For the past eight years, one TV show has ruled them all: Game Of Thrones.
The HBO adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s sprawling fantasy drama has millions upon millions tuning in to see who’ll end up chilling on the Iron Throne.
But 15 years before George R.R. Martin wrote the first Game of Thrones book, he released the novella Nightflyers, a science fiction horror telling the story of a group of scientists who join the Nightflyer expedition, a space voyage to make contact with alien life. But – oops – everything starts going wrong when horrific, violent events occur.
Nightflyers is the latest of Martin’s works to be adapted for television, and Netflix drops the entire series on Friday following its release on Syfy in the US last year. Telly veteran and self-confessed sci-fi fan Eoin Macken stars as Karl D’Branin, leader of the Nightflyer exhibition and an astrophysicist still reeling from the death of this daughter several years before.
“I love science fiction just because of the scope of what it can be,” he tells us in a plush Soho hotel room. “I used to read a lot of Isaac Asimov and Philip Dick and Inland Empire’s one of the earlier books I read!”
Macken was drawn to the Nightflyers script for this reason, as felt like a move away from poppy sci-fi towards proper, old school science fiction. “It’s a bit more realistic. Well, the ideas are totally crazy and it’s a bit bananas, and it’s a bit weird, but I kind of like that. I like the weirdness of it, and I like the fact that the characters are pushed into really dark places where you’re not sure who’s going to break or who’s going to survive.”
We caught up with Eoin Macken to discuss the pressure of working on a George R.R. Martin, the cliffhanger finale and hopping behind the camera for his adaptation of Irish coming-of-age novel Here Are The Young Men.
Hi Eoin, did you ever feel any pressure about the inevitable Game Of Thrones comparisons?
“No, because I didn’t really think about it that way. It’s a very, very different show; it’s a very different way of writing for him. He wrote Nightflyers in a different style of prose from Game Of Thrones. The only similarities are because it’s him and because it’s also creating a really big world that has a conceivably giant tapestry, and there is a lot of violence and death in it.”
How involved was George R.R. Martin?
“He was involved with Jeff Buhler [showrunner]. Jeff ran the ideas past him when they spoke about stuff like that, and George watched the show first, but he wasn’t involved with us on a day-to-day basis because he’s contractually obliged to HBO, and we would have all got sued. Well, I wouldn’t have got sued (laughs).”
What drew you to the script initially?
“It was the idea of why you would want to make contact with an alien life-form, and what the ramifications of that would be. And for me, it was the idea within this character [Karl D’Branin] of where he would be psychologically when that happened, and how far he would go, and what he would be willing to sacrifice, and what he would be willing to do to make this happen, and what his motives were. Because I don’t understand what would be someone’s motives to want to go into space, where you’re possibly going to die, and to try to meet an entity that may or may not be benevolent or want to kill you. So you’ve got to have a certain kind of really fractured mindset, or be very very passionate about what you’re doing, and I think he’s both. That’s what I found interesting, trying to explore which way he’d end up diverting.”
You’re working on an adaptation of Rob Doyle’s book Here Are The Young Men at the moment, which you’ve almost finished. How exciting is that?
“It’s great. This morning I got the final mix for my final credit song, which is an original song, which was being made and it’s great. We’ve got Chemical Brothers in the movie and a few other things and that’s really exciting, because kind of just creatively it’s a lot of fun, pulling together this story and working with people who do stuff I can’t do. It’s great.”
Is music going to be a big part of the film?
“Yeah, my soundtrack is going to be Primal Scream, Joy Division, Slowdive, Fontaines D.C. – they’re great. Well for me, it’s all about the tapestry of the music and getting the tone right in terms of where the music fits in with the film, and so when I read Here Are The Young Men and then when I was adapting the screenplay there was certain music that when I’m writing something that’s how I visually see it, so I was trying to make sure I got that music in it”
Nightflyers season 1 launches on Netflix on February 1