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I TALK TO Harlan Coben

Last night, Sky 1 launched The Five, a brand new drama series from international best-selling thriller writer Harlan Coben.

I was totally gripped by The Five after watching the first two episodes, and knew that this was going to be the next big drama everyone would be talking about.

So when the opportunity came up to speak to Harlan, I simply had to say yes! For a man who has over 60 million books in print worldwide, it was a pleasure to speak to him about a first for him, a TV series!

We of course spoke about why The Five was a TV series and not a novel, as well as what it was like working collaboratively as opposed to alone. Here's what he had to say...

First of all, tell me about The Five... Why a TV series and not a novel?

I had this idea about these five kids playing in the park, then one disappears and twenty years pass, and the four friends have to reunite to figure out what really happened.

Four main characters is tough for a novel, and it had just been playing in my head for a long time and I saw it in a different kind of way. I saw it with bright colours, some texture, expansive landscapes.

So when Nicola Shindler from Red Productions approached me, knowing Nicola's work and knowing her quality, she did Happy Valley, Last Tango In Halifax, Scott & Bailey, Cucumber and a ton of great stuff, I just thought, this is the perfect way to tell the story.

Combining an experienced producer like Nicola, and her sensibilities for making great quality TV with my desire of telling this sort of story was just a great match.

Now that you've seen the series, is it how you imagined it?

At times, if I'm honest with you, it may be better. I'm yet to get through the last two episodes without crying... and I've seen them like ten times! (Laughs)

You can't obviously reveal what happens in those closing episodes, but is there a definite end?

Yes. It's great that we actually have an answer here. A lot of TV shows have a great hook, but they don't know how to end it. I knew right away how this ends.

You will find out in episodes nine and ten what happened to Jesse, and you'll have all the answers. I think it's going to genuinely surprise people and move them in interesting ways.

So no second series then?

You could do a whole different story, but I don't think it's fair when a series asks you to spend ten episodes watching and not give you the answer, that's just not fair.

If I'm going to do a second TV series, it's going to be the same way I sell a novel, it's because you enjoyed the first one.

With your novels, each chapter ends with a cliffhanger, with The Five, each episode ends with a cliffhanger. Was that your intention?

Yeah, because what's interesting is that there's a cliffhanger at the end of each episode but if you think of it, there's like ten cliffhangers within each episode too!

We could have ended it on seeing what was behind that mirror, we could have broken it ten different ways which is how I write.

I really wanted to write something that was compulsive, I wanted this TV series to be as close to a novel as a TV series that you can make.

So it was your idea, but Danny Brockelhurst wrote the script. How did it work between the two of you?

It was great. As a novelist I bring on a report card that says "Does not play well with others", it's just all about myself. So I entered that part of the process with some trepidation.

Danny says that before he would write any of his scripts (for The Five), he would read one of my books, to get the voice... I think he was just trying to flatter me.

I think in the end, we just had very similar sensibilities. We had the exact same vision for what we wanted this show to be. I really have to thank Nicola (Shindler) a lot for introducing me to Danny and finding him to work with.

The wise cracks, the sense of camaraderie, the desire to keep the story moving, Danny shared that with me and really was such a great partner to have on this journey.

He's a wonderful writer! I worked with a guy called Richard Fee who I call the unsung hero of the series, he's the story producer, and we would outline each episode and how it should go, and then we would give it to the writers, mostly Danny because he wrote five out of the ten episodes.

Then Danny and I would talk about it and Danny would go and write it. He would write a first draft and we would talk about it, and make changes. We'd go to table reads together and that was another place to hone it even further.

But it was a real collaborative process between the two of us. I don't think we ever really had any disagreements which is unlike me!

Danny had never done it before either. He had always written his own stuff, so we ended up having complete faith in each other and I really hope to work with him again.

You could have taken The Five to America, why did you choose British TV, and why Sky 1?

It was Nicola Shindler from Red Productions, and again her slate of quality shows, that was the big draw for me.

I wanted to do it somewhere where I knew it would be a shared vision between me and the producer. Sky 1 ended up being the ideal partner, they didn't leave us alone. They had suggestions and they were surprisingly good! (Laughs).

But they really did get what we wanted to do with the show and they trusted us and I'm not sure every network would.

Did you have any say in the casting? Especially the main four, who are just brilliant.

Oh sure, and thank you! I think I watched about 200 or 300 audition tapes and we were really excited to make the four leads the next four you're talking about.

