Superheroes often end up playing detective, but can a detective become a superhero? That’s the question season two of Stan Lee’s Lucky Man has got to answer. Crime Scene tries its luck on set…
“Doing this show is knackering,” grumbles actor James Nesbitt, but he can’t help grinning as he says it. He’s taking a few minutes to chat to Crime Scene behind the scenes of Stan Lee’s Lucky Man season two, and though he’s working to a gruelling schedule that won’t let up until Christmas, Nesbitt is clearly enjoying himself. Judging by the general mood on set, he’s not the only one, either. When its first season aired back in January, the supernatural crime drama quickly found its audience, becoming Sky 1’s most successful original drama to date. And that success has given production company Carnival Films licence to kick things up a notch for season two. No wonder Nesbitt’s smiling.
To recap: the first season ended on a fairly bleak note for Nesbitt’s DI Harry Clayton. Cursed with a mysterious luck-bending bracelet he can’t remove, Clayton was being chased by various baddies who wanted to use the charm for their own ends. The identity of the villainous Golding had finally been revealed, but only because he’d kidnapped Clayton’s wife and daughter. Clayton managed to save the day, but let Golding escape in the process. Personally, professionally, and even mythologically, things were going pretty badly for our supposedly lucky hero. And it doesn’t seem like it’s going to get any easier for him in season two…
It’s late September, the first proper day of autumn when Crime Scene visits, and just over half the series is already in the can. The crew is set up in Shadwell’s King Edward VII Memorial Park, with the actual filming taking place inside a former power station’s pump house. Inside, the industrial look of the building has been softened with the addition of some abstract art and saggy sofas, but there’s a corpse – well, okay, an actor made up to look like a corpse – sitting in the middle of the room. A Steadicam operator moves slowly towards the dead man, while actors Amara Khan and Darren Boyd, playing officers Chohan and Orwell respectively, walk first behind the camera and then around it to discover the body. Before they can investigate further, a gunman clutching a hostage storms into the room yelling threats… and then the scene is reset for a take from another angle.
It’s all very dramatic, and Nesbitt confirms fans can expect a lot more action from season two. “It’s embracing the genre much more,” he explains. “I think in the first season of something like this, it takes its time to find its feet. What we discovered is that, by embracing the genre more, we’re also embracing the reality of the characters much more: we’re putting ordinary characters in extraordinary situations.”
In practice, that means season two will take a more episodic approach to its crime element, with a stand-alone mystery in each episode (Nesbitt tells us there’s one about a poisoner, one involving a potential chemical attack on London, and one “kind of Sweeney Todd” story). Meanwhile, the supernatural side of things will continue to create problems for Clayton and his nearest and dearest, both because Golding’s still out there, and because there’s a new character in town who’s about to change the rules of the bracelet all over again.
Played by Dutch actress Thekla Reuten, Isabella is a kind of foil to Clayton. “She’s got a similar bracelet,” Nesbitt reveals. “Harry has been told all along that there’s only one, so that complicates things. At first, it might seem quite good, because it’s incredibly isolating to think you’re the only one with that [power], so the idea that someone else has it too – a mysterious, beautiful woman – that has to be an attraction for him.” The “at first” is telling, though: it sounds like Isabella will turn out to be bad news.
Nesbitt won’t be drawn further on what she’s up to, but he does admit that Clayton’s relationship with the bracelet is still developing. “I think it throws up difficult choices,” he says. “If you’re saddled with it, what’s your responsibility to it? It can be a power for good, as he’s seen, and who’s to say that everything he’s been told about yin and yang is actually true?”
That’s where the superhero bit comes in, then. It’s hard not to hear echoes of another Stan Lee character’s philosophy in Clayton’s dilemma – responsibility, power, sound familiar? – and when Crime Scene gets an opportunity to talk to Steven Mackintosh, who plays Clayton’s boss Supt. Winter, he agrees. “I was a massive Spider-man freak as a kid,” he laughs. “I don’t know why, but he always captured my imagination.”
Fans might be surprised to see Mackintosh back on set for season two, considering Winter took a bullet to the chest at the end of season one. “It was looking a bit touch-and-go for Winter,” he says, “But here I am!” In the gap between seasons, Winter’s been laid up in hospital, but has decided the force needs him too much for him to stay away any longer – even if he now needs a walking stick to get around.
On the bright side, though, his relationship with Clayton has improved vastly: “Harry is an important member of his team, and there’s always that understanding that he’s unorthodox,” Mackintosh explains. “Winter always has to think, ‘where is Harry now? What’s he up to?’ But he has this understanding now that, wherever he is, he’s probably got a pretty good hunch about something. He cuts him much more slack now, but Winter’s still very much the boss, so what he says goes.”
Like Nesbitt, Mackintosh is extremely enthusiastic about the possibilities of the new season. “It’s very exciting getting new scripts and thinking ‘what’s going to happen? Where’s this going to go?’” he says. “All the cases are really edge-of-the-seat, they’re brilliant.” Most excitingly for him, he’ll get to be a bit more hands-on this time around. “I don’t know if you noticed in the first season,” he laughs, “but I was mostly stuck in an unglamorous office in Ealing. So I did say ‘is there any way Winter could get out and about a bit more?’”
Mackintosh’s wish was granted. The riverside set we visited is only one of literally dozens of locations the production has used. Some of the more ambitious locales include London City Airport, where the crew were allowed to film airside, and the Eros statue at Piccadilly Circus, one of the busiest places in London. “We filmed at rush hour,” Nesbitt told us. “That was incredible. It’s a very dramatic moment, and you can’t block it off, so that was like theatre – with thousands of people watching!”
It’s virtually impossible to talk about Lucky Man without talking about London, because the city is so integral to the look and feel of the show. “I think London is a modern Gotham, in a sense,” muses Nesbitt. “And I think [the crew] have embraced that in the way they shoot it and the way they light it. The camera is doing the genre work, and we’re doing the real work – we’re steeped in reality, but the camera and the lighting create this wonderful place that’s still unquestionably London.”
That question of genre comes up time and time again, to the point where it sometimes seems Nesbitt is defensive about the show’s supernatural side. “Don’t let the genre fool you: it is entertainment, but it’s quite dark,” he says. “I love that however difficult and challenging the world is, there’s a real reliance still on the notion of magic and the notion of love. Of course, it’s escapism, but it does have an impact on people, and clearly that’s something Stan Lee was born with. He’s changed the lives of so many people with these notions. We all need a superhero, I think.”
Even if that superhero is a gambling addict with a history of bad decisions? Nesbitt thinks so. “There’s something so attractive and compelling about a flawed hero – though right may be on his side, there’s wrong in him – and if you throw in a flawed superhero, it makes it really interesting. It makes for good stories about the choices people make, whether to err on the side of right, and how fine the line is between good and bad.”
It’s nearly time for Crime Scene to leave, because Nesbitt’s needed back on set. But before we go, we can’t resist asking him the obvious question: what would he do if he came into possession of a magic lucky bracelet? He leans forward, grins that wolfish grin. “I’d get myself in trouble,” he says. “But I’d have some fun doing it.”