10:00am PT by Kirsten Chuba
'High Fidelity' Creators on Making a "Superhero Universe" for the Franchise
[This story contains spoilers from the season finale of Hulu's High Fidelity.]
With High Fidelity, Hulu's 10-episode, gender-flipped twist on the 1995 book and 2000 film of the same name, Zoe Kravitz steps into John Cusack's shoes as Rob, a love-sick record store owner recounting her past heartbreaks and trying to fix her romantic future.
This version of the story, which stars David H. Holmes (Simon) and Da'Vine Joy Randolph (Cherise) as her closest friends and Kingsley Ben-Adir (Mac), Jake Lacy (Clyde) and Thomas Doherty (Liam) as her former (and current) love interests, is a modern take set in Brooklyn, putting Rob's "analog woman in a digital world" at odds with Instagram and dating app culture as she holds onto her love of the past.
Ahead of the show's premiere, co-creators Veronica West and Sarah Kucserka spoke withThe Hollywood Reporter about exploring the female perspective, moving from Disney+ to Hulu and where Rob will go next.
Why did you want to do a gender-flipped version of this story?
West: Sarah and myself are such huge fans of the book and the movie as one of our most-revered pieces of pop culture ever, and it seems like the only reason to retell this story is to do it from a female point of view. The movie and the book are kind of perfect iterations of the source material — to make it modern and to tell a different story, it seems like doing that from a female point of view was absolutely necessary.
Kucserka: We both read the book when it came out and I think it was one of those things where you read it, and yes, it's a male protagonist, but so much of the Rob character was familiar to us. It didn't feel like it had to stay a male — to become a female and to share that kind of a character with the world felt like something that people weren't really getting a lot of.
West: I try not to think of it so much as a reboot but like an extension of the other properties. Basically, this is like a larger universe of High Fidelity that can live side-by-side with the movie and the book, sort of like a superhero universe.
There's the obvious connection between Lisa Bonet in the original film and her daughter, Zoe, in this series — was that always the intention, to have her as the lead with that tie-in?
West: Zoe was absolutely our first choice as our lead actress, regardless of the fact that her mother had been in the movie; that was just a huge bonus. It's something that made Zoe familiar with the source material and I think she was a big fan of it because her mother was in it, but though Zoe stands on her own because she's so smart and has such a point of view and edge and authenticity. People completely relate to her, despite the fact that she's like one of the most beautiful women in the world.
How much did the film influence the series — did you consider bigger changes, even something like changing the name of the main character?
Kucserka: The film was always in our minds but we didn't want it to feel like the film — we very much wanted to share some of that DNA but make it something that stood on its own. I feel like the nostalgia aspect of the show touches a little bit on what was in the film, but really to me, I didn't want it to feel like a carbon copy because then what's the point?
West: The difference between a film and a TV show is that this TV show hopefully is going to go for several seasons and do tens and dozens of hours of television. This could never just be the story of one person the way that the movie and the book has such an internal journey just for that hero. This has to be the story of Rob, it has to be Simon's story, it has to be Cherise's story — they have to earn their real estate as well so that people are interested not just in Rob's love story and not just in one couple. That's the reason that we made probably the biggest change that you'll notice in the pilot, is just that there is more than one viable love interest for Rob because I think that shows that are centered just on one couple and one relationship can be fatiguing for the audience. If we want to have something that has legs — like Sex and the City is a huge inspiration for us — there has to be people rooting for Rob and Clyde and people rooting for Rob and Mac and people rooting for Rob and Liam, so that was our main shift.
Most of your leads are people of color and there's a number of LGBTQ relationships — why was the diversity component important to shift as well?
West: This show takes place in Brooklyn in 2020 and that's just the reality of the world we live in. We did not want to make a show that was about homogenous people of one race or one sexuality, those stories have been told and it's time to tell stories that maybe haven't been about music fans of all different races and sexuality and gender.
What was the key to balancing all of the nostalgic references while still keeping the show modern?
West: I read some of the reviews and it's interesting that people think that this is like watching the original Rob from the '90s being thrown into the modern world. In a way that was an intent, it is a throwback in a fun way. But the record store itself is old school, it's analog, and Rob is an analog person in a digital world. She digs her heels in — she pays in cash, she hates social media, she doesn't know how to use Instagram and sometimes that's just like a fun throwback. But I also think it represents something deeper that we all have this internal backlash against the inevitable wave of the future, and our Rob just gets to pout about it and resist.
Kucserka: When we went into production, one of our guiding stars was the idea that this is a woman who is like an analog woman in a digital world and that entire Championship [record store] community of her and Simon and Cherise are this final holdout against the full modernization of their generation. That was making sure that it felt like they kind of romanticized a time period that they weren't really a part of, and that that was to them kind of the ideal time and place to be, so that it felt like an intentional way of having this throwback feel and mentality that is honest and true to the characters.
West: And I think that will be a journey that they go on throughout the series — they're going to start with this attitude and then as the gentrification creeps in and certain things become undeniable, they're going to have to grow and change along with the world.
When designing the look of the show, from Rob's wardrobe to her apartment to the record store, what were your influences to getting that very specific look?
