Interview with writer of The End of the F***ing World, Charlie Covell
Your new project is The End of the F***ing World. Explain a little bit about the story.
It’s based on these graphic novels that were written by Charles Forsman, in the States. The basic premise is that there are these two teenagers who run away together, and the boy, James, is convinced he’s a psychopath, and decides he wants to kill someone at school. And he picks this girl – or he thinks he picks this girl, you could argue that she picks him – and they run away together. His intention is to kill her, but as things progress, it looks like he might start falling in love with her. Alyssa is the girl, and her story is that she’s had a really difficult home life, and she doesn’t really fit in. She’s looking for a connection with people at school, she doesn’t really find it. And then one day she spies James in the canteen, and thinks he might be kind of a kindred spirit. She doesn’t realise the danger she’s putting herself in. So this is the story of them running away. It takes place over about five days.
How did you end up being the writer on the show?
Jonathan Entwistle, who directed the first block, and is one of the executive producers on the whole show, came across one of the comics years ago, and he wrote to Charles, whose email address was on the back of the comic, and said “I love it, I’d like to adapt it.” Charles gave his permission and Jonathan made a shot film about five or six years ago now and Clerkenwell films were interested in picking it up as a series, because they loved the short film. I had just written Banana for Channel 4 – that was the big break that the channel gave me. They gave me this amazing opportunity to write two episodes – I’d never written anything for telly before. And that was what the guys at Clerkenwell read, and they asked me if I’d come in and meet, and asked if I was interested. And I was, I thought it was brilliant. So that was it, really.
Did you discuss the project with Charles Forsman at all?
No, not really. He entrusted us to get on with it. I tried to honour the shape of the comics. If you read the graphic novel, it swings between James’ perspective and Alyssa’s perspective. In the short film, there was only time to do one perspective, which was James’. So I made sure that they were equally weighted characters, and we saw both of their perspectives. But I didn’t discuss anything with him, and I was really nervous when he came to do a set visit. He and his partner Melissa watched about the first six episodes, and they sent me a lovely email saying they really liked it, and really liked the bits I’d invented, so that probably meant the most in terms of blessing, to have that from him.
How closely did you stick to the original storyline?
Pretty closely. There were a couple of strands in the comic that didn’t quite work in terms of a TV audience. And we invented two cops, Eunice and Teri – there was a cop in the comics, but it doesn’t work in the same way. And we’ve fleshed out the family backstory, so Alyssa’s parents aren’t really seen in the original, they’re just mentioned. The bare bones of it are pretty similar, and I hope the essence is similar, but there’s stuff we’ve had to truncate and change to make it as a TV show.
Does the story have a different feel to it as soon as you remove it from the US to the UK?
Jonathan’s idea was always to try and do Americana, British-style. So if you look at the way Lucy Tcherniak and Jonathan both shot it, there are lots of nods to American TV shows, hopefully, and American landscapes. So we were trying to find parts of the UK that didn’t look quintessentially British – we filmed the finale on the Isle of Sheppey, and so hopefully there’s a feeling of expanse like you’d get in the Midwest. I think it was almost trying to do a Fargo-take on Britain, so they move from suburbia to an English version of the Wild West.
Although it’s set now, there’s a sort of 70s feel to proceedings – was that something intentional?
I don’t know about that specific time. I know that Jonathan and Justin, the Director of Photography in the first block, were very keen to have an aesthetic that didn’t feel necessarily really current – there were nods to other eras. Neither of them have phones in the graphic novel, and we didn’t really want them to have phones or be contactable, so Alyssa smashes her phone in episode one and James just refuses to have one. They probably hate things like social media, they don’t want to be tracked, they just want to be away from all of that. So, because they’re a bit different, that probably feeds into the feeling of this not being particularly ‘now’.
Were you involved in the project after you handed over the scripts? Did you get involved in the casting, were you on set etc?
Yeah. Clerkenwell, Jonathan and everyone was really generous. They made me an associate producer about halfway through the series. They were really collaborative people to work with, so I was consulted on casting, and they were always open to suggestions. I was on set quite a lot. It was a really collaborative team, and everyone worked really well together, and I think it’s going to be better if you all agree and can feed in stuff. So everyone was fairly involved during script stage, and then that was flipped around, and I was consulted a lot during the shoot. I love that part of the process, seeing it come to life.
The directors are relatively new, the leads are young, and you’re not exactly long in the tooth. Was it quite refreshing to be working on something like that?
Yeah, definitely. I think there was a lot of faith put in us by Clerkenwell, Channel 4 and Netflix. Everyone is quite new, and there is an element of risk with that, but I thought it was great. There was a refreshing energy to the whole thing. It did feel really fun and fresh.
Jessica and Alex are absolutely remarkable in it, aren’t they?
Yeah, they’re really brilliant. We had some rehearsals before we started the shoot, and the amount of work they’d both done, thinking about character and so on. It was great to see them speak up with suggestions for lines, and there was time to finesse stuff, which was great. And also, when I was on set, you could make suggestion at the last minute, which must have been annoying for them, but it helped us to get it exactly right, and they were really up for that. They’re really free, they seemed to quite like being able to have input, so they were great to work with. As was the whole cast.
The supporting cast features some cracking cameos, doesn’t it?
Yeah. It’s lots of people I really wanted to work with. I love Steve Oram, I think he’s wonderful. He’s playing quite a tragic character, which I think he does brilliantly. And people like Matt King and Geoff Bell are great, and Barry Ward plays Alyssa’s dad, and he’s wonderful. So we were really lucky with the cast.
You’re also an actress. Were you tempted to write yourself a part?
No, not really. Sometimes I really enjoy writing and being in stuff, but with this, I really wanted to take a step back and just be a writer. There’s so much to do, and it might have been a bit distracting. I think it’s good, sometimes, to have them as separate entities.