Based on a true story, Apple TV’s latest crime drama black bird follows high school football hero and policeman’s son Jimmy Keene [Taron Egerton] and his sentencing of 10 years in a minimum security prison due to drug trafficking charges. While in prison he is given a life-altering choice: transfer to a maximum-security prison and get into the mind of suspected serial killer Larry Hall [Paul Walter Hauser] to get an early release or serve his full sentence with no opportunity for parole.
Game Rant spoke with showrunner Dennis Lehane—best known for his work on Shutter Island, TheWire, and The Outsider—about creating Blackbird. We chatted about how his experience as a filmmaker and a novelist drew him to the story, the creative liberties he took during production, casting Hauser as the real-life serial killer Larry Hall, and filming the very destructive riot scene.
Game Rant: You have this great experience as a filmmaker and a novelist. What drew you to this particular story?
Dennis Lehane: This might sound strange, but I’ve been looking to tell a story that has a clean mythological line, and this was it. If you look at it, it has all the trappings of a classical hero’s journey: you have this young man, he is sent out by his village to confront an ogre that is threatening members of the village, he heads out into a dark forest and battles the monster, and he comes back a changed man. It’s as old as time.
GR: What are some of the creative liberties you took while adapting this true crime story?
Lehane: Jimmy Keane’s journey against Larry did take these factual steps. His dance with Larry was very similar to this. Where I changed it was I wanted to give him a confrontation with his self that does not necessarily happen in the nonfiction book. It became a question of how many mirrors can he see in Larry? How much of himself can he see in Larry? Factually speaking, the big difference is that all the things that Miller did to bring down Larry Hall are true, but all the things he did to fight against his appeal are not. The investigation that he goes on with McCauley in the second half of the show that was done by a whole bunch of people. I just had to streamline it.
GR: We can’t ignore that you have pulled together this all-star cast. I was so excited to see Paul Walter Hauser in what I think is a career-defining performance. What was going through your mind when he came on board?
Lehane: tharon [Egerton] and I talked a lot about whom we could cast. By that point, Taron was on board. He liked the idea of Paul, and then I asked Paul to read, which was a risk because Paul has already been the lead of a film. To ask him to actually read for a part was a bit risky. But he showed up and read some of the most difficult Larry scenes, and that’s when we were like “we got him,” and then Apple signed off.
GR: One of my favorite scenes in the show is the riot scene. It seemed like it had to be a one-shot take because it was total chaos. What was it like pulling that together?
Lehane: You should ask Jim [McKay], I have directed that episode. That episode turned out great. He had so much fun. Everybody had fun shooting that stuff. It sounds nuts because it was so dark, but we had a blast with that episode. Jim wanted it that way. We had to dial it back in editing because it was getting crazed. I’m glad that showed up.
black bird premieres July 8 with the first two episodes on Apple TV+.
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