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Despite being an Oprah Book Club pick and selling more than 14 million copies worldwide, it has taken 20 years to get Ken Follett’s epic “The Pillars of the Earth” onto the small screen. The author spoke with The Hollywood Reporter’s Scott Roxborough on why he waited and what he thinks of the television event based on his monumental medieval novel.
The Hollywood Reporter: It has taken almost as long to get “Pillars” adapted as it would to build a cathedral. Why didn’t you sell the rights to your book earlier?
Ken Follett: I felt very strongly right form the start that this had to be a very long series because I didn’t think the story could be told in two hours. There were a lot of producers interested in “Pillars” but they all wanted an opt-out clause so if something went wrong with the financing they could get out with minimal losses and the series would end up as two-hour movie of the week. Then along came Ridley Scott and Tandem and they guaranteed six hours. And they’re making eight!
THR: How involved were you in the development of the project?
Follett: I didn’t ask to write the scripts myself — producers are very nervous about authors who want to be too involved. But Tandem was kind enough to send me the script (by screenwriter John Pielmeier) and I thought it was wonderful. And when David Zucker (of Scott Free) told me about the cast, I was just thrilled. These actors — Ian McShane, Matthew Macfadyen, Rufus Sewell — this is the cream of British acting talent.
THR: You were on-set in Hungary. What was your impression?
Follett: I was completely bowled over. They’ve built Kingsbridge on the outskirts of Budapest! It’s astonishingly real. I was wondering around and I came across a medieval loom. Now I did a lot of research for the novel and looms have changed — improved — greatly over the centuries. Here was an absolutely 12th century loom. A hundred years earlier — or later — and it would have looked completely different. This was exactly right.
THR: You’ve written a sequel to “Pillars” titled “World Without End.” Will there be a sequel to the TV series as well?
Follett: Well, Ridley Scott and Tandem have secured the option on “World Without End.” If “Pillars” is the big success we all are hoping for and expect, we’ll make a sequel. If anyone adapts the book, I want it to be with Tandem and Scott Free and this team that is making “Pillars of the Earth.”
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