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‘Malibu Rising’ Author Taylor Jenkins Reid Talks Teaming With Hulu for Adaptation, Reimagining ’80s Hollywood


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Taylor Jenkins Reid has had quite the busy slate. As she prepared for the release and debut of her new book, Malibu Rising from Ballantine Books, news of future Reid projects quickly followed.

Amid the book’s publication last week, The Hollywood Reporter exclusively announced that it is also in development for a television series at Hulu with Little Fires Everywhere creator, showrunner and executive producer Liz Tigelaar and writer Amy Talkington, who will reteam for the adaptation. The potential series was bought preemptively by the Disney-owned streamer in advance of the book’s June 1 publication.

“Everything’s sort of happening at once. I’m just getting a lot of notifications in the last couple of days, just a lot of good news. It’s an embarrassment of riches,” Reid tells THR. She adds that she has found comfort in Hulu’s recent book adaptations such as Normal People, Little Fires Everywhere and High Fidelity (“They were what got me through the pandemic,” she says) and knew the Disney-owned streamer would be the right home for Malibu Rising. “As someone hoping to get a really rich and interesting book adaptation on the air, Hulu just felt like, come on, this is where you want to go.”

Out of her seven published books, four are currently in the process of getting the adaptation treatment. Apart from Malibu Rising, her best-selling novels The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, One True Loves and Daisy Jones & The Six are also expected to jump from the bookshelves to screen. Daisy Jones & the Six was bought preemptively by Amazon for Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine — the book was also selected as a monthly pick for Witherspoon’s book club — and Circle of Confusion to produce for television, with Riley Keough and Sam Claflin starring. Meanwhile, One True Loves will be adapted for film with Andy Fickman to direct and a cast that includes Hamilton‘s Phillipa Soo, Shang Chi’s Simu Liu and Holidate‘s Luke Bracey.

“It’s a lot of things percolating,” Reid says. To see her library come to life on screen has almost proven to be a full-circle moment, as the author worked in casting early in her career. “What’s really just fun for me is sitting on the sidelines and seeing how these casts come together because that used to be my job. I know how much work goes into casting something,” she explains.

The adaptation appeal is clear. With The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, Daisy Jones & The Six and now Malibu Rising, Jenkins Reid has transported readers to the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, while exploring Hollywood and pop culture. With Evelyn Hugo, readers meet a reclusive, iconic old starlet as they marvel in Old Hollywood. In Daisy Jones, Reid tells the story of a band that defined a rock ‘n’ roll era while delivering a story resembling a VH1 and Behind the Music special. Then, in Malibu Rising, Reid explores the surfing subculture and portrays the fictional Riva family — children of the famed rocker Mick Riva, who has ties to the Evelyn Hugo and Daisy Jones universe. While the family throws their annual party to celebrate the end of summer in 1983, things take a dramatic turn as they are forced to reckon with their family history.

“There’s a complexity to the lives of famous people that allows me to talk about the pressures that we put on people. Fame is such a mirror for our culture of what we value and why we value it,” she tells THR. “This world of famous people is allowing me to investigate what something looks like versus what the truth is and that is just a really fertile space to me.”

Below, Reid speaks with THR about Malibu Rising‘s adaptation and revisiting the ’80s and teases a new book that will serve as a “quartet” to her library.  

What was your reaction to finding out that Malibu Rising would be getting the adaptation treatment?

I was completely thrilled! I think this book out of all of my work has, for me, been the hardest book to put down. So the idea that there will be new life breathed into it, that there’s a whole other way that this story can be told and more time to spend with these characters makes me so happy.

Why was Hulu the perfect home for the adaptation?

For me, I wanted it at Hulu because I’ve seen what incredible book adaptations they are doing. Normal People and Little Fires Everywhere and High Fidelity were what got me through the pandemic, quite frankly. I devoured them! So as someone hoping to get a really rich and interesting book adaptation on the air, Hulu just felt like, come on, this is where you want to go.

You’re credited as being an executive producer alongside Little Fires Everywhere‘s Liz Tigglear and Amy Talkington. What is it like being able to work alongside them on this project? 

We had approached Amy because I’m just such a fan of hers and was thrilled when she read it and was interested. I had such an amazing talk with Amy and we both cared about the same things and were interested in the same characters and pieces of this story and so that in itself was really thrilling. Then to have Amy bring on Liz, who came at it from another perspective that was so deep and rich, it’s just been a dream come true. It’s a little like “pinch me.” They just feel like the perfect people for this story in particular. I feel so confident about their ability to tell the story and focus on the things that we’ve discussed [that] really matter to all of us as a team.

