Sheer joy every day. That was working on Will for seven months in the U.K.
Will — about young William’s Shakespeare during his first successes in Elizabethan London, the so-called “lost years” — had been in development at two different networks for a decade before TNT grabbed it and filmed the pilot (gorgeously directed by the legendary Shekhar Kapur). It was a passion project of its creator Craig Pearce, the dynamic Aussie who had co-written the screenplays of Moulin Rouge!, Strictly Ballroom, The Great Gatsby, and Romeo + Juliet.
The show’s four writers — all Americans — gathered in the writers room in London on July 4th, 2016. Craig brought us Kripsy Kremes decorated with American flags — the first of what would be months of festive occasions celebrated together. Three of us had cut our TV writing teeth on the CSI franchises: Corinne Marrinan and I started on writing careers on CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, and Sarah Byrd on CSI: New York. The fourth writer, Mark Steilen, had mostly worked in features, and, to my admiration, was a poet.
Imagine rising every morning in a cottage in Hampstead, taking the tube an office overlooking to Leicester Square, spending the day discussing, exploring, fantasizing and creating the life of Will Shakespeare as it may have happened only steps away. It was a heady daily routine. I was able to attend the theatre several times a week, once seeing two productions of King Lear two days apart. I dined at the Garrick Club, downed drinks at The Ivy Club, took weekend trips to the Cotswolds, Dublin, and Paris; and made a couple excursions to Stratford-Upon-Avon to see the Royal Shakespeare Company and retrace Will’s life. Oh, and I managed to write my play The Tug of War in my spare time.
Our studio was about 20 miles outside Cardiff, Wales — four stages and a six-acre backlot surrounded by sheep meadows and pastures. James Foster, the insanely talented production designer, created 16th Century Shoreditch on the backlot in meticulous detail, right down to the mire of sticky mud covering the streets. The streets were populated with blacksmiths, apple sellers, shepherds (with sheep), chickens (housed and tended by the art department), whores, open fires, plague doctors, clerics, brawlers, butchers, an oyster seller, street urchins, cut-purses, puppeteers, and bear-baiting. Add to this magic a divine cast, headed by Laurie Davidson, plucked out of drama school to embody history’s greatest playwright. It was easily the most generous cast I’ve ever worked with. I was fortunate to have the episode I wrote directed by filmmaker Jonathan Teplitzky, a very happy collaboration.
Alas, the show failed to find a sizeable enough U.S. audience to merit future seasons. But the one it had will ever be a magical memory for all of us who were there and the millions of viewers who fell in love — as I did — with William Shakespeare.