Description: In April 1986, a huge explosion erupted at the Chernobyl nuclear power station in northern Ukraine. This series follows the stories of the men and women, who tried to contain the disaster, as well as those who gave their lives preventing a subsequent and worse one.
Creator: Craig Mazin
Stars: Jessie Buckley, Jared Harris, Stellan Skarsgård
Taglines: What is the cost of lies?
- Initial filming started on May 13, 2018, in Fabijoniskes, a residential district in Vilnius, Lithuania, which was used to portray the Ukrainian city of Pripyat, since the district maintained an authentic Soviet atmosphere. At the end of March, production moved to Visaginas, Lithuania, to shoot both the exterior and interior of the Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant, a decommissioned nuclear power station that is sometimes referred to as “Chernobyl’s sister” due to its visual resemblance and the nuclear reactor design used at both Chernobyl and Ignalina (RBMK nuclear power reactor).
- To record a unique score for the show, composer Hildur Guðnadóttir went to the decommissioned power plant Ignalina in Lithuania, where a lot of the show was filmed, to record unique ambient sounds with the help of sound recording specialist Chris Watson and score producer Sam Slater. Then, back in the studio they listened to hours of recordings, sampling sounds from them. She composed most of the music for the show’s soundtrack from those recordings.
- Though some ultra-nationalists took issue with the miniseries, Russian Minister of Culture Vladimir Medinsky offered high praise for the series, saying it was done “masterfully” and with respect for the Soviet people. Medinsky’s own father served as a liquidator.
- Parallel to the show, after each episode’s release, HBO released a podcast for each episode, “The Chernobyl Podcast,” in which creator/writer Craig Mazin talks with Peter Sagal about many behind-the-scenes details about the writing and the production, and explained more about the history and real events behind the episode’s storyline and the characters. Because of the series’ underlying theme of lies, Mazin decided to do the podcast specifically to address discrepancies between historical fact and fiction, and which elements depicted were fictional and why.
- The city of Pripyat – about 1.2 mi / 2 km from the power plant – sits almost exactly as it was left on April 27, 1986. At around 14:00 Soviet authorities initially ordered a temporary three-day evacuation, just three hours in advance, and advised residents to pack only their vital personal belongings. Believing they would be returning shortly, the city was essentially abandoned in place. During the clean-up operation most of the furniture, cars and other belongings were illegally looted and removed from the exclusion zone. Such illegal looting has since continued.
- Former Soviet General Nikolai Tarakanov (Ralph Ineson), gave several interviews about the series, which fascinated the Russian public upon its release. Tarakanov took issue with a few small details but otherwise praised the series and its depiction of the events, and stated he was portrayed accurately. Tarakanov, 85 in 2019, suffers from chronic disease related to radiation exposure from his time in Chernobyl.
- The popularity of the miniseries was credited with a 30 to 40 percent spike in tourism to Chernobyl and Pripyat in the months following the premiere.
- Astonishingly, the three remaining reactors at Chernobyl remained operational and manned after the 1986 explosion of Reactor No. 4. Chernobyl Reactor No. 2 was shut down after a fire in 1991, Reactor No. 1 was shut down in 1996 after pressure from foreign governments, and Reactor No. 3 was closed in 2000. The decommissioning process, whereby the facility is dismantled to the point that it no longer requires radiation protection, is ongoing as of 2019.
- An accurate number of deaths caused by Chernobyl in the years following the disaster will never be known, as a 1988 decree from the Kremlin prevented doctors from citing radiation as a cause of death or illness.
- Though Craig Mazin sought authenticity in the way the characters addressed each other, he said he opted against always using the accurate formal address in Russian, in which one refers to a peer or superior by their first name and patronymic as opposed to a title and last name. For example, Legasov would address Shcherbina as Boris Yevdokimovich, not Comrade Shcherbina. Despite the accuracy, Mazin felt this was too distracting for Western audiences and would create a level of confusion.
- On screen the actors speak English in their natural accents. However, all speech that is heard through artificial means is in Russian. All dialogue is in Russian if it is heard through the radio, emergency telephone call recordings, Soviet television news, and announcements made through public address systems. Because of this convention the makers were able to re-broadcast the actual recordings of fire operations dispatchers retrieved from the archives.
- According to Jared Harris, the part he played of Valery Legasov originally was intended for Daniel Day-Lewis , who announced his retirement from acting a month before the miniseries was announced. The two worked together in Lincoln (2012), Harris playing General Ulysses S Grant to Day-Lewis’s Abraham Lincoln.
- Before his untimely death, composer Jóhann Jóhannsson was set to score this miniseries. His longtime friend and collaborator Hildur Guðnadóttir ended up composing the series.
- Creator/writer Craig Mazin originally intended for the characters to speak with Russian accents, but quickly abandoned this idea after the interview process began, as the accents became a distraction for the actors.
- A Ukrainian woman, who lived during in the Soviet era, analyzed each script to ensure dialogue and small details were accurate to the time period. Creator/writer Craig Mazin had been unaware that “Comrade” was really used so extensively as a style of address.
- While the majority of the lead characters portrayed real people, Ulana Khomyuk was an amalgam who represented the dozens of Soviet scientists who worked to solve and investigate the Chernobyl disaster, and was written “to honor their dedication and service to truth and humanity.”
- Craig Mazin, the series creator and writer, based “Chernobyl” on first-hand accounts of survivors of the disaster.
- Pro-Kremlin media continues to deny the extent of the disaster at Chernobyl, saying it has been exaggerated, with state-run media scoffing at the “myths,” such as large numbers of leukemia. Segments of the Russian government were so unhappy with this documentary that state TV channel NTV is producing its own more “patriotic” account of the events, involving a wholly fictional storyline based on a conspiracy theory that a CIA agent was in Chernobyl to sabotage the plant.
- In the Blu-Ray special features actor Jared Harris explains the importance of a scene in Episode 2, during which his character Valery Legasov lies by telling a worried couple at the hotel bar that nothing is wrong at Chernobyl. According to Harris, this is the moment that Legasov ceases to be an innocent bystander and from that moment on feels directly responsible for the outcome of the disaster.
- The soundtrack album for the series, composed by Hildur Guðnadóttir, was released by Deutsche Grammophon on May 31, 2019.
- Emily Watson and Stellan Skarsgård played a couple in Breaking the Waves (1996) which was a breakthrough hit for both of them. It is the only other feature in which they have co-starred.
- Michael McElhatton, Jamie Sives, Josef Altin, James Cosmo, Donald Sumpter, and Ralph Ineson all starred in Game of Thrones (2011).
- Stellan Skarsgård previously played a Soviet colonel in The Hunt for Red October (1990), which also deals with the Cold War era.
- Jared Harris (Valery Legasov) and Adam Nagaitis (Vasily Ignatenko) also worked together on Season 1 of The Terror (2018) as Francis Crozier and Cornelius Hickey, respectively.