HBO's five episode Chernobyl miniseries tells the story of the real-life nuclear disaster that occurred at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Soviet Ukraine on April 26, 1986, digging into both the human stories of the horrific disaster as well as the corruption, the lies, and the human costs associated with the event. It's a story so difficult and, in some cases, gruesome, that it may not seem like the first choice of story to tell, but for series creator Craig Mazin, it was a story that needed to be told, largely because it's one he became invested in out of personal interest.
Speaking with BAFTA Guru about the writing of the Chernobyl miniseries, Mazin explained that the series came out of his own interest in the disaster, specifically after he started researching it for himself and fell in love with the personal stories of those impacted by the disaster.
"So, I started researching Chernobyl because I was just generally interested in it and after a couple of weeks of just falling in love with these stories which were so heartbreaking and so shocking I went to Carolynn Strauss, who is an executive producer of Chernobyl along with myself and Jane Featherstone, and she and I went to HBO and said 'here's what we want to do' and HBO said 'okay, let's see if you can do it.’ " Mazin explained. “Essentially it started because I was fascinated with a simple question: why did Chernobyl happen? And the truth of that is in my mind more shocking than the actual explosion itself.”
Doing it included taking an approach to the story that respects what the audience already knows about the disaster. With the Chernobyl disaster happening just over 30 years ago, it's an event that many people were alive to experience, even if that experience was simply news reports about it from thousands and thousands of miles away in other countries. For Mazin, this approach meant not waiting to show viewers the disaster; it's something that is shown right away.
"I always felt that the story needed to be told in a certain way and that that way was respectful of the audience, respectful enough to say 'you all know that this thing blew up. I'm not going to make you wait five episodes for anything to blow up nor am I going to make you wait one episode for something to blow up.' It's not about the explosion. I want to show you what it's really about and I want to tell the story through the lens of people, and these are the three people I want to do it with and that's how I'm going to go."
One of those three people was Valery Legasov, one of the real-life scientists involved in the investigation of the disaster. Jared Harris plays Legasov in the miniseries, a role he explained in an interview with The Cheat Sheet came with the challenge of having a difficult time finding some records of the man.
"There weren't audio tapes," Harris said when asked if he had listened to Legasov's tapes to prepare. "He left behind journals. But that's not as cinematic as audio tapes. They're very hard to get a hold of. In fact, there's not a lot of him left in the historical record because they basically wrote him out of the story. They erased him from history. That's what they were trying to do as a threat ... to stop him from trying to get the story out."