky Man without talking about London, because the city’s so integral to its look and feel.
“I think London is a modern Gotham,” Nesbitt muses. “And I think [ the crew] have embraced that in the way they shoot and light it. The camera is doing the genre work, and we’re doing the real work – we’re steeped in reality, but the camera and the lighting create this wonderful place that’s still unquestionably London.”
The question of genre comes up time and time again, to the point where it sometimes seems that Nesbitt is defensive about the show’s supernatural side.
“Don’t let the genre fool you, it is entertainment, but it’s quite dark,” he says. “I love that, however difficult and challenging the world is, there’s a real reliance still on the notion of magic and the notion of love. Of course, it’s escapism, but it does have an impact on people, and clearly that’s something Stan Lee was born with. He’s changed the lives of so many people with these notions. We all need a superhero, I think.”
Even if that superhero is a gambling addict with a history of bad decisions? Nesbitt certainly thinks so.
“There’s something so attractive and compelling about a flawed hero – though right may be on his side, there’s wrong in him – and if you throw in a flawed superhero, it makes it really interesting,” he says. “It makes for good stories about the choices people make, whether to err on the side of right, and how fine the line is between good and bad.”
It’s nearly time for Crime Scene to leave, because Nesbitt’s needed back on set. But before we go, we can’t resist asking him the obvious question: what would he do if he came into possession of a magic lucky bracelet? He leans forward, grins wolfishly and confesses, “I’d get myself in trouble, but I’d have some fun doing it.”
Stan Lee’s Lucky Man returns to Sky 1 soon. Series 1 is released on 6 February.