This joins a lineup of already announced adaptations of your works Daisy Jones & The Six, One True Loves and The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo. Can you give any updates on how those have been going and what it’s been like to see those be brought to life in a different format? 

What’s been really great about Daisy Jones, in particular, is, again, talk about dream collaborators! To be able to hand that over to Reese Witherspoon and the team at Hello Sunshine and to have gotten Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber and Will Graham writing it and heading that piece of it has been just creatively gratifying. Obviously, production didn’t happen last year because of COVID, but now we’re looking at things opening back up and there’s a plan to start shooting again. So I’m really, really excited for all of that to finally come together with a cast that I can’t quite believe we scored. Riley Keough and Sam Claflin as Daisy and Billy just feels so perfect. I’ve been working with my husband who’s a screenwriter, Alex Jenkins Reid, on the script for my book One True Loves with the director Andy Fickman and his team. We just wanted to find the exact right cast for it and we were really, really fortunate that that cast came together recently. Everything’s sort of happening at once. I’m just getting a lot of notifications in the last couple of days, just a lot of good news. It’s an embarrassment of riches.

I know that for Daisy Jones, you wrote lyrics to the music performed by the characters. I was just curious, what kind of input are you having in the creation of the music for the series?  Is it safe to add “songwriter” to your resume now?

No, no it is not! (laughs) Can I tell you, when they went and hired a real music team to do this, I was just floored that they were going to use some of my song titles? I was like, “Oh, there’s going to be a song called something I called the song?” No, I’m way out of my league. I could handle it in the book. I had good control when it’s just me and the page. Once you’re bringing that into all dimensions, you need somebody great. And they found a good team.

Now having more than one adaptation of your books in the works, has the process of handing over your work gotten easier, or are there still anticipatory nerves?

It’s a lot of things percolating. I don’t know that the nerves get different because I think there’s something wrong with my brain where I can’t quite process it. I’m just not that nervous. I feel confident about the people that I’ve chosen to hand things over to. That’s a privilege to be able to pick collaborators that you really have a lot of faith in, so I think part of it’s that. But I will say, with each project, the concerns are different and it’s different pieces. I think the thing that’s maybe changed for me over the past couple of adaptations, which are all in different phases, is just being able to zero in on, “This is the thing that’s really important to me” and then finding the trust that everything else is in their hands. Ultimately everything is really in these writers’ hands. That’s why it’s so important that it’s somebody that I feel we share a similar vision. It really is about just learning to trust and let go.

You used to work in casting early in your career. Are you able to quickly envision a dream cast whenever you’re writing a story or is that just not something that you think about when writing a story?

I think I sort of do, but I think what’s nice about my role in all of this is I don’t have to be practical. I don’t have to be thinking of it in terms of ages or “Is this person too famous?” or “Would they not do it?” I’m able to just think, “Okay, this person’s kind of like John Cusack in the eighties.” Then I don’t have to figure out what that means in reality. What’s really just fun for me is sitting on the sidelines and seeing how these casts come together because that used to be my job. I know how much work goes into casting something. So when you see that the result is like such a phenomenal cast, like Daisy Jones has, I think it’s really exciting for me on two levels. On the one level, it’s, “Wow, what a great cast and they’re going to go do a great job.” But the other piece of it is I know how hard that was. I know how much talent that takes to put that group together. So it excites me on that level too.

Do you have a dream cast envisioned for Malibu Rising?

No, but there are a lot of different people that I pull from what I’m trying to create these characters. They’re just not people that really exist in today’s world. When I’m trying to craft what space [the character] Nina may have occupied in the eighties, I’m pulling from Brooke Shields and Farrah Fawcett and Cheryl Tiegs. I’m researching those women and trying to learn how were they treated, how were they consumed. I’m trying to learn that and put my own spin on it and create something different or at least a little bit fresh from all of that. So it’s not that I have somebody that I think could play her now, but there’s definitely a lot of famous people that I researched in order to create the people in the book.

So what ultimately inspired you to explore this era of the eighties for this book and why Malibu specifically as the location?

