‘Hijack’ keeps audiences on the edge of their seats for a 7 hour flight

Idris Elba in Apple TV+’s ‘Hijack.’
Apple TV+

Apple TV+’s new thriller ‘Hjack’ holds a plot we’ve seen in some features before—but never quite in a 7-hour slow-burn, but high-stakes series, as it does in this show, which stars Idris Elba, Max Beesley and Archie Panjabi.

As one may guess from the title, the story unfolds on a plane that is being hijacked while en route from Dubai to London. Over the 7 episodes of the series, the seven hours of the flight and what some of the passengers—especially pro negotiator Sam (played by Elba)—have to go through is shown throughout the ordeal.

The idea came to writer George Kay not when he was up in the sky, but rather, underground. 

“I was on the Eurostar, I was doing a lot of work in France – and we were in the Eurostar tunnel and the train stops quite abruptly. And even though I knew everything was alright, it flashed through my mind, what if there’s something going on, on this train? What if it’s happening up the carriages?” Kay explains at a global press conference for the film. 

He continued: “And I looked around me at the people, the kind of businessman eating his lunch, and the squabbling family, and I thought: How would we cope as a group of people if this was a serious incident? Would the tough-looking guy really be tough, would the kind of the weedy guy really rise up and actually cover himself in glory and manage to stand up to people?” 

The move to set the story on a plane was a way to make the stakes higher and as Kay puts it, there’s technically a class system on flights. And throughout the series, you meet individuals from each one, and also, people on the ground who are trying to put the pieces together of why this is all happening, and how they can stop it. Including Panjabi’s character, Zahar.

Apple TV+

“When I first read [the script], I think I was sent three [episodes], and I couldn’t put it down. And then, by the end of the third one, I wanted to know if my character had successfully saved the passengers, so I phoned up my agent and said, “I need to read four to seven,” says Panjabi. “That’s when I thought this is a brilliant script, it’s really thrilling and it’s going to have audiences at the edge of their seat.”

And for those watching the plot unfold, the feelings and the emotions running high are likely not just from the storyline, but also from the environment that the cast was in as well. Those on the airliner are in close quarters, as having a plane that would feel similar to one passengers would actually fly on was a huge part of the filming process. 

“We’ve got a show that’s set almost exclusively inside of an airplane. And [there are] two problems with that. One is to make it engaging dramatically and not make it feel dull and flat, and the other thing is to make it feel like you are actually in an airplane that’s moving through the sky,” explains director Jim Field Smith. 

He continued: “The plane you see in the show is a millimeter for millimeter replication of an airliner. So, we sort of made it as hard for ourselves as we possibly could and hope that translates onto screen into something that feels really convincing, but at the same time, yeah, try to make it look as engaging and sort of pull you into the drama as much as possible.”

So, essentially on ‘Hijack’, the give or take 200 people on the cast and crew were boarding a simulation of long-haul flight each day for filming (which lasted about 120 days.)

“The confinement of that just really applied to the drama,” adds Elba. “Even for the crew, you know, figuring out how we’re going to do this top shot without being able to take the roof off…It all sort of led into the claustrophobia of it, so the crew, the actors, you know, everyone was sort of tight. It was almost like watching a documentary being made while being in the documentary”

Elba’s character moves throughout the plane the most out of the passengers while he takes on the burden of trying to negotiate with the hijackers and save everyone on board. That also required a lot of the action scenes that play out to be done in the small environment. 

“The fight sequences were certainly hard to shoot. They were choreographed within the space, if we hurt ourselves, we just took a breather and carried on, because not to say that we didn’t care but it’s just we didn’t try and change the choreography. In this instance, the fight sequences were based on what would we do rather than this is [just] a fight sequence,” Elba continues. “But it just wasn’t easy to move around and fight this guy, especially if my character is not a fighter, he’s fighting out of desperation.”

Hijack is the first story of its kind to play out in real time, which was part of the design and of the pull. 

Apple TV+

“What I realized while writing was that in the hijacking situation, it’s not immediately life or death, it’s not like you’re just about to be pushed off the edge of a cliff or something,” finishes Kay. “Time and tension is suspended because until you know what those hijackers want, where they’re taking the plane, what they intend to do, these are all unknowable things at the start of our story, and so we have tension inbuilt. And the tension is going to be there throughout because you’re edging incrementally towards a more intense situation the whole time.”

Hijack premiered with the first two episodes on Wednesday, June 28, followed by one new episode weekly through Aug. 2, exclusively on Apple TV+