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'Last Light' director on finding ‘light in the darkness’ of Peacock’s new dystopian thriller
There’s no point in fighting the apocalypse unless you play to win, says EP & director Dennie Gordon.
Last Light may illuminate some pretty dystopian doomsday themes, but executive producer and director Dennie Gordon hopes the Peacock event series will leave viewers with a beam of optimism. “There’s a little bit of light in the darkness — if we act fast,” she explains, flagging the series’ disaster-averting message.
Gordon teamed with Lost alum Matthew Fox to bring Last Light to the small screen, each sharing executive producing roles in adapting author Alex Scarrow’s eponymous book about a world in the throes of a mysteriously hatched oil crisis. Fox stars as a chemist recruited to discover what’s suddenly tainted the world’s oil supply; both he and Gordon collaborated early in the series’ development to craft a tone that dares to peer into the apocalyptic abyss…without going over the edge.
“Of course we didn’t start out this way — but we realized in the middle of production that this was all ripped from the headlines; that this was all happening right outside our door,” Gordon recently shared with SYFY WIRE. “In fact, we took advantage of it: Like, ‘Look at the gas line over there — please shoot that.’ It was all really transpiring. But I think that if you go too far in this dystopian world, it’s unwatchable. What I really loved about where we landed, tonally, was that these [characters] were people we cared deeply about.”
World-stopping threats may be one of entertainment’s most durable tropes, but Last Light invokes a more plausible kind of big, bad menace than sci-fi staples like runaway comets or angry aliens. “It’s not such a stretch to imagine being trapped in this world,” explains Gordon, “and how quickly the world falls apart — when shipping stops, and cars stop, and trains stop, and planes stop, and suddenly everybody just has to depend on their fellow man.”
But what is it about the end of days that transfixes viewers in the first place? Why do we crave dire stories that set humanity on a collision course with chaos?
“I think it speaks to our most primitive real fears and our real terrors,” says Gordon. ”If you look back, I think maybe [Hurricane] Katrina was the first event where we went ‘Oh my God — nobody’s coming to save us.’ And then nightmare after nightmare during COVID, we’ve seen how quickly things can fall apart and how quickly things escalate…I think it’s not very hard for anybody to imagine that these things are just around the corner. But it was very important to me that it feel very authentic and captured.”
Having full control of the series assured Gordon could achieve the authentic angle she and the larger creative team were aiming for. Her screen résumé is a genre-spanning summary of directing turns through some of TV’s biggest hits: Sports Night, Ally McBeal, The Practice, Burn Notice, The Office, 30 Rock, White Collar, Madam Secretary, Bloodline, Goliath, and many more.
Recent stints at the helm of episodes for Amazon’s Jack Ryan and For All Mankind at Apple TV+ have placed Gordon closer to the kind of real-world subject matter that forms the backdrop for Last Light’s science-minded premise. Gordon said she and Fox strove early and often to temper the series’ scary setup with a relatable human story, one that shines a hopeful spotlight on a family going to extraordinary lengths to stay together and survive.
“Tonally, it was very tricky, and it was important that we really keep this carefully poised and not get ‘preachy,’” she explains of the series’ character-driven family story. “[It was important] that it be people we care about and we just want to know that they’re gonna make it; we just want to know that they’re gonna be okay, and there’s a shred of hope for us in the darkness. There’s a little bit of light in the darkness — if we act fast.”
Filmed on location in Prague, Paris, and Abu Dhabi, Last Light stars Fox alongside Joanne Froggatt (Downton Abbey), Amber Rose Revah (The Punisher), Alyth Ross (Traces, Emerald), Taylor Fay (The Making of Alex), Victor Alli (Belfast, Grantchester), and Tom Wlaschiha (Game of Thrones, Stranger Things). Gordon executive produces with Fox, William Choi, Sydney Gallonde, Rikke Ennis, Patrick Renault, Diego Piasek, Patrick Massett, and John Zinman. Rola Bauer and Steven Johnson serve as co-executive producers, with Veronika Lencova producing.
All five episodes of Last Light are available to stream now on Peacock.