Interview: Harlan Coben, The Five

PARIS, FRANCE - MARCH 15. American writer Harlan Coben poses during a portrait session held on March 15, 2011 in Paris, France. (Photo Ulf Andersen/Getty Images)

Tomorrow night sees the first ever TV show from the mind of Harlan Coben – the award-winning, best-selling crime fiction legend. Coben collaborated with Danny Brocklehurst (Shameless) to tell the story of a group of friends whose lives are turned upside down when a tragic incident from their childhood suddenly comes back to haunt them. When a missing boy’s DNA turns up at a crime scene, 20 years after his mysterious disappearance, his older brother Mark (Tom Cullen) and childhood friends Danny (O-T Fagbenle), Pru (Sarah Solemani) and Slade (Lee Ingleby) are forced come to terms with the fact that Jesse could be back. They were the last people to see Jesse alive all those years ago and dark secrets from the past are about to be unearthed. I managed to get Harlan on the telephone today for a quick chat, and this is what he told me…

The Killing Times: After all this time and after all your novels, why get into TV now?
Harlan Coben: I think we’re living in a golden age of television – it has never been better. It’s more international and with more outlets and programme makers are getting more freedom. I don’t think I could have done a show like The Five 10 years ago, maybe not even five years ago, where you can tell a story over 10 episodes. It’s almost like a novel for TV. It really does feel like one of my novels, but in a TV show. That’s the best way to put it. Reason number two is that Nicola Shindler from Red Production Company approached me, and she has such a great body of work – Happy Valley, Last Tango In Halifax, Queer As Folk. You can see the quality of those shows and what she brings to the table… I just though that was a winning combination: a really experienced producer who would give us the freedom to make what we wanted to make (I didn’t really care where it was set), and then putting my American sensibilities through a British prism. It all added up to a series I’m really happy with.

3462-The-Five-0824-e1436539967610TKT: You say it feels like one of your novels on TV, did you find anything different or challenging in the process of writing for TV?
HC: It is different. I just saw The Five more visually – I saw colours and more texture. It’s like painting with water colour and now you want to paint with oil. Also having four lead characters in a novel isn’t easy. I’ve done three lead characters in a novel before, but I’ve never done four really equal leads. For those reasons I just thought TV would be the best place to do this. A lot of my books have characters thinking internally, so I had to think visually and really think how to do that. There are certain scenes that would be fun to read but boring to watch, and vice versa. So you have to find creative ways to make it work. But at the end of the day it’s suspense, which is what I love to do – I want you to watch the next one, and then the next one.

TKT: You’ve written over a dozen stand-alone novels, and then a whole series of the Myron and Mickey Bolitar books, but did this feel like something new for you?
HC: When I write a novel it’s just me. And me alone in a room. Here it’s the opposite: it’s all about collaboration; it’s all about working with others and sharing a vision. It’s like being a tennis player all your life and winning tournaments by yourself and then suddenly deciding to play on a soccer team. It’s a whole team effort. I really loved that. I’ve sat in a room on my room for most of my life, so to be able to hang with Tom Cullen and Lee Ingleby and Sarah Solemani and O-T Fagbenle… I remember when Geraldine James flew to New York to meet with me to discuss her role… it was just great.

TKT: The concept and notion of family pops up in your books quite often, and there’s a strong family element to The Five. What is it about ‘the family’ that makes you come back to it?
HC: I think it’s the most important thing to people that I know, including myself. It grounds a story and gives it a reality. If I asked you if you had killed somebody, you would answer no. Would you kill somebody to save your family member? Well, yes. So where is that line? In this case I love the story of Danny, played by O-T Fagbenle, and his family, especially his father, which will deepen over the 10 episodes. I love Geraldine James and Michael Maloney’s relationship – all about their lost son and their living, breathing son and how losing a son has affected them. They’re just a normal family with two kids, and now they get this hole in their lives, which changes everything about them. Now they have a chance for redemption. I think that’s a compelling thing to view.

TKT: Following on from that, this is very much a slick, pacy Harlan Coben thriller, but there are elements of grief, guilt and other things explored…
HC: One of my favourite scenes in episode one is when Mark tells his parents about the possibility of their child being alive – the mother says, “I knew it”; the father says, “it’s a mistake”. That’s one of fun things we had with the show. I remember when I met with Geraldine, I said to her: “I promise you, you aren’t going to be the mum sitting on the couch”. One of the first times we see you you’re getting lucky with your ex-husband. You don’t see that on TV very often!

Paul Hirons

The Five: Friday 15th April, 9pm, Sky1


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