Paradox

Paradox is a bold, fast-paced, character-driven thriller from Clerkenwell Films for BBC Northern Ireland.

This gripping 5 x 60’series for BBC One stars Tamzin Outhwaite (The Fixer, Hotel Babylon) as Detective Inspector Rebecca Flint, who is thrown together with Space Scientist Dr Christian King (Emun Elliott) when a series of rogue images are transmitted from space into his laboratory. The fragmented images appear to be of a major incident but, shockingly, they also suggest it is yet to happen – it’s in the future.

With each episode of this high-concept and intriguing series set to a relentless ticking clock, Christian, Rebecca and her team, DS Ben Holt (Mark Bonnar) and DC Callum Gada (Chiké Okonkwo), face a race against time as they only have 18 hours to put together the clues of this most complex of jigsaw puzzles and try to prevent almost certain tragedy.

The reason how, and why, these images are being transmitted to them is a mystery. Forced to intervene in the course of destiny, the underlying question posed throughout Paradox is: “If you could see the future, would you change it?”

Created and written by Lizzie Mickery (Messiah, The 39 Steps and The State Within), Paradox is directed by Bafta award-winning Simon Cellan Jones (Generation Kill, Our Friends In The North) and Omah Madha (Law & Order – UK, Burn Up) and commissioned by Ben Stephenson, Controller, BBC Drama Commissioning, and Jay Hunt, Controller, BBC One.

Here, the production team – producer Marcus Wilson (Whitechapel, Life On Mars), executive producers Murray Ferguson (Afterlife, Persuasion) from Clerkenwell Films and Patrick Spence (Five Minutes Of Heaven, Occupation) from BBC Northern Ireland, Lizzie Mickery and Simon Cellan Jones – discuss the ambition and vision behind the thrilling five-part series.

“We knew there was an appetite for a big, bold, fresh take on the cop show,” explains Murray Ferguson, chief executive of Clerkenwell Films. “Something that might be different from the traditional formula of investigating a crime that has already taken place.

“So, we began to consider what if we could find a means of telling that story in reverse? Is there an original and credible way of a police team finding themselves with the knowledge of crimes or disasters happening in the future?”

For Murray and the rest of the Clerkenwell team, the next challenge was to find a writer who could mould this idea and create a plausible set-up.

“We wanted the show to feel like it really could happen in the world we all know,” continues Murray. “We needed to find a writer who could grab hold of this simple idea and drive it forward, someone who could crack the means of telling it, find the original premise behind it and create the characters and the world.”

The clear choice was acclaimed scriptwriter Lizzie Mickery, who has a proven track record in constructing complex, compelling and fascinating plots, illustrated by her gripping stories for Messiah (BBC One).

“I’ve always been interested in the decisions you’re not aware you are making,” reveals Lizzie. “You turn left, go home and nothing happens. You turn right and you get hit by a bus.

“Our futures are out there but we all have absolutely no idea of where we are heading. That is where I started with Paradox – the moral and emotional implications of having the ability to change the future.”

When Clerkenwell Films took the idea to the BBC’s Patrick Spence, he was bowled over by the concept.

“It’s not everyday a premise this good walks in the door and it lit us up from day one,” explains Patrick.

Murray brought Marcus Wilson on board as producer and together they appointed award-winning Simon Cellan Jones as lead director on the project and Omar Madha, who directed episodes four and five. Renowned space scientist Doctor Margaret Aderin was also drafted in during the development process to confirm the theories presented in the scripts.

Marcus explains: “Lizzie did an awful lot of research herself but it was great to have Maggie on board. She provided invaluable advice and helped to make the science behind certain stories fascinating, easy to understand and accessible for viewers.”

For acclaimed director Simon Cellan Jones, setting up a new series was a fresh challenge.

“It was exhilarating to work on a show that relies so heavily on energy and adrenalin, and I loved the idea of taking a high concept and grounding it in a tough, visually arresting reality” explains Simon.

“I was initially wary because I thought it was a sci-fi show but, when I read the scripts, I realised it wasn’t that at all. It was something much darker and deeper and when I came on board I was excited about setting up the whole show, creating the look and getting involved with casting.”

Tamzin Outhwaite was cast in the lead role of DI Rebecca Flint and she was an early choice to play the pivotal role, explains Murray.

