On July 18, 2010, I was driving on a Los Angeles freeway to visit my mother, and out of the corner of my eye, to my right, I caught a glimpse of a man in a car who reminded me a bit of British actor Nick Frost. In fact, he looked like a 1950's or 60's version of Nick, with retro horn-rimmed glasses, a very short haircut, and wearing a jacket and tie. He came across as a conservative business guy – maybe an accountant. Since my wife wasn't in the car with me and I had no other distractions, I let my imagination run away with me. Nick Frost as a very buttoned-down accountant in the Mad Men era. Who would that guy be? What's his story?
I started to talk into the voice memo app on my iPhone, as if I were channeling a prepared scenario – something akin to automatic writing: "Series for Nick Frost called 'Mr. Sloane.' Jeremy Sloane. Single guy in the 60's. Horn rimmed glasses. Little bit of a drinking problem. Bit of an eating problem. Big loneliness problem. Trying to make his way. Trying to do right. Blowing it now and then. He's a substitute teacher and all the kids call him 'Mr. Sloane.' Finally meets a nice woman…"
I had been friends with Nick since I first came to London in 2006 to meet with his pal Simon Pegg, prior to filming "How To Lose Friends." So within a day or two of my freeway epiphany, I wrote to Nick, asking if he'd ever be interested in doing television again (since he had a very nice career in movies). His reply was brief and concise. "I'd give my right ball to work with you." When I saw Nick and his wife a couple of nights later in L.A., she said, "Oh, that's his good one! That's very positive."
When I finished my Woody Allen documentary at the end of 2011, I started to devote some time to writing a pilot script for "Mr. Sloane." During a trip to London in June of that year, I met with executives from three different British networks whom I thought might be interested in Sloane – all of whom had read the pilot script. It was Lucy Lumsden at Sky who got back to me soon after our meeting, saying she was seriously interested in the series. One month later, Lucy wrote to me again, saying that Sky wished to commission a full series based on my pilot script. Nine months later, the cameras were rolling on Mr. Sloane.
Nick was every bit as brilliant in the titular role as I knew he would be. I was also lucky enough to snag the fantastic Olivia Colman to play Sloane's estranged wife, Janet. (I had also known "Collie" for a number of years and written the part for her, keeping my fingers crossed that she'd like the part and that we could find a hole in her very busy schedule. I lucked out on both counts.) My good fortune continued in the casting of the remaining principals. Sloane's three mates, Ross, Reggie and Beans would be played by Peter Serafinowicz, Brendan Patricks, and Lawry Lewin, respectively. For the batty neighbor Mrs. Wyndham, we landed the delightful Valerie Lilly. And we were outright blessed to find the lovely Ophelia Lovibond to play the object of Sloane's fancy, Robin.
One of the things I appreciate about British television series is that they don't over-extend themselves. The normal comedy series in England runs six or seven episodes. This manageable amount of screen time usually eliminates the need for a large writing staff and the hiring of episodic directors, so I had the pleasure of writing and directing the entire series myself. But I was grateful for the writing assists from Aschlin Ditta (who co-wrote episode 2), Oli Lansley (who co-wrote episode 4) and Sara Pascoe.
The six-part series aired on Sky Atlantic in the U.K during the spring/summer of 2014 to very flattering reviews and strong ratings. As of this writing, the DVD is only available in the U.K. However, starting in May, 2015, the the series is being broadcast in the U.S. on public television stations. For information on how to find the show where you live, please see this post.
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