Tuesday, July 23, 2024
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Beyond fairytale

NEW YORK (AP) – Like most kids, Victor Levin was raised on fairy tales – and still resents it.

Those stories in books, movies and TV that inevitably ended up with everyone happily ever after – and they seemed dishonest.

“It’s nonsense,” said the writer-producer. “We human beings are deeply flawed creatures, and sometimes from the best of intentions, we make grotesque mistakes and hurt each other. This is the nature of being human and this is the nature of love. It’s messy.”

Levin is ready to prove his point with the powerful new six-part PBS Masterpiece series, Alice & Jack, which traces a modern couple spending years in the messy, giddy, crazy push-pull of love.

“This is a very valuable emotion that can do great things. It can also hurt people, but it can do great, great things. Let’s not take it for granted,” said Levin, who previously worked on the series Mad Men and Mad About You.

Alice & Jack stars Andrea Riseborough and Domhnall Gleeson as they come together, fall apart and reunite, through marriages to others, births and death. Their gravitational pull remains.

ABOVE & BELOW: Photos show Domhnall Gleeson and Andrea Riseborough in scenes from ‘Alice & Jack’. PHOTO: PBS
PHOTO: PBS

“They really leave a huge mess in their wake, but they also are clearly meant to be connected for the time that they’re on this earth,” said Riseborough. “I think that, in of itself, is something that’s very hopeful and something that I really identified with – the imperfect nature of love.”

Alice and Jack don’t exactly meet-cute. They connect on a dating app and their first date wasn’t on a fancy place. They go back to her place, but in the morning he is bluntly told to leave. “I’ll call you?” he offers. “Thank you, but if it’s OK with you, I’d rather you didn’t,” she responds.

Time and circumstances seem to conspire against this pair. “You’re like the incarnation of everything I’ve ever wanted,” she told him. Yet she’s not ready, still having to process a dark childhood. Years later, he chooses to get married to another woman. “We throw away our blessings at our peril,” he told her.

Levin says it’s taken decades for him to create a project that tries to answer the question: Are the forces that bring us together stronger than the ones that would tear us apart?

“Ultimately, I am not smart enough to know any answers. But maybe every now and then I ask the right question. And so my job, as I see it, is to give you something to think about after you shut the TV off,” he said.

Alice & Jack takes place in London but Levin originally intended it to be set in New York City. “I would like to think that it could be in any city, with any two people,” he said.

His choice of the actors wasn’t negotiable, however. Levin is a huge fan of Riseborough and Gleeson and waited for both to be available to do Alice & Jack. He adored their acting but also their ability to listen.

“I knew that a lot of this story was going to be told on reactions. That is to say, not just the person who’s speaking, but also the person who is receiving the information,” Levin said.

“You are learning as much from the person who is listening as you are from the person who is speaking.”

With Riseborough and Gleeson, he had two fine actors who also happened to have been paired up in the past onscreen – they were partners in Never Let Me Go and brother and sister in Shadow Dancer.

“So I had great speakers, great listeners, great talents, great brains, by the way,” said Levin. “Just intellectually brilliant people – emotionally high IQs, comedically high IQ, dramatically high IQ. I mean, that’s winning the lottery for a writer.”

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