“Will Kingdom Airlines Flight 29 land safely?” is the question that “Hijack” fans have been asking since the moment arch negotiator Sam Nelson (Idris Elba) first spotted a suspicious-looking toiletry bag being passed from one passenger to another in the aircraft’s plush first class cabin. (Or, in fairness, maybe even before that given the show is literally called “Hijack.”)
Now, after five nail-biting weeks, audiences will finally find out whether Nelson has managed to outwit the hijackers. To mark the season finale, “Hijack” executive producer Hakan Kousetta sat down with Variety to discuss fan reactions, that nerve-wracking ending and whether Elba is likely to return as Nelson for a second season.
Firstly, what has the reaction been like to the series so far?
It’s a very bingeable series, and the weekly release strategy of Apple is obviously wonderfully brilliant in terms of creating that watercooler conversation thing. Every episode is a bit of a cliffhanger, and everyone’s doing that “Argh, they made me wait a week!” It’s really hard to express the amount of joy it brings when a show [resonates] with an audience on such a broad scale.
When did 60Forty, the production company you founded with co-EP Jamie Laurenson, board the project?
[Writer] George Kay and [director] Jim Field Smith came up with the idea of the show, like literally a one- page pitch almost. Apple obviously saw something in that straight off the bat, and put them in touch with us. We clicked straight away. At the same time Apple had a deal with Idris, and it was an obvious opportunity to bring him into the fold. So he came on board, and that was where it went.
In TV terms, it was quite a quick process. We developed the project and got it going, and we were quite quick to get a green light from Apple off the back of that. George is an incredibly talented writer — he created “Lupin,” and him and Jim worked together on “Criminal” for Netflix — so George is very good. I compare him to a Swiss watchmaker: He’s amazing at these really intricate storylines interspersed with really great characterizations. And then combined with Jim’s incredible, technical and really cinematic approach to directing, it was like a wonderful moment of synergy. And Idris gives such an amazing performance. I always say we’re getting the Idris we always wanted on this show.
How challenging was it to shoot on a replica plane?
We built this plane — it was literally a plane — but we did think that through, and we structured it and designed the filming process to make that as least agonizing as possible. Because otherwise, you’d have the longest flight in history for those poor actors for months on end.
Was the real-time structure of the show baked into the concept from the get-go?
Yes. George always had the concept of it being a real-time story. And Jim was very clear right from the outset: If we’re in the plane, we’re in the plane. We’re never flying through a window, and up through the fuselage. It’s not like “United 93” shaky-camera real, but it feels very authentic; you feel like you’re within that space, your POV is always something that feels accurate and real. You’re never taken out of that environment.
Was it organic or accidental that pretty much every episode ends in a cliffhanger?
It wasn’t accidental. Nothing’s accidental about this show. The idea was to maintain a propulsiveness to the show, because obviously the concern about real-time and confined elements is, how long can your audience bear to be with you on that journey?
It definitely didn’t feel guaranteed that that plane was going to land intact. How much discussion was there about the ending?
We discussed it a lot. There was always a desire that there would be a resolution that wouldn’t be completely deflating and disappointing, and sort of a miserable ending. That wasn’t something we were ever contemplating. Hijacks don’t really happen, and this is entertainment, right? We’re stretching the credibility of reality. But you want to also stay within the boundaries of what’s possible, and not just insult everyone’s intelligence so you’re always walking that tightrope. There had to be genuine jeopardy, because there would be genuine jeopardy in any set of circumstances that that plane is coming to an end of its journey. The stakes are really, really going to have to be high. We used to nickname it the “clanding.” It wasn’t a crash and it wasn’t a landing: It was a “clanding.” And there was a lot of debate about what the consequences of that would be, but in the end we settled on what we obviously got. It’s not just a physical resolution, it’s an emotional resolution.
It’s a big ensemble cast. How tricky was it to balance everyone’s stories?
A big part of the ambition of the show was to try and connect with an audience. It’s not meant to be an action thing — it’s not “Die Hard,” or whatever, it’s meant to feel a bit more grounded than that. And a big part of achieving that is having an ensemble cast that everyone can relate to, and with the ambition of being very authentic. We have a very multicultural cast, there’s people speaking real languages in real dialects. There was a huge amount of attention to detail on that, to make sure that we were delivering that. We were very conscious that we were making a show for a global audience. But it is really technically challenging to pull that off.
The million-dollar question. Are we going to see Sam Nelson return for a second season?
Oh, gosh, I wish I could tell you that. I hope so but we’ll have to see.
When Variety spoke to Idris Elba about a second season a few months ago, his main concern was how to bring Sam back in an authentic way. Have you started discussing that yet?
I mean, we’ve thought about it, obviously. And that is really challenging. It is something that you’re like, “Wow, how would you do that and it not be completely ridiculous?” We talk about it — but yeah, we’ll have to wait and see. I’m never gonna say no.
60Forty have worked on some great TV projects, including “Slow Horses” and “The Essex Serpent.” Are you able to talk about what you have coming up?
Not at the moment, but we’ve got quite a few projects. We’ve been going for just over two years, so we were developing stuff from a standing start really and that always takes a little bit of time to get things into shape. But we’ve got quite a few projects that we’re hoping will come to fruition next year or later on this year.
How much are the strikes affecting you at the moment?
It’s definitely impacting us. It impacts everybody. If you’re working with international talent then it’s going to have an effect on you, so it’s just one of those things. I just hope they reach a resolution as quickly as possible so we can get on with making great telly.
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.