From executive producer Ridley Scott, HBO Max’s new series, Raised by Wolves centers on two androids tasked with raising human children on a mysterious virgin planet. As the burgeoning colony of humans threatens to be torn apart by religious differences, the androids learn that controlling the beliefs of humans is a treacherous and difficult task.
We spoke to Raised By Wolves writer and creator Aaron Guzikowski about tackling some big themes in the show and how Ridley Scott came on board...
Where did the idea come from for Raised By Wolves?
I’ve been thinking about this as far back as ten years ago and then just a few years ago I was inspired by my kids. I’m a parent of three boys [and] I was thinking about them, the world they’re moving out into and the distance between humanity and the technology [becoming] smaller and smaller.
You’re carrying this phone around and you’re wondering ‘should the day come when it’s carrying me? Taking care of my kids for me?’. Maybe that would be good. It would probably be better at it in some ways! So I was thinking a lot about those things and also just the world in general. Wouldn’t it be great if we could just hit the restart button and start over? What that would look like? What would we try and take with us from Earth? What would we leave behind? Are we even able to break out of these cycles that humanity has been stuck in for so long?
What was your process when writing the show?
It’s like a slow cobbling together. I’m constantly thinking about it, it’s always in the back of your head, kind of chattering away as you’re going about your daily business. You just keep observing like a sponge. I think science fiction is all inspired by whatever’s going on around us in a lot of ways. You just try and keep your antenna up and really absorb the stuff that feels important or at least impactful. You just keep collecting this stuff and eventually you can start applying it to a story.
You can start building out a planet as it were. But really what makes it all work is the characters. World-building is super important but I think it’s the people that you populate it with and how relatable they are. That’s how you get the audience to come to your world. They have to be brought in by a character. There’s a lot of thought put obviously towards the planet but perhaps quite a bit more thought towards the people that we’re going to be following.
Was there one particular character in the show that you focussed on when creating the show?
It definitely started around the ‘mother’ character – the mother android. Everything grew out of her, her schizophrenia and her relationship with her son – this strange duality that she has within her. She’s so very unpredictable but she’s also extremely forceful. She likes to get stuff done, she’s always on her mission, she’s always pushing forward. But she also has these weird neuroses going on at the same time. Because she’s doing this huge thing, she’s trying to restart human civilisation and at the same time, she’s having this internal crisis, this self-discovery that’s going on at the same time which creates some interesting situations.
Science fiction is a popular platform for which to discuss wider world views…
Absolutely. I think [it’s] the best science fiction. Originally Star Wars was George Lucas trying to tell a story about Vietnam and it turned into something totally different. These are ways to talk about things that at the time are too sensitive to talk about. Or I think it can get you to sympathise with characters that you normally wouldn’t if it was taking place in our world because they wouldn’t happen to be on your side of things. However you may view the world, however you are. I think it’s a great way to get everyone to come together to see things objectively and just tell stories. I think there’s something that really unites people that way.
As well as the sci-fi element, Raised By Wolves also has a real human side to it…
Yeah, that’s for sure. Everything that happens in the show is through the lens of this weird family that gets created, these two androids and their six kids. It’s mostly from their point of view, a lot of it anyway. So you have all these epic things going on the beginnings of this new world. But it’s all through the eyes of these first pioneers. So we’re all invested in their relationship and we want to feel like we’re part of that family. On that same ride.
What were your influences?
There are so many influences! Obviously Ridley’s films are very influential – Alien and Blade Runner. Star Wars [is] very influential especially the first three George Lucas movies. 2001 [A Space Odessy], Solaris [as well]… really weird stuff like that.
The Shining, oddly enough, was a huge influence. To me, the situation the boy finds himself in in the first episode [of Raised By Wolves]… he’s really all alone, all his siblings have died and he’s the last human being in the entire universe. On top of that his only companions are these two androids, his supposed parents, who he knows aren’t human and one of them seems to be breaking down and going insane. It’s similar to The Shining with the boy and his writer father going nuts. Stuck in the hotel, that whole thing, it’s kind of his whole world. I love that point of view, it’s just so terrifying – the idea that you’re alone now, all of your siblings are gone, you’ve never met an adult human being, the only role models you have are these two androids who seem to be losing their minds. To me, that’s a pretty horrible situation to find yourself in.
How did Ridley Scott get involved?
It was luck really. I had written a script [but] I hadn’t worked out what the show was going to be. I brought it to Ridley’s production company, Scott Free and they were going to produce it and that was very exciting, they’re amazing. But then Ridley himself read the script and was inspired by it and started drawing storyboards [for it] by hand. Which was totally unexpected. I did not expect that he would direct. Before that, I was very worried about who would direct. It was very execution-dependent, it was not going to be an easy show to realise on the screen. But when he signed on to do it and said that he wanted to do the first two episodes, that was such a relief, such a dream come true, I’ve been a long time fan.
Raised By Wolves is visually unique – what did you have in mind for the look of the show as you were writing it?
To me, I always think of it as a mixture of Star Wars and David Lynch. That’s how I imagined it. Star Wars with the weird David Lynch [vibe], that was my take on it in my head as I was writing it. When Ridley came in he definitely added to certain aspects of it but I think we still retained that surreal yet credible version of the future. A terrifying one at times!
Were you there for the filming?
I was there for when Ridley was in South Africa for the shooting of the first two episodes. By that time the script was pretty locked in so it was just a matter of watching the master at work. [That was] the ultimate experience for me; watching Ridley Scott direct. Not only that, working with him, learning from him – every time we ran into an issue [I saw how he solved] these problems in ways that can often add to the story, that can make things better. You haven’t spent any more money you’re just getting more creative. It really focused on the ways around the problems and that’s how sometimes you end up with stuff you couldn’t have thought of yourself. It just kind of happens and that was hugely exciting. It was so great to be there to watch it all go down.
Has the show come out as you thought or are there some unexpected elements to it?
Yeah, many things were kind of what I expected, some totally unexpected. It was a very mixed bag. At the end of the day though, what it has become is now how it exists in my mind. I’ve watched it now. So I’ve lived with this version of it for so long. The last couple of years working on all the cuts and everything, I almost can’t even remember how I was envisioning it before we put it all together. What we put together is burned into my brain. But there’s definitely little differences here and there.
I imagined the ship would look sort of like this but in a lot of ways, Ridley Scott helped deliver the foundation of a lot of what we know as modern sci-fi cinema. All he wanted to do was evolve that. The Beatles [wanted] every album to be a totally different kind of thing and that’s what he wanted to do. He was hugely daring. It was just so fun to be taking chances. Stuff that normally people are going to be like “that sounds a little too crazy, maybe we shouldn’t do that”. I think he was just up for really pushing it as far as we could push it. And he was having a blast.
If anyone has the power to be daring it’s Ridley Scott…!
That’s the thing! It definitely freed us up in that way. It’s massive and it makes things a lot easier when you want to colour outside the lines when someone like him blesses it, it definitely helps a lot.
What are the show’s key themes?
I think the first one would be family, the importance of family. Whatever shape or form it may take. Throughout history and into the future that’s something that seems to be a constant for the human race. Whether it’s the nuclear family or us as a species, in essence that’s what we are. We are all of the same thing, we’re the same species and I just the hope that we get better at being family members. Beyond that, it’s faith. Be that faith in technology or faith in religion and the search for purpose and meaning…
Raised By Wolves is out in the US now on HBO Max. The UK release date is TBC.