“The great thing [about the limited series] is that it gives you time to tell the story,” reveals Colin Callender, who serves as executive producer of two recent television adaptations of literary classics: “Howards End” and “Little Women.” In our recent interview (watch the exclusive video above) the Emmy and Tony-winning producer explains that although both works had already been successfully adapted for the big screen, having the ability to explore the characters in greater detail over a number of episodes “is a great luxury for a dramatist.”
In recreating a “Howards End” for a contemporary audience, Callender sought out Oscar-winning screenwriter and playwright Kenneth Lonergan (“Manchester by the Sea”) to adapt E.M. Forster‘s acclaimed novel. Callender explains that Lonergan brought “a sort of modern energy and wit to the writing, which is true to [the original novel] but nonetheless, makes it feel fresh and of-the-moment rather than a dusty period piece.” Callender insists that their goal was not to do a “pale imitation” of the Oscar-winning Merchant-Ivory film adaptation, and praises the show’s lead actors Matthew Macfadyen and Hayley Atwell, about whose performance Callender exclaims, “If ever there was a performance that was Emmy-worthy, this is one of those performances. It’s just breathtaking.”
With “Little Women”– which aired as a Christmas special in the U.K. — Callender highlights the casting, both of Maya Hawke (daughter of Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke) in her screen debut as Jo March, and of the legendary Angela Lansbury as the temperamental Aunt Josephine. Callender talks about Lansbury’s unfortunate track record at the Emmys, where she holds the record of most nominations without a win. But Callender adds, “We’re going to try to correct that and see whether we can help her this time around.”
Callender believes that both works have a cultural relevance and a timeliness that he never could have predicted. Callender explains, “This notion of young women navigating the challenges of a male-dominated world is right at the core of the drama, and of course, that couldn’t be more current or sadly, more front page.”
On the issue of the increasing presence of streaming services, Callender, who also served as president of HBO Films from 1999 to 2008, sees the expansion as a positive opportunity. For audiences, it means that “more niche programming can reach a wider audience.” For artists, Callender thinks that there are more opportunities “and that is genuinely very exciting.”
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