French television show The Returned (Les Revenants) was a success in Europe and on the Sundance Channel in the U.S. Following the lives of several community members in a small town who are affected by select love ones coming back from the dead, completely unharmed, the show included a lesbian couple, Julie and Laure.
A new American adaptation of The Returned will premiere on A&E this March, and Executive Producer Raelle Tucker says fans of the original’s lesbian storyline will be pleased.
“It’s one of the main love stories of our season,” Raelle said during a TCA press day. “And I think it’s the couple that you root for.”
Sandrine Holt (who you may recall as Helena’s gambling lover on The L Word) plays Julie Han, a doctor who stumbles upon a young boy in the premiere. The boy is all alone and won’t say a word, so Julie takes him back to her place for what she says will only last one night. While the adaptation will follow the original closely in the first six episodes, the last two of the A&E series will diverge from the storyline. And while there is a “Laure” character, her name is Nikki in the adaptation, and she’s played by Agnes Bruckner (Breaking the Girl).
Sandrine Holt in “The Returned”
“We weren’t looking to cast people that looked like original characters, and there wasn’t one kind of woman [we were looking for],” Raelle said. “And we didn’t ask if they were gay or straight. We were looking for strength for both of these characters, for them to be the kind of women that you would want to hang out with. Both actresses that we got are both distinctly different people, the chemistry between them is great. But it wasn’t about wish fulfillment for a male audience. That wasn’t the direction we were trying to go when casting those roles.”
Raelle says the Julie/Nikki relationship will be similar to that of Julie/Laure in Les Revenants because that was one aspect she loved in the first place.
“In terms of the lesbian relationship on the show it is similar, but it’s not exactly the same,” she said. “That was one of the things I loved about the original series too was that it had gay characters. That wasn’t the flashing neon sign over their head but that didn’t define them, it didn’t feel like a giant exclamation point that we had to focus on. It was just a part of the character. So our show is very similar.”
Raelle also said that the female pairing was a “main selling point” in wanting to tell the story of The Returned.
“It’s so groundbreaking because it’s really is a relationship that you root for, and these were women that you want to see happy together and you need some of that,” she said. “When people are coming back from the dead, you need something to champion!”
It helps that there is an out lesbian writer on staff, Gianna Sobol.
“Diversity is important to me in every way, in front of the camera, behind the camera,” Ralle said, “And Gianna is someone I mentored and brought onto the show after working with her on True Blood. I think it’s extremely important that the voices behind telling the stories in our country is more than white males. No offense to them—I think they have a right to be sitting there too. But there’s work to be done to make that a more equal place and I’m a huge advocate for it.”
Ralle said she’s a “huge fan” of the original Returned and that gives her a unique approach to the material.
“I don’t want to mess this up. I don’t want to change things arbitrarily just to make them different, because I’m protective. When I love something, I want it to be a version of what I love,” she said. “At the same time it’s never been interesting to me as an artist to make something the same as something that’s already made. So watching the series I thought about what I could bring to the characters that are specific and unique from my own life and experiences, so we brought our own sensibilities and experiences and didn’t force the show to change, but we let the show change in organic ways that we were excited about.”
Sandrine said she didn’t watch The Returned until she was auditioning for the role, but she loves playing Julie.
“I feel like this is the one, as an actor, this is a dream part for me,” she said. “I feel like I’m completely being utilized. I was really happy about it.”
Sandrine said that there’s a sort of triangle when it comes to Julie’s taking care of the mysterious boy and the simultaneous return of her girlfriend, who she hasn’t seen in seven years.
“She definitely feels a responsibility to [the boy],” Sandrine said. “He appears, literally, on her doorstep. I think it had been a long time since she actually felt anything, she’s sort of numbed herself. So he kind of opens her up and ingrained things in her that she hasn’t wanted to face. And I think she’s taken in this boy and her ex feels like it’s the wrong thing to do and that they should bring him to another place. She’s trying to bring her ex lover to her side, and there’s tension.”
We don’t meet Nikki until the second episode, but Sandrine says she enjoyed working with Agnes (“She’s an amazing actress”) and that there are some great scenes between the two on-again, off-again on-screen lovers.
“Something has happened in my past that’s caused me to put up a lot of walls,” Sandrine said of her character. “[Julie and Nikki] are involved seven years prior, and because of this thing that happens to Julie, she sort of cuts herself off. But I think on some level she feels abandoned by her ex. So, basically it’s them working out some things from the past, but there’s a lot of love there. I think it’s a beautiful love story.”
Sandrine says she thinks Julie is lonely, and she “empathizes” with the boy, which Nikki doesn’t understand.
“She knows something has happened in his life, like something happened to her,” Sandrine said. “So he is the only one she can relate to. She’s very functional but she cuts herself off. She’s a doctor, so she has a routine. She cuts herself off from having a life or having an experience. So she feels indebted.”
While she couldn’t go into detail, Sandrine did give the impression that lesbian fans will not face another death of a queer female character in this series. (“It’s very hopeful.”) And from what she and Raelle say about the storyline, it does seem like we’ll get two new three-dimensional, fully-formed, complicated gay women on this show when it premieres in March.
“Season 2 will exist completely on its own without any version of the French version to base this on,” Ralle said. “So we’re on our own to create this whole world so that’s the exciting part, that’s the reason I’m a writer: to do what I do. Season 2 is not mapped out but we’re hoping to have the opportunity to keep going. There’s huge potential in this premise, and I would love to keep exploring.”
The Returned premieres on A&E on March 9 at 10/9c.