Life on Mars, the recent BBC UK television series which sent actor John Simm‘s detective back to the caustic world of police work in the 1970s, was a massive cult and critical hit. So when it was announced that David E. Kelley‘s production company would be creating an American pilot for ABC, fans were a little concerned. But with the pilot in the can, actor Colm Meaney, who plays Philip Glenister‘s character Gene Hunt, says all is well. Rotten Tomatoes caught up with him on the set of his new film, 3 and Out alongside Mackenzie Crook and Imelda Staunton, in London last night to find out more.
“It may be an American remake, but they’ve cast two Irish actors in the film.” Meaney told us, “Jason O’Mara plays the young guy who gets sent back to 1972, and I’m Gene Hunt, the precinct captain in 1972. I’m his boss.”
On the plot of the pilot, Meaney was tight-lipped, but he did tell us the basics of the setup, and how close it’ll be to its British counterpart. “I didn’t see the original show and in fact I just bought the DVDs when I was at the airport yesterday,” he said, “but it’s a David Kelley script so it’s really sharp and people who’ve seen the original show and had read the pilot said it was pretty close. Basically he’s just transposed it to Los Angeles in 1972, so you’re dealing with the attitudes and ideas of LA in the seventies instead of Manchester.”
Of course David Kelley is best known for his work on Ally McBeal, Chicago Hope and Boston Legal – perhaps less so for his contribution as the writer of Lake Placid – so his TV credits, at the very least, are in check and as far as Meaney is concerned, they’ve got the period spot-on too. “It’s really funny to walk onto a set that’s supposed to be 1972, because I remember 1972,” he laughed, “And it really feels like you’re going back to the thirties or something because you take for granted how far we’ve come technologically. You don’t think about it, because I guess it happens gradually, but there’s a line in the script where Jason says something about DNA and I think he’s talking about washing-up liquid.”
Meaney is perhaps best known for his eleven-year stint as Chief Miles O’Brien in Star Trek The Next Generation and its spin-off Deep Space Nine, and he thinks he’s just about ready to get back into episodic television if the show gets picked up. “We finished Deep Space Nine in ’99, and at the time I definitely didn’t want to do another series. But I’ve got two kids, one’s 23 and the other is nearly three, and when you’re doing features you’re away from home a lot. We split our time between Europe and LA, and we’re going to have to curtail that a bit when our daughter, who’ll be three in January, starts school.”
But this is all strike-dependent. “We’re waiting to hear if it’s been picked up but I don’t think we’ll hear until the strike is settled. And I think it’s going to be a long writers strike.”
It’d not be so bad if the upcoming Screen Actors Guild strike wasn’t on the horizon too. “We go out in June when our contract is up, and I suspect we’ll be joining the writers on strike then. And that’ll shut me down heavily, because international production isn’t affected by the writers strike – they’re not Writers Guild productions – but if the Screen Actors Guild go on strike then I can’t work anywhere except for my home country, which’d be Ireland.”
Strikes aside, colour us intrigued to see how the show develops.