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He can do it
12:47pm Saturday 16th October 2010 in In The Picture
MARK Gatiss is now officially not only the hardest-working man on TV, but the one who multi-tasks the most. Actor, writer and producer – nothing is beyond the Sedgefieldborn multi-hyphenate. Oh, and I forgot, he writes books as well.
Take The First Men In The Moon, a 90-minute drama based on the HG Wells’ story that debuts on BBC4 next week. He adapted it, he stars in it and it was made by his (and director Damon Thomas’s) Can Do Productions. For all I know he did the catering on set, too.
That comes hot on the heels of one of the year’s best new drama series, Sherlock, which scored with viewers and in the ratings at the same time. He created the retread of Conan Doyle’s Holmes stories with Steven Moffatt – the new executive producer of Doctor Who, a favourite show of Gatiss and one for which he’s written. And appeared in as well.
It all began for Gatiss with The League Of Gentlemen, for which he was star, co-writer and producer alongside Reece Shearsmith, Steve Pemberton and Jeremy Dyson.
And it really is too much of a good thing. Everything he does seems to work. Okay, so the film version of The League Of Gentlemen didn’t do as well as might have been hoped, but it had more thought put into it than most TV-to-cinema transfers.
And so to The First Men In The Moon, the inaugural drama from Can Do Productions – and if anyone can do, Gatiss can – that comes after he and Thomas collaborated on the Antarctic drama The Worst Journey In The World and the ghost stories Crooked House, for BBC4.
Gatiss is doubly qualified to tackle the moon story – he’s a child of the space race and an HG Wells enthusiast. “It’s an ideal project for me personally – the sort of ‘bank holiday’ treat that is still my favourite kind of thing to watch,” he says.
“In addition, the lovely Sixties Ray Harryhausen film version with Lionel Jeffries and Edward Judd left a very strong impression on me as a child. It’s an incredibly rare opportunity to both adapt a giant of literature like HG Wells and to fulfill a childhood dream.
“I read the book a long time ago and it’s such a charming, well-constructed story. All it really lacks is an ending. So it was a very straightforward job to adapt it – working out what we could and couldn’t include, because of the budgetary restrictions, and then trying to give it a bit more of a climax.”
The drama opens in July 1969 at the time of the Apollo 11 space flight, then flashes back to the story of two men’s journey to the moon back in 1909. Gatiss and Rory Kinnear appear as the space travellers.
Gatiss plays Professor Cavor, a scientist with an amazing invention – called cavorite. Anything to which it’s applied becomes opaque to the force of gravity. He and Julius Bedford (Kinnear) construct a copper sphere which will fly them to the moon.
Obviously, says Gatiss, most of the science is made up, although they tried to root it in reality, which proved a headache on a low budget.
All footage and still photography of the earth and moon are in the public domain and free to use.
Some of the surface shots in the drama are highres 35mm photographs taken by Nasa. As Thomas explains, “When we created the backdrop of the moon, that was made up of stitched together photos from the Nasa archive.”.
He and Gatiss talked exhaustively to production designer Sabina Sattar before starting to build anything. They knew the best use of their resources would be an interlocking set that was endlessly configurable. “We only had seven pieces of moon arch, but we used them in every possible way, knowing they could be reduced in post-production and placed in large matte paintings of the Moon.
“You’re obviously hoping that when it’s finished it’s going to look as convincing as you’re trying to make it. It can be difficult when you’re meant to be looking down a 100ft crevasse full of lights or fighting aliens that are just bamboo sticks with ping-pong balls on them”
● The First Men In The Moon: Tuesday, BBC4, 9pm.