Interviews TV

AMC+’s Ragdoll Balances The Gruesome Horrors Of A Serial Killer With Deflecting Humor

Based on the popular novel by Daniel Cole of the same name, AMC’s Ragdoll is a crime thriller surrounding the investigation of the crimes of “The Ragdoll Killer.” After six people were murdered, dismembered, and sewn into one grotesque body known as the Ragdoll, Detective Sergeant Nathan Rose, Detective Investigator Emily Baxter, Detective Chief Inspector Terrence Simmons, and new recruit Detective Constable Lake Edmunds are put on the case of solving the tragic and twisted murders. The killer begins to taunt the police by sending a list of their next victims, putting their investigation under a highly scrutinized microscope.

To learn more about this show, The Koalition attended the Television Critic’s Association (TCA) Press Tour where creators Sally Woodward Gentle (Creator/Executive Producer), Freddy Syborn (Writer/Executive Producer) joined actors Henry Lloyd-Hughes (DS Nathan Rose), Thalissa Teixeira (DI Emily Baxter) and Lucy Hale (DC Lake Edmunds) to shed some light on bringing this adaptation to the small screen.

“The original book, Ragdoll was a brilliant gift to adapt. It was very funny. It was very gruesome, a lot of grand [things]. I really just wanted to emphasize the character development of the three characters. Lucy’s character has evolved a lot, Thalissa’s character has evolved a lot, really trying to focus on creating as much drama as possible from the kind of central trio, that triangle, and to focus I think as much as possible on sort of how the individual, the sort of police officers’ their guilt, their shame, their internal lives drive this investigation. It’s really ultimately about the three of them. So I’ve tried to do that” said Freddy.

Henry Lloyd-Hughes as DS Nathan Rose – Ragdoll _ Season 1, Episode 1 – Photo Credit: Luke Varley/AMC

For Lead Writer Freddy, it all started when Sid Gentle sent him the book by Daniel Cole whose gruesome imagination creates a world for these characters to explore. Not only does the discovery of a dead body stitched together from six victims make a compelling start, but it also has a dark sense of humor and doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s characters drive the mystery and keeps the audience invested and grounded as the story continues. For Freddy the first goal was to explore the friendship between Rose and Baxter and to think about the ways that their relationship was on one level strangely innocent, and on another level essentially poisoned by institutionalization and made impossible by the jobs they do. These people need each other so much, but they’re the best thing and the worst thing in the world for each other.

With the television adaptation, fans of the book will discover it is more character-focused on the three leads while the book was more focused on the murder-thriller aspect.

“I would say that while we have wanted to deliver just as many thrills and gruesome discoveries and spectacular deaths and hit all those sort of genre-specific points, I think what I’ve really tried to do is to find that extra layer of depth in terms of the character because that’s what I really love and that’s what I’ve so enjoyed watching the three of these actors bring to the piece,” finished Freddy.

For Sally, the process of bringing the book to screen was essentially about finding a brilliant writer who loves the material, but would give it its own spin. For her, a writer possessed an extraordinary critical faculty of a brain that can take plot apart, but is also more interested in character, and the nuance and complexity of relationships while bringing out the dark humor from the book. She wanted characters who deflect from their pain by being witty with each other.

Henry Lloyd-Hughes as DS Nathan Rose, Thalissa Teixeira as DI Emily Baxter, Lucy Hale as DC Lake Edmunds – Ragdoll _ Season 1, Episode 1 – Photo Credit: Luke Varley/AMC

“That’s why we wanted Freddy as well because he loved the book, but he really engaged with how complex those characters could be and how we knew that we could create a dynamic threesome at the top. So we totally sort of embraced the theatricality of the book while really anchoring it, I think, with very truthful human emotions,” chimed Sally.

In the series Henry plays disgraced detective DS Rose has just been reinstated to the London police when he and his colleagues are called to a grim discovery in a block of flats. Plagued with PTSD, Rose’s ever increasing erratic behavior influences his decision making that could endanger the lives of others.

“I’ve actually played someone with PTSD before, but this was new because this was kind of trauma that one experiences in the workplace, albeit extraordinary circumstances. I did spend time talking with therapists who deal specifically with people that have experienced that kind of thing. It was really revelatory in terms of working out what the human brain does when week in, week out, as all of our three characters do, experience truly shocking and extraordinary things a lot of which feature in the show. It was remarkable,” said Henry.

“As human beings we have weird and wonderful ways of processing the extraordinary things that we experience. And I tried to channel as much of that into my performance. Without spoiling anything, there’s a lot of horrifying events that happened pre-dating when our Episode 1 begins and also we get caught up in and how the three of us as characters, and therefore actors, deal with those things and whether we can take the pressure and the extremity is kind of at the core of the plot. It was a massive and exciting challenge for me to undertake,” Henry finished.

Lucy Hale as DC Lake Edmunds – Ragdoll _ Season 1, Episode 1 – Photo Credit: Luke Varley/Sid Gentle/BBC/AMC

While fans know Lucy Hale from lighter younger comedies like CW’s Katy Keene or the teen drama Riverdale, Ragdoll is steeped in darkness from it’s subject matter to its depiction of a serial killer. However, for Lucy, this was the kind of a subject matter she wanted to tackle as an actress and hopes her fans support.

