How J.J. Abrams Boarded Stephen King’s ‘11.22.63’ & Brought James Franco Along For The Ride – The Contenders

James Franco 11.22.63
Photography by Hulu

Speaking with TV Line’s Michael Ausiello at Deadline’s TV Contenders panel, J.J. Abrams, who’s the executive producer behind Hulu’s 11.22.63described how he became hooked on Stephen King’s novel which the series is adapted from.

11.22.63 centers on a lonely, divorced high school teacher named Jake Epping who comes across a time portal back to 1958 in the closet of a diner, and spends five years plotting a way to stop President Kennedy’s assassination.

The book, which is 849 pages long, was originally licensed by Silence of the Lambs director Jonathan Demme. However, King had veto power over every aspect of the project. Demme wanted to make a theatrical feature, King did not, and they ultimately decided they weren’t seeing eye to eye.

Regaled Abrams about he became attached, “Damon Lindelof, Stephen and I were in Maine for an interview. Afterwards, Stephen asks if I want to go see a horror movie, The Descent, that was playing at a theater near Bangor…Every time someone would die, Stephen would exclaim, ‘Oh, that’s a great one!'”

Soon after, Stephen passed the novel to Abrams. A year later the author phoned the Star Wars: Force Awakens director and asked whether he was interested. Abrams agreed the book was too long to be a movie and handed it to Bridget Carpenter to adapt.

In building the show, Carpenter threw herself in the production design, specifically recreating the 1963 that one would see in a Harper’s Bazaar magazine. The below-the-team also studied the Zapruder film intensely so as to replicate the details of clothing and architecture that was no longer in place in Dallas’ Dealey Plaza. When it came to actually going back to the site of Kennedy’s murder, Carpenter said, “There’s something ghostly in the air.”

Abrams’ story about Franco’s attachment as Jake was just as funny as the one he recalled about King. Franco wanted to produce, and apparently was upset when he heard Abrams had the project.

Said Abrams, “So I wrote him an email, ‘Dear James Franco: I’m sorry I’m producing this, would you like to be part of it?’ Then he became less sorry that I was producing it and came on board and he directed an episode and did a great job.” Franco helmed the fifth episode, “The Truth”.

Unlike a Netflix series which drops all of its episodes at once for an original series, Hulu rolled out each of its eight episodes of 11.22.63 week by week since February 15.

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