'On Becoming a God in Central Florida' Team Talks Long Road to "Dream Home" Showtime

ON BECOMING A GOD IN CENTRAL FLORIDA - Mel Rodriguez - Publicity-H 2019
Patti Perret/Sony/SHOWTIME

The cast and crew of On Becoming a God in Central Florida were halfway through shooting when they heard YouTube, which was set to stream the show, had put a freeze on original scripted programming. That left the Sony TV-produced project with an uncertain future and questions of if it would ever make it to release. 

"There were so many times that On Becoming a God in Central Florida seemed like it wouldn't become anything at all," showrunner Esta Spalding said at the Los Angeles premiere of the show, which started out at AMC even before its time at YouTube. "There was a pretty dark moment when we all looked at each other and thought, 'OK, this is going to live on some thumb drives that we pass around and try to beg our friends to watch on Sunday nights with us.'"

The series will live on on real screens though, after being picked up by Showtime in June — something Spalding says was a dream come true, as when trying to imagine where the show would end up, "I think our dream home was Showtime." 

Adds Kirsten Dunst, the show's star: "YouTube let us make the show we wanted to make and Showtime became our home; I'm not mad at that at all." Dunst plays Krystal Stubbs, a Florida mom who cons her way to the top of cult-like, multibillion-dollar pyramid scheme Founders American Merchandise. The 10-episode series, set in the '90s, is produced by Sony's TriStar Television and George Clooney and Grant Heslov’s Smokehouse Pictures.

Although there is a heavy focus on get-rich-quick schemes and making a quick buck, Spalding says the show is really "a way to talk about class in America and the whole system being rigged."

"I know for many people, it was really about what MLMs [multi-level marketing] do — and that is an important message — but I think in the larger picture the whole system is rigged in the same kind of way, where if you're not already wealthy it's hard to get wealthy," she says. 

Co-creator Robert Funke says he also wrote the series out of empathy for people who get caught in such financial schemes, who shouldn't be judged their attempt at success. 

"The people who get drawn into these things aren't suckers and they're not dumb, there's just not a lot else that can give you autonomy over your own life and your own future," he tells The Hollywood Reporter. "Hopefully people will realize that there's dignity even if there's struggle."

Funke also explained the decision to feature a woman at the center of the scheme, one with power over the men in her life and in her business, based on his childhood in the South raised by strong women. 

"I think there's a kind of intensity and strength I would see in the women in my community that I didn't see on television or movies depicted in a way that felt real to me, or quite as formidable as you find in Krystal," he said. Spalding added that the reason she signed onto the project was because of Dunst's character, and her duality as a mom audiences are rooting for who also makes amoral decisions. "You don't get to see women characters get to do that much," she says. 

The show's Orlando-based plot also leans heavily into Florida stereotypes, depicting a lawless place of amusement parks, alligators, guns and ATVs, all which provide backdrop to the financial scheming. 

"There's a mythology of Florida as the last frontier or something. For us, more than the 'Florida Man' stuff, it was about wanting to talk about the world in the shadow of a place like Disney World," Spalding said. "You have this place where people from all over earth go to, it's the happiest place, and people who live in the shadow of that don't have access to that kind of happiness." 

And simply, "Weird things always happen in Florida, it's the perfect setting," said Dunst.  

On Becoming a God in Central Florida, which also stars Alexander Skarsgard, Théodore Pellerin, Beth Ditto and Mel Rodriguez, premieres Sunday on Showtime.