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In the first part of The Hollywood Reporter‘s conversation with 11.22.63 showrunner Bridget Carpenter, the Friday Night Lights veteran talked about James Franco’s multi-tasking, her favorite Stephen King adaptations and her approach to depicting both the past and the JFK assassination.
In this segment, it’s time to get wonky with some details from King’s well-regarded book that had to be trimmed for the eight-hour Hulu miniseries, which premieres on Monday.
A lot of this interview won’t make sense for those who haven’t read 11.22.63 and it spoils some things that are missing from the book, though it doesn’t spoil any of the new things that were changed or added for the series. That will be saved for an end-of-series postmortem interview.
This may be the only conversation about 11.22.63 to delve into the departed ties to It or why nobody in the miniseries refers to the past as “obdurate,” or why the miniseries had to lose the Jodie High production of Of Mice and Men despite a star who did a recent Broadway production of the Steinbeck classic.
Check out the Q&A below…
Much of the early part of the book is a time-traveling jaunt that serves as an It sequel or companion. That segment has been moved to a different state and the It stuff is all gone. I’m just curious if there was any consideration on your part of keeping that in or whether that was just untenable, that you just couldn’t do that here?
The It part, as you know I kept the Harry Dunning part. I did take it out of Derry, Maine, I put it in Kentucky. The reason that I didn’t try to fulfill any of the It elements, which were so fantastic in the book is, it had no dramatic impact. Zero. It did nothing to push the story dramatically forward. It only added atmosphere and this story doesn’t need atmosphere. It was only a bit of a nostalgia trip and atmosphere and I just thought, “No this story is about one singular thing when it’s being put on screen. The book, you can read that at your own pace, he takes some gently meandering turns in kind of immersing you in the world of the 1960s and it’s fine because it’s a book. You’re reading it at your own pace of reading, whether you’re a fast reader or a slow reader, and you can put it down or you can stay up for five hours and read and muscularly it can take all that. But I thought that no, the kind of movement and the minutes ticking by in television would not serve the It story well.
It’s interesting because what that part does in my mind, is it sort of accomplishes what an arduous chore this is for him. That he is basically reliving these whole years. I’m wondering if that’s something that you can represent in a book but you just can’t represent in a TV show, the passing of time and what a pain in the ass that is.
Yes! I decided to privilege the mission. So I did want to condense the amount of time that he spent. Here’s the thing that was interesting to me. In the book, he gets so many test runs. Right? He went and he was like, “Okay I’m going to go try that for a couple months, learn this, learn that, I’m going to try it this time, try it that time.” There were many. Again you’re absolutely right. It totally shows there’s a kind of interesting tedium that having to go through those Groundhog Days over and over again bring. And charm! But dramatically there is no way that watching that gives you that same feeling. Watching it, I felt like I was going to be going, “Come on!” It also sort of took away the stakes a little bit. My intention was always, once he goes for real, once Al is dead, he’s gone. There’s no coming back and forth, there’s no test tasks. He just has to commit.
Along those lines, talk a bit about embodying of the idea of the powerful past pushing back against Jake’s mission. It’s a literary conceit more than anything else but then you have to make it visual. What was you approach to that?
I never wanted it to feel like magic. You know what I mean? Because you go, “Well wait a minute, the past can do a lot of stuff, isn’t that just lightning coming out of the sky?” I wanted it to feel as grounded and real world as possible. That’s why they’re occasionally represented by falling things. It’s funny. I will say that there was something about writing that on the page that seemed funnier to me than it actually came out. Because I thought, “Oh it’s going to be so interesting, Al’s narration, we’ll see little bits and we’ll know in our hearts that Al’s dead but we’ll get to experience him relaying this story of how pieces work.” And I think that it wasn’t that funny. But it did the job in terms of storytelling, but I think I did think it was going to be kind of funny. (Laughs.) I’ll just admit that, and then I was like, ‘Oh no, well okay then it should be one thing after the other.’ I never wanted to replay that type of domino effect — this, then this, then this again — I thought that that was it. It illustrated what we were talking about. I also talked with the writers a lot and we were like, “Look, you can’t feel the past every time he buys a pack of gum.” Presumably everything that he’s doing, because he didn’t exist there, changes things. But it has to be when he’s doing something that would really cause ripple effect. That’s how we tried to approach it. Which was, you shouldn’t be near George de Mohrenschildt when he is meeting with CIA agents, that does have real potential repercussions. There’s a sense of groundedness and trying to save it so it meant something.
