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How The Lazarus Project predicted the future: "It was surreal"

The Sky series explores time loops and reliving the past – but ended up anticipating future events.

Paapa Essiedu in The Lazarus Project
Sky UK Limited
Published: Thursday, 16th June 2022 at 3:00 pm
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Warning: contains spoilers for The Lazarus Project episode 1

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The opening episode of new Sky thriller The Lazarus Project not only features a reference to the COVID-19 crisis, but also depicts a second devastating pandemic sweeping the globe.

It might surprise you to learn, then, that the series was originally conceived by writer Joe Barton (Giri/Haji) before the real-life pandemic hit, with the outbreak on-screen only reimagined as a second pandemic in rewrites.

"It's quite old, really – maybe six years or something," Barton revealed to RadioTimes.com. "It was pre-pandemic, all of it.

"It was weird to have written something set in a pandemic and then to find ourselves filming it in the height of lockdown... we added a line about coronavirus in."

The series follows George (Paapa Essiedu), an app developer recruited by the Lazarus Project, a shadowy organisation that harnesses the ability to rewind time to prevent mass extinction events.

Barton therefore conceived of humanity being hit by a pandemic before the real-life coronavirus pandemic had begun in 2019 – and this wasn't the only real-life event that his story anticipated.

"There's quite a lot in the show which has since come true... there was a lot of stuff about Russia and Ukraine in later episodes, which we had to go back and change after the fact, just because of everything that's happened. A lot of these predictions came true in quite a spooky way. It was surreal."

Though time-loop stories have proven popular in fiction in everything from Groundhog Day to Russian Doll, Barton says his desire with the drama was "to try and find a slightly new angle on a familiar sub-genre".

Caroline Quentin and Anjli Mohindra in The Lazarus Project
Caroline Quentin and Anjli Mohindra in The Lazarus Project Sky UK Limited

"The idea started more with the end of the world aspect of it... I'd read some articles about nuclear war near-misses... I was interested in how close we'd got to accidental annihilation, or not-accidental annihilation – like the Cuban Missile Crisis.

"We've got so close to these disastrous events, but they haven't happened, which seems odd given the human race's propensity for disaster and catastrophe, so the idea spun from... what if it actually has happened and we've undone it?

"That big idea came first and then it was all about how we put more constraints and rules and interesting ideas around time travel, and time loops particularly, and exploring the moral questions that we can end up asking with them, and hopefully it fits into that pantheon."

Also starring Anjli Mohindra (Vigil), Tom Burke (Strike), 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.

Read more: Why The Lazarus Project is Breaking Bad with time travel

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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