“We always knew we wanted Tamzin. She came up in discussions at a very early stage as someone the audience would empathise with, and we all agreed she would be able to take them on Rebecca’s extraordinary journey. We then wanted the character of Christian to be a mystery, but have edge and magnetism,” continues Murray, “which are all qualities Emun Elliott brought to the role.

“Mark Bonnar is a very experienced actor who we knew would be able to bring the power and energy we needed for Ben, and Chiké Okonkwo convinced us he had both the appeal and range as an actor to take Callum on his dark journey.”

Once casting was complete, filming the drama presented its own unique set of challenges. “I hope we surprise the audience,” says Simon.

“In a way, I want them to expect it will be a mainstream, commercial, American-style drama and then be surprised when they see it is rooted it in reality. While shooting, I wanted the actors to be immersed in the action rather than set back from it and I didn’t want it over elaborately staged.

“We had a fantastic set so it was very easy to put the camera right among things rather than have this overlooking rather detached feel.”

To add to the tension and maintain the cracking pace of each episode, production built a countdown timer into the Prometheus laboratory. “We felt this could work well because it is an engaging way of reminding the audience that time is elapsing,” explains Simon.

“I see Paradox as a character-driven thriller that maintains a heart-stopping adrenaline pace and the ticking clock helps keep viewers involved and in the room. We don’t want to allow the audience to relax.”

“I agree with Simon,” continues Marcus. “For me, communicating the tension and pace of the story was essential. We wanted to give the drama a very real feel, not documentary style, more giving it the sense that this could be taking place just around the corner.”

The BBC and Patrick are delighted with the results. “It has been so exciting to watch the production team and Simon, in particular, breathing life into every part of the show in such a way that it has exceeded our every expectation.

“It’s hard to put into words how proud we are of Paradox, for its boldness, its confidence and its intelligence – all wrapped up in one adrenaline pumping rollercoaster ride every week,” says Patrick.

As well as being a breakneck thriller full of puzzles and investigative elements, Lizzie believes Paradox poses life changing questions.

“If you start to change things are you messing with the order of life?” muses Lizzie. “If someone is about to die and you save them, are you jeopardising other people’s futures? Big questions like: ‘Should you sacrifice the individual for the mass?’ come into play.

“Hopefully, Paradox will be a really thrilling and exciting drama made even more so by the resonance of all these elements.”

The drama was shot in 13 weeks, so production had an extremely tight schedule and worked collaboratively to film ambitious set pieces on time.

“We filmed huge complex scenes involving chases and explosions,” explains Marcus, “so it was a real team effort to make it work.”

“I was also massively ambitious,” reveals Simon. “I wanted to include big action shots but also maintain the intimacy, immediacy and reality of the show. I always set out to shoot far more than one would expect, but luckily I had a very experienced cameraman on board.”

“We were also hampered by the weather,” explains Marcus, “because it was very unstable over the summer. Each episode is set within a very short time period so the changeable weather caused havoc and it was difficult to manufacture weather conditions. In the end we took the decision to have it raining throughout episode five!”

Paradox starts on BBC One in November and Marcus sums up the five part thriller: “I hope viewers find Paradox a thrilling rollercoaster ride with huge amounts of excitement, emotion and spookiness. It should thrill and terrify, but also leave viewers questioning what they would do if they had the opportunity to change the future.”

More content about Paradox will be published, as transmission approaches, on this page: www.bbc.co.uk/tv/comingup/paradox

World-renowned space scientist Dr Christian King claims to have received a series of images from space. The images appear to have come from assorted sources, some look like CCTV imaging and others look like photos but, most disturbingly, they appear to show fragments of an event – a huge explosion in which many people are killed. Shockingly, Dr King claims the disaster is yet to happen and that it will take place in 18 hours time.

Is this an elaborate warning of a terrorist attack, or could it be something else? DI Rebecca Flint and her team, DS Ben Holt and DC Callum Gada, are put on the case to investigate Dr King and the images. They are uncertain of what to believe but have to put their reservations aside to race against a ticking clock to prevent the possible catastrophe from taking place.

As the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle come together, it becomes clear that this is a chain of events which no person could possibly predict or plan. Rebecca and her team are stunned by their findings but must continue their investigations without arousing suspicion – if news of this reaches the public’s consciousness there will be chaos.

With time running out, and tragedy drawing closer, DI Flint begins to contemplate the impossible – that the images might not be a coded warning or an elaborate threat, but a genuine glimpse of the future.

Yesterday’s event is weighing heavily on Rebecca’s mind as she struggles to come to terms with whether or not she really could have the ability to alter the future.

