When creators Micah Bloomberg and Eli Horowitz set out to create the original podcast Homecoming, they never imagined their efforts would result in an Amazon Prime Video series with Julia Roberts as both an executive producer and in the lead role.
Speaking on the Paramount Theater stage at Deadline’s The Contenders Emmys event on Sunday, Horowitz said snagging Roberts was, “a huge surprise. I thought people were lying,” he laughed, “but then they weren’t lying.”
The psychological thriller series follows the relationship between caseworker Heidi Bergman (Roberts) and a PTSD-stricken soldier (Stephan James) as it emerges that sinister forces are at work behind the scenes. The series also stars Shea Whigham, Bobby Cannavale, Sissy Spacek and Alex Karpovsky and is directed by Mr Robot‘s Sam Esmail.
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There were some challenges in bringing the hugely-successful podcast to the screen. “It all actually grew out of that podcast form,” Horowitz said. “Pretty quickly we wanted no voiceover, no narrator to give it that immediacy. The podcast is very inside rooms and very verbal, and some of it we wanted to keep that way…we really wanted to keep it about the people and the relationships between them.”
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With the central focus on therapy sessions between Roberts’ character and James’ recovering soldier, other touches were brought from the podcast to the screen, such as the goldfish tank in the therapist’s office, which began as a bubbling sound in the podcast. “That became the opening shot of the show,” Horowitz said.
For James, auditioning opposite Roberts was a daunting prospect. “I had so many lines,” he said. “I had like 14 pages of stuff to memorize for this audition, then I found out I was reading opposite Julia Roberts and I googled her and flipped out because I thought, ‘Oh s**t that’s Julia Roberts.'”
But in reality, James needn’t have worried. “She was so sweet the first time I met her and was able to knock down all these walls. She’s Pretty Woman but she’s also a normal person,” he said to resounding laughs from The Contenders Emmys audience. “For me Homecoming was this dystopian universe,” James went on, “that was more about the recovery of these young men and the PTSD and the trauma from which they’re recovering, so I tried to keep it in that space.”
Shea Whigham, who plays an investigator looking into Bergman’s history, paid tribute to Esmail’s directing skills. “I don’t say this lightly, he’s a true visionary like Marty (Scorcese),” he said. “He’s incredible. Most people come at things [in a way that’s] linear, but Sam’s thinking of things that we’re not seeing.”
Homecoming‘s second season is in the works.
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