It's been five years since the last six babies were born. Kindergarten classes cease to exist, maternity wings are empty, unused, and that dream of getting married and having a family is no more.
"The Lottery" centres on the tragic mystery of a global fertility crisis and the scary possibility of human extinction. That is, until scientists Alison Lennon (Marley Shelton) and James Lynch (David Alpay) make a medical breakthrough that involves 100 successfully fertilized embryos. All good, right? Not so fast. Because creating hope can also make people crazy.
"The Lottery," which is written by Timothy J. Sexton and loosely based on his Oscar-nominated screenplay for "Children of Men," soon becomes a fight for control, understandably. But who gets to wield that power? HuffPost Canada TV spoke with Toronto-born Alpay about always getting cast as the shady guy, how after starfish and bees, humans could be the next endangered species, and that "The Lottery" is right in David Suzuki's wheelhouse. Got that, Dave?
HuffPost TV Canada: I love how these shows and movies set within a "dystopian future" are becoming more popular. I was a big fan of "Almost Human" and "The Lottery" is even more fascinating.
David Alpay: "The Lottery" is kind of an extrapolation of where we're heading. There's a thing about science-fiction being allegory for what's going on in the present, but I think in this case it's very likely that the stuff that we're dealing with on the show isn't that far-fetched.
It's a world 10 years from now, the near-future, so it isn't so distant that the rules have changed completely and is something very familiar to us. A near future where women, for some reason or another, we don't know why, have stopped bearing children. And it's become a global crisis, it's not just in the United States or North America, it's worldwide. A single child hasn't been born for six years and scientists are scurrying around trying to figure out a way to end the crisis. They've given up hope on trying to figure out exactly what caused it, that's no longer the issue. The important issue is returning to human fertility because obviously if we don't, the species is set to become extinct.
What ends up happening is 100 eggs are fertilized and we have 100 viable embryos. And now it becomes a battle of wills, as to who takes control of these embryos. Is it going to be the government, the military, these scientists? The president's chief of staff, played by Athena Karkanis, tells the president, "Look, here's an opportunity for us to create hope and a chance for women to compete for these embryos and become surrogates. It's been six years, nobody's been born, everybody's antsy, you won't be president for much longer if you can't give the people something they want." He goes for it and they put together a massive lottery for who will be the surrogates.
How has that changed this society, in the case of basic human interaction? People get together because they want kids, say -- but that's no longer the case. Is it different now? Is there love? Or is sex just ... sex now? Do you explore that?
That's a really good question, actually. In a previous version of the script of the pilot that we shot earlier, it was something we talked about. There's a dinner party and one of the press secretaries for the president is sitting around with a bunch of her friends and they're talking about, "What's the point of getting married? If the whole point of marriage was to couple up and have kids and kids don't exist anymore, why do we do that?" That's exactly something that we talked about. They moved away from that conversation in the first episode, but that's something that hovers in the air. The dynamics have changed somewhat. I think sexuality is a little bit looser, a little unfamiliar to a contemporary audience in that sense. But, still, jealousy exists. Possessiveness exists. And it plays a part in the dynamic between people, certainly between James and Alison. They work together but there's also suggestions of a personal history there.
You tend to play these questionable characters, that aren't clear-cut as to whose side they're on. And James is no different. Why do you think you get cast as the shady guy?
Oh, it's probably my face. I have one of those faces that nobody likes. [Laughs] I don't know. James is interesting. Their relationship is dubious but hopefully you get the sense, at least from the beginning, that although things change in the story later on, that they're on the same team. They're working towards this goal. Ultimately their professional relationship trumps anything else. It's very important that they do this work and they succeed in fertilizing more eggs or just holding on to the ones they have. Why do I get cast in these roles ... I don't know. I haven't really thought about it. Is there something else that you're thinking of besides the James character?
I'm trying to think what I saw you in recently. "Motive." You were in the season premiere.
