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SYFY WIRE The Peripheral

Jonathan Nolan and Vincenzo Natali reveal how William Gibson collaborated on 'The Peripheral'

William Gibson not only inspired the Prime Video series, The Peripheral, he also suggested changes from book to screen.

By Tara Bennett
The Peripheral

If you know the work of speculative fiction writer, William Gibson, then you know he's the guy who predicted in his prose so much of the tech and media that we have integrated into our lives today. From the internet (which he called the matrix), to the ubiquitous nature of reality TV, Gibson wrote about it and then watched it come to fruition. However, not much of his back catalog has officially been adapted to film or series, which makes Prime Video's series, The Peripheral, out of the ordinary.

The series, from showrunner Scott Smith (A Simple Plan), boasts Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy (Westworld) as executive producers, along with Vincenzo Natali (Hannibal), and is an adaptation of Gibson's 2014 book of the same name. It is set across two timelines in the near futures of 2032 and 2070, revealing that humanity has further integrated technology into all levels of society, but has cumulatively suffered for the ignorance of our environmental choices. Chloë Grace Moretz plays Flynne Fisher, a rural American young woman that is an expert at VR gaming who is conscripted by humanity in the future to help them find a potentially dangerous woman known as Aelita (Charlotte Riley). 

In an interview with SYFY WIRE, Jonathan Nolan explains that it was Vincenzo Natali who brought the book to their production studio, Kilter Films, for a possible adaptation. Considering they've consistently developed series and films that address the intersection of humanity and technology, Nolan admits it was a no-brainer from the start.

"Vincenzo had interacted with and become friends with William Gibson over the years. And he, as many of us have been, fascinated by and kind of obsessed with the idea of bringing his beautifully layered and realized worlds onto the screen.  It really hasn't been done enough," Nolan explains. "Here's a guy who kind of invented the world we live in and we've rarely gotten to see his world."

Natali says Gibson was not precious about the adaptation specifics of how to turn The Peripheral into a series.

"I've read some of his adaptations of his own work and he changes it radically," Natali says. "He loves what Jonathan and Lisa have done, and we've had this long-standing relationship, so I think he had a lot of confidence in the group. But never was possessive. If anything, he was inspiring and threw some of the more interesting new ideas that are not in the books at us that eventually were incorporated in the show. It's a very comfortable space to work in, because he makes it a safe space to adapt the work. And as we all know, when you adapt a book, you're not making a book, you're making a movie, and it requires reinterpretation. But what I'm most excited about in this series is that I do feel like the flavor of his writing has made it to the screen."

While the series does take some creative liberties, especially with the Aelita character, The Peripheral retains the time travel spine of the story placing Flynne in two times as she tries to help the future from the past. "It was so interesting to watch [Jonathan and Lisa] approach how to adapt the material because there is a lot going on, but they immediately focused on Flynn's journey," Natali reveals. And even though the show's focus is bifurcated between Flynne and Wilf (Gary Carr), who exists in future London, evenly, Natali says they knew how important it was to make sure the audience connects with Flynne in this first season.

"It's a journey that feels so relevant to this moment, because let's face it, like Flynn, we do not know what the future holds for us," Natali says. "It's clear that we are at some kind of transitional point and it's frightening, not only to think about what's ahead for us, but how do we respond to it? How do we present our best selves to that future? Or is it going to bring out our worst selves? All those things that Flynne is facing in the near future, presented by Gibson, I think are very much about where we are at this moment."

Nolan adds that Flynne's story is also one that takes into account middle and rural America which makes the story relatable in that context as well.

"We know Flynne. We know the community that she comes from," he says. "Many of us came from places like this, the parts of America that are being gently left behind. With that access point for the audience, we felt we'd cracked the code on how you could find your way into one of Gibson's universes. The amazing Chloe Grace Moretz is there, essentially, to travel with you into that world. And then we paired Vincenzo was Scott Smith, with whom we've long wanted to work. And sat back and watch the sparks fly."

The Peripheral debuts Oct 21 on Prime Video. New episodes premiere weekly.

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