BBC3’s three-part zombie drama In the Flesh started last night, and star Luke Newberry tells us that PDS-sufferer Kieren has only just started his journey.
“The things that need to be confronted, Kieren’s put a lid on them for quite a while and gradually he starts to get his fire and can’t just sit on it anymore,” the actor tells us. “He confronts the demons that need to be confronted.”
Kieren is very much presented in the first episode as a human recovering from something awful, rather than a monster.
“He is a zombie or a PDS sufferer but he definitely comes across as more of a just a person with a condition. That’s how I played him, apart from the grisly flashbacks. I definitely saw him as more of a sufferer or an addict.”
This idea of “just a person with a condition” is fleshed out by the excellent effects work. The re-integrated PDS-sufferers have their death-pallor skin and milky eyes masked with cover-up and contact lenses. Did all the make-up help Newberry get into character or was it a distraction?
“My time in make-up was really useful time to settle in and zone out and focus on what I was going to do,” he tells us. “And when I had the really heavy make-up on with contact lenses it never really made it difficult. When I didn’t have it on I actually felt quite naked. It was helpful, when Kieren’s in the treatment centre, having the lenses in and all that made me quite introverted and quite quiet and I think that really helped me as Kieren finding that inner turmoil that he’s going through.”
The episode opens with a gruesome flashback showing Kieren in his monstrous state. We soon learn that these flashes to his past are something that he has to live with, as each of the shots that keep him human also bring these fragmented memories. But how much does he actually remember?
“I would say that he’s probably got more as well as those flashbacks, I think they’re always with him. It’s like this dark cloud with him all the time. And the flashbacks are a side effect of the medication but I think that he gets it worse than anyone else. I think he’s very sensitive. Kieren is deeply weighed down by it all and can’t shift the guilt.”
Even if Kieren was able to forget what he’d done, the good people of Roarton are ready to remind him. Could Kieren have known the kind of welcome that the returning PDS-sufferers would receive?
“I think he’s got an idea, but he’s also aware that it’s been four years so things will have moved on, and things will have changed. But his instinct is definitely ‘It’s not a tolerant place and it’s backward and unaccepting,’ so he’s got that fear there about going back. He’s terrified that it hasn’t changed,” Newberry explains. “There’s definitely a lot of fear. Not only did I not want to come back from the dead but I really don’t want to go back to that village.”
However, some things have changed while he’s been away and his sister Jem’s reaction to his homecoming is not what he was hoping for.
“That’s the biggest shock, I think, for Kieren,” he tells us. “The person who he was really close to and spent a lot of time with, and the one sort of anchor in the village, being his sister, she now sees him as a disgusting monster and can’t be in the same room as him. And that’s just soul-destroying for Kieren.”
In the Flesh takes on issues that you might not expect to find in a supernatural drama. Before he returned to his life, Kieren chose to end it. He’s been brought back to something he decided he didn’t want and is now confronting what he left behind. Newberry is hopeful that Kieren’s struggle and discovery of inner strength will make him a relatable lead character for viewers who might feel under-represented.
“It does bring up really important issues that need to be talked about, like teen suicide and anxiety. Kieren is an incredibly anxious guy, and it talks about anxiety in a way that I don’t think many things do. Anxiety’s not spoken about, it’s sort of ignored, I think. Hopefully Kieren will be a voice for those people, that’s my hope. He’s quite unconventional, and struggling with a lot of different things, and then you find out that he has a lot of strength in various different areas. But that’s all to come.”
In the Flesh continues on Sunday 24th at 10.00pm on BBC3