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Wednesday 24 Sep 2014

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Krod Mandoon And The Flaming Sword Of Fire – production interview 2

Matt Lucas (Chancellor Dongalor) and Alex MacQueen (Barnabus)

Peter Knight, who devised and co-wrote Krod Mandoon, takes up the story of how his dream project finally made it to the small screen.

"I had developed several shows before with Brad, but very much in the mainstream American studio style, where Brad was a creative producer my agent partnered me with. We really loved the collaboration but were both frustrated by the process, the constant layers of gate keepers, where you find yourself desperately trying to anticipate the tastes and creative needs of a network executive who may be two pegs above the one you happen to be dealing with. What came out of the process for Brad and me were really good scripts but we weren't able to get them made and it was really frustrating.

"So, fresh on the heels of our last project not getting picked up I decided to give up on trying to figure out what the VP of Comedy at such-and-such a network might want to see, and to try to figure out what I would actually want to watch. So I had this idea: I loved the Conan The Barbarian comic books as a kid, set in a fun fantasy realm.

"I decided to write about a band of freedom fighters who were completely inept with an insecure hero who was tortured by a complicated relationship with his promiscuous pagan girlfriend. I wrote a first draft and was quite happy with it but knew it needed some help.

"So I took the idea to Brad whose first question was, 'Have you ever read any Joseph Campbell?' I hadn't, and it turns out that neither had he, but his instinct was dead on. Campbell had developed the idea of the hero's journey, the archetypal themes common to all classic storytelling, and a lot of basic points applied perfectly to Krod and help set it on a stronger epic footing."

Brad takes up the story: "What I liked about the script when I got it though was – as always with Peter's writing – that it was very funny. It was a world that I wasn't terribly familiar with. I'm actually not a comic book fan or a fantasy fan for that matter – I'm more of a character kind of guy.

"So I started challenging Peter to try and find some deeper meanings in this piece, to use the period to comment on modern day society and relationships – particularly where men are concerned.

"I found one line in the script that was the key to me, when Krod first enters the tavern and he's introducing his band of freedom fighters who are introducing themselves – 'I'm Zezelryck the warlock,' 'I'm Loquasto' – then Aneka says, 'I'm Aneka' and Krod has to prompt her to say 'Krod's girlfriend' which means all of us said: 'Oh, I get this guy now!'

"Because I can't relate to a warrior who can walk into a bar with a flaming sword on any level, but a guy who is punching above his weight class with a girl and is afraid he is going to lose her immediately hit a chord.

"So we decided to use this man who looks like he shouldn't have anything in the world to worry or care about as a comment about post-feminist man. You know, what is his role? Is he supposed to be a warrior, is he supposed to be in touch with his feelings, is he supposed to care about hair products, his skin and his teeth? Put it in that context and all of a sudden it adds a little layer of richness.

"Also, whilst I can't relate to being a freedom fighter, I have worked in a lot of offices where there is politics, in-fighting, incompetence and competition. So we said: 'Let's make this a work-place comedy where they have a goal that is to save the empire and the people. They have a lot of obstacles in the way, a combination of their insecurities and incompetence and the fact that Krod is loyal almost to a fault and anybody else would have fired these people a long time ago'.

"Once we had established that, we went back to the relationship between Krod and Aneka and the twist, which is that they break up in the very first episode which is painful and one of the reasons you shouldn't have an office relationship because there is always the danger that you will have to go back and face that person despite having broken up with them. So we also have the added complication that they can't go their separate ways, but have to fight side by side to fulfil their destiny.

"So you have Krod Mandoon who has enormous emotional feelings and deep open scars and he has to work every day with Aneka, and on top of that her main weapon is sex. So it really piled on a lot of relatable elements and painful emotional elements in an already interesting, visually stunning world.

"We could use wizards and warlocks, and we have a generation of kids who have grown up with Lord Of The Rings and Harry Potter and love this world, and that's how it built up layer upon layer."

Peter elaborates on his influences: "I just loved Get Smart and Batman and a lot of those old TV Shows and comedians like Jack Black, Ben Stiller and Vince Vaughn. I think there are elements of all of them in our characters, a lovely combination of the modern and it's all great fun.

