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J.J. Abrams Wanted James Franco for ‘11.22.63’ After Reading His Article on the Book

The latest adaptation of one of bestselling author Stephen King’s novels, Hulu mini-series “11.22.63,” launched with a premiere at L.A.’s Bruin Theater on Thursday. Executive producer J.J. Abrams told Variety how an article that star James Franco wrote about the book led to the actor’s casting.

“When I read this piece that Franco had written, it was so passionate about this character, about this world, about this story,” Abrams said. “He was also, in the piece, giving me s–t for being involved in too many projects, so I thought at the very least I should reach out and see if he wanted to be involved in this one with me.”

Franco revealed that King’s time-travel novel was one of the first books that he picked up after having to read 150 for his oral exams as a student in the Yale English department. The book caught his eye, and he was pulled in.

“I had to read 150 books, a lot of them were academic books, and as soon as I had passed my oral exams, I had the chance to read whatever I wanted to read,” Franco said. “I immediately jumped into it — it’s about 1,000 pages, and it was so engrossing. I read it aloud with my assistant in about a week.”

Franco plays Jake Epping, a high school English teacher, who is tasked by his friend and diner owner Al Templeton (Chris Cooper) to travel back in time to stop the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The catch? Traveling through time always puts him in October 1960 — meaning that he has to spend three years in the past until the big event.

Both Abrams and showrunner Bridget Carpenter believed that the colossal King novel was better suited for a mini-series format than a feature film — which it was originally intended to be.

“This book felt too long, too detailed, too nuanced, to condense,” Abrams said. “I thought, maybe the better idea would be to let it breathe and let it exist in a longer form.”

“The novel is 900 pages; it’s huge,” Carpenter said. “There is such a wealth of not just information, but a wealth of story and plot. You don’t want to lose anything.”

Hulu will release the first episode of “11.22.63” — whose cast also includes Sarah Gadon, Josh Duhamel, Daniel Webber, George MacKay, Lucy Fry, T.R. Knight, Nick Searcy, Leon Rippy and Gil Bellows — on Feb. 15 (Presidents’ Day).

After the screening, Hulu staged a party at the nearby Broxton Lot, which had been converted into a ’60s-themed diner, complete with vintage Nixon and Kennedy campaign posters, classic TV sets and a DJ spinning ’60s tunes. Even the food complemented the retro theme, from the beef wellington hors d’oeuvres to the mini pecan and cherry pies.

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