After graduating from film school, screenwriter Aaron Guzikowski had a tough time finding film industry work. Though Guzikowski completed the script for “Prisoners” in 2009, several high-profile attachments and departures marked its development before Denis Villeneuve helmed the project. A taught, atmospheric thriller about the lengths parents go to keep their children safe, “Prisoners” was finally released in 2013 and served as Guzikowski’s breakout film.
Now, Guzikowski is the creator and showrunner of HBO Max’s gripping new drama series “Raised by Wolves.” The first season follows androids Mother (Amanda Collin) and Father (Abubakar Salim) as they try to nurture human life on a distant, inhospitable planet.
Many themes from “Prisoners” recur in the new show, including Guzikowski’s interest in parents pushed to their protective limits. But “Raised by Wolves” is a big-budget space epic that fits neatly within the science fiction genre, which is new territory for Guzikowski. Guzikowski’s transition into sci-fi, however, was surprisingly natural.
“Sci-fi has always been a huge love for me,” Guzikowski said in an interview with The Daily Californian. “My father got me into it when I was kid. … It’s always been a genre I’ve had great affection for, and I’ve always wanted to do something in the science fiction realm.”
In crafting an original sci-fi universe with a unique atmosphere, Guzikowski was struck foremost by his setting. The earliest piece of the puzzle that would come to be “Raised by Wolves” was Kepler-22b, the mysterious sci-fi world in which Guzikowski’s tales of parental anguish play out.
“Many years ago, I started thinking about this alien planet and some of the elements you see on the show,” Guzikowski said. “Then, about three years ago I came up with the idea of these two androids being our main characters, our way into the story — these two androids who have been tasked with raising human children — and telling the story of the restarting of human civilization on this new planet, through the lens of the first family to arrive there.”
In order to bring his story of humanity’s future on Kepler-22b to life, Guzikowski approached Scott Free Productions, the company owned by director Ridley Scott. Though Scott was initially only interested in producing, Guzikowski’s spec script gripped the director immediately. Scott, whose influential early films helped shape current audience understandings and expectations for sci-fi cinema, directed the season’s first two episodes and provided a strong visual style that authenticates the sci-fi material of “Raised by Wolves.”
“Ridley read the script and apparently just really responded to it,” Guzikowski explained. “As soon as he finished, he just started trying to storyboard and proceeded to storyboard the whole pilot, which was his way of saying, ‘I’m going to direct this.’ … Shortly thereafter, I found myself in South Africa and we were making it.”
Working with Scott was something of a surreal experience for Guzikowski. “It was pretty wild,” he said. “I grew up with (Scott’s) films inspiring me probably to get into this business in the first place, so it was quite a thing.”
Despite being inspired by Scott’s work, however, Guzikowski states that “Raised by Wolves” was conscious not to simply repeat the successes of the past.
“I think for (“Raised by Wolves”), Ridley really wanted to pay homage … but at the same time, he wants to evolve into what’s next, what people haven’t seen before,” Guzikowski said. “Arthur C. Clarke has this quote about any sufficiently advanced technology will basically appear to be magic. And when it comes to thinking about these things that are going to take place 150 years from now and letting the mind go nuts, I think (Scott) was just really into the idea of trying to break the mold he helped make.”
Since Mother and Father are the core of his story, Guzikowski knew their performances would be vital in drawing viewers in. He decided, therefore, to cast Mother first, using her performance as what he called a “barometer” for the rest. For the most part, Guzikowski opted to not cast A-list stars, finding undiscovered actors more believable as his characters. In this way, casting Collin was a stroke of luck, according to Guzikowski.
“It was just such a relief,” he said, “because you get these characters and you could come to a point where you just don’t find the right person. Maybe they just don’t exist — which is terrifying. But it was quite a relief when we found Amanda.” Similarly, Guzikowski said he was instantly persuaded by Salim’s audition. “As soon as I heard his voice, I was just totally convinced,” Guzikowski said. “He put himself on tape a few times for us, but after seeing the first one, I almost didn’t need any more convincing.”
Though season one just ended Oct. 1, Guzikowski already has big plans for upcoming seasons of “Raised by Wolves.” He teased that future seasons will go deeper into Father’s origins and his life before being reprogrammed. Further, Guzikowski said his original pitch was accompanied by a five- to six-season arc unravelling the mysteries of Kepler-22b — giving fans of weird, disturbing sci-fi plenty to look forward to.
Contact Neil Haeems at [email protected].