Lawrence Wright’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Looming Tower is arguably the definition of unfilmable, as it meticulously tells the story of the build-up to 9/11, particularly how the FBI and CIA’s lack of cooperation prevented them from uncovering the terrorist plot in time.
But while there’s no way that a Hollywood studio would go near such a complex and intelligent book, Hulu immediately saw the appeal and attraction of taking on the challenge.
I recently had the opportunity to sit down and talk to Jeff Daniels, Wrenn Schmidt and Peter Sarsgaard about “The Looming Tower,” while we also discussed why television has now surpassed movies in quality.
What originally attracted you to “The Looming Tower”?
Peter Sarsgaard: I had read it. I was like, ‘How in the world are they going to adapt this book?’ Because it spans so many years and cultures.
Jeff Daniels: It shows you what led to 9/11, at least on this side of the ocean. And if a screenwriter had made it up, they would tell you, ‘Sorry, you have to change that. It’s implausible.’ What stunned me after all these years that I didn’t know parts of this story.
PS: It also wrestled with important stuff that we are still dealing with today. Because people in the CIA at that time said, ‘If we bomb these 12 places on this given day. We’ll get Osama Bin Laden.’ Then they were asked, ‘How many civilians would die?’ And they were like, ‘5,000 or so.’ The Clinton administration said no. But I know there are people in this country that believe, ‘Better 5,000 of them than 4,000 of us.’ That’s the nature of the country we live in. You either believe that American lives are more important than others. Or that a life is a life.
Why do you believe that television has surpassed movies in quality?
JD: It is where the writing went. Television is where the writers went. They’re given a creative freedom that I haven’t felt in other places. Then they hire really good people. And they give you the money to shoot it. It’s a lot of money, too. That production value is all across ‘The Looming Tower.’ Because it is not a cheap show to shoot. We are in 5 or 6 different countries.
PS: TV is more interesting. But not because it is 10 hours. But because adults with children don’t go out to the theatre to see a movie. Even little movies I do, which aren’t targeted to 19 or 20, only get seen on Netflix or Hulu, even though they are released simultaneously.
JD: You feel like what’s the difference between this and movies? You’re trusted. And there’s a smart audience out there. All those people that like reading books, they don’t mind binging and seeing a 10-episode season of ‘The Looming Tower’. It is like reading a novel.
Do you think can you binge watch “The Looming Tower”?
Wrenn Schmidt: If I was watching, I’d want to watch the first three back to back. Because the first two set up so much, and then with the third it picks up speed and it shifts.
JD: I work in television. I work in movies. I don’t necessarily watch any of it. Which is a failing I am sure. I sit with people and they say, ‘Did you see this film? Or that TV show?’ And I am like, ‘No. I was too busy watching a baseball game.’
“The Looming Tower” is released on Hulu on February 28.