EXCLUSIVE: You wait years for one bus, and then two come along at the same time. That’s the phrase Trainspotting writer Irvine Welsh used when reflecting on how two of his first-ever TV projects got unveiled within the same week. That the announcements collided was sheer coincidence, he says, but a happy one for the Scottish wordsmith.
BritBox revealed last week that Welsh has teamed with Buccaneer Media to adapt his 2008 novel Crime as one of its first original UK dramas, while just a day earlier, British producer Burning Wheel Productions said the writer is collaborating with American Psycho scribe Bret Easton Ellis to pen American Tabloid, a series on tabloid press culture in the U.S.
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The Crime adaptation has been in development for around four years and represents Welsh’s first commissioned series after his well-established feature work, which began in 1996 with Danny Boyle’s iconic reimagining of Trainspotting. Crime’s TV origins date back to a serendipitous meeting between Welsh and actor Dougray Scott at a football match involving their beloved Hibernian FC. Batwoman actor Scott, it turns out, is also a huge fan of Crime and its central character, the troubled detective Ray Lennox.
“It became a joint passion project,” Irvine tells Deadline. “Dougray has been absolutely brilliant. He has always said to me that he was born to play this part. I’ve never seen an actor so motivated to play a role before.”
The book follows Lennox having fled to Miami from his home city of Edinburgh in the wake of a cocaine-fueled mental health breakdown and a harrowing child sex murder investigation. Most of the story is set in Florida, with Lennox becoming embroiled in an effort to protect another victim of sexual predation. The TV series, however, centers on Lennox’s time in Edinburgh.
“The bulk of the novel is set in Miami, but for the first six episodes, we’re concentrating on the part that’s set in Edinburgh, which is only about a quarter or a fifth of the novel. There’s so much in that story. It’s almost like an origins story — how he went on to become a hunter of sex offenders,” Welsh explains. “As well as trying to solve a crime in real-time, he’s also confronting his own demons. He’s quite a messed up guy with drug and sex addictions, and he’s using the hunting of sex offenders as a therapy for himself.”
Welsh has re-immersed himself in the world of Lennox and says he has enough new material to fashion up to two new novels, as well as the BritBox series. “There is clearly more material to be developed for television,” he adds, saying that he would like to return to the fish out of water Miami story of the original novel. Welsh has evidently relished the new challenge of writing for television, reveling in the bigger canvas on which to paint stories. He admits, however, it’s not been easy moving from films to the new medium.
“With film you’ve got the three-act structure, where you establish the character, throw some stones and you get the payoff at the end. With TV you’ve got to do that right across the whole series, but you’ve also got to do it for every individual episode. We want somebody to look at episode three and say, ‘That was a f*cking great bit of television’ without watching episodes one or six. It’s a challenge, but the advantage is you have so much extra time,” says Welsh.
The writer has completed rough drafts of four scripts and getting the remaining two done is now his priority. It means the project is far more advanced than American Tabloid, which is in the very early stages of development. Lots of research has been conducted, but Welsh is yet to sit down with Easton Ellis to work out how they will share writing duties. “Bret and I have been friends for years, but we’ve never actually worked together. It’s going to be interesting and an education for us both,” he says.
The inspiration for the series is the origins of the National Enquirer, the near-100-year-old U.S. publication owned by American Media. National Enquirer is famous for its spikey celebrity gossip and in recent years has made headlines for supporting Donald Trump’s White House campaign and publishing intimate details about Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ love life. Welsh was reluctant to go into too much detail about the series, but said it has been a real “turn on” for buyers.
He says lockdown has been a productive time. “It’s forced me to work. Writers are always looking for distractions. With the pubs and night clubs being shut, it means I can’t go out and DJ, which means I’m getting up early in the morning. I’ve got the work ethic back big time,” he says. By the looks of things, Welsh is going to be kept busy for some time to come.