Created and executive produced by showrunners Dana Fox and Dara Resnik, the Apple TV+ original series Home Before Dark is a dramatic mystery inspired by the reporting of real-life young investigative journalist Hilde Lysiak. After moving from Brooklyn to the small lakeside town that her father (Jim Sturgess) grew up in, Hilde (Brooklynn Prince) starts to dig around and unearths a cold case that everyone in town would rather stay buried.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, British actor Jim Sturgess talked about why he got excited about doing Home Before Dark, meeting Brooklynn Prince at a chemistry test, what he appreciates about what this show is able to pull off with its young lead star, what he thought about the way the first season ended, what it was like to get to return to these characters for the second season, which they were shooting when production was shut down due to COVID-19, and how his relationship with his young co-star has evolved, the longer that they’ve worked together. He also talked about what he looks for in a project, and why Cloud Atlas was such a special project to be a part of.
Be aware that some spoilers are discussed.
Collider: I really enjoyed this show and found it so surprising. I didn’t have any idea what to expect from it and thought it had a great mystery, so I’m excited to see how it continues, with what was set up by the end of the season.
JIM STURGESS: Yeah, for sure. I think we’re all just as excited to find out what’s gonna happen next.
When this show originally came your way, what were you told about it and what was it that got you interested in it?
STURGESS: I wasn’t really told much about it. I was just sent the first two scripts, and I got a letter asking if I would read them and, if I was interested, would I fly to Los Angeles, in a few days time. It was all quite quick, as it always is. They wanted me to fly to Los Angeles to meet with this young actress, called Brooklynn Prince. So, I Googled her name and was like, “Oh, she’s that young girl from the movie, The Florida Project.” Honestly, that was the first thing that made me quite excited about the project ‘cause I thought she was amazing in that film, and I was really excited that she was doing something else, and that it was something that I could potentially play her father in. But they were adamant that they wanted to get the father-daughter relationship right, so they wanted to know if I would consider flying to L.A. to meet her and spend some time with her ‘cause it was such an important dynamic for the story. That was all I ever really knew, at that point. So, I read the first couple of episodes and I was really drawn into the world. I was drawn into the family dynamic, and it felt like a very real family. I thought, yeah, I’d love to go and at least meet with Brooklynn and spend some time with her, and take it from there. It wasn’t until later that I then discovered it was all based on a real person and a real family.
At the same time, anytime you hear that a story is about a precocious kid that’s too smart for her own good, it could be a total disaster, depending on who the actor is that they cast, but Brooklynn really is terrific in this. When you did that chemistry test with her, what most struck you about her?
STURGESS: That there’s a rawness and realness. She’s inherently very cute and fun, but then when you see her on screen, she never crosses that line into that cutesy area. As much as it’s fun and it’s joyful, there’s a reality to what she brings to it. When I met her, she was just super smart and super fun to be around. We did some improvisations and some workshops, and I just knew that if anyone could pull this off and make it feel grounded, and the young person’s perspective could be portrayed in such a nuanced way, it would be an actress like Brooklynn.
When you found out that this is a real girl and that you’re representing a real family, did that change your approach to the character, at all? Does it affect how you play someone, when you know that there are real people out there?
STURGESS: I don’t know. I think it affected, in a positive way, ‘cause I got to meet Matt, the guy that I was playing, and spend some time with him. Me and Brooklyn hung out with both Hilde and Matt, and we were able to observe their relationship, firsthand. They were very encouraging about letting us bring our own energies to the characters and create our own family. We weren’t trying to emulate them, as people and as a family, but wanted to try to create our own thing on the screen, so I never felt pressure, in that sense. Both me and Brooklynn wanted to make sure that we had a very similar dynamic to that father-daughter relationship that those guys had, in real life.
This is really less of a kid show and more a show with a kid at its center. It has this young character at its core, but it really does appeal to a wide audience. What do you appreciate about what the show is able to pull off, in that regard?
STURGESS: I think that’s exactly it. What everybody was rooting for was to find a way in to create a family show that was for everybody, without the words family show feeling like a bit of a dirty word. That, to me, always comes with the imagery of mediocrity and mediocre television and diluted television that’s playing it safe. Everybody was really excited that this could be for everybody, but be interesting and exciting to watch, genuinely. It’s a show that does have the perspective of a kid, but it never felt patronizing or playing into that. It shows the kids’ feelings as real feelings, and not something to dismiss. These kids are really viewing the world and they really have their own perception of these things. The young people could actually teach the adult people a thing or two about the world that we live in.
What did you think about the way that things played out, by the end of the first season?
STURGESS: It just had us all on the edge of our seats. We were all wanting to know. It became a bit of an obsession for me, genuinely, to find out what really happened to this boy, where did he go, was he still alive, and were we gonna find out that he was dead and that would put an end to that story, or were they gonna continue it on. We all became really hooked on the idea of, where is he and what’s happened to him. There were many conversations in the make-up trailer about what we thought might have happened to him. We still haven’t reached any of those answers yet, so that continues. I thought the way that they dealt with the ending and the way that they left it open like that was hugely exciting.
I love this father-daughter relationship. What has working with Brooklynn taught you about yourself, as an actor?
