Screen After Reading: Go behind the scenes of book adaptations like Anatomy of a Scandal
Ever wonder how your favorite books get turned into movies and TV series?
EW's new podcast Screen After Reading is here to take you behind the scenes of the adaptation process.
The art of adaptation has a long history, and it's even got its own award category at the Oscars. But how do you break down an inherently internal medium and make it visual, compelling, and vibrant?
EW senior writer Maureen Lee Lenker will take us behind the scenes of some of the year's biggest screen adaptations and talk to the people who made them — the cast, the writers, directors, and of course the novelists themselves. Titles include Anatomy of a Scandal, The Time Traveler's Wife, Along for the Ride, and more.
Episode 1, which debuted Wednesday, delves into the making of Netflix's Anatomy of a Scandal, based on the novel by Sarah Vaughan. To get the inside scoop, we sat down with Vaughan; director S.J. Clarkson; co-creator and writer Melissa James Gibson; producers Liza Chasin and Bruna Papandrea; and actors Sienna Miller, Michelle Dockery, Rupert Friend, and Naomi Scott.
Anatomy of a Scandal, which debuted April 15, follows the trial of James Whitehouse (Friend), a member of the British Parliament who is accused of rape by his former mistress and colleague, Olivia (Scott). As Kate Woodcroft (Dockery) builds her case against Whitehouse, James' wife, Sophie (Miller), starts to wonder who she's really married to — and suspect a connection between Kate and a girl she once knew.
"I've done two or three or four of these adaptations now where you understand that this is someone's baby, and you have this responsibility to take this story and retell that story and reimagine it, but it's going to have to change and evolve on the screen," Clarkson says. "You can't get everything in it. And some of those details in the book that are very precious might not make it."
For Vaughan, it was the first time any of her writing was adapted for the screen, but she immediately felt a kinship and a trust with Clarkson overseeing the six episodes. "You were really clear that this wasn't about the scandal of rape so much as the scandal of entitlement," she tells Clarkson. "It was a light bulb. 'Oh, she really gets it.' You articulated it in a way that I hadn't, actually, and your vision for it was so clear from that. And it was fascinating for me because I was completely green."
Gibson, who created the series with legendary showrunner David E. Kelley, says they considered moving the setting to the U.S. but decided that the story's commentary on class and privilege seemed so distinctly British that it wouldn't work anywhere else.
For Gibson, her immediate draw to the material came via the complex relationships between the women at its center. "When you're approaching adaptation, you have to find your own connection," she says. "The connection between the two female leads felt really important to me. That was my way into the story. There's an implicit connection between the two characters. I almost imagine from the get-go this visible tether between them across the episodes that in a way they were psychically having a conversation underneath the storytelling as it unfolds because of their history, even if they weren't acknowledging it. That was something I felt ripe for mining."
Personal connection is key for making any series or film, but it's even more essential when interpolating an author's work into a new medium. Miller had perhaps the most intensely intimate connection to the story of the entire cast, in the ways in which her character's struggle to make sense of her husband's very public infidelity mirrors her own past.
"The most challenging part was probably the discomfort of sitting in the memory of moments that felt somewhat familiar," she says. "When I was younger and became well known — that idea of something's about to come out that's intensely personal and there's nothing you can do to stop it. The train has left the station, and everybody is about to know something you'd maybe have told three people. That's a horrible feeling. It was really interesting to step into that space, but also it wasn't that pleasant to revisit that."
Listen to the first episode of Screen After Reading below for more from the team behind Anatomy of a Scandal.
Check out more from EW's Screen After Reading, featuring exclusive interviews, analysis, and more as we dive into the art of bringing books to the screen.