They could all end up being superstars... they're all names now and they're all big actors, but if we had one guy that was sort of famous, he might have stuck out and we really wanted it to be an ensemble.

Yeah you know Tom Cullen from Downton Abbey, you know Sarah Solemani from Him & Her, you know Lee Ingleby from Inspector George Gently and you know O-T Fagbenle from The Intereceptors, but this is I think their moment.

And all four of them together I think really made this show shine. And then you add in there a couple of really great professionals like Geraldine James. She's just a marvel.

I think they sent me about four or five and as soon as they sent me Geraldine, I said, I'm not looking at anybody else. I'm just not. This is who I want. There's also Michael Maloney and Don Warrington - you see him more in later episodes, he just kills it for me. He's just so good, and even some young unknowns like Sophia La Porta who plays Britnay, it was a great mix!

And the last thing I should mention is that we had Mark Tonderai as the director, who directed all ten episodes which is unheard of! He's still alive an on life support! (Laughs) He barely made it through. It was a labour of love for him and it's so cinematic in look and feel, that for him this was a chance to do like an extended movie. I'm so proud of the work he did on it.

He also used to be a DJ many years ago, which is why you'll probably notice that the music is pretty fantastic!

So Mark very much shared your vision for how it should look?

Oh absolutely. They used to make fun of me as the American, sometimes you'll even see it in the script. There's that one part where Sarah Solemani (Pru) says "Group hug?" and Tom Cullen (Mark) says "You're not in America anymore!" - so there are a lot of moments like that which we had.

But the good thing about British moments was that I didn't want rain, I didn't want trench coats, I didn't want grey streets, I wanted bright, popping, electric colours and I think right from the beginning when you see Jesse's red sweatshirt and the green of the trees, you see this is going to be something life affirming in that way.

The reaction to the series so far, and the reviews from those who have seen it already, like myself, is really positive. You must be pleased with that?

It's hard for me, because it gets better and better. For me it's like a novel, so for you guys, it's as if you're reviewing one of my novels having only read one fifth of it! Wait a minute! You've got to read the rest of the novel before you can decide how it is.

So I can only tell you that if you like what you've seen so far, we are just going to take you down that rabbit hole and surprise you, and twist you more and more!

I love the idea that episode one was one thing, and then episode two starts with Lee Boardman as the music producer, and you're like - What's going on here?! That's a scene that was also really visually striking.

Nobody is safe, and there are going to be a lot of surprises along the way, but especially in episodes nine and ten.

Are you pleased with the scheduling of The Five? Sky 1 are showing two episodes back to back each week...

Yeah, part of me really wants to show all ten at one time, part of me wants to do old fashioned TV where it's one a week. But this is sort of event programming for us, we wanted something different. I think two episodes hooks you more than one episode.

I think if we could have shown three, you'll be even more hooked. But I think the two episodes gives you a good introduction and starts getting you into the beginnings of the story.

What we also found, was that when you show it to people, they'd watch episode one and when it ended they would just sit there and go - That's it? - I have to see more and I have to see it now! Which is how I'm hoping people at home will feel.

Someone who has watched The Five is Stephen King who has tweeted about how much he loves the series...

This is sort of a funny story where I was emailing Stephen King, which I know sounds weird, and he said he'd love to see a couple of episodes, so I sent him links to the first two and literally maybe about two hours later he said - Oh no, I have to see more".

So I sent him the first five and the next day he says - Can you send me a couple of more?! - And I said well I can only send you up until episode eight because nine and ten are under embargo, so I sent him up to eight, and then the day later he says to me "Oh no, you're sending me nine and ten!" (Laughs)

I remember contacting Nicola (Shindler) and saying, I know we've got the episodes under embargo but how do you say no to Stephen King?! So Stephen king is one of maybe a dozen or so people who has watched all ten episodes.

Have you got the appetite for more TV series now?

I want to try to do both. I love both. I love storytelling and certain stories I see better on the screen, and certain ones will work better as novels. So it's very much my intent to continue this.

Nicola (Shindler) and I have actually set up our own production company called Final Twist productions, our first project is going to be doing my book Six Years as an American TV series.

So I am intersted in continuing, it was a joy from beginning to end, working with Nicola, working with those actors, working with Mark.

It was a joy for a guy who spends most of his time alone in a room to be able, to collaborate with some of the world's if not the UK's most talented people, to bring this story to life, that doesn't get old.

The Five continues Fridays at 9pm on Sky 1


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