At the end of the The End of the F***ing World, teenage loner, lover and murderer, James, lies on a beach, bleeding out from a bullet wound.
It is not clear to his partner in crime, Alyssa, or the audience, if he will make it. It was not at all apparent to Alex Lawther, the actor playing him, either. And series writer Charlie Covell was in no hurry to get him to clear the diary for series two.
“Charlie, went a bit quiet,” explains Alex. “She said there might be a season two, but we’re still working out what that’s going to be. So I was never sure I was going to be in it. She went away for six months and spent another six months writing it. And then she sent me the episode where James returns and I cried because it’s so sad.”
A good reaction but perhaps fans of The End of the F***ing World would have opted for pure relief that James is back for the second series, streaming in full on All 4 as of last night. After all, they’ve have had to wait two years.
A huge hit for C4 when it launched in late 2017, The End… is about James, a 17-year-old whose convinced himself he’s a psychopath and that he should kill someone. He thinks that someone might be Alyssa (played by Jess Barden), a sardonic, sweary kid at his school, who needs someone to run away with.
Together, they do just that and in the process, wreck his dad’s car, swear at roadside diner waitresses (her) and fall in love with each other. James doesn’t kill Alyssa. Instead, he murders the man who tries to rape her, which is why he ends up with a gunshot to the chest in the season finale.
Adapted from Charles Forsman’s graphic novel, The End… translates the format onto the small screen in some style. In Charlie Covell’s wickedly funny and tender script, characters express themselves in short, sharp bursts exactly like speech (and thought) bubbles. Production design – from crap roadside caffs to simple, iconic costuming – has the clarity of drawings.
Characters verge on the cartoonish – which makes them super fun – but they’re hiding a whole lot of heartache underneath, caused by predatory men and disappointing adults. A number of grown up YA shows like Sex Education and Euphoria have emerged since The End… but none quite understand the trauma of coming of age in a toxic and violent adult world as it does.
We meet Alex in Flock Beyond, a café near Tower Bridge in London, which is a big step up from the many greasy spoons the pair dine out in the series. Before The End…, Alex, who is 24, impeccably polite and very good company, played some seriously vulnerable kids, like the young, Alan Turing in The Imitation Game or the blackmailed youth in Black Mirror’s “Shut Up and Dance” episode.
The End… is the first show he’s ever returned to. But even he’s not sure there’ll be a happy ending. “It’s so sad what happens when we find Alyssa and James now,” says Alex. “It’s great they’re back; we’re going to see what happens to their relationship next. But actually there’s a bigger void between them than in season one. I found that heart breaking.”
Why did you find the new series so emotional?
When we find James, he’s just starting to deal with the trauma of being shot. He’s learning how to walk again. He’s trying to do a repair job with his relationship with his dad. And his dad dies. He has no one. I find that even just saying that now, It’s just so painful. But there’s still Alyssa, he thinks at least there’s hope there.
Do you have any qualms about coming back?
No, I just hoped I was going to be in it. Because it was never sure. Alyssa and James have come so far together by the end of season one. But they’re got so much left unresolved. And it’s difficult. They have to face the trauma of murdering someone.
What’s the relationship between humour and trauma in the show?
They’re interdependent. They rely on each other. Alyssa and James exist in a world that is so full of this violence and in order to for us to cope with that, there has there has to be some payoff, which is the comedy.
The show has the rhythm and look of a graphic novel. Can you talk a little about that?
The show is trying to be as interesting narratively and visually. It’s part of the same family as Fargo and Twin Peaks. The costumes are visually very precise, like Alyssa’s wedding dress and James’s funeral suit in this series. They don’t feel too costumey or kooky. There’s a sense that these could be characters you’ll see in a comic book, there’s something almost drawn about them.
Where do we see their relationship in series two?
At the heart of it, it’s about two people who were trying to connect with each other and keep missing. The show is ultimately hopeful because in this violent world, our two protagonists want to be kind to each other and to love each other, but just not had the best examples of that.
How is working with Jess?
She and Alyssa have a very particular way of expressing themselves. It makes my job really easy. When you have a really good dancing partner, there’s much less work involved. Because we’re both…this metaphor of a dancing partner…why have I said this? But anyway…you’ve got the same rhythm, basically. It’s a pleasure!
You’re been grouped into a streaming trend for British soft boys which also includes Sex Education’s Asa Butterfield and Bandersnatch’s Fionn Whitehead. How do you plead?
Well, there must be something in it because I often get told by people in the street that they loved me in Sex Education or in Bandersnatch. I think well, it’s close enough, we’re all in a show.
Do you explain yourself in those scenarios?
Maybe I ought to but it’s quite scary to go up to someone and tell them that you like their show. I already feel it that’s courageous enough. To correct them would be a bit rude. So I go along with it. And I say thank you very much.
Have you posed for a selfie as someone else?
Maybe. That’s all right though, isn’t it? I wonder if it’s like gone on the internet somewhere. I just met, you know, Fionn Whitehead. It’s quite nice for an actor to be someone else. Well, that’s my job.
Are you worried about the end of the f***ing world?
I am. The fact that the IPCC last year last released a report on climate change, saying that we have 12 years to keep global warming beneath 1.5 degrees Celsius and that we need urgent and drastic change to government policy as to how to respond to global warming. And yet, that drastic change is not being made. That’s frightening. It’s anxiety inducing, in day to day life. Groups like Extinction Rebellion are great because they provide a space where you can go express your concerns and do something in your own life.
Are you involved with Extinction Rebellion?
I am, yeah. I thought, as an actor what could I do? But there’s readings you can take part in, people you can talk to and encourage to get on board.
What else is in the pipeline?
There’s a French film I made, The Translators, which was cool because it was my first time working in another language. I got my French really good.
Are you in the next Wes Anderson film, The French Dispatch, as well?
Apparently. Well, I’ve not seen it. I could be very much on Wes’s cutting room floor. I’ve a teeny tiny part. I came in for two days whilst we were shooting The End of the F***ing World. I loved saying to Jess, I’ve got my two days off so I’m just popping off to do a Wes Anderson film. I’ll see you Monday. I felt so classy.
How did she respond to that?
[laughs] She said, fuck you.
Stream all episodes of The End of the F***ing World on All 4 or globally on Netflix.