Fatal Attraction: Interview with Showrunner Alexandra Cunningham and Executive Producers Silver Tree and Kevin J. Hynes

Fatal Attraction: Interview with Showrunner Alexandra Cunningham and Executive Producers Silver Tree and Kevin J. Hynes

Reevaluating the decisions individuals made in the past while also embracing and better understanding how those choices impact overall society is a vital journey that’s needed to improve people’s mindsets and relationships. That process is prevalent to both the iconic main characters of the acclaimed Fatal Attraction film, as well as the way culture viewed antagonist Alexandra Forrest’s emotional state upon its release in 1987.

The psychological thriller, which received six Oscar nominations, including one for Best Actress for Glenn Close, has now been adapted into an eight-episode television miniseries by Paramount+. Lizzy Caplan takes over the role of Alex on the drama show, which chronicles the events that led to her mysterious death through flashbacks.

Joshua Jackson steps into the role of Daniel Gallagher from Michael Douglas, who starred alongside Close in the movie. In the present day, Jackson’s version of the character, as well as his family and former colleagues, reconsider what really happened in the past that led to Alex’s murder, and if he was truly responsible for her death.

The television series is a deep dive reimagining of the film, through the lens of privilege, personality disorders, family dynamics and murder. The Fatal Attraction show begins in the present day by chronicling how after serving 15 years in prison for Alex’s murder, Daniel is paroled.

Upon his release, Daniel’s determined to reconnecting with his family, especially his daughter, (Alyssa Jirrels), who’s now in her early 20s and is still contending with the emotional trauma of her father being sent to prison. He’s also intent on proving his innocence in Alex’s murder case.

Through flashbacks, the duo is shown to have met in 2008, while they were both working in California’s court system. Dan’s world begins to unravel after they have a brief affair, which ultimately threatens to destroy the life he’s built with his wife, Beth (Amanda Peet), and their young daughter.

Alexandra Cunningham (Dirty John, Chance) serves as writer, showrunner and executive producer on the series alongside executive producer Kevin J. Hynes (Perry Mason), with whom Cunningham developed the project, and executive producers Darryl Frank (The Americans) and Justin Falvey (The Americans) for Amblin Television. Silver Tree also serves as executive producer and directed five episodes of the show.

Cunningham, Tree and Hynes generously took the time recently to participate in a roundtable interview over Zoom. The filmmakers discussed how the movie influenced how they approached producing, scribing, helming and serving as the showrunner on the Fatal Attraction series.

Q: What are the challenges of retelling a story (from a movie) that originally garnered six Academy Award nominations?

AC: The challenges are mentioned in the questions – the film is totally iconic, and had a huge impact on culture. When I try to think about whether I saw the film in a movie theater, I don’t actually know if what I’m remembering is seeing it in the theater, or just the saturation of the film around me at the time in the ‘80s.

The film also has two incredible performances that you want to make sure you’re respecting, while you’re also creating your own version of for the show. We also had to get actors brave enough to the show with that kind of pressure to it.

We also had to make sure to provide respectful answers that you yourself are raising with a reimagining of the story. We were trying to do a deep dive into people’s motives, intentions, psychology and decision-making, while also being as respectful as you can with the new questions that you’re bringing to the project.

Q: What did you love about the film’s story, and how did you also update it for the television series in 2023?

AC: What I love about the story is characters who engage in extreme behavior, and I always want to know why they do the things they do. So to have eight hours to explore a reimagining of this particular extreme behavior, and to illustrate it with everything, was amazing. I’m interested in how people process trauma. So to be able to do all of that right out of the gate was worth it to me.

ST: I feel the same. I think we were all thoroughly entertained by the original film. So none of us wanted to lose sight of entertaining people and everything we loved about the original telling.

But the chance to show this story from a different perspective, since we have the time to stretch it, was really enticing. I was very excited to hear that we would be experiencing similar moments from two people’s point-of-view. Also, I though the non-linear storytelling through the two time periods was one of the most genius things that Alex and Kevin came up with, as it retained the DNA of the original characters, but also turned the story into something totally unique.

KJH: It’s also murder mystery, right? That’s a genre that I love watching on television or streaming. It’s really hard to do those well. The show was hard to write.

AC: When you update iconic IP, it’s important that you feel like you have something new to say that people are ready to hear. The character of Alex Forrest as someone who was presented as needing to be terminated through extreme prejudice, even though Glenn Close embodied someone who was struggling with mental health and struggling to survive. I was interested in exploring how the character really needed help.

In 2023, we’re able to talk about it without the same sigma. I feel like that’s really important, especially after the last few years that we had, and the difficult times we’re still in for so many reasons. So to get to have that conversation through the lens of this character was really satisfying to me.

Q: The show is not only a beautiful tribute to the movie, but is also unique in the fact that its story also explores what happens after the film ends. The series also shows that there’s a reason for what Alex does, and she’s working on it, and and that there’s more to Dan than just being a characteristic man. Why did you make those decisions, particularly in expanding the character development?

