What attracted you to 11.22.63?
I love time-travel stories in all their shapes and forms. And I’m also a lifelong Stephen King fan, so when Bad Robot approached me about adapting this book I had already read the book for pleasure and I was thrilled. I ran in and talked about it until they begged me to stop talking and agreed to give me the job.
So were you nervous to take on a book that you were a fan of?
I was not nervous, only because I loved the material so much. I felt really sure of what it wanted to be. I feel that that’s something that really calls to you when you adapt something or when you create something from any original piece, you’re just listening for what the thing wants to be.
I was intimidated meeting Stephen King and sitting down and having dinner, which dissipated quite quickly because he’s lovely, we became great friends. But the truth is I was not intimidated or nervous approaching this project because I loved it.
Did you have a lot of freedom with how you approached it?
You know, I really did. Stephen King is a really exceptional collaborator because he understands what it means to dramatise something… He had veto power and never exercised it.
And JJ Abrams and also Hulu, most importantly, were extremely thoughtful and empowering in saying “How many hours do you need?” And they said, “Make it as many hours as you want it to be”.
As well as it being a Stephen King book, which already makes it a pretty big deal, it also tackles a piece of modern American mythology – the assassination of JFK. How did you approach that whole iconic time?
Well, really I approached it as if it were a documentary of real life, because in fact it was. It’s very easily and, as you say, frequently mythologised, and it’s been made quite nostalgic. My goal was to live in it as if it was real, as if it was the real thing, because that’s what interested me the most about the story. I didn’t want to take it in a fantastic direction because the theme is already fantastic. Time travel is impossible. So it doesn’t need any more impossible of fantastic laid upon it.
The other thing that I tried to do was remember [that] the Kennedy family is still alive, many people are alive who remember this very well. So there is an element of this fictional story that is quite real, and it does live on in a kind of national consciousness, and that was important to remember too.
Did you need to do much research beyond what was in the book – both for period accuracy and the conspiracy theories?
We did, yeah. I did, the other writers did, but just mainly because it’s so pleasurable, it’s a rabbit hole you can fall into. There are many many stones that I had to leave unturned, there are literally thousands of books and we read probably a dozen. I know that Stephen King is a much more thorough researcher than I am, but at the end of the day the story is just that, it’s a story, it’s not a hole. So it was fun to look into what the options are to get a sense of what the feeling of the time was, and the immediate aftermath, but it was more like dipping your toe in the water of a very deep pool.
Were there any conspiracy theories that you were particularly drawn to?
One of the most interested conspiracy theories – I don’t know if this is a conspiracy theory that I believe, but one of the most interesting figures that Stephen King’s book actually introduced me to was the character of the Russian expatriate named George de Mohrenschildt. This was a Russian expatriate who lived in Dallas, was a mover and shaker in Dallas, was a known on-the-books CIA asset, who explicitly became friends with Lee Harvey Oswald, and I just think that’s strange. I can’t believe it, I think it’s so strange.
The assassination happened, years go by, and George de Mohrenschildt is asked to testify in front of the house assassinations committee, but the day before he’s supposed to testify he commits suicide. That’s very strange. Very strange. So I would say that was an area that was astonishing.
You’ve put together an amazing cast for this show. Did you always have James Franco in mind for the lead?
James Franco came up very very early. He put himself out there because he wanted to adapt the book himself, get the rights to it, and we learned of this when he wrote an essay on this and put it online and we were thrilled, “let’s get in touch with him!” And JJ reached out and he and JJ started talking. It happened so early in the process that it’s hard for me to imagine anybody else doing it. There was no other serious contender.
And obviously you had Kevin MacDonald on board directing the opening episode.
Kevin is the greatest. I love him so much. He absolutely helped innovate what the look and the visual style was of the entire series, he is remarkable. He is the director of two of my favourite movies full stop. I think he’s just an extraordinary artist and I loved collaborating with him. His fingerprints can be felt all over the series, I think his work is exceptional.
How closely did the two of you collaborate on creating the look and tone of the show?
I was all up in his grill. Very closely. He had a term that he called ‘cinematic naturalism’, which was that we both loved it when film is pretty, it looks good, but that we wanted it fundamentally to look like life, we wanted it to just be happy people being alive, and so we turned to a lot of still street photography, the photographs of Garry Winogrand and Lee Friedlander and Robert Frank, Vivian Maier and [MacDonald] just had these huge, huge number of photos that we would research and go, “These are the characters that we’re looking at, these are the people, this is the world.” I can’t overstate the importance of how closely we worked, finding what the feel would be. And especially because he is such a gifted documentarian as well as a fiction film director, he brings it all to the table.
Were there any parts of the book that you were excited to expand upon?
You know, the book is so long and there’s so much beautiful material that I don’t think that we expanded on anything (Laughs). I think my job was much more about cutting. I would have loved to expand on more. but no, there was no expansion. There was only trim, trim, let’s make sure that we can do this thing and not make it 60 hours.
11.22.63 will air on Fox from 10 April 2016 – you can download Stephen King: The Complete Manual from GreatDigitalMags.com now. For more news about the biggest TV series, pick up the latest issue of SciFiNow.