Frank Miller, the famed comic book writer turned director, has teamed up with writer/producer Tom Wheeler for a reimagining of the Arthurian legend in the Netflix Original Series, CURSED. Based on the New York Times bestselling book of the same name, co-written by Miller & Wheeler, CURSED is told through the eyes of Nimue (Katherine Langford), a teenage sorceress who encounters a young Arthur on her quest to find a powerful and ancient sword.
Recently, I had the opportunity to attend a press roundtable interview prior to the release of the fantasy series. During the interview, Miller and Wheeler discussed the importance of using the Lady of the Lake’s perspective in telling the story as well as the challenges faced in adapting an illustrated novel to that of a live-action medium.
Thank you both so much for taking the time to speak with me today about CURSED. To start things off, can you talk a bit about why telling the story from the perspective of the Lady of the Lake is important, especially in today’s world?
Tom Wheeler: These characters had such an impact on me growing up. I can’t remember a time, and I think Frank feels the same way, where I didn’t know about King Arthur or the Sword in the Stone or Merlin. I think the themes – seizing the sword, taking control of your destiny, these images have been with me for my whole life and have impacted stories…whether it’s Lord of the Rings or Star Wars.
When we were working on this story, my daughter was ten or eleven years old. While circling this world, I knew that it was such an amazing sandbox and I was thrilled to be working with Frank Miller, as a life-long fan. It occurred to me that my daughter didn’t have the same opportunities through these characters to attach herself. As Nimue began to come to the surface, I guess pun intended there, as the character that we would lock on to and follow, it felt like maybe she would have the opportunity, my daughter, to see herself as the hero that can seize the sword. These are theses that matter to everyone and can impact anyone’s life. That was exciting. There was actually a moment early on in production when my daughter came to set and saw Katherine [Langford] in her full Nimue regalia. Katherine had the sword and that was my daughter’s first connection with the Arthurian myths. That was sort of a cool, geek out moment for myself, Katherine, and my daughter who really saw Nimue as the hero – that was fun for her. Today, the mythology is still relevant but it’s just great to get new perspectives and new viewpoints on these themes and why not [have it be] the Lady of the Lake?
What limitations were you able to address when adapting the illustrated novel to a live-action medium?
Tom Wheeler: One of the exciting things about doing this with Netflix, and one of the reasons why we got into this insane…finishing the book and starting a show was really for the chance to work with this studio. They were willing to give us the time and the canvas to tell the story. To shoot it in the UK with these vistas… I don’t think we felt limitations. I mean, yes, of course, there were going to be some moments when [you wished] for a half a day more, it’s still finite resources, but I really feel grateful that we were able to tell the story the way it needed to be told. It’s like 10 little movies here that we’ve put together and big episodes with lots going on. From a writing standpoint, the only limitations are when you’re writing a book chapter you have the luxury of being inside Nimue’s or Merlin’s head, you’ve got their thoughts and can tell a lot of stories that way. You can give a lot of contexts that way versus when you then have to put everything into the scenes and are dependent on the character’s behavior to illustrate the character and who they are. That was always kind of a different sort of head you need to put yourself in. How are we going to now convey this because it’s all about what you see? Those aren’t limitations so much as they are challenges.
Frank Miller: The limitations we could overcome were ones of sound, which we didn’t have in the book, and space, and we now had people’s actual faces saying the lines, people actually making the moves. We had spectacular vistas, incredible castles, and the overall power of the screen on our side. The translation from one medium to another always brings advantages. What you always lose in a translation from [books] to the screen is you lose a certain intimacy of being inside the character’s heads. You really can’t get that without some kind of clumsy voice-over which people just don’t use anymore the way they used to. What you gain is the overall power of the other medium.