Euphoria Creator Ron Leshem Details Intriguing Story Behind North Road-Backed Juvenile Prison Series Bad Boy
EXCLUSIVE: Euphoria creator Ron Leshem has shared the intriguing story behind buzzy Israeli drama Bad Boy, the first international co-production backed by Peter Chernin’s North Road.
Unveiled in March for Israeli network Hot, at which point it was described by Leshem as “the next Euphoria,” Bad Boy follows Dean, who is imprisoned in a cruel juvenile detention facility and bonds with Zoro, a grim and mysterious teenage prisoner serving time for murder. Dean learns to harness his unique intelligence and, 20 years later, these traits define him as a star comedian, while his time in jail is a secret threatening to resurface and tear his life apart.
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Only six months passed between the show’s announcement and today’s TIFF premiere but Leshem said Bad Boy has been two decades in the making, harking back to his time as an investigative journalist when he was assigned to a story in a juvenile prison.
Leshem’s reporting found that the vast majority of babies born in prison were returning to jail after commiting crimes as teenagers. Israeli law requires that babies spend just their first two years with their mothers in the facility before they are removed by the state, and this can have drastic effects in later life, Leshem found.
“I felt like these babies were never given a chance,” he told Deadline on the eve of TIFF. “They are born into a fate and not given a chance for an alternative fate. I spent time as a journalist covering wars and battle zones but it was this story that touched me the most.”
Leshem was shocked by the way in which pre-pubescent 12-year-olds were being locked up in the same facilities as adult 18-year-olds and an idea for a TV series began to form in his mind. “I remember stepping into this place and one minute the kids would be singing Lion King songs and missing their mothers, while the next they were acting like monsters trying to kill each other,” he recalled.
Leshem, who created the original Israeli Euphoria and was a writer on Sam Levinson’s HBO version, initially pitched the idea for his Euphoria characters to be born in prison but this was scotched and Bad Boy was put to the back of his mind as he pondered how to give it the scale it deserved.
“We quickly realized we had something special”
In stepped North Road years later, along with Israeli studio Sipur and director Hagar Ben-Asher, who had just made a movie about prisons titled Dead Women Walking. Meanwhile, Leshem sought the help of Daniel Chen – the Bad Boy co-writer who had trodden a similar path to main character Dean, having been committed to a facility as a teenager before becoming a comedian.
“Ron and I had been flirting with doing something together but I was hesitant because a juvenile prison show is a tough thing to crack,” said Ben-Asher, who directed Bosch: Legacy and has had numerous acting roles. “But we quickly realized we had something special here. There is something brilliant in telling a story about someone who has a sh***y life but sees everything through humor.”
Through the writing process, Ben-Asher added that she and Leshem “kept seeking to challenge narratives.”
In their bid for additional authenticity, the team filmed some of the show in prisons across the country and used a cast comprised of 95% non-actors.
Ben-Asher, who describes herself as having “a soft spot for prisons for some reason,” said she “read everything she could” around the subject. “We managed to shoot a bit in real prisons but also acted like megalomaniacs by building a fake prison in a scout camp,” she explained.
She was amazed by the way in which the “group dynamic” of the actors developed in line with their characters as filming rolled on.
“The characters playing Dean and Zoro became really good friends,” she added. “It just felt like the whole setup became an extension of the script.”
Violence is explicit throughout Bad Boy and Leshem said it was important to approach this reality head-on, positing that the situation in real life is even more brutal in juvenile detention centers than it appears in the show.
Ben-Asher added: “I love the dynamics between harsh and warm, harsh and graceful or harsh and funny. Cinematically, I always think you should go in waves and capture your audience by controlling the rhythm and not being predictable.”
Upon the show’s announcement in March, Leshem described Bad Boy as the “next Euphoria.” Qualifying these comments to Deadline last week, he said that he was referring to the bringing back together of a number of Euphoria’s key production team along with the way in which it took a long time to get both projects to screen.
Leshem also revealed that he received a number of offers from high-end U.S. buyers for the Bad Boy script but the team was always going to make it in Hebrew first, before turning to international adaptations later.
With this in mind, Sipur’s Emilio Schenker, whose MGM-partnered outfit is funding 50% of the show, said Bad Boy has huge international potential, adding: “You don’t need to be Israeli to understand the emotion of a 12-year-old boy taken to prison in the middle of the night, almost naked.”
“It’s Israeli but can speak to an international audience,” added Schenker. “Ron and Hagar are both Israeli but work outside of Israel and Hot has lots of experience adapting formats internationally, and then you have North Road.”
And as Israeli freedom of expression is challenged in a nation getting used to the most right-wing government in its short history, Ben-Asher said it is an “obligation not a mission” to keep making TV shows that can entertain the world.
“We wake up in fear every morning and the tool we have is storytelling,” she added. “This is what we have and is what we are supposed to do.”
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