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SYFY WIRE Lisey's Story

J.J. Abrams on Lisey's Story and why Stephen King adaptations are booming right now

By Matthew Jackson

We're in the middle of a boom of fresh Stephen King adaptations right now, and J.J. Abrams has been a key figure in making that happen. Through his Bad Robot production company, Abrams has helped deliver a miniseries adaptation of King's sprawling novel 11/22/63 and the Stephen King pastiche/homage series Castle Rock, and he's also at work developing future projects like a series set in The Shining's Overlook Hotel. Then, there's Lisey's Story.

Even among the many other King adaptations that have recently emerged or are set to arrive in the near future, the Apple TV+ series based on King's 2006 novel feels especially important, because King himself has said so. He counts Lisey's Story among his personal favorite works, and holds it so dear that he took it upon himself to script all eight episodes of the miniseries for director Pablo Larrain (Jackie).

Those personal stakes from King's end of the story meant Lisey's Story demanded an all-star cast, and it got one. Abrams, Larrain, King, and company found no less a collaborator than Oscar winner Julianne Moore to sign on for the title role of Lisey Landon, the wife of a novelist (Clive Owen) who finds he's left her one last set of clues to his past and his strange gifts after his death. As Lisey, Moore (who also serves as an executive producer on the series) has to navigate not just a woman's various stages of grief, but a journey through an entire relationship, from early courtship to marriage and beyond. That intense emotional experience, alongside Lisey's journey as a sister and as a steward of her husband's work and legacy, presents a challenge for any actress, but according to Abrams, Moore seemed especially up to the task.

"I think that one of the things about Julianne Moore that's so remarkable is her ability to convince you that she is all the people that she has played," Abrams told SYFY WIRE. "And I don't know how she does it, and it's sort of, in a way, asking the question how does Stephen King write all that he does without outlining, just doing it? Clearly, we're talking about a couple of people who were born to do the things that they're doing, and so I don't quite know how she does the work she does but I know that, as a character, Lisey, from the beginning, was going to be someone who would need to be able to do everything and go through the horror and agony and pain and trauma and difficulty that the character goes through and still be relatable and rootable and someone that we feel that we are. She takes us through her story. She's a great place to start talking about Lisey's Story because she just does an incredible job bringing this character to the screen."

Like most King novels, there was interest in adapting Lisey's Story to the screen from more or less the moment it was published, and for a while it seemed destined for a film adaptation. Then, King himself began lobbying for a more long-form adaptation via a streaming service, which ultimately arrived in the form of a deal with Apple for a miniseries. For Abrams, who's been in the King adaptation game for several years now, it's not just that the series is arriving at a particularly potent time for King adaptations in general that explains its relevance. Yes, we're in the middle of a King boom, but with the added context of the times in which it's being released, Lisey's Story feels especially potent.

"Obviously it's hard to talk about any experience at all, certainly any entertainment that we see without considering the context in which it is experienced. And given everything that we've been through, there's no one I can think of in modern times that has written about and examined the frailty of the human condition, the threats that abound in all forms more than King," Abrams said. "And I think that his story, this story [is about] trauma, of investigating the life that you've lived, a story of family, a story of loss and of hope, ultimately.

"And, of course, because it's Stephen King, having the story go to a place that is a bit supernatural and a bit wild and out there, as certainly Lisey's Story does, it feels like, in a way, we've all been through a version of that in this certainly last year or so," he continued. "I feel like he's a brilliant creator and I think he's evergreen. His stories will last and last the way great authors' stories do. And I think it's always nice to see great adaptations of his work, but the fact that he wrote every script for Lisey's is really not just a testament to how much he cares about this project, but I think with Pablo Lorrain directing and Stephen writing, it really speaks to the quality of the work that attracted the cast to it."

Lisey's Story premieres on Friday on Apple TV+.