To make matters worse, a new series of images are beamed into Dr Christian King’s Prometheus lab, again showing fragments of a serious incident that is set to take place in 18 hours time.

The numerous images don’t appear to make any sense and the team question whether they should be messing with the future. However, the pictures clearly spell disaster and Rebecca’s heart begins to race when she learns the identity of the dead body in one of the images – the corpse is Ben.

Rebecca doesn’t know how or when Ben will die, but suddenly her quest to change the future becomes even more frantic. Can she keep the shocking image from Ben and does she have the power to change his destiny?

DC Callum Gada is a rookie detective who joins DI Rebecca Flint’s unit determined to prove his worth. However, when faced with trying to alter the course of people’s destinies it pushes his religious beliefs to the limit and he struggles to cope with the life changing decisions in his power. Actor Chike Okonkwo, who recently filmed Blood And Oil for BBC Two, explains why he wanted the role so badly.

How did you become involved in Paradox?

I was doing a play in Suffolk called Fixer when I got the call from my agent about Paradox. I was given a breakdown about the character and I thought the premise sounded amazing so I couldn’t wait to read the scripts and, when I did, I loved them.

I really fell in love with Callum and the show from the very beginning and I remember emailing my agent’s assistant to say how excited I was. Parts like this don’t come up very often and it’s a credit to Lizzie Mickery that she’s created such a gripping drama with such interesting and individual characters to boot.

How would you describe Callum?

Callum is a very considered guy. He, more than the others in the team, thinks about the implications of what they’re doing, and isn’t afraid to say so.

His religious beliefs colour a lot of his decision making throughout the series, which eventually see him take a rather dark and very difficult journey.

The series raises a lot of questions about whether or not the future should be changed. How do you feel about this?

I’m a lover of life and life throws up good things and bad things. I wouldn’t change anything in my life and,if I could change the future, I wouldn’t. I’d like to carry on trying to experience as much as I can. If you could change the future you’d always try to make it ‘good’ but making things ‘good’ doesn’t always work out for the best.

What have been your highlights of filming Paradox?

I’m a very active guy so I’ve loved the action involved. It’s been great running around the centre of Manchester trying to stop things from happening and I’ve loved doing all of the fast driving, too. It’s also been great to be part of such a lovely cast and crew. We’ve all gotten on brilliantly as a team – from the actors, our two directors all the way through the crew and production staff.

Tamzin has obviously got a lot of TV experience and it’s been really nice learning from her every day. I’d also seen Mark Bonnar on stage a few times so it’s great to have the opportunity to work with him and Emun is a complete natural. We all got on really well and spent a lot of our downtime together, too.

What have you worked on before Paradox?

I used to be in BBC One’s New Tricks, which has gone on to be a huge success. So much so that, even though it was six years ago for me, people are still very generous in their opinions about the show. I even got recognised in the Amazon Rainforest by a couple who enjoyed the show when I was travelling earlier this year. Recently I’ve done a lot of theatre and last year I worked on a great job in South Africa.

I was filming a drama called Blood And Oil for BBC Two, which is due to transmit soon. It’s about the oil conflict in the Niger Delta area of Nigeria. My family are from Nigeria so it was a real privilege to look more closely at that side of my heritage. I did a lot of research into the human rights violations in the Delta, and it really was one of those jobs that taught me so much. I was able to portray a character that has a real story to tell. It’s very different to Paradox but I’m extremely proud of them both.

DS Ben Holt refuses to believe the images they’ve been given are from the future but, as events unfold, will he be forced to change his views? Mark Bonnar talks about being reunited with director Simon Cellan Jones and acting in reverse.

How did you get the role of DS Ben Holt in Paradox?

I had worked with Clerkenwell Films before on Rebus, with John Hannah, and an episode of Afterlife. I also worked with the director, Simon Cellan Jones, on The Trial Of Tony Blair, so that might have helped get my foot in the door. But I still had to audition like everyone else – which is even more nerve-wracking when it’s for people you know. I was on holiday about four or five weeks later when I got a call from my agent saying I got the job.

Usually if I don’t hear about a job within a week, I presume I haven’t got it, have a little cry and try to move on. So it was a fantastic shock. The villa where we were in Mallorca had a pool, so I jumped straight in with a bottle of champagne!

How would you describe Ben?

