J.J. Abrams on Adapting Stephen King's '11.22.63' for Hulu

11.22.63 - James Franco and Sarah Gadon- still 2- H 2016
Courtesy of Sundance Institute

With the February premiere of 11.22.63, Hulu is making its first big, bold bet on original drama. And to hear executive producer J.J. Abrams tell it, the up-and-coming streamer was the best home for the Stephen King adaptation. 

"They've been remarkable and incredibly collaborative, and as excited about this as we were," Abrams told members of the Television Critics Association on Saturday. "This is a book that I had loved long before Stephen King reached out and asked if I'd be interested in getting involved to produce. We did go out to a number of places and had some offers, but the enthusiasm [at Hulu] was clear and it matched ours." 

Abrams, who is coming off the blockbuster success of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, spoke with deference about adapting a King novel for the small screen. Much of the adaptation fell to executive producer Bridget Carpenter (Parenthood, Friday Night Lights), who said the biggest change she made was to expand a character from the book, played by Daniel Webber, into a companion for James Franco's Jake Epping as he goes back in time in an attempt to stop the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. "I think that people who loved the book will be very satisfied, and if you didn't read the book you'll be able to experience this dramatically, fantastically," said Carpenter.

Abrams said he wasn't sure how King would react to the changes that they made, but that "he was positive" about their adaptation. "They've both told stories that were so incredibly compelling, and grab you by the heart and the throat and drag you through this thing," he added. "It wasn't in any way easy, and the work that [Bridget] did was remarkable, in some cases introducing new characters or in some cases cutting existing ones. We were very lucky to find Bridget and have her not just wrangle it but tell this beautiful Stephen King tale." 

Franco found his way to the role through his love of the King novel. "I read it really fast, I just loved it so much," he said, explaining that he figured he'd never be involved once he heard that Abrams had boarded the project. So, instead, Franco wrote a post on Vice where he shared his frustration: "I love J.J. Abrams as much as the next person, but come on. That guy gets to do everything." Not long after his post was published, Abrams reached out to the actor about starring on the show. 

The drama, which will be told in eight parts, is not the first project to explore the Kennedy assassination. But the producers made every effort to lend an air of authenticity to their alternate retelling. Carpenter explained that they shot many key scenes in Dallas, including recreating the assassination day in Dealey Plaza, where the event took place. Costume designer Roland Sanchez even recreated the outfits worn that day by going through photographs and video stills. 

"The era of Kennedy was probably, up until that time, one of the most photographed presidencies," said Carpenter. "You don't have to know much about Kennedy to know those images. They're emblazoned upon us. It seemed like a no-brainer to be in Dallas and be at the place that possibly the most analyzed piece of film was taken." 

11.22.63 premieres Feb. 15, Presidents Day, on Hulu