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Olivia Welch, Lauren Oliver rethink 'Panic' stunts

Heather (Olivia Welch, right) walks with her sister (Kariana Karhu) in the show Panic. Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios
Heather (Olivia Welch, right) walks with her sister (Kariana Karhu) in the show "Panic." Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios

LOS ANGELES, May 28 (UPI) -- In the Amazon series Panic, based on Lauren Oliver's book, teenagers risk their lives to compete for a cash prize.

Oliver and star Olivia Welch said the games represent the danger teenagers feel as they enter adulthood.

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"It's hard to face your own fears," Welch told UPI in a recent Zoom interview ahead of Friday's premiere. "They kind of create Panic as an escape and seeming solution to those things."

Heather Nill (Welch) enters the Panic game at the last minute when she loses her savings for college. Heather had previously tried to talk her friends out of competing, so her entry represents a drastic change of heart.

"She feels she needs to be self-defined," Welch said. "She's having a hard time figuring out what she wants to be defined by."

The 23-year-old Welch, who graduated high school in 2016, said she still relates to the post-grad feeling with which Heather is coping.

"The fears of not knowing what you're going to do next and who you really are -- those are things that never really go away," Welch said.

Those fears manifest literally when Panic challenges Heather and friends to jump off a cliff into a lake, or walk a balance beam over 100 feet above ground. In the story, past competitors have died attempting Panic challenges.

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In developing the Amazon series, Oliver said she worked with her stunt team to adapt the Panic challenges to the screen. Oliver said in some cases, the stunt department made the challenges more dangerous than she had originally written.

"For scope, sometimes they actually made the challenges higher or faster," Oliver said.

Stunt men and women performed the most dangerous tasks. For close-ups, Welch and her co-stars were able to perform safer versions.

"I did a version of the jump, but harnessed in and on a stage and on a fake cliff that they had built," Welch said.

Likewise, Welch walked a balance beam, but not 100 feet high.

"We're only like 6 feet off the ground, and we're harnessed in, but we did have to do the stunt of the balance and falling," Welch said.

Oliver said Panic was originally inspired by stunts her sister's friends pulled when they were in high school. The 38-year-old Oliver said her sister almost died in an automobile accident.

"It comes from the journey of somebody who is playing almost psychologically," Oliver said of Heather's entry in the competition. "Then the horror of the person who had to watch somebody playing and be unable to stop them."

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Oliver said she did not reread her book while developing the series. Instead, she approached the same premise from a fresh perspective.

"It would've been very irresponsible of me to adapt somebody else's book that way," Oliver said.

"I've always thought of it more as translation, not adaptation."

Welch said many of the characters changed when she cast actors to portray them.

"It's a big alchemy of a live human meeting ideas that are just in your head and creating something new," Oliver said.

Since the book included all of Heather's internal thoughts, Oliver said a literal translation would have made Heather's depression too exhausting to watch. Oliver said Welch found ways to stay true to the character while injecting Heather with a sense of humor.

"She didn't abandon or sacrifice any of that sense you get that this girl is really desperate," Oliver said. "She's really lonely, and she's desperate, and she doesn't know what's going to become of her."

Welch said she understood how anxiety and depression are two of many emotions with which Heather is coping.

"She's not outwardly as depressed because she's really holding it together for her family and her friends," Welch said. "She's a quick problem solver and she's constantly trying to find solutions."

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Panic premieres Friday on Amazon Prime.

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