Survivors (2000s) 1.01 - Julie Graham
Season 1 Episode 1 - Abby (Julie Graham) © BBC

The last time Julie Graham worked with Paterson Joseph was on the TV comedy William and Mary, where he played her good-for-nothing ex-husband. Their new series Survivors is quite a different concept. Set in England in the not too distant future, a deadly virus has wiped out 99 percent of the human race.

With only a handful of people left, Abby Grant (Graham), who is desperate to discover if her son is still alive, becomes the leader of a small group of survivors, one of whom is Greg Preston (Joseph), a man who has lost his wife. The only survivors in their group who were married, Greg and Abby have much in common, and I asked Julie Graham if this could lead to a romance between them.

On screen the sexual tension between you and Paterson is interesting.

Survivors (2000s) 1.02 - Paterson Joseph, Julie Graham, Chahak Patel and Zoe Tapper
Season 1 Episode 2 - Greg (Paterson Joseph), Abby (Julie Graham), Najid (Chahak Patel) and Anya (Zoe Tapper) © BBC

I almost forget that I worked with Paterson before on William and Mary, because it was such a different relationship. He was my really annoying ex-husband. He kept popping up and ruining everything for my new relationship. Obviously, I’m a huge admirer of PJ’s work, so it’s great to work with him again.

I don’t know if it’s a sexual tension between Abby and Greg. If that comes across, then great, but they certainly have an amazing affinity with each other. And it’s a relationship you can absolutely imagine happening maybe in a different world. But certainly, it’s a meeting of minds, and they have a great affinity with each other.

It’s fun playing that, and what made it less depressing was imagining that if it did happen, that there are people that you could meet again and have a connection with. So that’s something that keeps you going. They are missing their pasts, whereas the other survivors feel that they are missing their futures.

Survivors (2000s) - Julie Graham
Season 1 - Abby (Julie Graham) © BBC

Do you take this kind of work home with you? It can be a little dark sometimes, is it difficult to shrug off?

Yes, it was. It was very difficult also because Paterson and I were both away from our families as well. So there was a sense of isolation. We weren’t actually going home to our families and taking it out on them, luckily.

It was very hard because it’s a show that makes you think, and it’s very hard to switch off at the end of the day because you have to then go home, obviously, and learn lines and look at the script for the next day. So you are constantly living with it.

It’s a very frightening premise, but there is a lot of hope there as well. So it’s not all gloom, doom and depression. The thing that I loved about this script was that there were these beacons of hope everywhere, represented by the characters, represented by the situations, represented by human relationships. What the human race is good at is in the face of adversity, humanity coming through. So it was uplifting as well.

Survivors (2000s) - Julie Graham
Season 1 - Abby (Julie Graham) © BBC

The scenes where there should be people and cars on the motorways are very disturbing, were they eerie to film?

What’s very powerful is that the first 45 minutes of the first episode there’s so much noise, chaos, grief and destruction, and then there’s just silence. It’s very powerful, that silence, because we are just not used to it; the human race is not used to that level of silence.

The cinematographer was very clever because he created, with a wide-lens camera, huge spaces over the character and the sense of isolation was very intense.

For the first few weeks the cast didn’t really meet, we were isolated on our own. And by the time we got to see the other members of the cast we were so excited, because we had all been just having our own little storylines, and it was really lovely to see other actors. So we bonded as a cast really quickly. I think it was a trick by the BBC to get us to like each other.

But it was very difficult to film, because usually when you film, you have to stop for planes, we had to stop for bikes, because he was making too much noise pedaling. It was ridiculous and we lost a lot of time. It was very frustrating sometimes. We filmed at 5:00 in the morning when there was nobody around, except occasionally drunk people.

Do you consider this series science fiction?

When I read Survivors, I didn’t think of it as science fiction. I thought more of it as science fact, because it’s a scenario that could happen easily. And I think it taps into a collective paranoia that we all have, especially with the internet and all of the information we have about super-bugs and viruses and the bird flu and all that sort of stuff. Really, we are all scared at the end of the day that that’s really what’s going to happen, that we will be wiped out by a virus. Look at the panic that happened with the swine flu.

I just read it as a very personal, touching and moving drama. Every time I watch it, I find it incredibly moving.

Can you truly imagine this scenario for real?

Of course, I imagine it, and it’s just unimaginable. It’s too bleak, awful and depressing, and that’s not the program we’ve made. We’ve made a program that is ultimately about hope, it’s not all doom and gloom. It’s about people not just surviving; it’s about people rising above adversity.


Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter.