In Richard K. Morgan’s sci-fi noir detective novel “Altered Carbon,” the Hendrix hotel is a crucial character. It isn’t just a building with a Jimi Hendrix theme — it’s also an artificial intelligence that bonds in peculiar ways with its lone guest, hired gun and reluctant hero, Takeshi Kovacs.
A big part of adapting “Altered Carbon” into a series for Netflix was originally going be creating a screen version of the Hendrix, which serves as Kovacs’ close ally and base of operations. But there was a problem: Hendrix’s estate declined to give the production rights to use the legendary rock guitarist’s name and image, so executive producer and showrunner Laeta Kalogridis and her team had to reimagine the hotel from the ground up.
“The Hendrix estate doesn’t license his image for anything that they consider to be violent,” says Kalogridis. “And our show definitely, as does the book, has some violence.”
After being rejected by the Hendrix estate, Kalogridis and the writers soon after settled on a new historical figure around whom to base the hotel’s visual aesthetic and personality: Edgar Allan Poe, who among other things, is father of the modern detective story.
“Once the idea was raised, it suddenly became clear why Poe would be a wonderful addition to this world,” Kalogridis said. Poe’s 19th century spooky-Victorian aesthetic creates a bizarre juxtaposition with the “Blade Runner”-esque feel of the future world in which “Altered Carbon” takes place. Then there is the character of Poe, the holographic personification of the AI as played by Chris Conner.
“He’s a fan favorite,” Kalogridis said. “He’s a real breakout character for us. People love Poe.”
Big Gun Salute
In Morgan’s novel, when Kovacs checks into the Hendrix, he’s greeted by an image that changes appearance and voice to match what the AI believes he will find most appealing. From a solid science-fiction perspective, the idea of an AI that adapts to the person interacting with it makes sense. But Kalogridis wanted to be able to lean in to the hotel’s personality.
“We liked the idea that people don’t stay in the hotels anymore, which is from the book, and also that the hotels have a slightly stalker-esque quality, also from the book,” Kalogridis says. “It felt like that argued for a persona that was a little persistent and maybe a little off-putting.”
But central to Morgan’s scene and the show is the moment when Kovacs, under attack, must finish checking into the hotel to trigger its guest-defense system — which manifests itself in the form of bloodbath-producing machine guns.
“Auto-turret guns coming down from the ceiling was one of my favorite things in the book, so that was absolutely never on the table [to change],” Kalogridis says. “We always knew that we wanted to have that because it was just so gloriously weird.”