He’s the storytelling powerhouse whose addictive TV hits have included Ally McBeal, Mr Mercedes and Big Little Lies. David E Kelley is regarded as the most prolific writer/producer in small screen history. But even by his own standards Big Sky might be one of his most twisty and surprising series yet.
Kelley’s latest set to be a weapon in Disney’s plan to expand its Disney+ digital platform with the addition of Star. Starring Katheryn Winnick, Big Sky centres around three private detectives searching for two sisters who are missing, feared abducted, in remote Montana. But as they unearth evidence, they discover they’re not the only girls who have disappeared in the area. The show will debut on Star, the new entertainment brand coming to Disney+ from Tuesday, February 23.
For Katheryn Winnick’s detective Jenny Hoyt, it’s even more complicated - she discovers her colleague and friend (Kylie Bunbury) is secretly dating her estranged husband (Ryan Philippe).
The Canadian actress came to Big Sky from Vikings, History Channel’s international hit filmed in Co Wicklow, after living and working here for almost seven years.
“I came off Vikings and Michael Hirst has been such a god to me in in a lot of ways, because he's been my creator for seven years and wrote every episode on Vikings. So it's really tough to sign on to another series and and put your character in someone else's hands. But it's David E Kelly. He has such a history of writing these crazy characters that are dark and twisted and vulnerable at the same time and strong women."
Winnick says the first case is about finding the missing girls, but as the series progresses, other cases arise. "And that's what makes the show really interesting - it feels like a little movie within each series of episodes.”
Kelley created the series after becoming a fan of the series of books by CJ Box, according to Winnick.
“He has a great taste in material and that's what Big Sky is based on. I think as we're finding our way, you will see more of the grittiness and the rawness, you'll see that evolve as the series goes on.”
The series began filming in Canada in August as first-wave lockdown restrictions eased and the TV industry found safe ways of getting back to work in a world starved of new storytelling.
“We shoot this in Vancouver and we've shot straight through. It was on the air after post production within three weeks - so it’s a very, very tight schedule. And COVID is challenging, I'm not gonna lie to you, it is extremely challenging to shoot under these conditions.
“Not only do you have masks and face shields, but the connection that you feel sometimes, that you need as an actor to connect with your fellow actors or crew members or people that put on makeup or eyelashes on you, it adds an extra barrier that makes it challenging to get through."
After starting production back in August, Winnick is proud to say they've got this far without a positive Covid case on set.
At the sound of this interviewer’s East Cork tones, Winnick interjects: “I miss that accent!”
After all, she spent seven years in Ireland filming Vikings on location in Wicklow, where she played the feisty warrior Lagertha. Not only was it one of the best filming experiences of her life, she said, it afforded her the opportunity to direct an episode of the show. She will also get to do some directorial work on Big Sky.
“It felt like family there and getting a role like Lagertha, evolving with her and making her with Michael Hirst was such a blessing. Most people in their entire lives as an actor don't ever get a chance to even have a crack at something like that.
“I would have never been able to be in the position I was in as a director without the help of the Irish crew. They worked tirelessly, they helped me out on their days off, they put in extra hours all to help me succeed as a director. No one works harder and no one is more efficient and nobody makes you smile as much as the Ireland crew. I miss Ireland. I actually miss the rain. I can’t believe I actually am saying that.”
Star launches on Disney+ on Tuesday, February 23, with hundreds of established films and TV series as well as four original shows. The Star brand is geared towards a more mature audience than some of the other Disney+ material.
From February 23rd, the monthly subscription rate for all of Disney+ brands including Star, Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars and National Geographic will increase to €8.99 per month or €89.90 a year.
If you subscribe before that date, the current subscription rate of €6.99 per month applies. Pricing for existing subscribers will not increase until the first bill after 22/08/21.
As well as detective series Big Sky, Star Originals available from launch include:
From the makers of breakout hit Love, Simon and inspired by that film, this series centres on high-school student Victor as he navigates life’s growing pains including challenges at home and adjusting to a new city. When he starts to feel overwhelmed, he reaches out to Simon to help him navigate teenage life’s ups and downs.
This eight-part animated series focuses on a group of four aliens who are forced to escape their own planet and crash land into their new home in suburban America. Two of them hate the place, while two love humans and planet Earth’s fun stuff.
A ten-part live-action series, Helstrom tells the story of the son and daughter of a mysterious and powerful serial killer and their complicated relationship.
Star will also feature dozens of TV series including Atlanta, Ugly Betty, How I Met Your Mother and Sons of Anarchy.
Feature films available from launch date will include Yorgos Lanthimos’ darkly funny The Favourite, which won Olivia Colman an Oscar, and Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel.
Over the next few years, Disney plans to release at least 50 new originals directly to the platform, including Marvel and Star Wars series and live-action and animation series from both Disney and Pixar.