Oh, yeah! Yeah, I was the kiiller in that one. Yeah, I guess that is kind of bad. Not good to murder people. [Laughs]
All right, I get your point. [Laughs] Funny, you know. All these characters, they're bad but they're not total villains. They all tend to be guys who are kind of cornered, they're at their wit's end, and they've exhausted every possibility and tried to do a sneaky little thing to make the rest of their lives better or help people that they love. They're never out to kill for the sake of bloodthirst, they always think they're doing the right thing. And that's interesting because it plays into our show too. Its really a show about all these different people with ulterior motives.
Everybody wants to have a say in the outcome of this great development. But you don't really know why people are doing things. Why is Darius Hayes (Martin Donovan) trying to do all the sneaky stuff behind the scenes? Why does James get promoted? Why does Alison let go? Did James make a deal with the Department of Humanity? You don't know. There are all these questions and because the writers don't give you that information right off the bat, because so much is withheld from you, your imagination just starts going crazy. It really becomes an interplay of different paranoias.
The visceral element of this dystopian future isn't just riots and protests and crumbling buildings and a lack of hope and people going crazy. It's distrust and paranoia and that's the greyest of it all because that's the hardest thing to dispel. It's easy to lose faith in someone or something and it's very hard to get that faith back again.
James makes the decision to stay on with the government and we see as the pilot progresses, you don't mess with the government. They'll chase you. They'll kill you. They'll make your life miserable. But James made the decision before we see all that. Do you think it's a little scuzzy of James to continue working with the government while Alison was let go?
There's a great scene where they talk about that, they confront each other in her lab as she's packing up her Staples box to go home. He says to her, "Look, I've invested as much of my life into this as you have. This is just an opportunity for me to continue my research and finish this work that we started. It's unfair of you to expect that I would give that up and sacrifice that. I'm always going to be your colleague and your friend and I can try and get you your job back, maybe I can talk to these people and fascilitate something."
He's naïve. Maybe he doesn't want to see certain things that are evident to everyone else. Hmm, maybe it's unfair to say that he's completely naïve. He's not as informed as Alison is or as the audience is watching. But this is monumental. This is the biggest breakthrough in science in a decade. And imagine, what kind of future is this? Basically it's a future where, looking around, you see that there hasn't been these huge technological and economical breakthroughs. That's intentional. The idea is that in the next 10 years, all of these resources would be drained towards solving this problem. Because it's the biggest problem. Without kids, nothing else really matters. So that's been the focus for so long and it's everybody's focus. So somebody says to you, "Look, we're going to have to let your friend go, but you get to stay on." You're not going to say no. [Laughs] You're not going to protest and leave. You end up doing what you need to do.
James and Alison didn't know the identities of who produced the fertilzed embryos?
That's right, but they do find out at the end of the episode. What they've been doing is using egg and sperm that was donated to fertility labs, pre-crisis, post-crisis, whatever they can get their hands on, and they're constantly running experiments on these things, tweaking the pH, tweaking the temperatures, just trying to find ways to make something take, anything. So in that sense, they're not too concerned about the identities about who donated the genetic material. It's probably just a numbers game for them and trying to figure out a way to outwit this problem.
It's funny, I was reading last night about this seastar extinction event that happened on the northwest coast around Oregon, I don't know if you read about this, but 95 percent of these starfish last year have disappeared off the northwest coast. This is crazy. And then three, four years ago, there was colony collapse disorder, bee populations were dwindling and it hasn't gone away, it's still a problem. They're saying that the next endangered species is us. It our tagline but it's also very likely something that could happen. And 10 years isn't a very long time. I hope this show engenders a lot of conversation, whether it's political or whether it's about women's rights or whether it's this scientific, environmental conversation. Somewhere David Suzuki is smiling, if he's heard about this show. I hope he watches it and talks about it because it's right up his alley.
Presumably, James and Alison are going to be butting heads, but will there continue to be this push/pull dynamic? Where does their relationship go from here?
The way I see them, they are two foot soldiers, they're fighting a war. There's no alternative to them succeeding -- they have to succeed. Everything depends on it. They will butt heads, they'll disagree on stuff, but they'll agree on things, and support each other. They're a very tight team. Ultimately they have to trust each other because who else can they trust? I don't want to give too much more away than that it evolves. In an interesting way, I hope.
"The Lottery " premieres Sunday, July 20 at 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT on Lifetime and Lifetime Canada.