Amazon Prime’s new conspiracy thriller Utopia is inspired by the popular British TV series of the same name. It was written by Dennis Kelly and premiered in the UK in 2013.
The updated version spotlights a group of comic book fans who meet online and bond over a graphic novel called Utopia. They soon realize the threats predicted in it are coming true in their world, including a pandemic.
Writer and Executive Producer, Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl), has reworked the story, adding the character of Dr Kevin Christie (John Cusack), a charismatic entrepreneur who might be responsible for the pandemic.
John Cusack and Gillian Flynn spoke with members of the TV Critics Association about their reimagined series, which premieres on Amazon Prime on September 25, 2020.
Utopia - Behind-the-Scenes
Utopia – Behind-the-Scenes ©2020 Amazon Prime Video, photo by Elizabeth Morris

Gillian, talk about the difference between the American and British version.

Gillian Flynn: I wasn’t necessarily setting out to Americanize it or drastically change it; I was interested in different things, different tones.

I would say Dennis Kelly; his is a kind of Brit pop, very colorful, sleek version of his story. I was inspired by the 1970s conspiracy and paranoia thrillers like Parallax View and Marathon Man. In fact, when I was pitching this, I called it The Goonies meets Marathon Man. That was the blueprint that I took; this ragtag group of unlikely heroes who get caught in this incredibly dark conspiracy. And I wanted it to feel ragged, dirty and nasty.

John, this series obviously takes on new relevance in the COVID era. Was working on this and then continuing to live through the pandemic weird?

Utopia - John Cusack and Cory Michael Smith
Utopia – Dr Kevin Christie (John Cusack, center holding glass) and Thomas Christie (Cory Michael Smith, right wearing tie) ©2020 Amazon Prime Video, photo by Elizabeth Morris
John Cusack (center holding glass) and (Cory Michael Smith, right wearing tie)

John Cusack: Yeah, it was. When we started it, the pandemic wasn’t happening. The theme of this, (is a) fantastic gang of people who are obsessed with Utopia. (They) know that within Utopia lies a roadmap to an apocalyptic future. That included viruses, famine; it included perhaps a nuclear accident.

So, the theme itself covered a lot. But it was disturbing and surreal to see it come so close to life with the pandemic.

Utopia - BTS: John Cusack
Utopia – Behind-the-Scenes with John Cusack ©2020 Amazon Prime Video, photo by Elizabeth Morris

Can you talk about the use of violence in this and what it adds to the storytelling? Could implied-eye-gouging not be as effective?

Gillian: Interesting. I am often less-is-more as far as violence goes. I’m the person who loves that moment in Rosemary’s Baby where we’re only seeing part of the conversation. And the whole audience is trying to look around the corner to see what’s happening.

I want to use violence when it’s effective, when it’s appropriate and correct. Does this push forward the story? Do we need to see it or not? I think some things I do want the audience to be squirming right along with the characters.

(I wanted) it to feel grounded in a true world. It was choosing when and when not to show violence. So that you do feel for these characters and understand that this is real-life stakes.

John: There’s also the contrast between all the geeks of the Comic-Con and the characters who think of violence in a comic book way. (It is that) versus the contrast when the story of the comic book comes to life and they meet the actual characters in the comic.

Utopia – Dr Kevin Christie (John Cusack) ©2020 Amazon Prime Video, photo by Elizabeth Morris

John, if you could meet a character from a comic book, who would it be and why would you choose them?

John: I would meet Jessica Hyde from Utopia. That’s a pretty cool character. But other than that, I was into the Frank Miller ones when I was a kid – but I’d say Jessica Hyde.

Have you had any experiences at Comic-Con type events?

John: I’d never been to one and then I made a couple of horror movies that people liked. They said, “You’ve got to come to this Comic-Con”. And I went there and the thing that you get when you do a panel (is) these people were into the movies. They asked such informed, detailed questions [and] knew everything about the film. They were just so into it that it made you fall in love with moviemaking again.

I was very surprised; the Comic-Con people were very cool. It’s like people who want it to be Halloween every weekend. A cool, weird culture.

It’s a weird thing if you can hang out with the guy who played Freddy Krueger, Chewbacca, William Shatner as Captain Kirk and Pam Grier. That’s a cool, weird room!

Utopia - Poster
Utopia – Coming soon poster ©2020 Amazon Prime Video

Pandemic Entertainment Soundbyte

Given the COVID-19 world we are living in, John was asked if he was concerned that this dystopian drama about a pandemic hitting was too close to home for viewers who look for entertainment as an escape. Click below to listen to his reply.

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