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All eight episodes of Troy: Fall of a City landed on Netflix in the U.S. over the weekend, giving viewers the chance to enjoy the famed exploits of Achilles, Agamemnon, Aeneas, Menelaus, Priam, Odysseus and company, while witnessing the love affair between Paris and Helen that started the whole bloody mess in the first place.
A co-production with the BBC (the U.K. got to witness the concluding episode on Saturday), Troy comes from The Night Manager writer David Farr and executive producer Derek Wax (Humans) for his new label Wild Mercury in associationupgr with Kudos, and is among the most ambitious retellings of the Trojan War and the epic Greek poems of Homer.
Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter, Wax described working with the oldest work of Western literature, how his Troy differs from the bulging biceps of the Brad Pitt-starring 2004 film adaptation and why it was essential that the production actually build a massive wooden horse.
What made you decide to head back in time to the world of Homer and the Trojan War?
The gestation of the project goes right back to about 2011/2012. It was after I’d produced a mini-series called Occupation about the aftermath of the Iraq War, but it dealt with the messy reality of war. I found myself reading the Greek myths on holiday and thinking, is there a way of telling this story that doesn’t feel like a Sunday tea-time version of it? What the myths are really dealing with is: is there a point of going to war if you don’t believe in the cause; if you’re having to fight for people you don’t respect; what does it mean to elope for love and then not find yourself at home in the city you’ve been taken to? There were so many big themes going on. On one side it’s an adventure story — romance, war, everything, but it works on a number of different levels and one of those is people confronted with huge moral and emotional dilemmas.
It looks like a project that could only have happened with the deep pockets of someone like Netflix. What was the path to getting it made?
I spoke to David Farr, who’d been working on Spooks for Kudos, where I was at that time as an exec producer. I knew he was passionate and had done a version of the Odyssey at the Royal Shakespeare Company. We took the idea to the BBC in around 2011, who commissioned two scripts. We spent a year or two developing those scripts and they were greenlit towards the end of 2015, but at that point had nobody else involved financially. We just knew to mount a project of this scale and ambition we would need other partners. So we went out to L.A. in the summer of 2016. We met a number of people, but Netflix came on board straight away and were very, very keen, and they’ve been just as involved as the BBC. It’s a co-production. They came out to Cape Town, where we were shooting, and have been committed since the beginning.
The events described in the Iliad only kick in around episode four. Where did the previous parts of the story come from?
There’s Apollodorus, and various other Greek writers who compiled the myths in rather a dry and prosaic way. There are also the writers like Aeschylus who came 300-400 years after Homer. They all took the stories and reinvented them, taking moments they wanted to focus on.
So essentially, they were doing their own “inspired by” versions?
Yeah, they were looking back on Homer like we look back on Shakespeare. Everyone thinks the Greeks all lived in one period. But if the war did happen, it happened in 1300 BC, then you have Homer in 700 BC and then you have Aeschylus in 400 BC. So it’s like looking back to the time of King Arthur really. It’s a bit like the Bible, where people don’t really know exactly, for example, if was there an exodus from Egypt. It’s somewhere between history and myth. Homer’s two poems, the Iliad and Odyssey are the two oldest works of Western literature. These stories have been with us for 3,000 years and have resonated through the ages.
And yet, aside from modern-day twists on Homer’s work, there haven’t been so many actual retellings of what famously happened in Troy.
There was the Wolfgang Peterson film about 15 years ago, but because that was a film it couldn’t really explore the entire canvas of the myth. That starts with Paris going to Sparta, whereas what fascinated David Farr and I was this idea of starting with the birth of a little boy and a prophecy surrounding his birth. Then, we cut to 20 years later, and this boy is a shepherd unaware of his upbringing. And then there’s the story of a queen who’s stuck in a very unhappy marriage.
Tell me, did you actually build a giant wooden horse or was it CGI?
Yes, we built it! It was huge. There was a creative decision taken quite early on that we would try to make as much to have on camera as possible. We built the walls of Troy. We did extend them a little bit via CGI, but they were there.
Obviously, the story doesn’t end with the destruction of Troy. Any plans to keep Homer’s work going into further seasons?
David Farr has a wonderful idea for where [season] two might go, but it’s ultimately in the gift of the broadcasters whether it will or not. It has to air on Netflix for enough time for them to make a decision.
See the Troy: Fall of a City trailer below.
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