Series Mania: Yellow Bird Impresses With Dark Urban Fantasy Thriller ‘Hidden’

Co-writer Filip Alexandrson: ‘It’s not interesting if everyone’s Superman’

Hidden - Anoo Bhagavan, Filip Alexanderson
Photo by: N Prébende

PARIS — Yellow Bird’s impressive showreel did quite a lot of the talking when the Swedish company pitched its new project “Hidden” at the Series Mania Co-Production Forum this week. Clips from “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” – TV and film versions – and international breakout hit “Headhunters” reminded audiences that Yellow Bird has form when it comes to developing intense, unusual and commercial projects. Based on the novel “Firstborn” by Filip Alexanderson, “Hidden” promises yet more of the same, with its author on hand to promise an “intense, suspense-driven crazy story.”

Although dealing with shadowy underworld figures, and set in the writer’s native Stockholm, “Hidden” departs from the Nordic noir blueprint in a number of ways. Chiefly, it draws on local myths and legends to tell the story of a young man who not only discovers the existence of a secret society of human beings with enhanced powers, he also realizes that he may be one of them. But as Alexanderson and his series co-writer Anoo Bhagavan explain here, this new world turns out just as dark and dangerous as our own…

Filip, is this your first book?  

Filip Alexanderson: Yes, it’s my debut. I started to write it two years ago and it came out last fall.

Did you ever foresee it becoming a film or TV series?  

Alexanderson: No, never. I just started writing it. Anoo [Bhagavan] here, my friend – we were sharing the same studio at the time. I shared some bits and pieces with him and asked him, “Would you mind reading this? It’s my first book – am I on the right track?” I gave him 40 pages, and he really liked it.

Anoo Bhagavan: And I also think I said, after reading those 40 pages: “You know that this is film material?” It might have been hubris, but I knew we had to do something with it.

Filip, what was the starting point for the book?  

Alexanderson: I wanted to tell a story that took place in my everyday environment that would be cool and a bit epic, actually. I adore these big productions from all over the world, but I’ve never seen something like that set in Stockholm. I thought, “Why not? Why can’t it happen in my back yard?” So I thought a lot about our mythology, my background, my country’s culture and I used that as a backdrop. I wanted to make the story plausible.

And what happens in the story?

Alexanderson: It’s about a young man trying to find himself. He survives an accident that he shouldn’t have survived, and suddenly these strange things happen to him.

Bhagavan: He’s a very, very troubled young man, who’s had a hard life and suffers from severe migraines that he’s had all his life. He lives alone with his sick mother and takes care of her. He’s moonlighting as a construction worker when this accident happens, and the accident, in a way, also saves him. When he wakes up, the migraines have gone, his wounds have healed and his abilities start evolving.

Alexanderson: So he’s trying to understand what’s happening to him – who he really is. At the same time, somebody’s hunting him – and trying to kill him.

Bhagavan: He’s someone who has never really fit in with the human world, not because he’s something different but because he hasn’t been able to make basic human connections. And he ends up in this other world where he doesn’t fit in either. He doesn’t like it and he has moral problems with it too – he’s meeting all these new people and some of them have very, in his eyes, questionable ideas and ethics. So it’s not about him suddenly realizing who he is and being happy about it. Quite the opposite.

Why did you choose the mini-series format?

Bhagavan: We originally thought of it as a mini-series of 90 minutes each – that’s what we initially talked about. But we started developing that idea as the same time Filip was writing the book, basically, so they grew side by side.

Alexanderson: I wasn’t ready, actually, with the book when we got in contact with our producer [Yellow Bird’s Berna Levin], and she said: “This really is serious material – you should do a series on this.” It wasn’t published yet. In fact, I hadn’t even finished writing the book when she read my first scripts.

Bhagavan: Berna took him on before he was published – hats off for that.

Had either of you written scripts before this?  

Bhagavan: No. Apart from coming from a family where the mother is a scriptwriter, I’m actually a songwriter.

Alexanderson: And I’m a stage actor. I’ve been in the theatre, for 15 years.

How did you approach adapting it?

Bhagavan: We also spend a lot of time mapping things out, because there’s a lot of stuff that isn’t covered in the book. We don’t want to cover it in the series either, but we had to map out the two worlds – how this other world intertwines with our society, how it all works.

Alexanderson: It’s a subculture of beings with different kinds of abilities – but each ability comes with a downside. It’s not interesting if everyone’s Superman.

Bhagavan: It was very important for us from the beginning – and in Filip’s book, naturally – that there’s no magic to this. There are no flashes coming from people’s fingertips. It’s all biology. And we’ve gone to great and extreme lengths to try to explain everything – there’s just one little piece that we’ve made up, the rest is biology. We like to see these characters as human animals. They’re just a bit enhanced – they’re not very good at organizing.

Filip’s book has been described as “Harry Potter for adults” in the Scandinavian press. Would you agree with that?

Alexanderson: [Laughs] No. I’m flattered in some ways, but that’s not a direction we want to go in.

Bhagavan: It’s not for young teenagers, it’s for young adults and up. Our generation grew up reading loads of comic books, doing role-playing games and watching genre movies, but we also read classics as well. We’ve never seen a problem with combining those things.

Alexanderson: [Laughs] It’s like Camus meeting Spider-man. For me, it’s not a big thing to have both.