"Our brief was to make a series in which each episode stands alone as a story. So that was the challenge. Each episode has a professional and personal goal.

"We then spent two months coming up with storylines. Once we had the basic story written down, we started writing pretty elaborate and very detailed outlines. Then we divided them up between us and each wrote a first draft that we would then hand to the other person who would make notes.

"We then took the best of our notes back and forth three or four times before the final polish when we would sit down together for a day or two in a room. This had the advantage that once the outlines were approved we handed all five episodes in at once."

The timing was also fortuitous: "We heard that Comedy Central was very interested, but then the writers' strike came along. We continued developing our ideas and by the time the strike was settled, they were ready to greenlight the series."

Krod Mandoon is very unusual in that it is a scripted series that was developed and written simultaneously, for both the British and American audiences: "Certainly you have imported formats from us and we have imported formats from you."

Brad and Peter wrote without any particular actors in mind: "Even after we had this thing written and everybody seemed to like it I did not put a nickel on it getting made till we got Krod cast, and I knew that finding someone to play an epic hero who is also a very vulnerable man would be a real acting challenge."

The hunt for Krod was on – and then British actor Sean Maguire came into the frame, an actor Peter and Brad weren't familiar with: "Despite its huge box office success, I hadn't seen Meet The Spartans. But when we heard that Sean was interested in Krod, we looked at some of his work. And when he read for us we were blown away, he was brilliant."

Sean has been living in the States for the past eight years where he has been carving out a name for himself with series such as the CBS comedy The Class, Off Centre and Eve and the lead role in the TV film Prince Charming.

In the UK he is still best known for regular roles in EastEnders and Grange Hill. But all that looks set to change.

Peter laughs: "Two thoughts occurred to me immediately when I met Sean: 'Okay, I'm sitting here with the English George Clooney, and if we don't get him today, I think he will probably play James Bond next, so we need to grab him while we can'.

"It reminded me of a couple of years ago on NYPD Blue when Ricky Schroder joined the cast and people were completely unfamiliar with him. Then he really blew them away with his performance."

As the series is a British and American co-production, the casting brief was not straightforward: "Originally we were told that the lead had to be American; luckily Sean does a very nice American accent, so that passed for Comedy Central. We were told we could hire one more American in the role of the sorcerer. Kevin Hart came in to audition and we asked him to improvise – and that worked very well."

Casting Aneka was equally demanding: "We were looking for several different qualities; the ferocity of a warrior, a light comic touch and someone you would see in the pages of a lads' mag. We went over to England and held extensive auditions. Sean sat in on the audition process because we knew it was all going to be about chemistry.

"We whittled it down to two actresses. India was actually scheduled to have surgery at noon on the day of the final auditions, so we had to do it early and, being a trooper, she came in, nailed it with Sean and then had her tonsils removed!"

The casting of Matt Lucas as Dongalor was a big bonus. Peter laughs: "Initially we had a fruitless search for Dongalor. One of the really important things was that he is an out-and-out villain, but with a loveable side.

"Then Jimmy Mulville called and he said, 'Hello, Peter, are you sitting down? Matt Lucas has put himself on tape for the role of Dongalor'. I said, 'Oh my God, that's incredible – who is Matt Lucas?' As soon as he mentioned Little Britain it all began to make sense.

"Then Brad and I started to look at everything we could find on YouTube and in no time at all we became the unofficial heads of the American Matt Lucas Fan Club!"

Filming in Hungary also had huge benefits when it came to the high production values of the series, as Brad explains: "We were blessed with the best possible crew, all people who would otherwise have been very hard for us to get.

"I think they all responded to the idea that they were going to get to do some unusual television. That's what we kept hearing – ‘What a treat to get to do something so visual or different or non-formulaic' – and that was great; I mean everybody was on that ride, a bit of a maverick and liked the challenge of doing something nearly impossible in the time we had to do it and they all came up trumps."

Peter and Brad are now keeping their fingers firmly crossed, as Peter explains: "As soon as I started writing the series I knew that it was an unusual project and I knew that it wasn't going to be the easiest thing to sell, and it was a tough time.

"I hope that it's a show that gets a hold of people and they love it. I hope it really makes a mark and has a lasting impact."


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