Filming Prime Video thriller Wilderness took the cast on an epic trip around the US. Matthew Bell reports
Last month, the RTS brought together the writer and stars of Amazon Prime’s guilty pleasure Wilderness, which features a dazzling performance by Jenna Coleman as a woman scorned.
Coleman is Liv, whose cad of a husband, Will (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), has an affair with Cara (Ashley Benson). Liv eschews marriage guidance and decides to bump off Will on an epic road trip across the US, during which Cara and new boyfriend Garth (Eric Balfour) pitch up. All the elements are in place for a rollercoaster of a revenge thriller.
The six-part series, made by London indie Firebird Pictures, was adapted from Beverley Jones’s book of the same name by Marnie Dickens, who wrote BBC One’s equally enjoyable toyboy drama Gold Digger. “I read the book in one go because Bev had written such a propulsive, page-turner,” said Dickens.
She was drawn to its central premise: “This young woman, so madly in love that she’s given up a lot of herself for her husband, including her career… has been terribly betrayed.” This, Dickens added, posed the intriguing question: “How far would you go to get revenge on the person who ripped out your heart?”
The adaptation was tailor-made for a longer TV series, rather than a film. “It’s such a juicy story… it would have felt… we’d underserved the characters if we’d done it as a film,” said Dickens.
“I come from a very unapologetically soapy background – I want those hooks… you want to leave people on the edge of their seats and rug-pull them the whole time, and I think that’s much harder to do in a film.”
Coleman added: “For the six hours, we had the same director and DoP… so it felt like [we were] making a film. We had the scripts, the locations and the budget to [enable us] to explore this psychological tale and we got to delve so much deeper over the space of six hours.”
The stunning locations, which include Vancouver, Whistler, Calgary and Banff, in Canada, as well as New York and Arizona, are arguably Wilderness’s fifth lead actor. In Canada, Balfour said, shooting had to be suspended when a bear wandered on to the set.
How important was it to bring female strength to the screen? asked the event host, journalist Caroline Frost. “Super important. I wouldn’t do a show if it didn’t have [female strength] at the heart of it.… We deliberately explored female rage, which I think people struggle to see on screen,” replied Dickens.
Wilderness is created by a woman (Dickens, who is also an executive producer, as is Firebird’s Elizabeth Kilgarriff), and shot by women: director So Yong Kim and director of photography Kat Westergaard.
Benson said she was drawn to the drama because it was “headed by a bunch of powerful women – I’d never [previously] been part of a project that was run by powerful women – and I think that really showed on screen”.
Balfour, who started as a child actor, said that, over the course of his more than three decades in TV and film, the industry had become more diverse at the top end: “I don’t want to bash men, but there is a different style and approach… women have the ability to be very strong, secure and clear, while also being kind and nurturing.
“There’s a sophistication to women as directors, writers and show runners. That’s not to say that there aren’t wonderful men [in those roles], but I don’t know that it comes as inherently or naturally.”
Coleman added: “It’s a heightened and stylised piece and we want the audience to… emotionally be with these characters.
“What’s so interesting about the piece and what really drew me and is so potent is that it’s a cautionary tale; it’s a fable and incredibly primal…. We [want] the audience really investing in the acid trip, emotional rollercoaster that the tale is.”
‘Wilderness: Behind the scenes of Prime Video’s latest thriller’ was an RTS National Event held on 24 January. It was produced by Jessica Molyneux. It can be watched here.