Even the future needs to be re-imagined for modern times and Philip K. Dick’s alternate realities and visions of years hence have been re-engineered by Bryan Cranston (“Breaking Bad”) and the team behind “Electric Dreams” for today’s audience, the star and producer says.
The writers of the anthology series “Electric Dreams” had free rein to completely re-imagine the sci-fi master’s work for the Channel 4 and Amazon project, said Cranston, who stars in one installment and was a producer on the series. “It was actually a mandate,” he said. “What we didn’t want to do, and we had the blessing from the Philip K. Dick estate as partners, was just do what he had already written and put it up on its feet. Anybody can do that, and it’s not fresh and it’s not new.
“We told all of our writers to use the original material as a springboard to your own re-imagining of the story – change the genre, language, place, whatever you like – but keep the core of them or idea behind it and enhance that and see how that affects not a Cold War period when it was written, but now. How does it affect the modern-day audience?”
Cranston stars in an episode of “Electric Dreams” called “Human Is,” playing opposite Essie Davis (“Game of Thrones”) as a husband in a loveless relationship who appears to be a different man after returning from battle. “It’s very sweet and small in scope compared to the other shows. It really examines the condition of what makes up a human being,” Cranston said. “I think I was attracted to it because in these anxious times there’s something we need to get back to: non-cynical storytelling. I think people will be in tune to it because of it.”
The first episode in the series, “The Hood Maker,” with Richard Madden and Holliday Grainger, has just launched in the U.K. on Channel 4, and the whole series will go out on Amazon’s streaming service in the U.S. at a later date. The episode looks at a world where telepaths are used as a means of communication, but when hoods blocking their powers start appearing Madden and Grainger’s characters, a detective and a telepath respectively, are assigned to investigate.
Other episodes include “Crazy Diamond,” based on Dick’s “Sales Pitch,” in which Steve Buscemi’s character helps a synthetically engineered woman try and prolong her life. Benedict Wong, Timothy Spall, Anna Paquin, and Greg Kinnear are among the talent in other upcoming installments.
The series is produced by Sony Pictures Television alongside McP Productions, Electric Shepherd Productions, Anonymous Content, Tall Ship Productions, Left Bank Pictures, and Cranston’s Moonshot Entertainment. Cranston, who was in the 2012 remake of “Total Recall,” based on Philip K. Dick’s short story “We Can Remember You Wholesale,” says he is a longtime fan of the author.
As a producer on “Electric Dreams,” he was involved in choosing the stories, from a selection of more than 120, interviewing the writers, reviewing scripts, and giving notes. Making a 10-part anthology series presented the team with a variety of production challenges: “The complexity and logistics of the project itself have been really challenging,” he said. “When you consider there are 10 different writers, 10 directors, 10 different casts, 10 different locations, we can’t amortize anything. The sets were different, so 10 different designs. Everything is multiplied.”
Asked whether “Breaking Bad,” in which Cranston played schoolteacher-turned-crystal meth manufacturer Walter White, helped kick-start the ongoing Golden Age of TV drama, Cranston said it was more luck than judgment.
“I think by and large it was serendipitous to come along at that time,” he said. “Audiences now are far more sophisticated than when I was young. If you look at nostalgia television channels at shows from 20, 30 years ago, they’re laughable, they wouldn’t last now, when you have ‘Humans’ and ‘Black Mirror’ and more sophisticated character development.
“I think the mistake a lot of TV executives made was they thought in order to sustain interest in a show you needed first and foremost a compelling plotline and that is incorrect. First and foremost you need compelling character. That’s the gateway into a story. It doesn’t work the other way around.”