Netflix is developing a miniseries based on John Steinbeck’s massive 700-page novel “East of Eden,” as reported on Tuesday. Florence Pugh is the first cast member announced, though it is unclear who she’ll be playing. (Will a modern spin change the story—a California tale loosely based on the Biblical trope of Cain and Abel—into the story of two sisters? Crazier things have happened!)
The most exciting news, however, is how this production is “keeping it in the family,” so to speak. Zoe Kazan has been announced as writer and executive producer. Her grandfather, the legendary Elia Kazan, directed the 1955 adaptation starring James Dean, Raymond Massey, Julie Harris, Burl Ives, and Jo Van Fleet, who won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. Kazan was nominated for Best Director, Paul Osborn was nominated for Best Screenplay, and Dean was nominated for Best Actor, posthumously.
Zoe Kazan’s last outing as a writer was an adaptation of a Richard Ford novel into the Sundance hit “Wildlife,” which made the rare leap from a select-cities release to the Criterion Collection. It was directed by her longtime partner, Paul Dano, and it starred Jake Gyllenhaal, Carey Mulligan, and Bill Camp. Prior to that, she wrote the screenplay for “Ruby Sparks.”
As an actress, recent work has included “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs,” “The Big Sick,” and the HBO series “The Plot Against America,” based on Philip Roth’s dark alternative reality historical novel. During a press event for that series, Kazan spoke, for the first time, about her relationship with her family’s history.
“I have not wanted to weigh in on my family’s political history, partially because of the other people it involves in my family who have prized their privacy over a public life,” she said. “So, I’m not going to go into it, but I will say that I thought a lot about how the history of our country affected my family’s history and what it meant for my grandfather, as an immigrant to this country, as his American-ness was tested, and the choices he made from that. It was a profound experience to work on this, personally, politically, and artistically.” She then quoted John Steinbeck’s use of the Hebrew word “timshel”—“thou mayest”—from, of all things, “East of Eden,” as a way to discuss generational, progressive change.
Elia Kazan, whose string of masterpieces include “A Streetcar Named Desire,” “On The Waterfront,” “America, America” “Splendor in the Grass,” “A Face in the Crowd” and more (it really is quite a resume!) was a Greco-Turkish immigrant who provided witness testimony to the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1952. At the time, this could have been considered as an act of patriotism for his adoptive country, or an act of betrayal against friends and fellow artists, depending on your point of view. The controversy around the incident grew as years went on, and at the 1999 Oscars, when he was awarded a Special Lifetime Achievement prize, many refused to applaud.
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