‘The Outlaws’ roundtable: Stephen Merchant, Elgin James, Jessica Gunning, Hayden Matthews

The Outlaws” is the Amazon Prime comedy which premiered late last year to acclaim. The series explores friendship, family and felonies, is set to drop its second season on August 5.

To honor the series, watch our special 40-minute “Making of” roundtable discussion with writer, director and actor Stephen Merchant. He’s joined by co-writer Elgin James, co-star Jessica Gunning and production designer Hayden Matthews. Together they are hosted by Gold Derby senior editor Matt Noble for a lively Q&A. Watch our exclusive video interview above.

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Merchant, who previously co-created “The Office” and won an Emmy for the U.S .adaptation in 2006, created “The Outlaws” with James. The show follows seven people serving community payback sentences. They are tasked with renovating a derelict building in Bristol, England, into a community center. When they discover a bag of drug money, everyone becomes entangled in a dangerous world of crime. Gunning plays Diane, the public corrections officer responsible for supervising the crew of “outlaws.”

Merchant explains, “The show was inspired by my mother who used to work with community service people. She supervised offenders. Danie does a similar job, so my mom very proudly says, ‘That’s based on me.’ If you know how absurd and laughable Jessica’s character is, that’s a strange boast.” James askes, “Is your mom similar to Diane?” Merchant answers, “Not at all. She’s much sweeter and much less pompous and, dare I say it, less funny.”

The series mixes the high stakes and dramatic tension of the crime world with the bungling comedy of the misfit criminals. The writing earned the series a BAFTA nomination for Best Comedy Writing. The cast also features Oscar-winning film star Christopher Walken. Stephen Merchant reflects, “What’s crystalized in the show is there can be drama, real emotion and violence; then in a turn some goofy comedy. That was our experience of life. What’s funny one moment can be very dark and tragic the next.”

While being set in the world of modern crime, the show uses music and shots that would be at home in a classic western. Merchant admits, “There was always something fun about giving these very minor suburban characters a grandeur that they don’t quite deserve. Classic thrillers and westerns are epic. You think of them as very grand. We liked the idea of applying some of the language of that to these very small suburban lives. It’s a slightly ironic juxtaposition. And also everyone is the star of their own life movie. So for these people, that are drawn into a criminal world, it’s going to start to feel quite epic.” This is also true for Diane, who takes on the role of the sheriff. Gunning says, “It’s an epic world and this is her moment. Being in charge of these guys, she’s just living for it. However long they are in the yard and she is in control, she just thrives. It’s her time being in charge of that motley crew.”

James points out, “I’m in the states, and Trump was happening here, and Brexit was happening in the U.K. At the time we just felt really divided. Not that you go into something trying to make art that will unite people; that would be terrible. But, naturally, it’s what we were missing in our own lives. I think that started to become infused in this story. Get all these people from different walks of life thrust together and find out they had much more in common than they thought.” Merchant jokes, “I think if we’d made it solely to unite people it would have been like that Gal Gadot ‘Imagine’ video.” James adds, “And Steve can’t sing so it would have been awkward.”

In creating the look for the show Matthews explains, “I’d lived in Bristol for eight years, and I knew the character of the city. I knew how the characters I was reading would sit in that world. What’s difficult about the filming process is you never do it chronologically. It was never organized in a way to do the community center up. It was mayhem, we were back and forwards. Stick that up, take that down.”

As we look forward for season two Merchant teases, “There’s an old writing adage: chase your characters up a tree and then you throw rocks at them. I feel like in season one we chase them up the tree and in season two we’re throwing rocks at them.” James adds, “Wait until season three when we set the tree on fire.”

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