From creator Travis Beacham (whose 2005 Blacklist film script A Killing on Carnival Row evolved into this project), the Amazon Prime original drama series Carnival Row (already picked up for a second season) is set in a Victorian fantasy world filled with mythological creatures who have become immigrants after their homelands were invaded by man and now must struggle to co-exist. When faerie Vignette Stonemoss (Cara Delevingne) crosses paths with former flame, Detective Rycroft Philostrate (Orlando Bloom), secrets become a very dangerous thing, as a string of gruesome murders threatens to tear apart the uneasy peace of the Row.
While at the Amazon portion of the Television Critics Association Press Tour, Collider got the opportunity to sit down and chat with executive producers Travis Beacham and Marc Guggenheim about how Carnival Row evolved from a movie to a TV series, putting together this incredible cast, coming up with such unique character names, creating such an epic fantasy world, and how far ahead they’ve planned out the story.
Collider: Travis, this is something that you’ve been working on for a long time. When it started out as a film script, called A Killing on Carnival Row, did you have any idea that this is what it would and could evolve into, at some point?
TRAVIS BEACHAM: From the very, very beginning, this is what I hoped it would be, if it could be anything. But there’s a huge chunk of time there, in the middle, where I made my way out here and the scripted had been languishing long enough that I’d really given up hope on it. I’d like to say that I never gave up hope on it, and I always knew it would be like a big deal, but for the longest time, in my career, this was that sacrificial lamb that gave me my career because everybody loved it, but it was too big to ever get made. To be here right now, talking about it, with Season 1 in the can, Season 2 announced, and being ready to go scout for Season 2 on this thing that I wrote in film school, in my wildest dreams, I would have never imagined it. It’s really crazy.
Having seen the TV series, I can’t imagine it ever existing as a movie.
BEACHAM: Oh, yeah, me neither.
What would that have even been?
BEACHAM: It would have been smaller. The world would have required the same amount of construction and design, but the character story would’ve been smaller ‘cause in a movie, you don’t really have time for those character moments, especially nowadays, where you watch a movie and it’s basically strung together pre-vis action scenes. TV has become the place where you have those slow character moments, which is the most surprising thing about what we’ve been able to do. The version that we have now is better than the feature script ever was ‘cause we get to spend time with these people.
MARC GUGGENHEIM: So much of this show lives in the quiet moments, which is not what you would expect from a big, sprawling, epic fantasy. We have those elements, obviously, but the thing that Travis and I oftentimes get the most excited about, when we’re talking in the writers’ room, is those quiet moments, where it’s just two characters and you’re peeling back layers of character and story. Yes, it’s fun to like do a rooftop chase, and it’s fun to show soldiers storming a beach.
BEACHAM: But from our perspective, the most challenging part is the scene work.
GUGGENHEIM: Easily. We have amazing department heads and incredibly creative people, who can set something on fire or crash a ship. It’s the scene work that we can’t hand off to the department heads. We have to do that ourselves.
BEACHAM: When we were doing designs for the fauns, the burden on that design was so high because it doesn’t just have to play in chase scenes, or running through the streets in action scenes. It also has to play in a sustained tea party scene, where he’s just sitting across from somebody and talking to them. That creature design has to play with the emotionality of a human being, which is an incredibly challenging design obstacle. To me, that’s what’s so exciting about the show. We always say, in the writers’ room, that television is fundamentally two people in a room talking. Whatever other ornaments you hang on it and embellishments that you bring to it, if that part doesn’t work, it doesn’t work.
GUGGENHEIM: You can have the biggest, most epic fight sequence, ever put the film, but if you don’t understand it’s affecting the characters who were in that sequence, then it doesn’t matter. Then, it’s just spectacle. There’s value in spectacle, but you can’t hang an entire show around it.
Did that make casting crucial?
BEACHAM: I love our cast. I adore them. First of all, they’re such kind and generous people, and they’re just a genuine pleasure to be around. Especially when you’re living across the ocean in Prague, and you’re far away from everything that you know, it’s just nice to be around people who are pleasant. But also, they’re incredibly talented. We have actors who you could give garbage, and they could make it look art.
GUGGENHEIM: It’s dangerous, actually. When you’re writing for a cast that is this talented, it is very, very tempting and easy to just be like, “Tamzin [Merchant] will make it work. I don’t have to work too hard on this scene.” It’s a great gift to know that your cast is just gonna elevate everything that you do.
BEACHAM: And they have such a genuine passion for the show. They are the first and biggest fans of it, too, which is just great.
I love how you have a combination of known and unknown faces, and that we even get to see Orlando Bloom and Cara Delevingne in a very different way than we have previously.
GUGGENHEIM: I’m not objective, but I feel like they disappear into their roles. Yes, when you first start watching, you go, “Oh, that’s Orlando Bloom, and that’s Cara Delevingne.” But eventually you just go, “Oh, that’s Philo and Vignette.”
BEACHAM: Both of them are doing things that are so different from anything they’ve done before. The baggage that they bring – and baggage, in a good way – with Orlando having played Legolas and Cara having the faery, Tinkerbell look about her, it’s nice that they bring that to it. Orlando comes with this very baritone voice that you’ve never seen him do.
GUGGENHEIM: It’s very Bruce Wayne/Batman.
BEACHAM: And Cara has that steely edge. It’s those little points of flare that they bring to it, that just make all the difference in the world, and really elevate these casting choices beyond what you would expect them to be.
GUGGENHEIM: And then, you have David Gyasi, who plays Agreus, and he’s literally unrecognizable, and not because we put him in horns and put a mustache on him. He’s unrecognizable because he carried himself differently and his voice dropped 20 octaves. It’s a complete transformation, which is magical to see. People have never seen David in a role like this before. Those who know him from Interstellar are gonna be like, “Wait, that’s the guy from Interstellar?”
BEACHAM: I always had a likeability problem with Imogen, writing her. I didn’t really like her, until I saw Tamzin’s audition and thought, “Oh, there’s a weirdness and quirkiness to this character.” The cast was always teaching us things about their characters, and that’s incredibly fun to write. And you’re right, we have so many new faces, familiar faces, and faces that are familiar in a distant way. We have an incredible cast. I’m really excited about them.
You also have incredible character names. How are those names to come up with?