“The book is a wonderful piece of art, but it’s also something that’s a doorstop,” Bridget Carpenter, showrunner of “11.22.63” says of Stephen King’s 900-page novel on which Hulu’s television event series is based — so, the show will move at a faster pace.
“You have to make that dramatic, you have to make it drive like a train. We wanted a speeding train of a story,” Carpenter adds, explaining that the pacing is different from the book. But other than that, “11.22.63,” which launches on Presidents Day, will stay “very true” to King’s masterpiece.
“I think that people who know the book will feel rewarded, but I also think that there are enough surprises and deviations to make it fresh,” she says.
As for speeding up the story, which is compressed into an eight-episode series, Carpenter, who serves as writer and exec producer, explains, “In the book, Jake Epping goes back for a very lengthy, long period of time. The main character goes back in time and he has to live there for five years to wait until getting closer to 1963. I compressed that time. And by the very nature of TV, it’s just going, so episode-by-episode, there are some great cliffhangers.”
The time-travel thriller stars Franco as Epping, a high school teacher who is tasked with preventing the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963 (hence the book and show’s title).
“He is the aspirational everyman,” Carpenter says of why Franco is the perfect lead. “He’s obviously gorgeous and charismatic, but he seems like a believable, grounded person — and he seems like a believable, grounded person who’s searching for something, which was wonderful to put him in the idea of an ordinary man needing to do extraordinary things.”
Turns out Franco, who pulls double duty as a producer, indirectly came at the part himself. He penned an article about the project and once Carpenter and her team, including exec producer J.J. Abrams, learned he was fan of the book, they jumped at him.
“When I read this piece that Franco had written, it was so passionate about this character, about this world, about this story. 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,” Abrams told Variety at the show’s recent L.A. premiere.
Carpenter also weighed in on Franco’s passion for the project, which parallels his real life: he’s playing a teacher. “He is actually deeply impassioned by teaching and that was one of the things that really motivated him,” the showrunner said of the actor, who’s also a Yale Ph.D. student balancing his acting career with education, including teaching courses at universities including NYU.
Aside from his passion and acting chops, Franco also looked the part to fit the ’60s scenes. “There are some people who look only contemporary,” Carpenter said. “I think that he’s actually really somebody with a foot in both worlds, which is fantastic.”
Though the drama will stay true to the novel, Carpenter says there’s something for everybody.
“I think this show is a love story dressed in the coat of the ‘Bourne Identity.’ I really think at its heart and core, these are characters that you care about, you know them, they’re people that you fall in love with. That’s why I watch TV, to be in love,” she says. With a laugh, she adds, “If you like ‘Back to the Future’ and you like the ‘Bourne Identity,’ then please watch this show.”
However, unlike other time travel movies or shows, “11.22.63” does not go back and forth repeatedly. “This is an interesting one because the rules of our time travel in this world are you can go back and you can change events and they will have lasting consequential changes, but if you go back again, you undo everything that you did. We live in the ’60s for the entirety of the series. In that sense, I think it is different because you’re not playing with the sci-fi notion of back-and-forth travel. It’s just being there.”
Regardless of whether you like time travel, sci-fi or not, one thing’s for sure: If you’re an avid Stephen King fan, there are surprises in store.
“There are many Stephen King easter eggs in every episode. Not just from this particular novel, but from the whole Stephen King oeuvre because the books and his worlds are so interconnected, and that’s also such a J.J. Abrams trope,” Carpenter teases. “There are secrets, there are things buried. Diehard King fans should look very closely, because there are many little treats in there.”
Before wrapping up her interview, Carpenter spilled one secret, and offered up a clue: “I’ll give one away because it’ll be very obvious. We put Stephen King’s car Christine in the series — and who it’s driven by is important.”
Pictured: Bridget Carpenter, James Franco, J.J. Abrams