from co-creator Stephen Merchant and Elgin Jamesa six-episode comedy-thriller outlaw Follow a group of people of all ages and backgrounds, everything they do leads them on a path that culminates in a community service verdict together. They start with seven strangers, but quickly learn how much they actually have in common, which connects them in a way that inspires them to stay with each other, even if it takes them on a perilous journey.
In a one-on-one interview with Collider, James talks about outlaw as a show host Mayan MChow he learned about the success of the series in the UK, the unlikely pairing with Merchant and why they wanted to work together, how the number of six episodes per season felt right, working with a movie icon Edward James Olmos (exist Maya) and Christopher Walken (exist outlaw), as well as possible plans for a third season.
Collider: I absolutely love this show. Congrats to season one for being the biggest comedy show on the BBC in 2021, and already kicking off season two. This is always a good sign.
ELGIN JAMES: Always a good sign. It’s so awesome. I am proud of it.
When did you realize this show was so successful and really connected with its audience? Did someone call you with the news? Do you get a lot of social media comments?
James: It’s Sarah Bolger, from Mayan MC, who is Irish.She was talking to her family, and that’s when I really found out, because for the first time, they were like, “We can’t believe you’re attending outlaw. ‘ She was like, ‘Yeah, I’ve been on this show for four seasons. Why did you finally give me this verification? It was actually the moment she called me to laugh, about how much her family loved it. That was the moment I thought, ‘Oh, this really took off.’ “They haven’t seen it in America, and I’ve been talking about it for so long that it’s become, ‘Oh yeah, of course, that show.’ You have been talking for five years. “So, it’s really incredible to have friends in the UK hitting back at me.
I have to admit, you and Stephen Merchant weren’t exactly what I expected, but I absolutely loved it. How did you work and collaborate together?
James: Really interesting. I keep saying we’re the billboard for this show because we look so different, we’re from different classes, we look so different. We look like comedy routines. I am short and brown, he is tall and white. We met at one of the places where you have to line up to order, which is always the most awkward way to meet someone. He was in line next to me, but in 30 seconds, we were just buddies. We are just brothers. We like the same thing. More importantly, we hate the same things. We just found that we have a lot in common. I think our friendships and our creative partnerships have really grown, and ironically, we’ve seen each other’s boxes and the boxes we’ve been put into. At the same time, we tried to do that with these characters, and it was amazing. His parents worked in community service in Bristol, and I’ve committed several crimes, so it seemed like a perfect combination.
Stephen Merchant directed the episode, I noticed you didn’t even though you directed Maya. Do you want to direct any episodes? Is scheduling impossible?
James: Yes, I’m here (in Los Angeles). We do it at the same time, it’s like being jailed.I am doing Maya when he was there. I haven’t been to Bristol yet.Sometimes I’ll FaceTime with the writer’s room when they’re in England, but I’ll go to Santa Clarita, California, where we write and shoot Maya. I would go to this soulless business park, work in this writer’s room, and at the time, in a windowless conference room, talking about drugs and murder. I would FaceTime these people and there would be soft English lights coming in through the windows.They’d be sitting in these upholstered chairs, drinking tea, and having the best time, and I was like, “I’ve made terrible choices in my life. Why am I not with them right now?” But I was [in L.A.]Acting and Writing and Directing Maya. It’s about having a partner like Stephen. No one trusts more than me. No one wanted to direct more than him. The fact that he wrote, produced, directed, and acted in it was just next-level masochism.
What was the biggest challenge in pulling the show and juggling both shows? Was there a challenge you couldn’t imagine trying to do both shows at the same time?
James: Of course. This is a Venn diagram of your biggest dreams and worst nightmares, with a little bit in the middle. Stephen has just taken on all these responsibilities in the UK.They closed just a few weeks after filming due to COVID quarantines and shutdowns and we are closing Maya. There are a lot of challenges anyway, but at the same time, we are lucky to be able to do it. At this point, Stephen and I have been working on this for five years. Like, “Here’s your shot. You gotta keep grinding.” Stephen just put all the weight on his back and ran across the finish line with those talented cast and crew.
A season of six episodes feels too short, especially when you’re used to watching American TV. Did you feel that way while doing the show? How hard is it to tell the story you want to tell in just six hours?
James: You know, there are actually six that feel right. As a viewer, I hate six hours. You watch these great English shows and you’re like, “What? It’s over?” But as a storyteller, it’s perfect. This is the perfect amount. Sometimes, you squeeze something out.and Maya, we have a lot of roles to serve. Every band is the same. I watched them come back myself and it did feel short, but it felt great for what we had to tell. We were lucky to be picked for season two because we had to keep rolling and we shot them back to back. Granted, it’s tiring, but I think it really helped the project.
I love you working with a movie icon, with Edward James Olmos Mayas, and then you also worked with another movie icon, Christopher Walken outlaw. What was it like to work on a project with Christopher Walken and see him bring some of your stuff to life?
James: This is incredible. Looking at these icons you grew up with, it’s incredible that you never even thought your name would be said in the same sentence.We spend a lot of time on all the characters but we spend a lot of time on Frank and hopefully he feels like man who fell to earth, and how he will be different from the others, but still the same. It’s incredibly surreal to hear Christopher Walken say these words you came up with or wrote. It felt like a fever dream. Christopher and Eddie are people who love what they do. They love their craft. They like to tell stories. You hear Christopher’s story from the set, how he works, how committed he is, it’s unbelievable. It’s inspiring.
Writers always talk about a little bit of themselves in every character they create and write about. Is there one of these characters that you feel is closest to you, or that you have the most fun with?
James: It’s funny, Stephen and I, in many ways, we’re them. I think it’s Rani. Christian seems obvious, and I absolutely get it, as does his sister. It’s hard because I do identify with each of them. Greg is the only one I don’t understand. This is Stephen. Interestingly, they all cycle through. It was fun to write about John because he was so different from our own box politically, so you had to think about things differently. That’s why I love this show and how they execute it. You agree with Myrna and agree with her, and then John says something and you agree with him completely because he’s completely right too, and the truth is somewhere in the middle. So, it’s fun. John is funny.
Any plans for season 3? Do you feel like you’ve told the full story for two seasons, or do you feel like there’s more to tell?
James: I think there are more stories to tell. Stephen and I have already talked. It’s funny because it starts with a movie. That’s when we realized that 90 minutes wasn’t enough for us to actually do justice to these stories and these characters. Then, six hours is not enough. It’s such a rich world, so relatable, to bring all these people together. We’ve discussed how to get people to cycle out because it’s temporary. You can cycle through new characters or do it elsewhere. It’s so common. I just want to keep hanging out with Stephen, so we’ll keep doing it as long as they allow it. We just want to keep hanging out and talking. What was incredible about working and writing with Stephen was that he played all the roles. All of a sudden, he’s on his feet, and he’s playing Gabby, or he’s playing Myrna. It’s a blast.
outlaw Available April 1st on Prime Video.
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