“This is why I wanted to be a part of this project because I gravitate towards these shows anyway. And I always say I’ve been preparing my whole life for a show like this because I’m the first girl to listen to any true crime podcast or watch any of the crime shows. But I think a lot of the people that support me have grown up with me and so I think the people [who] are still watching everything that I do will hopefully know what they’re stepping into. But I think that the show is obviously very dark and there are gruesome elements, but what I loved about this show is how Freddy so brilliantly showed why people do certain things based on their trauma or their shame. And so, for me, it was more about the friendships between these characters and the lengths they’ll go to protect each other and basically just what trauma can do to a person.” said Lucy.

“I think that when you’re a part of something like Pretty Little Liars or Katy Keene, people definitely want to keep you in that box. And I’m very grateful for those opportunities. But I made the conscious decision that after Katy Keene got cancelled, I knew the next job I did really had to creatively super excite me. I did have to fight for this role. But that almost felt better, because I don’t think people expected to see me in this role or in this light. And it was just a really nice challenge for me. But so much more rewarding that I did have to be like, ‘No, please give me a chance to do this.’ And so, thanks Sally, thanks Freddy, for believing in me and trusting me with this character,” Lucy continued.

“That was what was so great is once they knew that I could do it, you really gave me a blank page to kind of create the look. ‘Cause I was like, ‘Can I dye my hair blonde?’ And you let me do that. And I was like, ‘Can I have really big roots?’ And you let me do that. And especially with Ellie, who created the wardrobe for the show, just completely nailed it and completely, all credit goes to her for that, because she’s brilliant,” Lucy finished.

Henry Lloyd-Hughes as DS Nathan Rose, Lucy Hale as DC Lake Edmunds, Michael Smiley as Finlay, Thalissa Teixeira as DI Emily Baxter – Ragdoll _ Season 1, Episode 1 – Photo Credit: Luke Varley/AMC

Starring in Ragdoll as Edmund, the new detective from America, Lucy often related to her character being the an outsider and admired her bravery and intelligence. Ragdoll is a new page in Lucy’s career.

“It felt like not even a new chapter, like a new book. Going to London, working with Sid Gentle, working with Freddy, I was so excited to work with Henry and Thalissa. It just feels elevated, and I feel like I just grew just working with everyone. [It’s] a darker, new book.

In the first episode, a grim discovery is made as a ‘Ragdoll’ hangs from the ceiling, made up of six different body parts. A cold moist body is strung from the ceiling in a terrifying yet hauntingly beautiful artistic position. However, the body which was created by the teams props department created more of of a visceral reaction from the cast.

“I had I think the biggest dramatic reaction to it. They are so technically on point, the people that made the props for this job that I had a real panic after seeing it. I think I’d also gone into this deep, dark web, hole of looking into real murder cases which was the wrong thing to do when you’re waking up at 5:30 in the morning to then look at a strung-up body that looks very, very real. I think it was just a big, shocking reminder that everything that is bad is real. Freddy managed to get a sort of human – and the humor in how we cope with the fact these characters are really like on their toes and have to suspend each other up with comedy was the most natural reaction because it’s exactly what we did when we saw the ragdoll. It was very impressive,” said Thalissa.

Henry Lloyd-Hughes as DS Nathan Rose, Thalissa Teixeira as DI Emily Baxter – Ragdoll _ Season 1, Episode 2 – Photo Credit: Sam Taylor/AMC

“There’s an incredible company that does our prosthetics for us, and the way I stopped it feeling gruesome was just imagining who’d carved which bits of the body, and there was a rumor that the torso was the body of one of the makers, so it was a lot of work that was done with Toby MacDonald and Lizzie Rusbridger, our producer, really chooses things, the character of each of the body parts, but also the position that the body should be in. Because the book had it suspended from the ceiling horizontally, but it was Toby who decided the position that it would be in which was sort of backwards, which I think was sort of genius of him. But it took a lot of thinking about it. They do a 3D model of it, which you can look at in computers and CAD design you can look at and rotate it like how it will appear. And then when the real thing turns up, we’ve now got it in a storage center in Richmond,” said Sally.

In order to get the actors authentic reaction to seeing the ragdoll for the first the cast made a choice to not see it beforehand. “Although I was trying to sneak pictures of it. I wanted to see before. But I think it was way more impactful, obviously, to see it all together for the first time. It was melting. It was dripping, like dripped water, thawing. That was the defrosting limb,” said Lucy.

“I thought it was like a renaissance painting, I have to say. I could see the horror in it, but I also think it was kind of just like some of Damien Hirst’s finest work or maybe Jake and Dinos Chapman. It’s an amazing piece of artwork. Testament to the makers because the dental work – I was staring in his mouth – its mouth – their mouths – for some time with that torch. You could see the fillings. I don’t know how you even go about doing that level of detail. It’s the hair as well. It’s the hair and the insertion. It’s just genius,” said Henry.

Ragdoll premieres Thursday, November 11th exclusively on AMC+ with new epsioes releasing every Thursday.

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