On the same backlot where Alfred Hitchcock shot Psycho, another psychological thriller is being made. This time the heroine isn’t a blonde, but a brunette — specifically, Julia Roberts. An adaptation of the podcast Homecoming, the series — produced by Amazon and Universal Cable Productions and debuting this fall on Amazon Prime Video — finds Roberts playing Heidi, a Homecoming Transition Support Center caseworker who helps recently returned soldier Walter (Shots Fired’s Stephan James) transition to everyday life after deployment. But as the pair get closer, Heidi begins to realize that Homecoming has much more nefarious motives than simply helping these soldiers.
“To me, there’s something about these old-school thrillers,” says Mr. Robot creator Sam Esmail, who executive produces and directs all of Homecoming’s first 10 episodes. “I’m talking about the Hitchcock thrillers where it was just about people and not about CGI. It wasn’t about spectacle, but about flawed people doing flawed things and going down a road you didn’t think you were gonna go down, and being surprised at every turn. That is what we hope this show does.”
The podcast, a radio play created by Eli Horowitz and Micah Bloomberg that featured the voices of Catherine Keener and Oscar Isaac, debuted in November 2016 to critical acclaim and obsessed fans, including Roberts. After UCP optioned the rights, Roberts picked it to be her TV-series debut. “Julia sorta raised her hand,” remembers Esmail. “We set a meeting, we talked, I fanboyed a little bit because I’m a huge Julia Roberts fan, and she came on board.”
Homecoming features a starry cast, including Bobby Cannavale as Heidi’s boss, Colin, and Oscar winner Sissy Spacek as her mother; at its core, though, the series is about the relationship between Heidi and Walter and their therapy scenes.
Esmail was adamant about keeping the therapy scenes simple, but also maintaining the half-hour running time of each episode. Explains Esmail, “I didn’t want to compromise those scenes and add ‘pyrotechnics’ to expand into a one-hour show.” Yet there will be some major twists in store for fans of the source material, including some new characters and a new ending for season 1. (Homecoming was given a two-season order by Amazon.)
“You don’t want to mess up something you made that was working, but, at the same time, you don’t want it to be a bland repetition of the same thing,” explains Bloomberg. Adds Horowitz: “The hope is that even for someone who totally knows the podcast, you’re never going to be sure which things you’re getting or which things are changing.” Sounds a lot like Heidi’s journey.