“Winning the championship wasn’t really the emotional payoff of the story; it was regaining her humanity,” explains “The Queen’s Gambit” executive producer William Horberg in an exclusive interview with Gold Derby about the 1960s-set miniseries (watch the video above). The seven episodes starring Anya Taylor-Joy that Netflix released this fall were adapted by director Scott Frank from the 1983 novel of the same name by the late Walter Tevis.
A two-time Golden Globe Award nominee for producing Best Film Drama nominees “Cold Mountain” and “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” Horberg joined this project “probably about 20 years ago” when it was envisioned as a film. He recounts that Mark Forester (“The Kite Runner”), Frank Oz (“Little Shop of Horrors”), Tom Tykwer (“Run Lola Run”) and actor Heath Ledger were each tentatively attached to direct at various points in development of the failed film version of “The Queen’s Gambit.”
Horberg continues about the screen potential that he recognized in the chess drama’s source material, “It was always a question of balance. It had a very powerful — conventional — sports narrative (underdog triumphs), but the thing that really made it something that I thought had a chance at connecting with a much wider audience was this coming-of-age story and a young girl in a very patriarchal, slightly misogynist culture and dealing with all of her demons and her trauma and finding her way and really overcoming and surviving.”
“A joke that grew into something that was super fun — and beautiful” is how Horberg describes the story of his two additional credits on the show, for acting as piano-playing restaurateur Toby in multiple episodes and writing the original song “I Can’t Remember Love” that is sung by Anna Hauss. Although the scale of the Toby role was written to be that of “an extra,” Horberg made “a whole meal” of it and “created a bio of Toby where he was a Korean war vet and had come home and a drug addict and that he had bought this restaurant.”
The sister of an assistant director, Hauss was originally employed on the show as Marielle Heller‘s hand double, but Horberg learned that she was was a budding musician. “I was totally blown away,” reflects Horberg upon catching a live performance by her that he found reminiscent of Eriykah Badu and Nina Simone. “We got to get her in the show,” he told Frank before setting off to compose “a nice addition to the show” with her that Horberg laughs now “has half a million streams on Spotify.”
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