Filed in Eric Interviews Scans

New interview for Esquire UK with Abi Morgan

To promote ‘Eric’, Benedict Cumberbatch and screenwriter Abi Morgan talked about the show for Esquire UK. You can read the interview below and check the scans on our gallery:

No, Benedict Cumberbatch’s New Show ‘Eric’ is Not Based On a True Story

The show’s star (not including the giant monster puppet), and its creator Abi Morgan, give the low-down on their new dark Netflix drama

Benedict Cumberbatch remembers very clearly the day he first met Eric, his co-star in the new Netflix series in which they are both about to appear. “When he first came to set, it was, it just… it was very fucking funny. Because he couldn’t see; he banged into walls. There was this huge lumbering thing going, ‘Oh fuck,’ and ping-ponging around the set.”

Abi Morgan, the British playwright and screenwriter who wrote the six-part series, also called Eric, was there that day, too. “You know, there’s something that happens: everybody becomes childlike. I remember him standing among the crew and everybody, from the gaffer through to the costume designer, crowded round to see him. It was a really good moment.”

Eric is a big, white-and-blue, very hairy monster-puppet — controlled from within by a puppeteer named Olly — though consider yourself disabused of any notion he’s a cuddly fuzz-heap in the Barney or Big Bird mode. In fact, he only appears for the first time at the end of the opening episode of Morgan’s atmospheric drama, when Cumberbatch’s character, a puppeteer named Vincent who works on a Sesame Street-esque TV puppet show called Good Day Sunshine, starts to lose his mind and summons Eric into being.

Not that things are too sunny for Vincent, even at the start. Set in New York in 1985, early scenes in Eric depict his unhappy marriage to Cassie (Gaby Hoffman), in which the couple’s nine-year-old son Edgar (Ivan Howe) has become the neglected collateral. Vincent is coming under fire at work, too, as Good Day Sunshine is falling out of favour with the kids (or as Cumberbatch puts it: “the hip crowd who understand what a beatbox is”). But then comes the day that Vincent, harried and chaotic, sends Edgar off to school on his own and Edgar doesn’t come back.

“Every parent has this nightmare,” says Morgan, who also wrote the recent divorce-lawyer drama The Split and the 2011 Steve McQueen-directed film Shame. “I think, statistically, no more children disappear now than did 30 or 40 years ago, but it’s parental anxiety versus knowledge. My kids are 20 and 22 now, but I raised them in London and my friend was reminding me the other day how neurotic I was at fireworks displays; I’d be crawling around in the bushes, trying to find my kids in the dark. We know where the monsters are much more [than we once did], so it’s harder.”

Although early reports said that the series was inspired by a true case – the best-known comparable story is probably that of Etan Patz, a six-year-old who went missing on his way to school in Manhattan in 1979 and was never seen again, and whose disappearance was one of the first to be publicised on milk cartons — Morgan says it was not based on any one real event, but rather on the cases that she remembers hearing about when she was growing up in the UK.“I remember that being haunting, as a child who really enjoyed her freedom,” she says.

In a desperate hunt for clues about Edgar’s disappearance, Vincent searches his son’s room and finds a drawing of a big white-and-blue monster; he convinces himself that if he can only turn the drawing into a real puppet on Good Day Sunshine, it might coax Edgar home. But, as they so often do, the monster has other ideas, and as Vincent becomes increasingly unhinged and his search pulls him deeper into New York’s underbelly, imaginary Eric is by his side — on the streets, on the subway — as a confidant and, sometimes, an accomplice.

For Cumberbatch, who’s no stranger to roles involving extreme psychological trials — see his excellent turn as an aristocratic drug addict in the 2018 miniseries Patrick Melrose and his forthcoming role as a bereaved husband in the film adaptation of Max Porter’s book Grief is the Thing with Feathers — here was a new opportunity to take on a character study of the most intense kind. “It’s someone in an extraordinary crisis, and it was really Vincent’s journey, rather than Eric [that drew me to it],” he says,“even though that was a very original device to carry someone through this episode of his life; that sort of split identity and how that works.”

New York “as a character” was another line of enquiry in the show for Morgan (although it was also filmed in New Jersey and the interiors sets were built in Budapest), inspired by the time she spent nannying there in the 1980s. “I was staying in a weird hostel, working for a wealthy family who owned a big bagel bakery,” she says. “I was delivering cakes and just across the window from their kitchen there was this kind of TV studio, in a central New York street, and I thought, ‘This is extraordinary, this collision.’ Also, it felt like a real party town; the clubbing scene was amazing. I missed all that, but it was definitely happening, I hear.”

Cumberbatch, who would have been nine in 1985, the same as age as Edgar, and whose parents are actors, says there was a nostalgic appeal for him, too. “Just the decor and the environment, even though it’s American, were deeply familiar. The presence of TV, as well,

and the bohemian nature of living with parents who are in the arts, though not, thank God, the domestic struggle and the pain; fortunately for me, I had a very stable household by comparison.But without a doubt that was part of the appeal:the resonance with my childhood.”

(Speaking of his childhood, it turns out Cumberbatch has something of a track record in puppetry: he says his “second-favourite, if not favourite, teddy” growing up was a Kermit the Frog hand puppet, “so he could sit on my knee and sing about being green”. He was a fan of Jim Henson’s output generally, including The Muppet Show and Fraggle Rock, and, in 2014, while he was starring in Sherlock, Cumberbatch appeared in a segment on Sesame Street, in which he tallied apples and oranges with the Count. “One of the highlights of my career,” he says.)

But the period in which Eric is set was also a deeply turbulent time in New York: the Aids epidemic was ripping through the city, homeless people were living in the sewers, and institutionalised racism and corruption were rife within the NYPD. This wider story is told in the series through the journey of a detective, Ledroit (McKinley Belcher III), who gets involved in Edgar’s case. “Ledroit was born out of wanting to create a calm, centred counterpoint to Vincent’s kind of toxic crazy and to look at policing at that time,” says Morgan, “but also the very personal journey of a cop who has been hiding his sexuality and is dealing with a loss of his own. So, in a way, they’re both connected, but often running side by side.”

“I think it’s quite unusual for TV drama to boldly go in that direction,” says Cumberbatch, who, like Morgan, is also an executive producer on Eric, although when we speak he’s only seen the first three episodes, as he’s waiting for his wife, theatre director Sophie Hunter, to catch up. “I’m excited to see the rest of them,” he says.“It’s a detective mystery, it’s character-driven, it’s to do with marital breakdown and also with societal breakdown. It’s about finding love, it’s about breaking old patterns, breaking old bonds, old reliances. It is all of those things. Vincent goes on this extraordinary odyssey…” he reflects. “And with a ridiculous, seven-foot-tall, white-and-blue puppet.”

‘Eric’ launches on Netflix on 30 May