I suppose Ben is just an average bloke with two kids and an ex-wife. He’s a good and committed policeman, although he’s not afraid to bend the rules if the end justifies the means – I’m sure he secretly enjoys kicking down the odd door and roughing up the occasional career criminal!

He can be stubborn, too, which can lead him away from the job in hand. When the images come through he refuses to believe they could be from the future and looks for some kind of rationality. He struggles to deal with, and understand, what’s happening as the truth becomes more apparent.

How would anyone cope receiving images from the future? He changes as the series progresses and becomes deeply, personally involved. What happens in one of the episodes changes his life in the most profound way.

How does Ben interact with the rest of the team and Christian?

Ben gets on well with the team, although Rebecca was recently promoted above Ben and I think there is a little tension carried by that situation.

The relationship between Ben and Callum feels like an uncle/nephew relationship. Ben feels quite protective of him – looking out for him where he can – and they have a good working relationship.

Ben and Christian, on the other hand, have an intense relationship. He finds Christian unhelpful – it seems to Ben like he’s playing games and it really gets on Ben’s wick! Although, there is a brief thaw in a later episode.

How did you all get on off screen?

Like a house on fire. They are a wonderful bunch – cast and crew. There wasn’t loads of time to be sociable out of work because of the busy schedule, but we spent time together when we could and had a lot of fun on set – which I hope comes across on screen.

When you care about the work and get on so well it makes for a very special experience, which you always hope comes across.

Your wife, Lucy Gaskell, also appears in one of the episodes. How did that come about?

It was pure coincidence. This is the first time we’ve worked together since we met. I say work – we only glance at each other at the end of a scene! I’m still looking forward to our first professional conversation!

Did you have to perform many stunts for the role?

I had a couple of fight scenes – it’s always fun pretending to be tough! It is actually quite difficult to keep your concentration physically because you obviously don’t want to injure anyone, so we are well choreographed by the stunt director and we won’t proceed until all parties are happy we are confident and safe.

I also had to film a car crash stunt, which involved backwards acting. That sounds strange – I should say acting in reverse. In order to get a good shot of me driving, right up to the moment of impact, we had to film from that point and then reverse the car backwards.

Then, in the edit, they reverse the film. I had to start the scene being braced for the crash, slowly drive backwards, not taking my eyes off the other car, through to the point where I see it for the first time. It was very tricky, but rewarding when we got it right – although I wouldn’t recommend reversing without looking in your rear view mirror!

Dr Christian King is the outsider – the dark space scientist informing the police of things beyond their comprehension and, potentially, beyond their control. Emun Elliott talks about swotting up on science and how it feels to be tipped “one to watch”.

Dr Christian King is a space scientist. What type of person is he?

Christian likes to keep himself to himself. He’s full of drive and ambition, immerses himself in his work and is very passionate about what he does.

Like many academic people, he uses his job and his work as an excuse to avoid the normality of life. He’ll work 24/7 to avoid making friends and socialising with people. Fundamentally he’s a loner.

Did you have to do a lot of scientific research before you started filming?

I tried to immerse myself as much as possible and, luckily, it’s all really fascinating stuff. I found a lot of it to be pretty mind-blowing stuff.

I read as many books as I could in the time that I had, watched lots of DVDs and looked into the scientific terminology in an effort to understand the ideas and theories in the script.

I was also lucky enough to meet with Dr Margaret Aderin, a real-life space scientist, who was also a consultant on some of the scripts. She was great because she had so much enthusiasm for her work. She recommended a few books and, luckily, it was the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s invention of the telescope this year, so there were loads of exhibitions on and things to do and see around town.

I have always had a keen interest in science and studied it at school so this gave me a good foundation. I’m completely fascinated and intrigued by what I’ve learned. It’s really thought provoking stuff that can actually be quite daunting at times.

What are your thoughts on changing the future?

I think that I would mess with it, especially if it’s to save people’s lives. In Paradox we are faced with potentially disastrous situations and events. I think it would be hard to stand back, when you know that something catastrophic is going to happen.

Did you enjoy filming in the Prometheus lab?

The lab is a pretty impressive space, very modern, full of up to date, cutting-edge technology and apparatus and bang in the middle of all that – is me! It may seem quite clinical and over complicated to the outside eye, but everything has a purpose and place.

Matt Gant, the production designer, really has done a fantastic job. It’s clear he did his homework and took inspiration from all sorts of places to come up with a very realistic and exciting lair for Christian.

