Tak­ing the trip How di­rec­tor Cary Fuku­naga brought the bonkers premise of new Net­flix show Ma­niac back down to earth

Empire (UK) - - PRE.VIEW - IAN FREER

THE EL­E­MENTS OF Net­flix’s up­com­ing ten-parter Ma­niac are bizarre. TV’S hottest di­rec­tor Cary Fuku­naga (True De­tec­tive, Beasts Of No Na­tion), Os­car win­ners Emma Stone and Sally Field, and Os­car nom­i­nee Jonah Hill have come to­gether to re­make a Nor­we­gian sit­com about a char­ac­ter div­ing into neu­ro­sis. It’s a trippy premise, but Fuku­naga wanted to make sure it felt grounded and spe­cific, both nar­ra­tively and the­mat­i­cally.

“It re­ally comes down to: is there such a thing as nor­mal? says Fuku­naga. “And can you fix your­self?”

The Nor­we­gian orig­i­nal tog­gled be­tween the day-to-day ex­is­tence of a pa­tient in an asy­lum and liv­ing in­side his fan­tasies. Fuku­naga, who de­cided not to watch the orig­i­nal show, was loathe to fol­low the same route. Although the film re­unites Stone and Hill af­ter Su­per­bad, don’t ex­pect an all-out com­edy. “There’s hu­mour in­volved,” says Fuku­naga, “but the aim is not to have you in stitches.” He also wanted there to be a con­crete rai­son d’être for the delu­sions while re­spect­ing the sen­si­tiv­i­ties of mod­ern men­tal health.

“Emma and I de­cided that mak­ing a com­edy about a men­tal hos­pi­tal wouldn’t be very funny in the United States. Given our treat­ment of men­tal health specif­i­cally, there is noth­ing to laugh at there. That was dan­ger­ous ter­ri­tory, so we switched to mak­ing it about a phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal drug trial which then al­lowed a pill-based way into hav­ing delu­sions.”

Set in New York, Ma­niac sees two self-iso­lat­ing peo­ple take the trial. “Jonah’s char­ac­ter comes from a wealthy fam­ily but he is the runt,” says Fuku­naga. “He’s been pooped on his whole life. Emma’s char­ac­ter car­ries a lot of self-loathing. She is self-harm­ing.” Fuku­naga also in­jected an in­ter­nal logic into the trial it­self. Well-versed in the world of psy­cho­anal­y­sis af­ter adapt­ing The Alienist, the di­rec­tor de­fined the trial as “ther­apy in a pill” where the tablets al­low char­ac­ters to con­front their own de­fence mech­a­nisms so the “psychedelics can go into your brain and po­ten­tially re­wire your­self”.

Fuku­naga has not been afraid to put his own hang-ups on the screen, ad­mit­ting the show “has some early Woody Allen-es­que neu­roses — two peo­ple who are over-think­ing a lot”. But Fuku­naga doesn’t want laughs to sub­vert Ma­niac’s com­pas­sion­ate all-en­com­pass­ing ap­proach to treat­ing men­tal ill­ness.

“It’s about a way you can cure through com­mu­nity, con­nec­tion and ac­cept­ing who you are,” he says. It might make Ma­niac a pill ev­ery­one needs to swal­low.

MA­NIAC SEA­SON 1 IS ON NET­FLIX FROM 21 SEPTEM­BER

Em­pire spoke to Cary Fuku­naga on 3 July, while he took a break from Ma­niac’s fi­nal sound mix. Jonah Hill and Emma Stone are re­united play­ing the role of in­mates in a psy­chi­atric in­sti­tu­tion.

Top: Stone on set with di­rec­tor Cary Fuku­naga. Above: Emma is put on trial.

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