It’s kind of shocking that it’s taken this long for teen drama aficionados Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage to take on the work of John Green, the man behind moving and gutting YA novels like The Fault In Our Stars and Paper Towns, which have both been made into feature films. But here we are in 2019, and the first collaboration between the creators of The O.C. and Green is finally here with Hulu’s limited series adaptation of Looking For Alaska.
It’s not for lack of trying though — Schwartz has actually been trying to adapt Green’s 2005 novel ever since it was an unpublished manuscript. First he tried to make it into a movie, but that project was shelved. Ten years later, a film adaptation was attempted once again. And now almost 15 years later, the story of Miles “Pudge” Halter (Charlie Plummer) and Alaska Young (Kristine Froseth) is finally coming to life on screen, this time as an eight-episode limited series.
In the decade-and-a-half journey to adapt Looking To Alaska, the story of Hulu’s series has always remained the same: Miles enrolls in the Alabama-based Culver Creek Prep boarding school to seek his “great perhaps,” meeting new best friends, growing up, falling in love, and dealing with loss along the way. And the story is still set in 2005, with nary a cell phone in sight. So why fight so hard to bring a dated YA novel to the screen? Because, according to the Looking For Alaska stars, Green’s novel is timeless and relevant for anyone no matter when you were a teenager.
“I first read the book when I was 15 and it really came to me at a time in my life where I felt like I was asking so many of the same questions and wanting to go on such a similar journey that Miles ends up on going on,” Plummer tells EW. “And all the questions he attempts to find answers to were all things that were on my mind at the time so it really felt like everything was colliding.”
Like her costar sitting next to her, Froseth’s first time reading Looking For Alaska was also when she was the same age as the characters. “I remember feeling really understood,” The Society star tells EW. “John Green’s really good at putting all those emotions and thoughts and issues onto paper through well-written and complex characters. I really connected with Alaska and the other characters. It was my relief. I felt less alone and less crazy about everything I was dealing with.”
“He’s a magical man,” Plummer says with a smile.
“I don’t know how he does it,” Froseth agrees with a laugh.
Rounding out the core four of Culver Creek’s BFF group are Jay Lee, who plays Takumi Hikohito, and Denny Love, who plays Chip “The Colonel” Martin. They both agree that the combination of Green, Schwartz, and Savage is pitch perfect for a story that Lee knows “has a very deep-seated place in people’s hearts — it’s helped them get through some difficult times in their lives, helped them appreciate their friends. It’s an incredible piece of art that brings people together with hope for the future.”
“The magic of John Green and Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage is that the works that they do, while they can be set into a specific time, are telling timeless stories,” Lee adds. “They’re dealing with coming-of-age stories that will always be relevant. We may be using payphones on our show but that’s just texturing to set the period. It puts an interesting lens on these stories that creates conversations for people to have with each other, like kids who are having to make choices about their social identities in a very concrete, immediate, and real way.”
According to Love, Looking For Alaska is “such a realistic portrayal of what it feels like to be young.”
“If you’re a young person who hasn’t hit this age yet, it’s something to look forward to,” he tells EW. “You can’t wait to get older. And older people can look back and remember what it was like to be that age. I remember what it felt like and that’s so present in this story. It’s a slice of life and people relate to it. When we’re young, we all deal with the same things — with pain and relationships and mischief and pranks and exploring yourself. It’s all in the show.”
But what Love connects to most is the story’s “message about friendship, the power of having your own tribe and a group of people you can relate to.”
“That’s what makes it all worth it,” he says. “I don’t think we’re supposed to go through those crazy years by yourself. If you find a tribe, it makes everything so much better.” And Love is proud to say that he’s still best friends with his tribe from growing up. “They actually came to visit me on set,” he adds with a big smile. “It’s really cool to have your friends be so proud of you and to see how far you’ve come. A lot of my friends I met through sports; a lot of my best friends I met through playing basketball and they’re still my best friends today.”
Bringing this story to a new generation is something that the young stars were acutely aware of during filming because of the emphasis put on themes like grief, hope, and finding meaning in life even in its lowest moments. “I just hope they connect with this story,” Plummer says of teens watching, “and especially connect with the fact that these characters are asking incredibly important questions for anyone to ask, regardless of age, but doing so at such a young age they’re not settling for anything other than the truth. That’s important. I hope that people feel something and if that helps them in their lives, if they’re able to grow a little bit from it, that would be amazing.”
For Froseth, she just hopes that the Hulu adaptation can help more people feel the same way she felt after reading the book. “I felt so much less alone with all my feelings and thoughts so I hope that people start talking openly about how they’re really feeling and that it starts a conversation and we remove the stigma around that,” she says. “We should all be happy and not keep it all inside.”
Love echoes her sentiment, adding that he wants young fans to feel “understood.”
“For young people, that’s so important,” he says. “People look down on young teens like we don’t know nothing when in fact, we know a lot! We deal with a lot of the same things that adults deal with. It’s just about discovering yourself. I hope our fans can see themselves through our characters and understand that we put so much joy and love into this project for them and I know for a fact they’ll feel the same when they watch it. It’s just so special and we’ve kept the integrity of what John wrote and his vision for it, and we also added a lot of stuff that I think the fans are really going to respond to.”
One big change from the page to the screen is telling the story from more characters’ perspectives instead of just Miles’, which allows Alaska to evolve from a two-dimensional manic pixie dream girl of a character into a three-dimensional real human being, flaws and all. In the book, she exists solely through Miles’ eyes, creating a problematic idea of a person instead of an actual one. The Hulu series successfully addresses that while still remaining true to the story.
“She has the same path and journey but you spend a lot more time with her in the TV show,” Froseth promises. “You get to know her on a whole different level. You get to feel her internal battle. There’s more private personal moments you get to see. You see her vulnerability a lot more. Maybe on the outside when you first meet her she might be viewed as this unattainable thing, but I think if I met her I’d be like, ‘You take up the space in the room, where does this confidence come from?’ It’s not a façade but it’s covering up her broken heart; she’s just protecting herself. You get to see all that in that she’s not this imaginary idea of a girl.”
Expanding Alaska into a real person in this adaptation was “really important” to Froseth because she knew how much it would mean to young girls. “Because growing up and watching these girls and not really getting to see their human sides, I felt left out and didn’t understand what was wrong with me and why I didn’t see myself,” Froseth says. “They were all so perfect on screen. It’s really important to show all our truthful sides, the pains of growing up and battling your demons. Making sure that she wasn’t going to be at all viewed as the manic pixie dream girl was hugely important to me.”
All eight episodes of Looking For Alaska begin streaming Friday, Oct. 18, on Hulu.
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Hulu adapts John Green’s award-winning young adult novel into an eight-episode limited series starring Charlie Plummer as Miles “Pudge” Halter and Kristine Froseth as the titular Alaska Young.