AC: Like I said, I like characters who engage in extreme behavior, and try to figure out their motivations behind that kind of decision-making. It’s fantastic as a writer to get to do that. While the movie is still iconic and amazing and we all still love it, as Lizzy says, you can’t watch it the same way today as audiences did in 1987. We bring too much to the experience of it all now…and the brain today can’t watch the movie the same way. It took Lizzy saying that to make me realize that.

While the movie is still entertaining, it now makes you ask questions that it probably didn’t make the original audience ask. One such question is, is this really the first time that Michael Douglas(‘s character) really cheated on his wife?

He seems really good at it. It really didn’t take long from the time it started raining to him asking, “Are we going to do this?” This isn’t a guy whose wife went out of town for the weekend and asks, “Is this really happening?” So you ask, what is cheating in a perfect marriage?

Alex Forrest is a career woman, and at the time. That explains why  she’s portrayed as a woman with a tough job who’s under a lot of stress, which is why she loses her mind.

So there are many opportunities that come up to answer these questions when you rewatch the movie with a mind that’s been cultured by everything we’ve all experiences in the last almost 40 years.

Q: Speaking about showing Alex and the rest of the characters’ more human side, how did you balance their more terrifying aspects, while also showing the more human side that comes with mental health while you were developing the scripts for the show’s episodes?

KJH: Alex and I come from different backgrounds; she’s a talented playwright and then came out here and launched an incredible TV career. My background was being a prosecuting criminal defense attorney for 15 years.

But we both landed on the same idea at the same time when we first met, that there’s no such thing as pure evil or pure good. I think the characters on TV and in movies are portrayed as being puddle deep and pure evil.

So the idea that Alex would be a full character who acts certain ways because of her upbringing and the horrible trauma that she’s had in her life was our attempt to show that there is no such thing as being unfaithful.

Q: Usually when adapting an IP, the new reimagining is usually set during the same time as the original project. Why did you decide not to have the series be set in the 1980s, like in the film, and instead in the present day?

AC: I wanted to have the present attitude towards therapy and the things that we would know about, in terms of what people are going through. We wanted to explore that in part so we could explore Ellen being in therapy as an adult. That was a complicated situation for Alyssa, the amazing actress you plays the young adult version of Ellen. She’s like, I’m in therapy, but I have a lot of things going on, so I’m clearly lying to my therapist. So all of that conversation with Alyssa was fascinating.

Now in 2023, people have more of an empathy of other people’s struggles. Knowing that was a timeline that we wanted to represent, we had to figure out how far in the past we could reasonably put the actual events that are being reacted to.

Q: You have all worked on television series before, including You, Dr. Death and Desperate Housewives. What have you all learned from writing, directing and producing some of your previous projects that you carried over to creating the Fatal Attraction series?

ST: You is a really good example because the character is doing really despicable things, but he’s still incredibly likeable. That taught me so much about how to approach story without judgment. So as a director, I’m never judging the characters in each experience with them on camera.

It’s easy on paper to judge Dan and just decide that he made all of this happen, and also judge Alex in the same way. I think the burden is on the actors to make their characters human who would do these things. I like the example that people aren’t all evil or all good, as well as not being all right or all wrong.

There are many things that Dan does to lead Alex on that make her misread his cues…There’s a scene where she tries to shake his hand and he hugs her instead. In that moment, I would think, I guess I was wrong; he must really want intimacy with me.

Q: Michael and Glenn were obviously very iconic in their roles of Dan and Alex in the film. What was the casting process like for the show, especially for Josh and Lizzy?

AC: I wrote this version of Alex for Lizzy, who I had met before this show. When I met her, I thought, I must find a project that has a part that I can reasonably offer her, and would be interesting enough to attract her.

We’ve all been fans of Josh’s for years. He had just done Dr. Death, and when Kevin and I worked on Dirty John, our producing director and Christian Slater, who starred on the show, went on to Dr. Death. The thing that I took away from Dr. Death was that Josh’s performance was a revelation to me. It made me see him in a whole new light.

He was available, so he met with us, and he was so smart. So we were all very excited that he agreed to star on the show.

The person who probably took the longest to cast was Amanda Peete. I was asking her about other actors who could play Beth because she knows everyone. Then I was like, “Wait, why aren’t you doing it?” I was dumb, so that’s why that role took longer than everyone else.

We were so lucky with this cast because everyone was our first choices. So working with everyone was amazing.

The first three episodes of Fatal Attraction premiere today,  Sunday, April 30 on Paramount+ in the U.S. The remaining episodes of the eight-episode season will be available to stream weekly on Sundays. The final two episodes will be available to stream on Sunday, May 28.

Check out more of Karen Benardello’s articles.

Here’s the trailer of the series.



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