‘Maid’ producer and director John Wells on subverting the ‘obvious melodramatic tropes’ in stories of poverty and abuse [Exclusive Video Interview]

Maid” is told entirely from “the lead character Alex’s point of view,” explains director and executive producer John Wells. “So what we’re really talking about is how to do it very naturalistically and how to make certain that the audience always remained inside of the experience that Alex was having with her child.” Watch our exclusive video interview with Wells above.

Inspired by “Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive,” a memoir by Stephanie Land, the Netflix limited series tells the story of Alex (Margaret Qualley), who takes the title job to support herself and her daughter after leaving an abusive relationship. Because the show’s POV is so tightly focused on Alex, “there’s very little observational. We’re not stepping back from things, we’re in very close with her a lot. And we worked on a visual style with Quyen Tran, who was the cinematographer … to make certain that we just felt the intimacy of the relationship.”

But despite the emotional intensity of the material, Wells and showrunner Molly Smith Metzler didn’t want to just inundate the audience with one-dimensional suffering. “Molly came up with a wonderful term for it, which is ‘knocking the NPR off of it’ so that it didn’t seem earnest,” Wells says. “It was a constant tonal issue we were always talking about in each scene. How earnest is the scene? How dramatic is the scene? What’s the subtext of the scene? How do we play away from the obvious melodramatic tropes that would happen?”

A veteran of television with credits from “ER” and “The West Wing” to “Animal Kingdom” and “Shameless,” Wells marvels at how the expansion of TV viewing options and outlets has “opened up to the point where we can tell stories about all different kinds of people and experiences. And I think the audience now is attuned to wanting those things … By getting a chance to see things and understand people’s experiences that aren’t your own experience, we can influence people’s attitudes towards things they might be afraid of or not know about.”

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