Story from Manchester Evening News by Vickie Scullard | 15 August 2019
There must be something about this cloudy, rainy but incredible city of ours – production crews are climbing over each other to use it as the backdrop to a string of binge-worthy TV series and cinema-worthy movies.
From hit BBC shows such as Peaky Blinders, to future Hollywood blockbusters including Spider-man spin-off Morbius, every director seems to want a slice of our surroundings to help bring their latest script to life.
While film crews setting up in the Northern Quarter have become fairly common place, American writer Harlan Coben can’t get enough of Greater Manchester as a whole – and has based his entire latest series here.
After falling in love with the area while shooting for another Netflix thriller, Harlan couldn’t wait to return for his TV adaption of The Stranger, based on his book of the same name.
And no, it’s not just the city centre – he’s marked off places in Bolton, south Manchester, Eccles and Stockport.
“We filmed all across Manchester for the most part, as well as places around the city like Bolton,” he told the Manchester Evening News.
“It’s a great place to shoot TV. There is some really incredible architecture in the region that looks great on screen.”
The last time the New Jersey-born writer came across the pond and up our way was to film Netflix show Safe, based on another of his novels, and featuring Dexter star Michael C Hall.
“Even now I come to Manchester and I think, why does that look familiar?” said Harlan. “It’s because I’ve seen the location so many times in one of my series.
“The funny thing is, I usually bring the sunshine with me when I visit. Even though Manchester is supposed to be known for rain, I was keen in Safe to show a bright, idyllic setting that turns the dark, gritty expectation on its head.”
For The Stranger, Harlan was keen to work with the same production crew he did with Safe – and it just so happens that he didn’t have to travel very far to meet up with them.
Harlan reunited with Rochdale’s Nicola Shindler, who runs Red Production Company from MediaCity, and Hyde screenwriter Danny Brocklehurst, when he visited the country during filming.
“Nicola had been a reader of mine and for a long time she was helping me turn one of my books into a TV series, but unfortunately the book that she wanted to adapt was not available, so she chose Safe“, Harlan said.
“She introduced me to Danny and said he could be the right person to work with me. He has a similar vision to what I was aiming for, so we went from there.
“We all enjoyed working together so much that we came together again for The Stranger.”
The Stranger – starring Richard Armitage (The Hobbit), Siobhan Finneran (Happy Valley), Jennifer Saunders (Absolutely Fabulous), Hannah John-Kamen (Game of Thrones) and Anthony Stewart Head (Little Britain) – follows Adam Price, a man whose life comes crashing down around him after a shock revelation.
As well as established actors, Harlan and co brought in local talent for the series, including Leah Baskaran, Ross Grant, Misha Ade, Anthony Bacon and Anna Swan, who all hail from across Greater Manchester.
The psychological thriller is already being teased on Netflix despite the fact the film crew has only recently shouted ‘it’s a wrap’.
“The great thing about this is, the whole series goes onto Netflix, in full, worldwide,” said Harlan. “One day they press a button and 190 countries have access to your show.
“With Safe and The Stranger, they are novels on screen and I want people to consume them in the way they would a book. I know if I had to wait a week to continue reading a book I would be disappointed, so to make the series fully accessible fits in perfectly with that.
“If you thought Safe had a twist, wait until you watch The Stranger. That is one thing I pride myself on. There are a lot of twists and turns.”
While the story is based on his own novel, don’t expect the TV show to be a carbon copy of it.
Harlan said: “Books and TV are a different poison. I don’t like adaptations that are a slave to the book version. This is why I have chosen Manchester for a location, where the book might be set in New Jersey.
“Writing a book, I am everything – director, producer, scriptwriter, set manager, everything. Whereas when I work for TV, it’s all about collaboration. I create the characters and incredible actors and production workers put their spin on it, and it takes on a new life.”
Harlan Coben’s The Stranger is coming to Netflix soon and his book, Run Away, is out now.