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When Uzo Aduba was approached to host a Netflix book club show, it was of immediate interest — and it was her inner bookworm that was most intrigued.
“I love to read; I love the concept of this, not just because I want to host [but] I want to read all of these books. I want to do a deep dive into all of this material. And I’m fascinated myself by that concept of how things take on different shapes beyond the page,” Aduba tells The Hollywood Reporter.
With the newly launched Netflix Book Club, which the streamer announced last month, readers can hear about new books inspiring film and TV series adaptations, and gain exclusive access to each book’s adaptation process. And now, with the companion social series But Have You Read the Book?, Aduba will host chats about those books and their adaptations. Over a cup of Starbucks (thanks to a Netflix partnership with the coffee company), Aduba and the cast and crew attached to the projects will explore the process it took to bring the pages to the screen.
The series was fitting for Aduba since her television career began with the series adaptation of Orange is the New Black, based on the 2010 memoir by Piper Kerman, Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison in which she played the Emmy-winning role of Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren. The first monthly selection in the Netflix Book Club is Nella Larsen’s 1929 novel Passing, to coincide with the film’s Nov. 10 release date on the streamer. The Rebecca Hall-directed film stars Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga as two childhood friends who reunite after losing touch. With one “passing” for white, their reunion soon threatens their carefully constructed realities.
But Have You Read the Book? arrives amid Netflix announcing that its recent adaptations of literary works achieved a rise in print sales, with half of the top 10 titles featured on the New York Times best-sellers list for print and ebook fiction being tied to a series release on the streamer. The social series kicks off Nov. 16 on the Still Watching Netflix YouTube Channel and the Netflix US Facebook channel.
Ahead of the launch, Aduba spoke to THR about the upcoming series and her favorite adaptations, while also teasing her Broadway play Clydes.
Can you take me back to how this show came to be and how you came on board to host?
I was approached by Netflix and there was this concept that had been really buzzing around with them, where they have so many shows and movies that had been converted from books. So many people among the company and the team were saying that they were fascinated how books come from page to screen. I think it started from an endeavor of, “Would you like to host the thing?” It was just exciting, this idea of having started my own television career on a show that was adapted from a book [Orange is the New Black], watching a character on a page and kind of having that level of piece of information and then looking to explore it further through the script that you have. I say that in relationship to my character, Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren. I read that character in the book and taking that information and really watching it come to life on screen was [a really exciting process] to me to explore in other stories that Netflix had adapted.
A new book will be discussed each month. Will the show only focus on upcoming adaptations, or will you revisit previous Netflix literary adaptations?
Some will be revisited!
The first book you discuss is Passing written by Nella Larsen, which was just released as a film adaptation. Was there anything in particular you were really interested in learning about?
I was really surprised by how personal this particular story was for some of the people we talked to. I thought that was incredibly powerful and such an incredible way to really underline how storytelling can affect life and people in their own personal stories and journeys, and why art sometimes gets made. The conversation was really beautiful because we had an array of points of view, both from behind the camera and in front of with regards to the characters and their journey. Having read the book, it was really interesting to listen to those stories captured, especially when you have your own version of it in your own imagination of what those characters might be experiencing. It was a wonderful, wonderful conversation.
I know this may vary depending on the book, but was there something you were hoping to bring to light for audiences about the adaptation process?
I think something that’s a general question that a lot of viewers have or readers would have is why certain stories end up being highlighted. What is it about a certain character or a moment in a book that sparks for a writer to tell that story on screen? Or, what I’m really curious about: development. A character who might not be so strong in a book, why does that character get expanded in a series or in a movie? I’m fascinated to learn that.
This show is debuting in a time of resurgence with the appreciation of books. It’s hard to find a project film or series, that isn’t adapted from a book. There are also Hollywood book clubs and influencers all spotlighting various stories and authors. How do you hope this series adds to the conversation and encourages everyone to read?
I found the conversations so interesting that [I hope] people who haven’t read the book but who have seen the on-screen version will be so excited by the discussions that it’ll make some of them want to read the book. They’re going to learn a lot of different intricacies about the characters, the atmosphere [and] the scenes. I think people are really engaged right now with stories. We’ve seen stories expand so much beyond the way they had traditionally been told, just as recent as 10 years ago. I think that is a part of why we’re seeing this resurgence, not only in adaptations, but also hopefully in people wanting to read.
It’s commonly said that the book will always be better than the adaptation. Have there been any adaptations, whether new or old, where you disagree?
For whatever reason, I don’t know why this is coming to me right now, but both adaptations of The Great Gatsby — both the Robert Redford version and the Leonardo DiCaprio one — are coming to me right now. Malcolm X is coming to me right now. Oh! The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants! (Laughs.)
If you could select a book that hasn’t yet been adapted, which would it be and why?
That’s a tough one! I don’t know if it’s been adapted or not, to be honest, The Catcher and the Rye. I don’t know if this has been adapted either but, She’s Come Undone [by Wally Lamb.]
What do you ultimately hope the audience takes away from But Have You Read the Book?
I hope that people take away all the different layers that go into the thing we see on screen, and how the stories come to life [and] all the different parts and experiences from different areas that play into how stories get told. I really hope more than anything that people take away that these stories we’ve come to know and love on screen are the seedling, the thing that started it, again with a book, and that I hope that they pick it up and are encouraged to read.
You’re also in rehearsals for the Broadway production of Clydes. Can you tease what audiences can expect?
It’s a show about second chances. It’s a show that will make you belly laugh and think which, I think, is pretty hard to do, but when placed in the hands of the astute, two-time Pulitzer Prize winner [playwright] Lynn Nottage, it becomes possible. It’s a play that takes place at a rest-stop diner talking about sandwiches and the rest-stop diner’s called Clyde’s and I play Clyde, a no-nonsense woman trying to survive.
It’s worth noting the return of Broadway shows after experiencing a shutdown amid the pandemic. What is it like to experience Broadway being back?
It’s been wonderful and something that I never imagined to ever be gone, disappear [or be] unavailable. It’s been so great to know that it’s back. A lot of my friends are still part of the Broadway theater community [and] I’ve had many, many, many conversations about what that really upfront looked like to not have a place to express. So I’m really happy that shows have returned. People have been able to return to not only the job and work, but that thing that they love. And also that we in the audience who get to go in and have the experience of a Broadway show have somewhere to imagine and escape. We have a great group in our show that I’m really proud to be working with incredible actors and storytellers who all bring such unique individual superpowers to the story of Clydes.
But Have You Read the Book? is available to stream now.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
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