Inspired by the book The Reincarnationist by MJ Rose, Fox’s new series Past Life investigates the world of the unexplained through the eyes of a doctor, Kate McGinn (Kelli Giddish) and a former detective, Price Whatley (Nicholas Bishop), who must work together to solve decades-old mysteries.
McGinn, a psychologist, works at the Talmadge Center for Behavioral Health in New York City, where as a believer in reincarnation, she helps solve cases of her troubled clients by regressing them to their past lives. She’s assisted by the cynical Whatley, a former NYPD homicide detective, who finds McGinn methods unorthodox but successful.
Executive producers David Hudgins and Lou Pitt discuss their new series which premieres this week.
This series is based on a book, how much of the book will you use?
David Hudgins: It is inspired by the book. I love the book. I thought it was fantastic. The book is very epic, romantic story over time. I felt like it needed a franchise to work as a television show. So we took inspiration on the subject matter, on the flavor of these healer-type people for the series.
After I read the book, the following week, I was watching Oprah, and she was doing a series on reincarnation. She had Dr Brian Weiss on, who does past-life regressions, and it was apparently the third installment of it. [I realized] there were a lot of people out there that are really fascinated by that world, and I was too.
The first episode was very dark, will the series lighten up?
David Hudgins: Yes, it definitely gets lighter. We wanted to tell a story in the pilot that was scary, there’s a definite thriller element to it. Deran Sarafian, who shot the pilot, I thought did a fantastic job getting the look of the show and shooting those regression sequences, which are incredibly scary.
But, at the end of the day, I think the show is very hopeful, and it’s about hope because these people are being healed in each episode. So it gets a lot lighter, and there is comedy.
Lou Pitt: The show is about liberation. There are burdens that weigh upon all of us from time to time, when do we get relief? When do we get to learn about it? When do we get to experience a resolution? This is about resolution.
Is the show’s position that if you can deal with whatever trauma you had in your past life, you will be better off in this one?
David Hudgins: There is a therapeutic breakthrough element to it, but they don’t always succeed. It doesn’t always work. There are episodes where we explore what happens if it could make things worse, and it does in one episode. The idea of the show is that by exploring these past-life experiences, these people are going to figure out what happened to them, and they are going to get some sort of closure.
Lou Pitt: The thing that we didn’t do and it was a very conscious effort, we are not preaching that this exists. We are not selling you the idea that reincarnation is fact or truthful, it’s just presenting a scenario of ‘what if.’
Are there any special production logistics dealing with the two timelines?
David Hudgins: In each episode is a regression sequence, which is a person going back and regressing to a past life. When we started production on the series, we realized that we liked the way they looked visually. They’re very exciting, they’re very scary; they’re very jarring. It became a signature element of the pilot. So when we started shooting the series, we realized very quickly that, if we’re going to make these a signature part of the show, we really needed to develop a style and focus on them. So we actually developed a second unit to shoot regression, and we used different cameras, and I think it really helps.
There are several shows in the primetime right now where there are some paranormal elements or special skills to solve problems or crimes. Do you have to work really hard to make sure that you stay clear of all the avenues that these shows explore?
David Hudgins: This is a detective show, but you’re limited because it’s past lives and regressions for the tools that you can use to go and investigate. Somebody may have died 10 years ago and has come back reincarnated. You can still go back and talk to people who were alive back then, if they are still alive, but mostly it’s through this therapeutic use of interpreting the memories that you solve the case. So I think the fact that there are other shows out there doing similar things is not surprising.
But it’s not just a simple straightforward reincarnation story each week. We looked at everything. We call it the science of the souls. So we have an episode that’s about an out-of-body experience. We have an episode that involves a near-death experience.
There used to be a billion people in the world, now there are 5 billion people, so where did new ones come from if everyone is reincarnated?
David Hudgins: We’ve actually talked about that in the writers’ room. There are people that will say that souls can split and that particularly good souls will split. So that’s how you get more good souls out there into the world. But our writers take on that is if good souls can split, so can bad souls. So what kind of story could that get you?