The Returned begins tonight in the US and we caught up with Fabrice Gobert, creator of the French horror series for our latest Q&A feature. For those unfamiliar with Les Revenants, he provides details on its creation and his reaction to its worldwide popularity. He also teases what’s coming up in season two…
Thank you for taking the time to talk with us. People use these term “zombie” when describing “The Returned,” but they aren’t like what we see from George Romero and in “The Walking Dead.” Can you tell our readers what makes your “zombies” different from what audiences are used to seeing?
Dead People in “Les Revenants” are very different from what they are in Romero’s movie… They are hungry of food and not of humans. They want to live normally and to take their place back. In fact, they don’t even know they are dead at the beginning. I love Romero’s movies but our point was to imagine how we could manage with the come back of the dead if there were normal people. (at least at the beginning…).
How did the idea for this series initially come about? Was there a particular work or works that served as inspiration?
At first, there was a movie from Robin Campillo, realized in 2004. The producers of the movie, Caroline Benjo and Jimmy Desmarais, had the idea to make a series from the movie. They contacted me three years ago to work on the project. I thought it was a terrific idea to imagine a realistic place where dead people could come back and felt just as they disappeared the day before. I loved that mix of fantastyand realism. A lot of works inspired me during the creation of the series, from the Bible to Tomas Alfredson’s Morse, an excellent movie about vampire living in the suburbs of Copenaghen. That was a perfect example of fantastic phenomena treated in a realistic way.
French television isn’t normally known for pushing into the horror/fantasy genre. What challenges did you face in getting this idea off the ground and how did you overcome them?
It’s true there are not a lot of fantastic series or even fantastic movies in France. They are however examples of great old French fantastic film like Chris Marker’s “La jetée” or George Franju’s “Les Yeux sans visage”. These were good inspirations. With the cinematographer Patrick Blossier, we intended to create a place where anything can happen, even the come back of dead people. We imagined a town with very french buildings but also some sets that we usually see in genre movies (like the American Diner or the Lake pub). We filmed it the night or in the sunset, to give strangeness to this familiar place. And we worked a lot with the great actors of the casting to imagine how normal people could react in this so strange situation.
The first season received critical acclaim in France, the UK, and other countries around the world, and is now headed to the US just in time for Halloween. Has the amount of this exposure this series has received surprised you? Why do you think it has a universal appeal?
Of course, I did not expect that at all ! And I surely cannot explain it. I don’t know if there is an universal appeal but I know a lot of very talented and invested persons worked on this project. Great actors and technicians coming from the cinema, the great writer Emmanuel Carrere. And of course Mogwai. I was very lucky to work with these people.
Many movies shy away from answering “How” or “Why” in regards to people coming back from the dead. Is that a topic you plan to explore or are interested in exploring? Does the audience need to know?
This is a good question… We intend to explore the reason of the come back and of the evolution of dead people and not be disappointing at the end of the series. But we don’t want spectators to have a lot of advance compare to the characters. I think one of the series interest is to see normal people deal with fantastic situations and questions they can’t answer.
I understand a second season is already in development. What can you tell us about the new season at this point?
All the characters will be present in season 2. In a way or another…
Aside from “The Returned,” do you have any other projects in development? Do you plan to stay working in the horror/fantasy genre for the near future?
I am working very hard of season 2 ! We should shot at the beginning of next year. I really don’t know what I will do after that…
Can you give our readers a little tease of what they can expect from the first episode of The Returned? Do you have a favorite scene or on-set memory while creating the episode?
The beginning of the series is very simple : in a small town, few people come back home. They don’t know they’re dead.
I remembered that when we shot the encounter between Claire and her dead daughter, we all were conscious on the set that was a very important scene. Because that was the first time in the series that dead people were confronted to living people. We wrote that scene a lot of times, we talked a lot about it with Anne Consigny, I prepared a lot with Patrick Blossier… And at the end, I like very much that scene !
“This Halloween, Sundance Channel takes zombies to another level with the premiere of “The Returned.” This absorbing eight-part French series tells a story that’s equal parts shocking and entertaining all while grounding the supernatural in deeply human emotions. Created by Fabrice Gobert and based on the feature film Les Revenants by Robin Campillo, “The Returned” was a smash hit for France’s Canal+ and the UK’s Channel 4. The Independent proclaimed the drama “one of the greatest, creepiest, most compelling shows brought to…TV screens in 2013.” On the heels of the Emmy®-nominated “Top of the Lake” and the critically acclaimed dramatic series “Rectify,” “The Returned” marks a continued commitment by Sundance Channel to offer daring original scripted entertainment.
In an idyllic French mountain town, a seemingly random collection of people find themselves in a state of confusion as they attempt to return to their homes. What they don’t know yet is that they have been dead for several years, and no one is expecting them back. As they struggle to reintegrate with their families and past lovers, buried secrets emerge and new mysteries develop as they grapple with a miraculous and sinister new reality. But it seems they are not the only ones to have returned from the dead. Their arrival coincides with a series of gruesome murders which bear a chilling resemblance to the work of a serial killer from the past.”