Released in 2004, the late Philip Roth’s novel The Plot Against America imagines an alternate history where aviator-hero and xenophobic populist Charles Lindbergh became president in 1940 and turned the United States toward fascism. The book instantly left The Wire creator David Simon intrigued, but he didn’t feel it was “relevant to our time,” so he initially turned down HBO’s request to adapt the material as a miniseries. “It was right after Obama had been reelected and I said, ‘I don’t see it,’” he recalls. “Then, [with] what’s happened politically in the last few years — not only in America, but throughout the West — in terms of this dissonance, almost fact-based political realities and demagoguery in the rise of the angry nationalists and populists, the very guts of what Roth was writing about suddenly seemed conceivable.”
Premiering March 16, the six-episode HBO miniseries, which EW has the exclusive first look from, shows a “dry run of American fascism” through the eyes of a working-class Jewish family in New Jersey, which includes father Herman (Homeland’s Morgan Spector) mother-homemaker Bess (The Deuce’s Zoe Kazan), and her unmarried older sister Evelyn (Stranger Things’ Winona Ryder), with the latter becoming romantically involved with a key — and surprising — Lindbergh supporter, Rabbi Lionel Bengelsdorf (The Night Of’s John Turturro).
“He’s a person who thinks he can negotiate both sides, which a lot of people have throughout history,” says Turturro, who years earlier was recruited by Roth for a live reading of the book. “He’s pushing to assimilate the Jewish population into more mainstream America, and [Evelyn] comes over to the side that I represent.” This brings the couple into “incredible conflict,” adds Simon, “not only in their own community, but in their own family.”
By “tapping into something very real” with the “ever-timely matter,” Turturro, a former substitute history teacher, hopes lessons can be learned from Plot. “History always repeats itself, unfortunately,” he says. “This is interesting because it’s showing you the past with connections to the present — what could have been, and what could be.”