The award-winning, charming and quirky sci-fi TV series Nikola Tesla and the End of the World is back for season two. To celebrate, we caught up with the series creator, writer and director Ian Strang, and actors Gillian MacGregor (The Stolen, Beyond) and Paul O’Neill (The Guard of Auschwitz).
The first season of Tesla won a number of awards worldwide and was nominated for “Best British Series” at Raindance, so it’s no surprise the show is back! In the second season, two physicists and a lost boyfriend use Nikola Tesla’s multiverse device to travel through parallel Brooklyns and bring Nikola home… if they can get him out of debt and defeat an inter-dimensional death cult.
Fast-paced and zany, Nikola Tesla and the End of the World puts a fresh spin on history, science, and social commentary. The series explores the intersection of science and ethics, cutting-edge scientific theories, as well as the frightening potential of powerful technology. The series has a fresh format and style, a stellar cast and 628,609 possible worlds to explore.
We hear first-hand about the new season from its team…
Have you been surprised at the success of the first season of Tesla and did you think it would spawn a second run?
Ian: I was insanely surprised at the success of the first season. When we were running around in London making what we thought was a tiny web series, we had no idea it would be watched a million times and people would be making fan art, or it would be winning awards.
I remember I sat down with Gillian and I said that if this thing got us some attention, or maybe prompted a second series in some crazy fantasy, that would be great, but I definitely didn’t expect it. It’s one of those things where you fantasize about something happening and normally, realistically, it doesn’t happen, but this time it did!
Gillian: In my own experience, there are projects you think will do really well when shooting them and it turns out, for whatever reason, that doesn’t always happen. On the other side, there are smaller things made with less expectation, yet those become the best experiences and do surprisingly well. I loved the experience filming the first season so I’m happy for all of us, but especially for Ian as it’s his creation.
Ian, how long did it take you to plan and write each season and was it any more difficult the second time?
Ian: The first season happened over a couple of months with me wandering around London saying, ‘it would be so cool to shoot something here’ and ‘this place looks great’. The second time it was much more difficult because we were suddenly working in the ‘industry’ where there’s funding available but we can only be considered if we submit the script within a tight deadline. So, the second season was written in a mad panic over a couple of weeks and then, once it was approved, I spent a few months re-writing it.
Paul and Gillian, without any spoilers, how do you feel your characters grow and evolve through both seasons and did that present any kind of challenge in your performances?
Paul: I definitely feel that the Nikola Tesla character evolves and even changes throughout both seasons. Tesla was a comedy character in the first season and Gillian’s character, Dr. Sophie Clarke, was the centrepiece. In the second season, we had more actors coming in with new characters joining this multi-universe world which made me play the character a bit more seriously through the story and become more dogmatic.
Gillian: For me, the first season was pretty intense and focused mostly around Paul and me. There was also a lot of science terminology to learn and get my head around, which was really enjoyable. In the first season, Sophie is very keen to explore these plans she finds for Tesla’s machine and has no idea she’ll accidentally bring him into modern times. Now, she’s been burned by that experience so she’s much more cautious and reluctant to be involved until she has to be. Sophie is more serious and grounded than some of the other characters, which is by design, so it was a challenge at times to keep my performance low key alongside some big, colourful characters, and not let my performance get bigger with them.
What was your experience filming in Canada?
Ian: My experience was great, and I was really pleasantly surprised. I know far more people in London and so a lot of the Canadian cast and crew were people I had to find, but they did an amazing job and it was a very good experience from the filmmaking side.
Gillian: It was my first experience visiting and filming in Canada. It was fantastic to find a world class cast and crew and see what they were bringing to the table. The first season was fairly self-contained, as we had a very small cast and crew. In the second season, there’s 25+ cast members and a much bigger crew so it was really fun to see how everything evolved, from the art direction to the props.
Paul: I haven’t done much filming abroad, I’ve done a little in theatre, but this was the first major project that I shot abroad so I was extremely excited. Just as these guys said, it’s fun to go abroad and travel, but it’s another thing to work with such a fantastic team and people who are very welcoming into their industry. At the end, it was genuinely sad to say goodbye to new friends.
In the second season you are joined by new cast members including Stephanie Sy (Netflix’s Fractured, The Grudge), Adam Hurtig (Cult of Chucky, JT LeRoy) and John B. Lowe (The Butterfly Effect, The Haunting in Connecticut). How was it for you expanding the universe, and did they bring anything different to the table?
Paul: I think their enthusiasm for the project was infectious. Gillian and I had worked on the first season, so we were enthusiastic already, but to have these guys come in and be so excited gave us a big boost. Stephanie, in particular, is a ball of energy, Adam was so funny on set and very entertaining to be around, and John brings a real thespian power to it. Even actors who came in for a day or two of filming, playing smaller parts, were all brilliant.
Gillian: It’s great having a different energy when you go on set. I loved working with Stephanie, in particular, as most of my scenes in the second season are with her. She’s very generous as an actress and was really fun to be around. The fact that everyone was so enthusiastic and totally on board with Ian’s crazy vision was great to see.
For all three, what’s your favourite memory from filming the latest season?
Gillian: Mine would be seeing the special magnifying receiver come to life physically. In the first season it’s CGI. In the second season, it was made mechanically which looked amazing and I thought it gave a great nod to the heritage of the series.
Paul: It’s hard to pick one memory as I had so much fun, but I’d have to say the camaraderie between the cast and crew. The World Cup was going on while we were filming and our first AD kept me informed of all the scores, so that was fun! There’s one scene where I had a technical challenge in shooting it, no spoilers, so that was difficult but a very good memory too.
Ian: The end of day one was a big deal for me. There was no one actually saying ‘you can’t do this’, but there were a lot of raised eyebrows as if to say, ‘you really think you can get this done… in this amount of time?’ The answer was yes. At the end of the first day, we’d filmed everything we were scheduled to, it was all going well, and everyone was working well together, which you don’t really know is going to happen until you start filming. So, it felt like a big achievement at the end of the first day, confirming we could actually do it.
Finally, can we expect a third season?
Ian: It could happen, but we don’t know yet. A big factor will be whether people love this season, so please support the series and watch this space!
Nikola Tesla and the End of the World is a CBC Gem Original and available now on Amazon Prime Video in the UK and USA.