Interview: ‘11.22.63’ Showrunner Bridget Carpenter on J.J. Abrams’ Advice and Stephen King Easter Eggs
Posted on Monday, February 15th, 2016 by Fred Topel
Just in time for President’s Day, Hulu brings us a time travel series about trying to prevent the Kennedy assassination. Based on the Stephen King book, 11.22.63 stars James Franco as Jake, a modern man who discovers a portal to 1960 in the back of his local diner. With a three-year head start in the past, Jake goes back and tries to stop Lee Harvey Oswald from killing John F. Kennedy.
In January we got to sit down with 11.22.63 showrunner Bridget Carpenter to talk in-depth about the J.J. Abrams-produced time travel drama. New episodes of the eight-part series go live Mondays on Hulu. Carpenter is also adapting Freaky Friday as a stage musical for Disney.
Stephen King material does really well as a miniseries, like It and The Stand, even Under the Dome. Was that instrumental in giving you guys the confidence or clout to take 11.22.63 out as a miniseries?
You know, I am going to confess that I have seen none of those. I saw It many years ago and I loved it. It was frightening but I have not seen The Stand. I didn’t see Under the Dome so I have nothing to compare it to in that way. I would say that I just have confidence, and I think everybody just had confidence in the material period. I think that they would have been open to making it open-ended, but I think that the story has such a definitive ending, I thought it would be most satisfying dramatically to go, “and we are done.”
Having done it, can you reflect on why Stephen King works so well as a miniseries?
I would say that it is the depth of his character work, his characters and the worlds that he creates are worlds you want to live in. There’s something about the characters that are singular. You sit up and lean into them. You also feel a recognition to them and almost a kinship. So I think he has that kind of great trick that great writers have and he has in such a particular way. It’s both a recognition and this is something new, so you want to keep knowing more about them. I just think it’s character and world. When you want to live in a world, you want to live in it for longer than an hour and a half.
I have not read this book. Does King present any new JFK theories?
I envy you. No, his book and our story centers really on the question of Oswald. So kind of elide by some moments. We kind of glance at the acknowledgement that there could be many things going on, but Jake’s mission is to dig into Oswald and whether he did in fact act alone. That’s the focus, so no, it isn’t a multi-conspiracy and that would’ve been really great, but I think we might’ve needed 10 more hours. I love the focus and drive of looking at this singular because then it allows one actor to do really incredible character work as well.
Is Oswald’s mother a character on the show?
Yes, and she’s played by the great Cherry Jones. She is a riveting character.
Does it explain why the closet exists?
No. The book doesn’t and we decided not to either.
Isn’t that a great thing to just say “there’s a time traveling closet, because it’s awesome?”
Yeah, it is. To go, “That’s what begins the story/and thus our story begins.” It’s like saying, “Once upon a time, there was a cat in that kingdom.” You don’t go, “This is why the kingdom was there.” You take it on faith. Stephen King has a very classic “once upon a time, there was a time portal.” It’s right there and that begins the story.
Were his time travel rules pretty solidly established?
Yes, very simple, which I loved. It’s the two-minute rule, which is no matter how much time you spend in the past, only two minutes have passed here. And if you want the changes to be permanent, you must never go back again. But if you want to undo what you have done, you go through again. So if you want to make a lasting change, you have to only do it once.
Does Jake ever take a do over?
In the book he does. I’m going to refrain from answering that for the series.