Now surely a book nerd question here, but can we not say “obdurate” on TV?
(Laughs.) We can’t say “obdurate,” we can’t! God bless you! You would have been right at home in the writer’s room. Because at one point if there was a silence in there and someone would say,”Well the past is obdurate.” We’d go, “Yeah, yeah we know!” There was another line in the book that I thought there was no way that this could translate to drama on television. I think at one point Al says to Jake very casually, “You’ve heard of the phrase, a watershed moment?” It’s like, “Okay man,” and Jake’s like, “Yes, I’ve heard of it, go on.” And they go on and talk about why that is a meaningful phrase and useful in discussing the past and history. So there is no “obdurate.”
I just kept waiting to see if one time you were going to slip in one “obdurate” just as kind of a nod.
You know what we should have done? We should have put “obdurate” in every title. That would have been the right thing to do, like “History is Obdurate,” “JFK is Obdurate.” Awww, man. Now I’m regretting that. Oh man, that would have been really good! No, no one says “obdurate” in the world and if you did someone would go, “I’m sorry, what? Go back. Obstinate?” “No, obdurate.”
I was waiting to see if Franco was going to be able to pull it off and it never happened.
Yeah, I don’t want to have that litmus test. There’s a lot of hills I’m willing to die on and that one’s not one. I love that you’re asked about it. That’s so funny. Yeah, I’m sorry. You’ll have to die not knowing.
You’ve had to do so much trimming within the Jodie part of the story which is so necessary for the romantic spine. How did you know what needed to remain and what was the hardest thing to get rid of from that segment?
It was so funny in the book that he had a Jodie Jamboree and then he had another Jodie Jamboree. He had it twice! (Laughs.) I was like, “Man, it’s too bad we’re cutting both of them. We’re not doing one.” That is such a pleasure to read. The thing that I missed is I wanted to do more with Ms. Mimi and Deke and Sadie and Jake. I would have loved to have more interaction between the four of them. That actually did kind of kill me not to get a couple of the sweetness of those scenes. I love fully drawn characters, but in this piece I didn’t want to much air. I didn’t want it, so that’s where that lived.
So that was why you had to lose Of Mice And Men and most of the kids?
Yeah, absolutely the kids. Again, I think that what’s so interesting is, in the book, your turning all of those pages is the passage of time, right? You can feel the weight of the book in your hands and you’re like, “There’s still four hundred pages to go and I’m in 1961,” so you know. But when you’re watching, I felt strongly that if you did Of Mice And Men, and we absolutely talked about it and James was very sad that we didn’t do it…
Of course! Understandably, it’s kind of like our own Alfred Hitchcock moment, but I knew if you were watching it, you don’t have the information that the weight of that book in your hands gives you, which is, “There’s so much to come and you’re going to read a lot more and just relax and enjoy this part.” I think if you have an episode that detailed all of the kids and the production of Of Mice And Men and then those boys getting killed soon afterwards, you’d start to go, “Wait a minute, what’s he doing? What?” I feel like dramatically, it wouldn’t serve the same purpose that it does so beautifully in the book. I did want every episode to feel sort of charged and a little haunted and more urgent because that is what is propelling us forward. I’m sorry that I denied you Of Mice and Men. I feel bad.
11.22.63 premieres on Monday on Hulu.
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