TNT’s ‘Will’ Producer on Show’s Shakespeare Adaptation: ‘Theater Then Was Like Punk Rock’

'Will' TV show premiere, After Party
Photos/Variety/REX/Shutterstock

Olivia DeJonge isn’t just a cast member on TNT’s new series “Will.” To hear the actress tell it, she’s also the target audience for the program, which tells the story of William Shakespeare (Laurie Davidson), an English playwright of some renown in 16th century London, before he went on to write “Hamlet” and many other classic plays.

“I wasn’t even interested in the show, I wasn’t a Shakespeare fan,” she told Variety. But executive producer Craig Pearce “changed my mind on that, and I am excited to see him change the mind of every other young person who sees Will Shakespeare as a dusty old man.”

At Tuesday night’s premiere of the series, held at New York’s Bryant Park with an after-party at the nearby Bryant Park Grill, DeJonge says she was attracted to the contemporary, rebellious energy Pearce brought to the proceedings, especially the punk-influenced style of dress. “The guys had amazing leather jeans, which I also wanted,” she said. “I always had a funky belt, or a funky leather jacket. So much detail went into the costumes.”

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Executive producer Shekhar Kapur, who directed the award-winning “Elizabeth” and “Elizabeth: The Golden Age,” said part of his goal was to establish the look and feel of the series to “take the audience and put them in the theater, and take Shakespeare off the mantle place, out of the thick bound covered book, and into real life.”

The series has a punk-infused look and soundtrack (the Clash’s “London Calling” makes an appearance), which comes from Pearce’s belief that “theater then was like punk rock. You had 3,000 people, crammed into these open-aired, circular theaters, and people were screaming, drinking, and fighting.”

Much of the Bard’s early life has been lost to history, which gave Pearce, he says, poetic license to tell a story of sex and intrigue that reflects modern interests. “We know Shakespeare wrote about characters that are as relevant today as they were 400 years ago. So you go, ‘If he wrote about characters that were relevant 400 years ago that are relevant today, people must have been doing things today that he did 400 years ago.'”

“It’s a circuit that continually goes back and forth,” he added. “There’s no value in writing about history if you’re not writing about today.”

(Pictured: Co-stars Jamie Campbell Bower and Olivia DeJonge at the “Will” premiere after-party)

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  1. Love this show! Really great acting!

  2. Lisa White says:

    Really quirky & interesting series, with the soundtrack adding to the appeal. Everything about this production made it enjoyable & entertaining. Definitely not just another boring take on medieval history – this tells the story but has some gumption.

  3. Frank Lurz says:

    Yes, theaters in Shakespeare’ time were crowded and their audiences smelly, crude, raucous, and on occasion, belligerent. On this score one may congratulate Will’s creators; the acting, sets, costumes, and props carry the TV viewer back to the sights and sounds of the London of Shakespeare’s time. One’s stay is cut short, however, by the totally inappropriate, acid-rock sound track that grabs viewers by the hair and flings them back to a present-day, rock concert. Executive producer Craig Pearce excuses this act of creative vandalism with the insistence that “Theater then was like punk rock.” Excuse me? The crowds in Shakespeare’s time may have been little different from those at today’s rock concerts, but the music of those early times sounded nothing like the grating cacophony we hear today. Pearce adds, “There’s no value in writing about history if you’re not writing about today.” One might add that there’s no point in writing anything if all one has to offer is pseudo-intellectual sophistry.

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