SMH.com.au — One thing that has become very clear to me is that Shantaram itself has a spirit,” says Charlie Hunnam. “It is an entity unto itself and it demands to be listened to.”
He’s talking about the much-loved book-turned-Apple TV+ series, in which he plays Lin, a former junkie and bank robber who hides out in Bombay after escaping from Melbourne’s Pentridge Prison. And if he’s right, this Shantaram is a very strong-willed entity indeed.
Since 2004, when Warner Bros paid $2 million for the screen rights, there have been multiple failed attempts to film Gregory David Roberts’ fictionalised account of his remarkable life story. Russell Crowe, Joel Edgerton and Johnny Depp were all lined up at one time or another to play Lin. Peter Weir was attached to direct before leaving the project in 2006 because, Warners said, “his interpretation of it differed greatly than that of the studio and producers”.
This 12-part version for Apple – the streamer’s first Australian commission – has had some pretty big issues of its own.
“We have tried to do things, we had such conviction, and the show itself said no, and put up every obstacle,” says Sons of Anarchy star Hunnam, who is also a producer on the project. “Even in the first iteration [we shot], it was Shantaram that said ‘not sure if this is fitting correctly’.”
Announced amid much fanfare with a projected $55 million budget in August 2019 with Justin Kurzel (Snowtown, Nitram) as set-up director and Oscar-nominated screenwriter Eric Warren Singer (American Hustle) as showrunner, the production was two episodes in when it was shut down in February 2020 over concerns that the scripts for the remainder of what was supposed to be a 10-part series were “not ready”.
In May 2021, when production finally resumed, it had a new showrunner, new directors and an entirely new direction.
“We basically started again,” says showrunner Steve Lightfoot, who was brought on to reshape the project into something more palatable for Apple. “The book’s already there, so we certainly built on the foundations of work that team had done, but essentially, you know, we started again.”
According to Hunnam, the Singer-Kurzel version was a much darker rendering of the material than the one that debuts next week.
Continue reading Press/Interview: “The show itself said no” – Inside Shantaram’s long and troubled road to TV