Stephen King’s JFK thriller tries to right one of his­tory’s wrongs 11.22.63

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No, we haven’t gone ran­dom num­bers crazy – it’s the new TV adap of the Stephen King book!

Stephen King has scared the hee­bie- jee­bies out of mil­lions of read­ers for over 40 years and is still go­ing strong. How­ever, the Mas­ter of Hor­ror took a de­tour into SF ter­ri­tory with 11. 22.63. The novel finds time trav­eller Jake Ep­ping on a mis­sion to stop Lee Har­vey Oswald from as­sas­si­nat­ing Pres­i­dent John F Kennedy. What Jake doesn’t re­alise, how­ever, is the dev­as­tat­ing rip­ple ef­fect his mis­sion might have on the fu­ture. Now, Hulu has turned King’s thriller into 11. 22.63, a nine- episode TV se­ries.

It has this scale of Homeric Odyssey, but the main char­ac­ter is a teacher

“I had read the book be­fore Bad Ro­bot asked if I wanted to come in and talk about how I might adapt this,” ex­plains ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer Brid­get Car­pen­ter. “I knew the book and how in­cred­i­bly epic it was. It’s such a great jour­ney. It does have this scale of Homeric Odyssey, but the main char­ac­ter is a teacher.

“You have a very Stephen King uni­verse, where you can step into a closet and fall back to 1960,” Car­pen­ter con­tin­ues. “There are spooky el­e­ments, but it’s grounded. There are char­ac­ters that you know and recog­nise and that you fall in love with. There’s a depth of char­ac­ter, and a lot go­ing on.”

Any­body fa­mil­iar with King’s body of work will know that his sagas tend to be­gin and end with con­flicted char­ac­ters. In 11. 22.63, English teacher Jake Ep­ping’s ( James Franco) life is in a rut be­fore he stum­bles across a por­tal that can trans­port him back to the ’ 60s.

“We find Jake at a road in his life and he doesn’t know where he is on it,” says Car­pen­ter. “He just signed some di­vorce pa­pers with his wife. He’s a de­voted teacher, but his stu­dents are list­less. An adult ed­u­ca­tion stu­dent that he cares about asks him to write a rec­om­men­da­tion so he can be a head jan­i­tor. Jake can’t even get that to hap­pen. He’s sort of won­der­ing what his life is about. At that mo­ment in time, his clos­est friend, Al Tem­ple­ton ( Chris Cooper), shows him a closet in Al’s diner that when you walk into it, in­ex­pli­ca­bly brings you back into the past.”

rules of the road

The “rules” of time travel vary from au­thor to au­thor, but most agree that the past can­not be changed with­out po­ten­tially screw­ing up the fu­ture. King also put his own unique spin on the me­chan­ics of leap­ing back­wards in time.

“King’s rules are very sim­ple,” of­fers Car­pen­ter. “Once you go through the time por­tal, which hap­pens to be a pantry closet at the diner, ev­ery day you get there it’s 23 Oc­to­ber 1960. No matter how long you stay, time passes there as it nor­mally does. And, whether you stay two min­utes or two weeks or two years, if you go back through the rab­bit hole, only two min­utes has passed in the present day.

“The third rule is if you re­turn through the rab­bit hole, once again it’s like you have re­set the world,” adds Car­pen­ter. “It’s Oc­to­ber 1960 again. None of the stuff you did has hap­pened. There’s a Ground­hog Day as­pect to it. It’s a new day. Noth­ing you have done has had any con­se­quences. So, if you want your ac­tion to have per­ma­nent con­se­quences, you can­not re­turn through the rab­bit hole.”

11. 22.63 fea­tures Franco, a busy ac­tor usu­ally associated with films rather than tele­vi­sion. As it turns out, he was in­ter­ested in the ma­te­rial at a very early stage.

“James had tried to op­tion the book him­self,” ex­plains Car­pen­ter. “He wanted to di­rect it. Cer­tainly, he loved the story. Then, he found out JJ Abrams had op­tioned it. Then, he tweeted some­thing like, ‘ Oh, man. Some guys get all the fun.’ We saw that tweet and we were like, ‘ JJ, call him.’ They started talk­ing. Then, he and I met. He jumped in. What ap­pealed to him was he loved the idea of play­ing an ev­ery­man. Jake is a fel­low who had quiet hopes and dreams, but then is called upon to do some­thing pos­si­bly ex­tra­or­di­nary.”

There’s a high cost to sav­ing the Pres­i­dent from Oswald ( Daniel Web­ber), and Jake faces many twists, turns and co­nun­drums along the way. In ad­di­tion, com­pelling sci­ence fic­tion of­ten pro­vides a can­vas for larger themes, and 11. 22.63 is no ex­cep­tion.

“There are two mes­sages to this story,” con­cludes Car­pen­ter. “I know that Stephen King be­lieves this, which is ‘ Love is stronger than hate.’ And, I be­lieve that ‘ Ac­tions have con­se­quences.’ For me, I re­ally ap­pre­ci­ated the con­sid­er­able vi­o­lence that was in this story. Not be­cause it’s gra­tu­itous, but be­cause it mat­ters. There’s no act of vi­o­lence that didn’t matter. What you do mat­ters and I loved that.”

11. 22.63 airs on Hulu in the US from 15 Fe­bru­ary, with a UK air­date TBC.

If you travel back to the ’ 60s, you have to get one of those hats. It’s a rule. That’s why they’re called the Swing­ing ’ 60s.

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