11.22.63: James Franco says playing a time-traveler is 'discombobulating'
Stephen King's best-seller gets a haunting small-screen treatment in the upcoming miniseries
Don’t let Stephen King’s name fool you: The eight-part miniseries 11.22.63 may be adapted from the horror master’s 2011 best-seller, but the story about a down-on-his-luck English teacher tasked with time-traveling to prevent the assassination of President John F. Kennedy isn’t exactly terrifying.
Not at first, anyway. When Jake (James Franco) leaves the present for the past through a portal in his friend Al’s (Chris Cooper) diner, he arrives in 1960 (not 1958, one of many tweaks from the book approved by King, who serves as an executive producer). Jake’s not yet too concerned with Lee Harvey Oswald (Daniel Webber), who’s still years away from plotting his fateful shots. He has time to settle down, upgrade his wardrobe, and, most important, fall for a young librarian named Sadie (Sarah Gadon) and the optimistic era she represents. “Honestly, this is a love story dressed in the coat of a spy thriller,” exec producer Bridget Carpenter tells EW. “It’s a man falling in love with not just the woman he meets in the ’60s, but the ’60s itself.”
But as time travelers tend to learn, time flies — and history doesn’t like to be changed. As Jake prepares for 1963, the scary starts happening — he dodges threatening obstacles like car crashes and freak fires that keep him from tracking Oswald; plus, he has to make sense of a world in which he doesn’t belong, a feeling Franco says he understands. “It’s discombobulating,” he says of playing a time-traveler. “Jake has to pretend he’s not from the future, so he’s performing. He’s doing what I do for a living.”
The detailed sets helped make pretending easier for the actor. Production aimed to make the past look alive by finding era-appropriate costumes that showed wear and tear and by using historical footage of the Kennedys in place of casting look-alikes. “I wanted not to feel like I was looking at the pages of a magazine from 1960,” Carpenter explains, “but to feel like I was surrounded by 1960.”
Still, nailing the look while also untangling storylines (and timelines) made for an intimidating writers’ room. “It looked like A Beautiful Mind,” Carpenter recalls, laughing. “There were cards packed on every single bulletin board, and some tucked into corners.”
RELATED VIDEO: James Franco tries to rewrite history in ‘11.22.63’ teaser
Even more packed was Franco’s schedule. He found time to direct an episode, though he originally wanted to do even more, having asked King after reading the novel if he could work on bringing the story to screen. But by then, J.J. Abrams was already on the job as EP. “I said, ‘Well, there’s no way I’m gonna outbid J.J. Abrams,’ ” Franco says, laughing. Luckily, he didn’t totally lose out. “Weeks later, J.J. emailed and said, ‘I think you’d be great as the lead.'”
11.22.63 hits Hulu on Feb. 15.