After that mega cliffhanger at the end of Season One, The Lazarus Project is back for Season Two, and the world is still locked into a never-ending time loop that will ultimately end with the planet’s complete extinction. This means the Lazarus team must race against time to find a solution before humanity is wiped out forever. Among their number is resolute Lazarus agent, George (played by Paapa Essiedu), who’s been left in disgrace after betraying the organisation in the name of love.
George is determined to redeem himself and win back the trust of his friends, colleagues, and the love of his life. But when he discovers that the cause he’s fighting is more sinister than it appears, George begins to suspect that the only person he can really trust is himself.
We speak to writer and creator Joe Barton and star Paapa Essiedu (pictured above) about the upcoming series of The Lazarus Project…
Season One of The Lazarus Project ended on a huge cliffhanger – what can you tell us about Season Two?
Joe Barton: Series two is really built around this sort of slight dead end that The Lazarus Project have got themselves into at the end of Series One, which is that everyone in the world is stuck in this continuous, infinite, three-week time loop.
It’s about how they get out of that essentially, how they can manipulate time travel to break out of this sort of cage that they find themselves in and how George can be a part of that and also try and redeem himself or prove himself after his actions in the first series.
With the second season continuing straight on from season one, had you already outlined Season Two when you were writing Season One?
Joe Barton: We always wanted to do this idea of a more Groundhog Day-type concept for Series Two. We got there a little quicker than we thought we would in Series One – the plot naturally came to an interesting conclusion two episodes before the end – so we brought this idea forward a little bit.
The big question was how to go about getting out of it, because you write these things ‘oh, this is an impossible dilemma’ and then they’re like ‘great… fix it’, because I don’t know how! So we basically had to sit down and try to figure out how to get out of it.
Paapa, where do we find George this season?
Paapa Essiedu: [Season two starts] two seconds after the end of Season One and we’re stuck in this time loop. George has decided to give Sarah the serum so that she also comes into this consciousness of this new reality. So she’s on equal footing with George and he also has to figure out how to stop Shiv from dying.
So the first few episodes, or at least the first episode of the new series, is George feeling the consequences of that. He has to come clean to Lazarus about what he’s been doing with Shiv and he has to come clean to Sarah. He’s got to deal with the consequences of what that means for their relationship and for [Sarah’s] new life.
How has George’s relationship changed with the rest of the Lazarus team after his betrayal in Season One?
Paapa Essiedu: Obviously it’s hard to just come back in and say sorry. There is an impact on his relationship and let’s say his working contract, but what I think is also interesting is what it does to his relationship with Sarah. In the second series, we see that character become more centrally involved in the action and we see that happening in tandem and in parallel with what new form their relationship takes.
George goes through a lot emotionally, but he’s also a badass spy – what is it like for you to play a character that has so many elements to him?
Paapa Essiedu: It’s great! It’s great to have dimension in character and I feel very lucky in George to have been given that. He really goes through the wringer time and time again. But I feel like that’s something that is pretty exciting about The Lazarus Project. What it does within that genre is it looks at the emotional and psychological impact of day-to-day people. The normal people that exist within the rules that are dictated by the genre.
Usually we’re dealing with superheroes or we’re dealing with people with special powers and you don’t really get into the nitty-gritty of it emotionally. But that’s something that’s exciting about what Joe has chosen to focus on in this show. As an actor, it gives lots of food and lots of fuel to excavate and try to finesse and bring nuance.
Playing George, you have to do the same scenes over and over again. What’s that like to shoot?
Paapa Essiedu: It’s repetitive! Haha. To be fair, it wasn’t as bad for me. Rudi Dharmalingam who plays Shiv, I mean… I’ve got to shoot him several times and he’s just got to die repeatedly, so he spent days on ends covered in maple syrup and food colouring! It was quite disgusting really, but he’s a good sport and a very, very dedicated actor. He’s got the patience of a saint!
Joe, how do you go about keeping track of all the time loops in The Lazarus Project?
Joe Barton: I tried to do a little diagram, I attempted to draw a little thing which was like dates and little lines going to different places and characters [but] that was more confusing than anything else was!
There’s no secret or method to it. You just have to struggle through it. My brain isn’t [very good at] puzzle solving, which you sort of need for something like this. So I just suffered through it for a year!
I had script editors, and there were producers and people that would email me occasionally and be like ‘you can’t do that, that person can’t be there’.
So yeah, it was just trial and error. The emphasis on error [haha]!
Joe, did you know how Season Two was going to end when you first started writing, or is it something that has happened organically?
Joe Barton: I had the very very last scene slightly in my head, but the way of getting there wasn’t clear.
This [season] was a very truncated schedule. We were really up against it. We started filming before we had the second half of the series written.
I basically write an episode and then whatever happens, happens. You get to the end and go ‘okay, what can happen next? What can happen after that? And after that?’ It’s quite a reactive way of writing. I know there are some writers who do have really clear plans and know where they’re going and they will probably have healthier working lives than I do because I’ve been typing away all night going ‘Oh, my God!’.
The image I’ve always had with this series is [a scene in] Wallace And Gromit – when Gromit is on the train and he’s trying to put the track in front of the train. That’s me, I’m Gromit!
It was just trying to keep the train on the track and get to the end without having a nervous breakdown!
What are you looking forward to audiences seeing in Season Two?
Paapa Essiedu: A core thing for Season Two is we expand our understanding of what time travel is. We’ve seen the first series and we’re dictated by the fact that there’s a checkpoint, so every time you go back. That gets expanded in this series. There’s what we call ‘true’ time travel. So it goes forward and backward in a bit more of a freeform way, in a way that has interesting consequences. I’m excited to see how that ended up in the edit.
Joe Barton: I’m the same. Episode Four I think in particular is when we get to do things that we didn’t in the first series, where characters can meet themselves and interact with their own paths [and] there are some quite funny bits.
I won’t say which characters but there’s the idea of people interrupting their own their own past lives to sort of stress test their own selves, which I always enjoy!
The Lazarus Project S2 is available on Sky Max and streaming service NOW.