The USA Network’s new neo-noir show Briarpatch is based on the novel of the same name by Ross Thomas, a prolific crime fiction writer who passed away in 1995. We got to sit down with television series creator Andy Greenwald to talk about adapting Thomas’ novel and what major changes were made for the TV show.
Greenwald Wanted to Adapt Briarpatch Because It Is a Fairly Straightforward Book
In an interview at the 2020 Television Critics Association winter press tour, Greenwald told us that Ross Thomas is his “favorite writer and has been for a long time” because of Thomas’ “totally unique” voice and “bizarre mix of very specific details and very baggy, bizarre plotting.”
“Also, all of his characters are just so confident and cool in the most interesting ways,” Greenwald continued. “And so I’ve read all 25 of his books and I love them all. But for whatever reason, Briarpatch always stood out to me as one that I thought could be adapted, not because it was my favorite, but because in a way it was the most straightforward of his books.
“I thought it was really ripe, not just for an adaptation but for a reimagining because the story … is a very familiar and beloved trope. In the book, the brother, a man, is returning to his hometown to settle some scores.”
Part of the ‘Reimagining’ Is The Gender Reversal of Several Characters
In the book, the man who returns home to settle some scores is Benjamin Dill, a political operative who comes home to solve his sister’s murder. On the show, Benjamin has now become Allegra and is played by the talented Rosario Dawson. Greenwald said he was much more interested in writing a “female-forward” story.
“I was much more interested in updating the story and I was much more interested in a sister relationship and writing the lead character as a woman,” Greenwald told us, adding, “In general, I’m more interested in female-forward stories … I think it’s important for our lives, for our politics, but selfishly, it’s also great for storytelling because when you let other people play in the sandbox and the story changes.”
Allegra isn’t the only character whose gender is reversed. The character of A.D. Singe is played on the show by Edi Gathegi, but that character in the book is a woman. Greenwald liked the idea of seeing what the cliched “girlfriend character” looked like as a man.
“Singe is a great character in the book, but she is very much ‘the girlfriend character,’ very much a supporting character, so what happens if you take a fantastic and charismatic actor like Edi in the ‘girlfriend part’? What happens to our expectations? How does the character change as we write him going forward? That was a fun exercise for us. Also, there was a certain feeling of the ‘smalltown lawyer’ that we wanted to pursue with a different vibe [through Gathegi].”
Greenwald Discovered Some of His Own Unconscious Bias While Writing Allegra
Right around the time Greenwald was writing the pilot, Hillary Clinton was running for president. And he thought it was interesting how she “couldn’t do anything” without being judged
“She couldn’t be funny, she couldn’t be tough, she couldn’t be anything, she was trapped in a box because any shading of emotion or feeling in any direction would be pounced on,” said Greenwald, which then led to a realization about his main character.
“Early on in my writing, I found myself asking why Allegra Dill was acting so coldly even though she was doing everything that Benjamin Dill did in the book. And then I realized well, I’m expecting different things from her because she’s a woman,” said Greenwald.
“At that moment, I looked at the script that I was writing and I realized that she was only meeting men and that was very intentional,” he continued. “All the characters in the pilot are men and she is basically in a land of wolves, which is what she’s comfortable with. That really turbocharged my writing and made me excited to see where it led.”
He said it also inspired him to introduce the character of Eve Raytek (Kim Dickens), who is the chief of police in Allegra’s hometown and is a character who is not in the novel. Greenwald wrote her as an antagonist for Allegra because the two women are polar opposites and he hopes it will be a fun surprise for viewers.
“I wanted an antagonist for Allegra who would be unexpected and what is more unexpected than a woman who hugs her?”
Briarpatch airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on the USA Network.
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