Nick Hornby’s 1995 book/ pop music love letter High Fidelity is the Energizer bunny of adaptations. In 2000 it was transformed into a hit film starring John Cusack and Jack Black. A charming, but short-lived musical starring Will Chase (Smash, Nashville) hit Broadway in 2006. The latest iteration is a TV take starring Zoë Kravitz (Big Little Lies) as the lovelorn, top-five list-making record-store owner Rob.
“Any time we pitched it, people were like, ‘Yes, oh my God, that makes so much sense!’” says executive producer Sarah Kucserka of gender-flipping the character, a move she and co-creator Veronica West fantasized about for years. “To have this kind of a woman, not to mention a woman of color, that we don’t see very often on screen felt like we got to reimagine and refresh the idea in a whole new way.”
The original novel was set in London and the film transposed the action to Cusack’s beloved Chicago. The Hulu series — all 10 episodes of which drop, fittingly, on Valentine’s Day — is set, as the musical was, in a gentrifying Brooklyn as Rob ruminates over her romantic wreckage — including her Top 5 Break-ups — while running a struggling a record store with pals Simon (David Holmes) and Cherise (played by Dolemite Is My Name scene-stealer Da’Vine Joy Randolph.)
Kucserka recently chatted with EW about developing the show and shared her own Top 5 list. “This book is all of us,” she said of the universal themes of the story. “There’s a line in the book like ‘We’re all cynics and romantics, sometimes simultaneously.’ And it is so true.”
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Why was Zoë the right person for this?
SARAH KUCSERKA: How long do you have? [Laughs] She exudes cool and exudes such a raw aura, to me, of somebody who you know has great opinions and great taste. Truly, she is the only person we sat down with on this project. I have a notebook still somewhere when we were making a casting [list], her name is at the top with three question marks of like “Would she ever do this?” There’s so much personal connection obviously that she has with her mother [Lisa Bonet] being in the film but, to me, she just screamed the kind of person that would own a record shop and sit there and want to talk about music all day and find joy and love and happiness in all of that pop culture world.
Getting Da’Vine feels like a coup since she’s really having a moment after breaking out in Dolemite.
Obviously, for the role of Cherise, we had to find the perfect person. We were seeing people and none of them felt special. They were either doing too much of [an impersonation of] the Jack Black [film] character, or they weren’t finding a way to personalize it. We were sent her tape and I would say 30 seconds later I was like furious texting, emailing, “You have to watch this!” We all watched it and were like, “Oh my God, this is it, we have to get her now. She’s perfect.” This was before Dolemite. She is just somebody that can do so many things. She is wickedly hilarious. She is vulnerable in ways that are authentic and then she has these moments of bluster where underneath you can see all this bluster is hiding something deeper underneath.
What was behind the choice to make the Simon character a previous Rob boyfriend who eventually came out of the closet?
I will be totally honest with you, every single one of the top five break-ups is based on either something that happened to myself or happened to Veronica, and I had a Simon. And so it was so easy to say, “Here is somebody that you have a romantic thing with and then they tell you their truth and you still have so much of a bond that whatever was there shifts into a friendship, which is likely what it was all along.
Clearly, you are all fans of both the book and the film and respectful of the story structure. But how important was it to you to update it for 2020?
When Veronica and I set out to do this project, we thought, we can not just rehash the book, we have to step into the 21st century, so who are these people in 2020? How do we remain true to what’s in the source material, but give them a different face, a different voice, a different identity and, make it interesting and fresh and new? The hardest part was that the book is a story about a couple that breaks up and then finds their way back together and we needed to make that world bigger. And you have that nugget in the show but there’s so much more that we wanted to add on so that we could go for years and years with it.
Do you envision more seasons if Hulu is up for it?
I hope. We absolutely pitched out an arc that would take us over the course of several years.
I keep having this fantasy that in the last one, Lisa Bonet is going to show up as her movie character and be related to Rob somehow.
Trust me. I was like, there is absolutely a world where that could happen. But we’ve talked about “If any of those characters from the movie could come and play in our world, which ones would it be?” I’m not going to spoil it because if it happens, I’d love it to be a surprise. But I think that we wanted to make sure that our Rob was enough on her own that she didn’t feel like she needed to spin out of the movie world.
We do have some amazing guest stars in the course of this season, though.I don’t want to spoil it, but in the book and the movie there’s the concept of the “Bruce Springsteen Oracle” moment with Rob and the real Bruce Springsteen and we have our own version of that on the show. And then there is episode 5, that Zoë and her writing partner co-wrote and Parker Posey is in it.
I can’t let you go without forcing you to make a top five list of some kind.
[Laughter leads to brainstorming various ideas] Okay, the Top 5 Things That Influenced High Fidelity. No. 5: Empire Records. No. 4: Reality Bites. No. 3: Stevie Wonder’s Talking Book. No. 2: David Bowie’s The Man Who Sold the World. And No. 1: Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity.
Have you heard any feedback from Nick?
In the very opening of our show, there’s a moment between Zoë and Jake Lacy’s character [potential love interest] Clyde in a dive bar where they’re having their first date and there is a whole musical rant that Zoë goes on in that scene about Fleetwood Mac, which was very much influenced by Mr. Hornby and it’s a thank you to him for everything that he gave us.
He and Zoë have struck up a very nice friendship and it has been just a treat to hear his reaction. She texted me on Thanksgiving that he had watched the pilot and was happy with it and I almost died.
High Fidelity debuts Feb. 16 on Hulu.