West: We have an amazing production designer, Almitra Corey — I think richness was really what we were going for and we wanted all of it to feel incredibly lived-in; anything that felt fake and glossy wasn't where we were going. The walls are aged, the posters are aged, everything feels like it has a little bit of a layer of dust in an interesting way. I think that there's like an aspect of — I wouldn't call it a clutter because that's not the right word, but everything feels full and lived-in. That to me was like a driving factor to all of our sets and our production design, was you would feel like it's something that you could walk into off the streets in Crown Heights [New York], which is where we shot.
So much of the show centers on music, what was the strategy there and how did executive music producer Questlove play a part?
Kucserka: The great thing about this show was that really anyone could bring music to the table at any time. There's a song that was in [episode] nine that we repeat in [episode] 10 that is incredibly prominent at the end of the season and was actually something one of our editors had just loved and thrown in there on the off-chance that we might like it. With Quest, I think the biggest thing with him was he and Zoe really worked together to find a musical identity of her character and to really think about the history of what was Rob's experience getting into music, how did it grow? What are the things that she goes back to? That kind of stuff. But anybody who suggested music, and if it worked, it was just like "bring it on" because we didn't want this to feel one-note and one-dimensional when it came to what people were hearing, we wanted things to be represented across the board. In fact, I think we have music from every continent, outside of Antarctica, represented in the show which is really cool.
There's a moment in the show when the characters are discussing Michael Jackson and Kanye West and how scandals have shaped how they feel about their music. What did you want to convey with that scene?
Kucserka: There's a piece in the book where a character comes in and asks for a Stevie Wonder album and they make fun of him, "Who would want 'I Just Called to Say I Love You?'" This felt like a little bit of a twist on it and a way to have that conversation because that would be the exact conversation that these people would be having in the store: "What is relevant? If there's somebody who has done something bad does that nullify them completely?" It's kind of the same thing when there's an argument in episode 105 between Clyde and Rob about who deserves to have music and I think it's also kind of a "who deserves to make music?" question. I don't think that there is an easy answer, and I think that's kind of the point is that we want to be able to have that conversation out in the open and challenge people to agree and disagree on it.
West: The way that people are fans of music has changed so much since the movie and the book came out and this is just one of the ways — the cultural relevance and a larger conversation that's not just about the music because of the culture of celebrity that has evolved. We have to have our characters live in that world, they can't live in the simpler world of the original, and we have to acknowledge that the way we listen to music and the way we talk about celebrity has changed. The people, the way this generation consumes music has changed. Now people listen to streaming services instead of having a record collection; they don't own, they rent, and that's something that Rob talks about as well.
This series originally started at Disney+ before moving to Hulu, did that change anything in shifting to a more adult-focused platform?
West: That change happened in the development process while we were just getting started writing the episodes. We're incredibly grateful to Disney+, they took a chance on this show and we would not be here without their creative support. They made a really smart decision when they realized that the show was potentially more adult for a platform than they were at that time, still figuring out what it was — it was before Disney+ had launched — they made the choice to move it to Hulu and Hulu opened up with open arms and I think everyone's just been really supportive.
Kucserka: It gave us a nice freedom to go even deeper and even more realistic with the world of the adult.
West: But Disney+ never constrained us — when they realized that the show was maybe bigger in certain subject matters than they could handle days, they set us free, so the show's always been what the show is going to be and they did nothing but support us.
The season finale ends in a twist with Rob choosing Clyde over Mac, what went into that decision?
Kucserka: That was really something we had always imagined doing in that finale episode, just allowing the audience to believe that maybe Rob hasn't learned from her entire journey this season from everything that she's done to try and progress in some tiny way with relationships; that the misdirect would be such a nice refreshing surprise for the audience who would hopefully be going, "Oh my god, no, is this the choice you really want to make?" or there might be some people that are like, "Yes! Go back to that." And then when she rings that buzzer and the gate opens and you see Clyde, hopefully everybody, whether they're rooting for Clyde or for Mac, it's kind of jaw-dropping, like. "That was not what I was expecting."
West: From the beginning when we were planning the season out, we always knew that we wanted her to go to Clyde at the end. When the creative staff pitched the idea of Clyde rejecting her, it just seemed so perfect because in that moment when she's making that speech, you feel like, "Oh my gosh, she has learned so much, look at her and her journey," and then Clyde turns it around and says what the audience might be thinking, which is, "Uh, this is all about you, it's not about me." It shuts the door on that but allows season two for her to start in a place that she hasn't solved all her problems, she still has a long way to go.
Kucserka: To have her come out of that moment when she's just been rejected and to have the "9 percent, I'll take it" actually be a positive thing also felt like a nice twist on a twist of like, most people would be down in the dumps after that moment but she actually sees the tiniest possibility of something, which is a great way to launch into the next season.
Where do you see this series going?
West: Hopefully there are more seasons of High Fidelity — I think our intention was that people would be rooting for different relationships and as season one progresses, we do get to spend more time with Cherise and get inside her head a little bit more, and we do have an episode that was totally from Simon's point of view. As we move forward into future seasons, I think Rob is going to date some strangers that we haven't met before. I think we're going to go on relationship stories and other kinds of stories with Cherise and Simon and the universe will continue to expand.
High Fidelity season one is now streaming on Hulu. Interview edited for length and clarity.