“They honored the spirit of the original work,” creator George Saunders said of the process behind the Amazon Studios adaptation.
If Amazon viewers have ever wanted to see Glenn Close transform from a sweet aunt into a vengeful, potty-mouthed zombie of sorts, Sea Oak is the place to look.
The pilot, which debuted on Amazon Friday, is short-story writer and creator George Saunders’ first work to make it to the small screen. But he says he was given plenty of creative freedom by Amazon Studios to make the adaptation just as peculiar as the original.
“If you could call a writer who knew nothing about Hollywood and say, ‘Here’s what I hope it’s like,’ it was like that,” Saunders recently told The Hollywood Reporter during an intimate event and special screening of the pilot at HBO Theater in New York City. “Instead of saying, ‘That’s too edgy or too dangerous or too dark,’ they honored the spirit of the original work. All the things you really want to hear as a writer, they were saying. I kept waiting for the bad day to occur, but it never did. My work is weird, so if someone will trust me to go into a corner and figure it out, it will work. They gave me so much room.”
As for working with the award-winning Damages star, who plays Aunt Bernie in the genre-bending comedy, Saunders was in awe every moment — with her “infectious spirit of fun” and her dedication to the project. Sea Oak, based on Saunders’ short story of the same name, follows Close’s working-class, Rust Belt protagonist who dies in a home invasion but comes back to life full of rage and determined to get the life she never had. She puts a range of demands upon her two nieces and quasi-stripper nephew who live in the Sea Oak subsidized housing complex.
“There was one scene that got cut — where they put the old woman’s body in the ambulance — and Jack Quaid has a very nice speech that he gives to his aunt’s body. But the body is covered,” Saunders recalled. “So Glenn comes out to Yonkers on a steaming hot summer night and she lays on the stretcher for three hours because she felt it would help his performance. Her head was covered up the entire time — she just did it as a fellow actor and artist. She’s a genius.”
As for the future of Sea Oak, Saunders said, “I hope we get the go-ahead just so I can hang out with [Close] and watch her.”
In recent years, Amazon has moved away from its pilot season model, instead giving straight-to-series orders on originals like Goliath, Carlton Cuse’s upcoming Jack Ryan remake and Matthew Weiner’s Romanoffs anthology series. The two other Amazon Studios pilots launching on Nov. 10 are Bridget Everett and Michael Patrick King’s Love You More and the Detroit comedy The Climb.
The fall pilot season comes amid an executive purge and major programming shift at Amazon Studios after the exit of content chief Roy Price, who resigned over sexual harassment allegations. As THR reported, the company is said to be looking for its next breakout in the vein of HBO’s Game of Thrones and has canceled several series in recent months, including the pricey Last Tycoon and Z: The Beginning of Everything. The streamer’s high-profile David O. Russell drama, which was produced by The Weinstein Co., was also scrapped in the wake of allegations leveled against Price and disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein.