While Apple TV+‘s first wave of content was met with a mixed response, it hasn’t stopped the tech company from continuing to collaborate with A-List talent. The tech company has already joined forces with such talent as M. Night Shyamalan, Steven Spielberg, Jason Momoa, Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon, Kumail Nanjiani, Octavia Spencer, and many others. However, the top tier collaborations don’t stop there. In Apple TV+’s latest drama, “Defending Jacob,” Academy Award-nominated director, Morten Tyldum (“The Imitation Game,” “Passengers“), assembled an all-star team to bring to life an adaptation of the bestselling novel. The show has quickly become a topic of weekly television discourse.
Starring Chris Evans, Michelle Dockery, Jaeden Martell, and Pablo Schrieber, “Defending Jacob” follows an assistant DA (Evans) and his family as their lives are uprooted following the shocking accusation that his son may be a murderer. The series not only features A-List talent in front of the camera but behind the camera as well. “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” and “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” screenwriter, Mark Bombock, pens the script while Tyldum directs all eight episodes of the series.
While Tyldum has had great success with his feature films, he’s no stranger to television. The director helmed episodes of Amazon Prime’s “Jack Ryan” and Starz’s “Counterpart” and excels at bringing a cinematic sensibility to the format. That sensibility proved to be critical in constructing the visual language “Defending Jacob.” Using the atmosphere to emphasize character drama, Tyldum specifically looked to some of his favorite adult thrillers and one of cinema’s most influential voices.
“I sat down with Jonathan Freeman, my DP, who has done some of the most amazing work in TV such as ‘Game of Thrones‘ and ‘Boardwalk Empire,'” said Tyldum. “I said this reminds me of some of my favorite movies like ‘Mystic River,’ ‘Michael Clayton,’ ‘The Icestorm;’ films that are character-driven, intimate, and have this dark atmosphere to them. We watched a lot of these films and tailored the visual language around them. We didn’t want it to look like typical TV and said, let’s go in and make this as cinematic as possible. We underlit the interiors and had the camera exposed for the outside to create a feeling of being trapped inside. We shot a lot against windows and silhouettes, similar to how Bergman shoots interiors and stacks his characters. It’s just very interesting how he [Bergman] composes actors in the shot. Bergman has a background in theater, and so in his movies, all the characters are existing in the same frame. We wanted to do something similar. I feel very inspired by him.”
It’s easy to get wrapped up in the atmosphere and mystery Tyldum crafts in “Defending Jacob,” as it’s immediately the first thing that hits you. However, Tyldum still wanted to ground the story as much as possible. Chris Evans’ experience in live performance gave him exactly what he was looking for as it helped anchor the drama in reality.
During our conversation with Tyldum on episode eighteen of The Fourth Wall, we talk about the importance of casting Chris Evans in the lead and why his lack of experience in roles like this is precisely why Tyldum wanted him. We also discuss the key to a successful book adaptation, taking creative liberties with the source material, THAT surprise casting choice, whether he prefers the binge model vs. week-to-week, the future of the theatrical experience, and much more.
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The first four episodes of “Defending Jacob” are available to stream now on Apple TV+ with new episodes every Friday.
Additional reporting by Zach Pope.