6 Questions with Liar Co-Creators Harry and Jack Williams
Liar co-creators Harry and Jack Williams discuss why they landed on Liar after creating The Missing, how they approached the central mystery to keep the audiences guessing, and the ways Joanne Froggatt (Laura) and Ioan Gruffudd (Andrew) helped to inform their writing on set.
Q: Where did the idea for Liar begin?
HARRY WILLIAMS: After having written The Missing, which has multiple timelines, lots of characters, I think we were very keen to tell something that was very linear. And, actually, the idea of having sort of a binary choice at the heart of it, and these two people being the center of the mystery, just appealed to us as a paring down on the thickness of storytelling, I suppose.
JACK WILLIAMS: Yeah. I think what made writing Liar exciting was that it’s about a very interesting and current subject matter that hadn’t been treated this way on television for quite some time. And to tell that through the lens of two characters, almost two different opinions, felt really interesting and fresh to us.
Q: How difficult was it to maintain the balance in the first few episodes where the audience has no idea at all about who is telling the truth?
JW: The show rests entirely on, in large part, who do you believe: Laura or Andrew? And how do you maintain a sense of mystery when you have two lead characters, in a sense? You have such different opinions and memories of what’s happened, and that’s been a constant struggle in writing it and in editing it, I’d say. It’s about making sure you play fair with the audience and with the characters themselves. I think it’s about presenting their side of the story to the audience in the way that they remember it. And, as long as you do that honestly, then I think it maintains the balance, because then you, the audience, are left to make up your own mind and decide who do you believe and what feels most plausible at this point. And that’s an ever-shifting and evolving thing over the episodes. People that watch it keep changing their minds over who they believe, what do they think really happened. And that’s part of the joy of the show. I think that’s part of the mystery — what really happened on this night — and that’s what draws us as the episodes progress.
HW: And it’s always very different when you see the actors actually say the words that are on the page, and when you actually see the thing played out, because the funny thing is that on page you can push as hard as you like — sort of make people believe one person or the other, or push them a certain way — but when they’re on screen, a little look, or some chemistry, or a moment between them can mean a whole lot more and bring on a whole new meaning when it’s sort of such a small battlefield you’re playing.
Q: What were the most challenging aspects of writing this drama?
HW: The most challenging aspects of writing, I suppose, is you’re dealing with a very sensitive subject, and you want to be true to that, but you also want to tell a good story if you want to have drama in it. So, it’s being true enough to the subjects and making sure you’re not taking too many liberties in using it in any kind of cynical way.
JW: I think, particularly writing a show as two men, it’s certainly something that crosses your mind about how you can make sure you’re still honest about the subject matter and do it justice, while acknowledging it’s not entirely within our realm of experience.
Q: Did the performances inform any of the writing?
JW: We constantly rewrite, even as we shoot. And I think the moment you see two bright actors — like we have playing Laura and Andrew in Joanne Froggatt and Ioan Gruffudd — I think when you see them perform, it does make you consider how to play to their strengths, and how, often with really good actors, sometimes they don’t need to say lines, and sometimes a lot of it is in the performance. So, certainly watching how they inhabited the characters made us consider certain aspects and rewrite for them as we went along.
HW: Yeah. The more you hear it as the [dailies] are coming in, the more you hear the way they speak and the more you actually write to them, or think, wouldn’t it be surprising if they said something that went against that? So, it’s an ever-evolving thing for us.
Q: Each character in Liar has a darkness beneath them. Can you talk about where that idea originated and why that fascinates you as writers?
HW: When we were coming up with the central premise of Liar, we knew it was going to be about this one night and these two characters. And then I think we soon decided after that, that every other story… would all be about some sort of iteration of that — somebody lying about something. And sometimes it would be lying for a good reason, or lying to protect someone — exploring that word and that idea in as many ways as we could.
JW: Yeah. I think people are complicated, and good characters are complicated, and I think the lies we tell ourselves are sometimes the most interesting of all. And that’s one of the things we explore in the show.
Q: How would you describe the show in three words?
The Liar finale airs Wednesday, November 1 at 10/9c on SundanceTV.