Somewhere Boy is a new eight-part drama by Pete Jackson from Clerkenwell Films, the makers of the BAFTA award-winning Channel 4 show The End of the F***ing World.
The story centres on Danny (Lewis Gribben), whose mother was killed in a car crash when he was a baby. Overwhelmed with grief, his dad Steve (Rory Keenan) bought a house in the middle of nowhere and locked Danny in, telling him the world outside was full of monsters waiting to take him away. Just like they took his mum.
For 18 years they stay cocooned and isolated, listening to Benny Goodman records and watching old movies with no sad endings. However, all that changes when Danny is taken to live with his well-meaning but stressed-out aunt Sue (Lisa McGrillis) and cousin Aaron (Samuel Bottomley) and has to cope with the shock of the outside world.
We caught up with writer Pete Jackson to find out where the inspiration for the story came from and what it is like to surrender control of your creation to an actor.
Where did the title of Somewhere Boy come from?
We went through a long process, putting forward hundreds of alternatives to our working title, The Birth of Daniel F Harris, which we always knew was a bit of a mouthful. Somewhere Boy just felt right. Danny’s not from anywhere, not from a particular location or a particular world or a particular time. He’s just from… Somewhere!
How did you come up with the concept?
My dad had a Technics Mk 1 record player that he bought in 1972 and it had pride of place in the living room when I was growing up – we sat together and listened to records on it. A couple of years ago, I dug it out from his garage and started listening to those same records on the same record player with my son. It got me thinking of those safe worlds you create for your children, how you want them to continue and yet they never do, because the complexities of the real world come crashing in as they grow up. What if you did everything you could to stop those safe little fictions from ending? And what would happen if a father took this way too far? The show acts as a kind of cautionary tale.
As a father, was there catharsis in writing about your fears like this?
Yeah, totally. It’s a kind of allegory for growing up: you grow up in a safe world created by your parents, then you have to go out on your own. It’s hard and it’s terrifying, but you survive, and people adapt. In a show ostensibly about monsters, we really wanted to explore the fact that there aren’t any. It would be nice if there were and the world was simple and binary, good and evil, but instead it’s about complicated, troubled human beings trying their best. Everyone’s a mass of contradictions, everyone’s flawed and brilliant and terrible. That complexity is infinitely richer and more rewarding, if you embrace it and don’t fear it. This is something the father in our show (Steve) is unable to do. Which means his attempts to keep his son ‘safe’ turn into imprisonment and emotional abuse.
Did you worry that people might not believe the premise of the story?
People can go off grid. Think of Dreams of a Life (2011 documentary), about the woman found in her flat years after she died. People can fall through the cracks, particularly if you eschew social media or any contact with the outside world. From a sort of moral standpoint though, can someone stand to do it? There are stories of people being imprisoned by parents or carers, but the abuse is always front and centre. What if it was an act of love gone awry? If the kernel of what you believe is good, how much bad are you willing to do to protect that good?
What questions did you ask during your research?
It was interesting talking to social workers and to people who had left cults. If you grew up with a reality presented to you and you don’t question it, how difficult is it to be deprogrammed? Even when faced with the truth endlessly, it’s still hard. Danny is almost adapting the world to fit the narrative his dad created, so as not to accept that his dad lied to him. That is true for him and for people who leave cults, and true of sons and fathers. At some point, you have to accept that your dad is flawed, a human being and not a superhero, even when evidence of that fallibility may present itself endlessly.
What made Lewis Gribben and Samuel Bottomley right for the roles of Danny and Aaron?
We thought finding Danny would be an exhausting process, but Catherine Willis, our casting director, found Lewis really early on. We knew from the moment we watched him that he was our guy. He’s an extraordinary talent and we’re lucky to have found him. Aaron is such a complex part as well, and Samuel is so naturalistic – he can give so much nuance and emotion with a single word. With Aaron, this relatively withdrawn, monosyllabic teenager, there’s so much going on under the surface.
The soundtrack choices are always unexpected. What were you aiming for?
Being able to bring the warmth of the old music Danny listens to into the modern world creates a nice juxtaposition: what modern music would mean to a boy who hasn’t experienced any of that onslaught of noise and chaos before. Our composer, Paul Haslinger, totally got it: because Danny’s and Aaron’s worlds are so different, we could almost mirror what’s happening in their lives with music.
Are you you’re a fan of the old ones?
Of course! I had Benny Goodman’s Where or When on repeat as I was writing.
What was the most challenging aspect of filming?
Shooting during COVID presented its own issues, but production were amazing, keeping everyone safe and making sure everyone followed protocols. This is also a show where people don’t say what they’re thinking – it’s all feeling, nuance and subtext. Fortunately everyone understood that entirely, building upon it and finding their own layers and depth. I’ll take all the credit in the world for it, but I didn’t put it in there! The hope is that it’s better than you imagined it, and in this case it was.
Was there a personal highlight?
Watching the first day of filming and realising that their interpretations of the characters are infinitely better than I’d been acting out in my head as I wrote it. Then later seeing the rushes and realising how they’d used old lenses for inside the house to create a warm, grainy kind of filmic quality compared to the harsher outside. It was thrilling.
Do you have ideas for another series?
Yeah, Danny’s journey is only beginning. There’s nothing resolved, he’s not been “solved”, he’s still a boy at odds with the world who’s going to have to try and find his place in it. We have a lot of ideas.
Somewhere Boy – from Sunday 16 October on Channel 4.