Amazon's 'The Man in the High Castle' Cast Talks Staying Faithful to the Book

David Berg/Amazon Studios
'The Man in the High Castle'

The drama series premieres Nov. 20 for members of Amazon Prime.

Isa Dick Hackett gathered with the cast of The Man in the High Castle at the Lincoln Center on Monday night to celebrate the premiere of her late father’s latest adaption. An executive producer on the Amazon series, she says the project has more mainstream appeal than some of Philip K Dick's other sci-fi projects. 

“This book in terms of the library and all the other novels in it, is the least sci-fi,” Hackett tells The Hollywood Reporter. “My father always wanted to be respected in the mainstream. That was his big thing. He wanted to write serious fiction but he got pulled into sci-fi and that was the way that he was all to get his ideas through.”

High Castle, though, plays more with America’s past than its future. It imagines a 1960s U.S. split into two, divided amongst the Germans and Japanese after their World War II victory. The novel, published in 1962 is among Dick’s most heralded, a fact that show creator and executive producer Frank Spotnitz took into careful consideration as he made necessary changes. “I wanted to be as faithful to the book as I possibly could,” Spotnitz says.

Noticeable changes include two newly conceived antagonists and a slight change in the media that inspires native Anglo-Americans to rebel. “I think people recognize the changes we’ve made have been respectful ones trying to honor the book,” he adds. “Hopefully it’s one of the more respectful adaptations of Philip K Dick’s books that have been done.”

Because of those changes, Spotnitz and others advised some of the cast, including DJ Qualls and Luke Kleintank, not to read the book at all. Others, like Rufus Sewell and Rupert Evans, waited until after they had finished the script. Alexa Davalos, who plays the central Juliana Crain says that she has now read High Castle seven times. “There’s this sort of inner turmoil for me because I’m so incredibly reverent; PKD is a big deal for me,” Davalos says. “His mind is just unstoppable. So to maintain the respect for his work, to maintain the dignity of what he created and yet to be able to make it a serialized piece, we had to create a narrative that isn’t in the book a little and create characters that aren’t in the book, which is a scary thing to do.”

When Amazon Studios releases all episodes of the series on Prime Instant Video on Nov. 20, Man in the High Castle will be the second television adaptation of a Dick novel released within a two-month period. Fox’s Minority Report, based on the 2002 movie of the same name, premiered Sept. 21.

Many of the High Castle cast describe Dick, who died in 1982 at the age of 53, as ahead of his time — able to inspire modern day entertainment for continuous decades. “The most heartbreaking thing is that he didn’t live to see this,” Qualls says. “It’s in our minds when we do this show that we want to make him proud. We have a legacy to uphold. His daughter’s our executive producer. She’s the shepherd of her father’s material and his legacy and we all feel that.”

Davalos calls Dick’s work “off the wall, and out of this world.” Sewell credits his ability to meditate on the human condition. “It’s not really so much about a particular time because it’s timeless. It’s not about a particular place. It’s about what humans do to survive,” he adds. “What Philip K Dick was writing about in all of his books was what it is to exist and what we do to continue.”

The cast of High Castle had a brief period where they were unsure if the series would continue. The pilot was released for free on Amazon.com in January of this year as part of the company’s pilot process. Viewers could watch and rate the series before studio executives made their series orders. It became the most-watched pilot for Amazon, which greenlit a full-season one month later. Kleintank says the waiting period was “damn stressful,” especially as he read user comments, some kinder than others. Spotnitz adds that feedback from readers has been positive.

Hackett, too, is content with the adaptation, saying that it accurately captures the spirit and message of the book. “I can’t speak for [Philip] obviously, but I would hope that he loves it as much as we all do and I think he’d be proud of the cast,” she says. “The embodiment of his precious characters, that’s so gratifying to see. The first day when I walked in and Mr. Tagomi was throwing his sticks for the I Ching, I just started to cry, because I’ve grown up, I’ve spent my whole life with these characters in my head.”

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