STURGESS: She’s taught me a lot. Actually, all of the kids have. As adults, you can really focus on the work and, after the scene, you can really stew on whether you got there or not, and the kids are so fluid and loose and in the moment. They just exist for that moment. When the cameras are cut, the moment is gone, and that’s a really special gift to be able to have it. It’s useless to think about it after it’s happened ‘cause there’s no going back. So, the kids taught me that, once the scene is over, it’s over. When you’re working with young people, you have to bring that extra sense of something for them to react against. They’re not loaded with tricks of the trade. It’s very honest and very real. They can only react to what is happening, in the moment. They don’t have an armory of techniques that they’ve learned along the years. They just play it as real as can be, for that moment. That was an amazing skill to be around and absorb.
The first season of a TV series is always about figuring out who the characters are and how they fit into this world and establishing their relationships. What have you enjoyed about digging deeper into the character for the second season, for the bit that you at least had gotten to shoot? What was it like to return to these characters?
STURGESS: Yeah, it was amazing, actually, ‘cause it’s the first experience I’ve had, in my whole acting career, where I’ve got to revisit a character. In movies, there’s a beginning, a middle and an end, and unless you’re in some big franchise, it’s rare that you go back to the same people and the same character, in the same world. The TV stuff that I’d done had been like a mini-series, so this was the first thing where a Season 2 came after. It was amazing. I was interested to see how that would feel. We had nine months away from each other, and then we came back to start the second season, and you just feel it in your bones, instantly. You get back to that world and you just feel more and more comfortable in that character’s skin. When the second season picks it up, some time has moved on, and it was interesting to see where the characters are, at this moment in time. We only got to shoot three episodes, so we were just settling into it and the story was just starting to bubble to the surface. We were all excited to see where it was gonna go next, but we don’t know. We were all intrigued to see where these characters are gonna go.
How has your dynamic with Brooklynn continued to develop, as you shoot the show? Do you guys talk on set a lot about the scenes? Do you have a way that you’ve developed of working together?
STURGESS: It just get deeper and deeper and deeper, really, as we become closer and closer, and are friends and working partners. At the beginning, like with any actress, you just wanna find your feet, a little bit, but it came very quickly and very naturally. I think a lot of that was worked through in the improvisations and the workshops that I did with her in Los Angeles, so that when we did get on set, there was a familiarity to it that just deepens and deepens. When you start a new season, you have something that you’ve experienced together already, which is the first season. You have your own set of memories and experiences together, which makes your relationships feel even more real. When you’re shooting the first season, you are somewhat strangers. For the first six months, you’re collecting and gathering those experiences and memories. But when you come back from nine months of being apart, to shoot the second season, you feel connected to those people because you’ve all experienced something together. I absolutely have that with Brooklynn. That dynamic and that relationship just seems to get more in depth.
At this point in your own life and career, what do you look for in a project and what gets you excited about the work? Do you have a personal wishlist that you look for, or is it more of an instinctual thing when you read something?
STURGESS: It’s definitely become an instinctual thing. I’ve definitely learned, more than anything, that you can’t make any plans or have any idea of where your career is gonna go next. That’s one of the greatest things and one of the hardest things about the job. Anything can happen next. When you read something, for some reason, it just feels interesting and it feels right and you feel excited and you get that little buzz of adrenaline that just tells you to investigate into it, a little bit further. I certainly don’t think, a couple of years ago, I would have been as excited as I am now to play a dad and a TV show and look into a family dynamic, but it caught me at the right time. The dynamic of the family felt really unique and interesting, and the show that surrounded it, and the people that surrounded it, and the directors and the showrunners, and Brooklynn being the daughter, it all just felt like, “Wow, okay, if I was ever gonna be playing a dad in a family, then this feels like a very exciting, interesting world to explore a bit.
Is there a genre that you’d love to work in, that you either haven’t gotten to do or that you feel that you haven’t gotten to do very much in?
STURGESS: At the beginning of my career, I was all about trying to jump from genre to genre. I was like, “Oh, I haven’t done a period film,” or “I haven’t done a romantic comedy.” I tried to do a bit of everything. I did a movie, called Heartless, which was a horror film, and then The Way Back, which was an epic war/survival movie, and I’ve done some British independent films. As I’ve gotten older, I care less about what the genre is, and more about the character that I’m playing and the world that it’s set in and the story that it’s telling. So, I feel like I’ve jumped around a lot of genres, throughout my career.
You were also a part of Cloud Atlas, which will forever be one of those once in a lifetime project that you’ll never do anything like again.
STURGESS: Yeah, definitely.
What are the memories that you have of that production, that you’ll always hold with you?
STURGESS: You’re exactly right. All films feel like a very momentous experience in your life, but Cloud Atlas felt like nothing else. It felt like more than making a film. The extraordinary nature of just being in Lana Wachowski’s brain for four or five months was a trip for all of us. It was amazing that there were so many actors in that production that came to acting from so many different ways. There were big Hollywood actors, there were British character actors, there were actresses from Korea, and big stars from China. It was such an amazing melting pot of different people with different experiences. It felt like a big turning point in my life. You could be working with an actor like Tom Hanks, and everyone felt like they were having the first experience with something. No one had every experienced anything like it, no matter what your background was. It felt like very even playing field for everybody who was a part of it because there had never been anything quite like it before.
Home Before Dark is available to stream at Apple TV+.