Jack Thorne on Developing a Jazz Series for Netflix and ‘His Dark Materials’ Season 2 – Exclusive Interview

Best known for his work on the UK’s National Treasure – a now beloved cult classic – Jack Thorne is a renowned, decorated screenwriter and playwright. His stage production of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child has received countless accolades, including Best Play at the 2018 Tony Awards. Thorne is also the writer behind HBO’s hit series His Dark Materials, which he adapted from the novel series by Philip Pullman. His impressive resume attracted the creative team behind Netflix’s new musical series, The Eddy, early in pre-production. Thorn now has significant writing credit on each of the 8 episodes from the finalized jazz-centric series.

Netflix’s The Eddy is an ambitious, swirling music-infused story that winds its way through the streets of Paris. It is a focused, methodical character study that depicts the ideas of musical enlightenment in the lives of talented, every-day protagonists. With directors such as Damien Chazelle (La La Land), Alan Poul (The Newsroom), Houda Benyamina (Divines), and Laïla Marrakchi (Rock the Casbah) attached to the show – it makes for original streaming content that cannot be missed. More than anything, it is an ode to jazz musicians and the lives they lead.

We were lucky enough to have Jack Thorne for an exclusive interview. We talked about his experience working on the show with the likes of Damien Chazelle and Grammy winning producer Glen Ballard. He also gives us a tease on the upcoming season of His Dark Materials and Enola Homes, a new film written by and starring Henry Cavill and Millie Bobby Brown.

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L to R: Thorne, Alan Poul, Olivier Bibas, & Glen Ballard at the premiere of The Eddy during the 70th Berlinale International Film Festival in February

DF: What was your experience working with the other creators on The Eddy?

JT: It was really fun and very different. What made it most different was that everyone was very ambitious to break the form of television. You often get situations where everyone starts off with these ambitious statements about what it is going to be. Then you kind of reach a certain point and they’re like, but we need to bring the audience in here and in order to bring the audience here, we need to play this game and this game and this game and they refrained from that. And these are ridiculous people who are legends in the industry. I was sort of the young apprentice, the Padawan, but it was really exciting to work with such secure people who were very ambitious about what the show could be.

DF: So while you were writing, was the story already predetermined around the songs that you were set to include, or did you help form that story around the songs?

JT: I mean it’s not like a musical, where the songs are directional. These songs were inspirational so they have insight as to who Elliot (played by André Holland) might be. But there was no suggestion of story or already a character in that. So it was more just what we had, we started off with 39 songs. We ended up with 60, and it was a case of picking through the back catalog and picking the gate. The best fit for the story that we were trying to tell. It was brilliant to have them there and they’re such amazing songs, all of them. I had Glen and Randy Kerber there the entire time and to have Randy actually in the band was a real delight too.

DF: What was it like developing a story around the songs themselves rather than developing them to fit into the script?

JT: The challenge was to make the music feel important and make the music be an integral part of the story. So, by making the story of episode one the making of a song that then travels through the whole show, the whole episode – that allowed space for it. Then we had to sort of repeat that trick in episode three, making the songs a total relief and giving the songs that power. Each time getting to play a different game to allow the songs to feel as important as they needed to be. These are an expression, music is an expression of how these musicians feel and finding space for that felt very, very crucial.

DF: What stage of production and the planning process where you brought in?

JT: They had a page and a half long document as to what they wanted to do. It was about seven years ago. When they needed a writer, that’s when I was brought in.

DF: What was it like to work with the directors? Alan Poul and Damien Chazelle?

JT: Amazing. Houda and Laïla too. All of them were a very different beat. Central to the show was a conception of how the different characters would hold their own. So you would get a different perspective with each episode. That allowed lots of space for the director to do their thing and to really drive the story.

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Damien Chazelle on set with André Holland courtesy of Netflix

DF: The show lives in this pseudo-documentary style of filmmaking, where a lot of it feels improvised and spontaneous. What was the writing process like in creating a natural day to day life feel?

JT: That’s always a joy when you are given that. I mean, there was a lot of improvisation in the show and there was always a fluidity in terms of how we would use the script. That is what you want as a writer, to just be told to reflect rather than necessarily to construct. It’s always the worst thing when you’ve got a page and a half whereby the end of it, the characters have got to decide to go to the moon or invade Iraq. You’re describing story all the time through that of course, because you have to be propelling the story along. But with this, I just thought to try and tell this story as beautifully and as delicately as I can.

DF: A big part of that in this show was featuring a bunch of multilingual actors. The show incorporates English, French, and Arabic dialogue. What was the influence for deciding to include that and then actually implementing that into the story?

JT: Well, because Paris is a melting pot and jazz is a melting pot. The place in Paris that I was really determined for this to be set in is on the edge of Paris, where you’re not in the sort of jewelry box. You’re on the edge and the relationship with the suburbs is apparent. That is a place where many languages live. On that initial document I was sent, the idea was that this was an American jazz club in Paris. So already you had two likenesses in that. I’m slightly obsessed with Paris and if you’re trying to tell the story for that community, then obviously there has to be an Arabic influence too. A large part of that population is Arabic. That became part of the story in terms of how it was implemented with a lot of help from a lot of very clever people. We did have a writer on our team, Hamid Hlioua who is comfortable writing in both Arabic and French. But we also had translators and then the actors themselves were working with the script to translate it. There is also Polish. Yannick Bouanga, she speaks in her native tongue. There was a lot going on.

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DF: A certain part of the show focuses a lot on the Islamic faith and that community in Paris. Was there a lot of research that went into developing and being able to depict that culture and others in a sensitive and respectful way?

JT: Absolutely. When you are writing about a melting pot, then you also need to have staff and writers who are very good at writing about that and maybe even have a personal connection. The two episodes that most focus on that, episode three and six, were both directed by directors who have a relationship with the Islamic faith, Houda and Laila. They brought a lot to the story.

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‘The Eddy’ courtesy of Netflix

DF: To switch gears slightly, you’re also executive producing His Dark Materials season 2. What’s the current status of the second season given the current circumstances of the world?

JT: We’ve been working on it. We have shot it and it’s been tough, but we’re now in the post-production process and are trying to work our way through it.

DF: Right, and Enola Holmes, a film you wrote the screenplay for, just got sold to Netflix. So congratulations on that. What can audiences expect from that film or others that you might have coming our way?

JT: Enola was really fun to write and it’s very different from The Eddy. It revolves around the younger sister of Sherlock Holmes. We’ve played around a bit and Harry Bradbeer who is the director, who directed Fleabag, has done such a wonderful job with how he told the story and our cast was amazing. You see Fiona Shaw and Helena Bonham Carter popping up in glorious little cameos throughout, it’s silly in places but has a real heart and soul to it.

DF: Just to wrap up, are there any other upcoming projects that you would like to make our audience aware of?

JT: No I’m just working very hard on His Dark Materials at the moment. I have nothing exciting, right now but His Dark Materials will be very exciting!

Check out our interview with The Eddy director/ producer Alan Poul and songwriter/ producer Glen Ballard!

Read our review of The Eddy here and stream the series on Netflix starting May 8! The first season of His Dark Materials is also available on Hulu, Prime, and HBO Now.

Follow writer Chris St. Lawerence on Twitter: @ey2studios

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