Truth Seekers: The Ghostbusters of the online era

Truth Seekers: The Ghostbusters of the online era

By Shilpa Ganatra,
Thursday, 8th October 2020
Twitter icon
Facebook icon
LinkedIn icon
e-mail icon

Nick Frost reveals how he helped create Amazon Prime’s new supernatural sitcom Truth Seekers. Shilpa Ganatra gets goosebumps

To those who know him, it is very on-brand that Nick Frost’s new sitcom is a paranormal romp, relentlessly firing out jokes while two ghost hunters uncover spooky goings-on in their house-to-house investigations.

A mild obsession with the extraordinary is in Frost’s creative DNA. His preoccupations, along with those of his best friend, Simon Pegg, were evident in his Spaced days: the cult Channel 4 series often made passing reference to zombies and conspiracy theories.

“When we used to live together, we spent some evenings going out ghost hunting,” Frost remembers. “We’d get in his car and we’d find an old Saxon church somewhere in Essex, and spend the evening creeping around the cemetery.

“One time, when we lived in Highgate, there was a forest at the back of the house that we’d never really walked around. After an afternoon of heavy drinking, we decided to break through the trees. We found a pristine 1940s train platform, with the lights on and a waiting room.

“At that point, we were so freaked out: we thought we’d uncovered a supernatural train platform in the forest. We found out later that it was part of [a line to Alexandra Palace] that they shut [in 1970], but that feeling of being exhilarated and terrified and letting your mind wander never left us.”

Frost is speaking from the offices of Stolen Picture, the production company set up by him and Pegg after a run of successful movies together that included zombie movie Shaun of the Dead and off-beat cop comedy Hot Fuzz.

His new sitcom, Truth Seekers, is Stolen Picture’s first project for television. The eight-parter revolves around widower Gus, played by Frost, who is a YouTube paranormal investigator and, by day, a broadband installer at Smyle – tag line: “Connecting worlds”.

Through his job, he meets new recruit Elton (Samson Kayo, familiar to fans of Famalam and Timewasters). As they make visits to eerie houses, they stumble upon paranormal activity that leads them to a major conspiracy led by the sinister Dr Peter Toynbee (The Mighty Boosh’s Julian Barratt). Emma D’Arcy (Wanderlust, Hanna) joins the investigators as Astrid, and Susan Wokoma (Year of the Rabbit, Porters) plays Elton’s troubled sister.

The horror-comedy is in the vein of What We Do in the Shadows and Dead Set, but it is the characters’ human stories that sets it apart.

“As much as it’s about a gang who find each other and stumble across a conspiracy, it is also about their loss: they’re all missing something and trying to find something, too,” explains Frost. “Gus is trying to find his wife, literally. Astrid is trying to find the truth about what happened to her and who she is, and Elton is trying to find a way in which he can live and not be in the shadow of his sister and her problems.

“You could take out any mention of the supernatural, and there’d still be a comedy about people struggling to make their way. It’s a difficult thing, to be human these days.”

Nick Frost in Truth Seekers (Amazon Prime)

Though the real-life escapades were Frost’s and Pegg’s, the idea began with Frost and his writer friend James Sera­finowicz (brother of actor Peter and brother-in-law of Father Ted writer Graham Linehan). Once Stolen Picture was formed in 2016, Frost, Serafinowicz and Pegg brought in Nat Saunders, who created and wrote Sky One’s Sick Note with Serafinowicz, to complete the creative quartet for Truth Seekers.

Each initially wrote two episodes. The foursome then went through them together, aligning and adjusting where needed. It might sound like a reasonable plan but “the scripts were massive and long, and some of them were technically difficult and unfunny”, concedes Frost. “And there were four of us, with four separate versions of what we thought was funny or frightening or tragic. It was a difficult way of doing it.”

It worked out in the end: the series is lean and engaging, with a smart balance of comedy and horror. Frost gives dues to the creative atmosphere of a writers room. But he also notes that he started and finished a film script for Orion (“a funny slasher movie about a family who hire an Airbnb on a remote Swedish island”) in just six weeks ­during lockdown.

“It was just me on my own, and no one telling me what to do or how to do it,” he says. “I think, with films, it still goes through the editorial process, but there are fewer voices.”

Amazon Prime Video picked up Truth Seekers in what sounds like an unusually smooth process. “I haven’t felt more supported by a team in terms of their commitment to the show, and their commitment to us as creatives,” says Frost. “Their notes were few but smart. I learned quite a long time ago to not be a snob when it comes to your writing.

“When Simon Pegg and I wrote Paul [about an alien on the run in modern-day America], there were a few times when we got notes back from execs and I got really cross that they didn’t understand our vision. But I learned from that process that maybe it’s not them, maybe it’s the script.

“It’s good to listen to notes from people who are going to spend millions bankrolling your show, because some of them might be pretty good.”

Frost’s propensity to accept feedback is aided by his on-the-job training. Spaced, co-starring Pegg and Jessica Hynes, was his first proper acting project, though you’d barely guess it from his on-screen appearance as Mike, the military-obsessed best friend.

It was in 2011, with Paul, that Frost began writing. Two years later, with the last of his and Pegg’s so-called “Cornetto Trilogy”, The World’s End, he expanded into producing.

Though his acting credits include the Holly­wood biggie Cuban Fury and fantasy drama Into the Badlands, he claims that he is still an apprentice: “I don’t think I’ll ever be the finished article, in terms of acting. I always wanted to be a writer or a painter, but I never wanted to be an actor. It’s awful, I find it really difficult. I’m anxious just talking about it.”

Because of his own unconventional route into the world of entertainment, Frost needs no reminding of the need for different voices in television. He is actively seeking greater diversity for Stolen Picture, though he admits that it is not easy to find new talent from a range of backgrounds.

“I think everyone in the industry is aware about what we need to do,” he says. “Our voice isn’t necessarily the one that everyone wants to hear nowadays – it shouldn’t be four white men in a room making television for everyone.

“I was very lucky. I got a chance and it was either this or I was going to be an area manager of a Chiquito restaurant, so I took this. But everyone’s got a story. Just because you’re a poor kid or a single mum, your story is still as valid as what I decide to write, or what anyone else decides to write.”

His next job is to get back on set to complete The Nevers, the HBO sci-fi drama spearheaded by Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator Joss Whedon. Though production halted during lockdown, Frost is looking forward to returning to the fold: “I’m still a fanboy, and to have him direct me… there’s still a part of me that squeals inside and thinks, ‘That’s the man who invented Buffy!’ It’s more anxiety, to be back acting, but I’m happy that I get to do it with one of my heroes.”

Truth Seekers will be available on Amazon Prime Video from 30 October.