Created and written by Hania Elkington and Simon Duric, the drama series The Innocents (available to stream at Netflix) tells the story of teenagers Harry (Percelle Ascott) and June (Sorcha Groundsell), who run away from their families to be together, when they unexpectedly learn of June’s ability to shape-shift. As they struggle to figure out how to control this scary and dangerous new power, their bond is tested as June is faced with the choice of reuniting with the mother who deserted her and the possibility of a cure, or risking everything for love.
While at the Netflix presentation at the Television Critics Association Press Tour, Collider got the opportunity to sit down with show creators Hania Elkington and Simon Duric, as well as co-stars Sorcha Groundsell, Percelle Ascott and Guy Pearce (who plays Halvorson, a man with mysterious motives), to talk about how this story evolved into what we see now, getting to establish their own rules for this world, casting the two lead characters, having so much human emotion to play with, and some of the funniest moments on set. Be aware that there are some spoilers discussed.
Collider: I love the whole mood and feel of The Innocents, and how it leans much more toward serious drama rather than melodrama.
SIMON DURIC: Thank you!
HANIA ELKINGTON: Thanks! That’s great! That’s a very good start.
Simon and Hania, when you started working on this, where did it all start? Was it with the kind of story that you wanted to tell, or was it the specific characters?
ELKINGTON: We wanted to tell a really bold and transformative coming-of-age love story. Simon had been looking into shape-shifting, human-into-animal, brother-sister stories, and I’d been turning over this idea of this young girl coming-of-age. We each had two different halves of an idea. In spending time together, the two fused into this hybrid idea. The brother and sister became a young couple, and June came to the fore, in terms of this female shape-shifter and how her changing form might challenge the love story. There were a lot of crazy nights spent in beer gardens with us building out the world and the family, the threats, and the mythology. It excited us to find a bit of dramatic territory that hadn’t been over trodden, like vampires and werewolves, and so on. There are lots of terrific stories about them, but with shape-shifting, we had the chance to really establish some of our own rules and go, “This is where it comes from, and this is how it works,” which felt really thrilling.
It’s cool because it seems like sometimes you almost have to remind yourself that that’s an element of the show, since it’s not the only thing you’re focusing on. These characters are going through so much.
DURIC: All the way through writing, every single time it came to a shape-shift, we always said, “If we take that out and there’s no shape-shifting, what’s the piece of story that we’re telling? What’s the drama? What are the characters going through?” If the shape-shifting makes it, then it’s probably not working, so we worked really hard at that.
How did you start looking for the actors for your two young leads at the center of this? Did you have any idea what you were looking for or what you might find?
ELKINGTON: We never dreamed that we would find a Harry and June as compelling and as heartbreakingly glorious and talented as [Sorcha Groundsell and Percelle Ascott]. We were consistently blown away, going through the series.
DURIC: There were many cold sweats that we weren’t going to find the actors, but they delivered so much. We knew how much weight we were putting on their shoulders, and then there was also the added thing of needing that chemistry, which you can’t fake and you can’t create. There are a million filmmaking tricks, but you’ll never be able to create that.
ELKINGTON: And the series lived or died on it, so there was no pressure on them, at all. We had a great casting director, Daniel Edwards, and he went out and just scoured drama schools and theaters. The talent out there is amazing, and we got the two that we were looking for. It was a very exciting process to be apart of. We had very few specifications on what Harry and June might look like, who they might be, and what kind of background they would be from. We just knew the real kernel to each of them. There was a purity and otherworldliness to June that we just wanted to feel something completely different and unusual and full of possibility, and with Harry, there was that devotion and that sense of commitment. Those were the two defining qualities that we wanted to feel on screen.
Once you had cast them, was there anything you had to go back and adjust or change?
ELKINGTON: I think anything we went back and changed, it was because we realized that they could deliver over and above what we had written. That was the same with every role, actually. It was all so collaborative, and we discussed the scripts and characters as the episodes came in. Each of the roles adapted a little bit to the cast member, but it was always because they had great suggestions, or they could deliver more, or we wanted to do something with them. It was just a real testament to the quality and the specificity of [the actors]. From what was on the page, initially, each of those characters just really kept blooming and evolving.