How do you think Paradox stands out from other dramas?

I don’t think it’s like anything else on TV. It’s not your everyday drama and I think viewers are going to have to put some thought into what’s going on. It’s a great concept and I hope people will enjoy it.

You were named ‘one to watch’ by Screen International this year. How did that feel?

I felt really surprised and honoured, particularly because I’m relatively new to the industry. I was involved in a play called Black Watch with The National Theatre of Scotland for two and a half years and then went straight on to shoot a feature film called Black Death. Black Death was shot just outside Berlin and is set in medieval Britain during the plague in 1348.

The story revolves around a group of mercenaries and a monk who are assigned the task of travelling to a village that is allegedly untouched by the plague. My character is one of the mercenaries, his name’s Swire. The film had a really strong group of actors including Sean Bean, so it was a great project to work on.

I went straight from the film to doing Paradox, with only two days off in between. They are completely different projects, so just as I had climbed out of one world, I went headfirst into another.

DI Rebecca Flint is a high-ranking detective who always goes the extra mile to solve a case. However, when she is shown images by space scientist Dr Christian King of a disaster that appears not to have happened yet, her world and belief system is thrown into turmoil. Actress Tamzin Outhwaite, who recently starred in ITV’s The Fixer, explains what drew her to Paradox and the part of feisty police officer Rebecca.

How did the role of Paradox actually come about?

I was in LA with my husband, Tom, and my agent called saying how fantastic this new script was. I’d always wanted to work with the writer Lizzie Mickery and I knew Murray Ferguson at Clerkenwell Films had worked on Persuasion, so I was really excited about it.

When the script arrived, it brought up a lot of questions for me. In fact, I am still questioning a lot of the concepts in it. My opinions change all the time which is what makes it so exciting and interesting.

What’s Rebecca really like?

Rebecca is very driven and doesn’t want to be defeated. When the images come through she takes complete and utter control and just goes for it – she doesn’t question too much. She’s also excited by having the power to be able to change the future for the right reasons and she thrives off the ticking clock and having to get it done.

She also gets a buzz from being able to change somebody’s life and the sense of achievement she gets afterwards becomes very addictive. After this experience I think she’d find it very boring to go back to ordinary police work.

How does this role compare to others you’ve played in your career?

What I love about it is the way it starts with the ordinariness of the police unit, but then there ends up being so much more to it. It certainly stands out for me as one of my most intense and biggest roles. I’ve also absolutely loved doing the stunts!

What sort of stunts did you film?

I had to drive towards an explosion with Chiké, who plays Callum, and my instincts were telling me to stop before I hit any human beings. But the director wanted me to drive as fast as I could.

Everything was planned in fine detail to ensure everyone’s safety but, in order to get the shot we needed, I had to drive towards the cameraman. Even though everything was controlled, it was the scariest stunt I’ve ever done because I was so nervous I was going to run him over! Needless to say it made my heart really race and I wanted to get out of the car straight away.

A real life space scientist, Dr Margaret Aderin, worked as a consultant on the series. How did you find working with her?

Fantastic – she is quite literally a rocket scientist! When we say: ‘Yeah, but it’s not rocket science, is it?’ it actually is in her life. I spoke to her at the very beginning of filming and she is an incredibly interesting woman whose career is about constantly questioning the issues we cover in the series.

What research did you do for the role?

I hadn’t played a copper before so I spent some time shadowing a female DI and I was surprised to learn she is called Ma’am by her colleagues, which seems quite old fashioned.

She talked to me about an awful lot of things and explained she worked across the board from Child Protection to the Drug Squad. However, what really shone through for me was she loves her job and I wanted to ensure Rebecca had the same enthusiasm for her work.

Having worked on Paradox, what are your opinions on changing the future?

My opinions have changed a lot and I tend to analyse my dreams more now and wonder if they are premonitions. I do think that maybe we see the future in all sorts of ways, but the question in Paradox is do the images of the future come from God or a scientist?

What have you got planned next?

I’m starring in Sweet Charity at the Menier Chocolate Factory. It’s going to be strange singing and dancing after all these years but I’m really looking forward to it.

How have you found juggling motherhood with work?

It is a struggle and your social skills become very honed because you have to work out who’s having Florence at what time, and where. If only she knew what chaos and organisation went into bringing her up – I think children would be quite amused by all the flapping that goes on around them!

Being a mother is an absolute delight, though. I’m really enjoying everything that’s happening at the moment.

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