The pitch for Sky's new time-loop thriller The Lazarus Project might have you expecting a series akin to Groundhog Day or Russian Doll – but series creator Joe Barton has revealed that one of the biggest touchstones for the show was actually Breaking Bad.
Paapa Essiedu (I May Destroy You) plays George, an app developer who is recruited by a secret organisation – The Lazarus Project – with the ability to rewind time and finds himself tempted to use the power for his own ends.
"Even though Groundhog Day is such a reference for our show, I've actually never watched it," Essiedu told RadioTimes.com. "I told them I had in my audition, so this is a scoop for you!"
Though he described Netflix's Russian Doll as "brilliant", Essiedu suggested that The Lazarus Project sets itself apart by using its science-fiction concept to explore "the real-life anxieties and problems and desires that the characters have".
"One of the references was always Breaking Bad and the idea that you had a protagonist who you're very sympathetic with at the beginning and who essentially becomes the villain of the piece as it goes along," elaborated writer/creator Barton (Giri/Haji).
"It's all about the complexities of the characters... and never having it black-and-white."
Tom Burke (Strike) plays series antagonist Rebrov, a former member of the Lazarus Project who has turned against his former colleagues, but Essiedu insisted that Burke's character too is not an outright villain.
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"You get an actor of the calibre of Tom Burke and he's not going to serve you just a moustache-twirling villain. He's going to show you the humanity and the realness of it... we leave it up to the audience to decide who's in the right and who's in the wrong."
The power to rewind time allows the Lazarus Project near God-like abilities, including the capacity to undo tragic events, but Barton insists that rather than lessening the show's dramatic stakes, this twist allows the show to explore some fascinating moral ambiguities.
"I think it's about moral stakes, then, and that question of... if you do something really terrible but it gets undone, is it still a bad thing? How should we view that person? Every time a character does something that's bad or morally questionable, maybe it'll get undone, maybe it won't. Hopefully that's the question that hangs over it.
"It seemed like an interesting moral conundrum which is unique to this genre. If a character murders someone, maybe that person will come back, but they've still committed that crime, they've still taken that bit of their soul away and that can't be undone, so it felt like the stakes are [still] high."
"George goes far with it, he does take it to the nth degree," Essiedu hints of his character's arc across the series. "He really goes the whole hog! But the argument he always holds is, whatever I do, if I can turn back time, it doesn't count. There's a quantum physicist somewhere who will really be able to give the objective answer on whether that's true or not, but it's enough for him to hold on to as a motivation."
Also starring Anjli Mohindra (Vigil), Caroline Quentin (Men Behaving Badly) and Charly Clive (Pure), The Lazarus Project is produced by Urban Myth Films, with Merlin's Johnny Capps and Julian Murphy involved as executive producers.
The Lazarus Project will be available to watch from Thursday (16th June) on Sky TV and NOW – sign up for Sky TV here.
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