Russell T Davies interview: ‘It’s a Sin’ showrunner

It’s a Sin,” the British miniseries following a group of gay men and their friends during the onset of the HIV/AIDS crisis in London in the ’80s that’s been a hit on both sides of the pond, is a show that Russell T Davies has been wanting to do for more than 20 years. It didn’t happen until now for a number of reasons, but the creator behind such series as “Queer as Folk,” “Cucumber” and “A Very English Scandal” tells Gold Derby at our Meet the Experts: Showrunners panel (watch above) that he’s happy it took this long.

“I think I was always building towards it. I’m the age of the characters — I was 18 in 1981. That kind of made the research easier, like, ‘Oh, that’s me,'” he says. “It’s funny — I was talking to a psychologist the other day and he had a theory that it takes 30 years for you to survive a trauma, turn around and understand it. That’s a bit of a pat theory in a way, I know, but I was rather taken with that, thinking, ‘Yeah, I lived through that crisis.’ It’s been in my work all the time, ticking away. I was doing an HIV story in a children’s drama in 1993 … but to do it center stage took a long time. I’m simply glad I waited. I think I’m a better writer after all these years. I think I’ve got more of a perspective on it.”

When Davies started pitching the show in Britain, it was difficult to get a green light — but not for the reasons you may think. “There was no homophobia or anything like that. To be absolutely honest, people thought they had seen it before,” he shares. “And that’s because there’s a great big legacy of an American telling of the AIDS crisis … we live in the shadow of ‘Angels in America’ and ‘The Normal Heart’ and Tony Kushner — those great, great writers.” However, on British television, HIV/AIDS had been portrayed on prime-time dramas and soap operas pretty much weekly since the ’80s, Davies explains. “When I was selling it to commissioners, you could see their faces glazing and some of them said, ‘I think we’ve seen this.’ It’s really hard to sit there and say, ‘You think you’ve seen it, but you haven’t seen it and you haven’t seen it from a gay writer’s point of view.'”

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Having waited more than 20 years to make this show and acquired experience and status in the industry during that time also meant Davies knew exactly what he wanted. He was adamant about only casting gay actors for the parts and made a conscious choice not to show the moments when characters die. “It’s a ghastly disease. It’s opportunistic, it’s changeable, it’s different, it’s prolonged a lot of the time. And there’s a glamour onscreen sometimes,” Davies states. “I mean, if I’m doing a murder and a chase, the death’s quite exciting. But this is a real story that really happened to thousands of people, not just men, obviously, but the series is being told through a gay male prism, so there’s something that made me pull back and say, ‘Let’s be more discreet.’ It’s about the whole philosophy of the show. It’s about the lives they lived and not the deaths that they died from.”

The five-episode series premiered in the U.K. in January, becoming Channel 4’s biggest drama premiere, before hitting HBO Max in February. Despite its success and pleas from fans for a second season, Davis has been clear there will be no follow-up, content with having finally told this story. “I kind of wasn’t expecting it to be successful, to be honest. That took me by surprise. At Christmas, we were all sitting in our rooms going like, ‘Well, how the hell are we gonna sell this?'” he says. “I like moving on. I spent a long time in a long runner called ‘Doctor Who,’ which I loved, but now since then I just like doing a different show every year. I’m writing a new show now. It’s a blank page. I’ve never done it before. It’s three hours long. I’m excited.”

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UPLOADED May 21, 2021 2:33 pm