Neil Cross is never happier than when he is writing stories for DCI John Luther, the brilliant but reckless detective Idris Elba played for three seasons on the British television series, Luther. “The first time I type the word Luther in a script, it always gives me goosebumps,” he tells Co.Create.
So when Luther ended its series run in 2013, its creator wasn’t ready to walk away forever, and neither was Elba. Both men were invested in the character that could have only come out of their creative partnership. “The way I think of it is that Idris and I have shared custody of the character,” Cross says. “I can’t think of a time when we ever disagreed about Luther. He knows that I love the character, so he knows that I am not going to do anything awful, and I know that he owns the character. When he puts on that suit and does that big walk on set, honestly, he is Luther.”
But they had to find a way to continue telling Luther’s story while working around the schedule of a superstar like Elba, “a man who’s more in demand than God,” Cross cracks.
A television movie was the most practical approach. “I think it’s also a storytelling format that really suits the show and characters. It allows us to get in and do a big, impactful punch in the face of the show and then run away again,” he says.
Cross began writing the Luther movie in August of 2014, and the story just poured out of him. “I am constantly thinking up ideas. Patricia Highsmith once wrote, ‘I have ideas like a rat has orgasms.’ I’m kind of the same. I constantly have little ideas and little what-ifs, and I’m constantly thinking, ‘That would be a good story for Luther, or I’d love to see Luther do that.’ There’s no conscience re-engagement,” he says. “The world and the characters are just at some level kind of bubbling away in the back of my mind all the time.”
Understandably, Cross doesn’t want the press to share too much of what we will see when the Luther movie premieres in the U.S. on BBC America on December 17—the television series was always full of unexpected twists and turns, which is what made it so exciting to watch.
But it is common knowledge that Ruth Wilson, who played Luther’s serial killer pal, Alice Morgan, and now stars on Showtime’s The Affair, didn’t reprise her role in the movie. “I love the character Alice. I love everything she does and everything she says. I think it’s amplified by Ruth Wilson,” Cross says, noting he doesn’t quite understand how the character came out of him. “She seems to have read more books than I have. She’s got so much wit.”
And while Cross was disappointed that he didn’t get a chance to write for Alice in this movie, he also saw her absence as a creative opportunity. “Alice’s place in the story is a bit of a closely guarded secret,” he says, hinting that “although Alice is not in the story, she is important to the story.”
Another teaser: Luther is living a life of solitude outside of London when we first catch up with him, but he is drawn back to the city to catch a serial killer with a taste for human flesh.
Cross, who has written a number of dark novels as well as the feature film, Mama, has presented a parade of uniquely terrifying psychopaths for Luther to hunt down over the years. How does he dream up all of these horrific criminals? “The process is fairly natural due to the fact that I function in my own fears and my own anxiety. So if it scares me, I come to think it would probably scare other people and make for an exciting story,” says Cross, admitting he has a debilitating fear of the dark.
“When I was young, it might have been kind of charming and eccentric. Now, it’s just embarrassing,” Cross says. “If I’m in an empty house, if my wife and kids are away, or it’s dark, or if I’m in a hotel, and I’ve spent lots of time in hotels, I can’t go to sleep unless every single light is on—even in the cupboard. I have to have the light on in the cupboard. I can’t stand the thought that somewhere there is a patch of darkness.”
Perhaps this explains why Cross typically works during the day, writing from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. in his home office.
“Fingers crossed,” Cross answers when asked if Luther might be seen yet again in another movie a couple of years down the road. “I don’t speak for Idris. Idris is an astonishingly busy man. He’s working on a fantastic variety—he’s making documentaries, he’s making movies, he’s in a million and one different things and should be the biggest star in the world. If there’s ever a chink in Idris’s schedule, and if he ever gets the itch, I will keep writing Luther as long as I’m physically capable, as long as my hands are not too arthritic to type, and as long as I’m still able to conjure up ideas and storylines.”