My answer to both of those questions is sort of like, why not? Malibu is so fun! It’s just such a joyful place to be for me. It’s one of my favorite places. It was certainly my favorite part of Los Angeles. I think I’m happy when I’m there. So the idea that I would get to spend time both in my mind and then also for research physically in that place, it just felt like why not throw myself into this world of surfing and beaches and glamour and nature — which is what I love about Malibu is that it is [all these things]. And [setting it in] the eighties, I think part of it was in finishing Daisy Jones, that book ends in 1979. In my research, I felt like, “Oh, the eighties are looming.” (laughs) Everything was building towards this chaos of the eighties. It sort of was calling to me. I was trying to figure out where do I want to go in my head. And I was thinking, “Let’s go to eighties, Malibu. That sounds like a fun time!” I started writing it at the end of 2017 and just started it from doing a lot of research, reading a lot about surfing, watching surf videos and surf movies and reading the history of Malibu and also really investigating the culture of the eighties. That took me a little while, and then I started drafting once I understood exactly the sense of time and place that I wanted to give the story.

Did you know anything about surfing prior to writing this? 

No, I know nothing! I think that’s part of what is so fun about the way that people think about California versus what California is really like. A lot of people surf here, but it’s a subculture. It’s not the dominant culture. That’s what’s fun about it: Let’s go pretend that we belong in this subculture of surfers. I don’t belong in the subculture at all (laughs). There’s not an athletic bone in my body and I’m terrified of what lurks underneath the surface of the ocean. The most fun part of my job lately is I just get to pretend a lot and go to different places in my mind. So I could pretend to be a surfer and try to get all the lingo right. But at the end of the day, I cannot hack it in the water.

In this story, you write from the perspective of so many different characters. Was there a specific character that was the most fun to write and any that was the most challenging?

I really started the book because I wanted to write [the character] Nina and everyone formed sort of in relation to Nina. The big surprise for me was when I started writing it, I don’t think that I knew that the story was going to have to go back in time and tell the story of her parents. All four of the siblings, I could spend so much more time with them [because] I really enjoy writing them [and] they feel very clear in my mind. But the surprise for me was how much I would end up pouring my heart into [their mother] June and how complicated it was to render [their father] Mick causing the trouble that he does but, at the same time, trying to explain why. June was a big surprise for me. I fell in love with her and there’s just a lot of my heart that goes out to June.

Readers will recognize Mick as a character mentioned in your previous novels, Daisy Jones & The Six and The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo. Did you go into the story knowing you would incorporate him? 

I knew that he was their father. I had written about him in Evelyn Hugo. I loved writing about him and when it got to Daisy Jones, I kind of wanted to put him in just as a little Easter egg. Then when I started to think, “Okay, I want to tell a story specifically about Nina Riva,” it became a story of who’s this daughter who picks up all the pieces and who’s the dad? Who has left her to do this? My readers know him as not a great guy, so what’s it like to be his kid? And that’s when the story really took shape for me. You think you know Mick Riva, but now I’m going to tell you in detail what this man’s life was and what he was to his children, and really adding those layers to the story. I didn’t know at the outset that it was where the story was going to go, but by the time I was a chapter or so in, I felt this very strong sense of, “I need to go back in time and tell you how their parents met and how fell in love.”

Going forward, do you ever see yourself continuing to connect your stories in some way with other characters?

For sure. I’ve found this period of time in my career, which I’m writing about this sort of fictional world and creating what the fame culture looks like to be such a blast and so creatively fulfilling and thrilling, quite frankly, that I’m going to stay in the space for at least one more book. I feel like there’s one more type of woman that I want to write about. There’s one more thing when we talk about women’s relationship to fame and attention. There’s one more piece of this that I really want to sink my teeth into. So I’m definitely not done yet.

What is it about Hollywood and pop culture that really makes you want to explore it in your novels?

How much time do you have? (laughter) I could talk about it for ages! I think to distill it down, what it is is that Hollywood is both real and entirely not real. There is a Hollywood and there’s not a Hollywood. Immediately that means that any story that you want to tell in that space becomes about what the legend is or what the myth is in relationship to what the truth is because those things are never the same. There’s a complexity to the lives of famous people that allows me to talk about the pressures that we put on people. Fame is such a mirror for our culture of what we value and why we value it. Yet these people are real people who have their own heartbreaks. This world of famous people is allowing me to investigate what something looks like versus what the truth is and that is just a really fertile space to me.

Each of your books has also explored different eras. When preparing to write a new story, do you envision the era first or the story and characters?

It’s definitely both at the same time and one informing the other. When I’m trying to decide what I’m going to write next, it’s really important to me that I feel an ache to want to go back to, or want to be a part of the scene that I’m writing about. So I never got to party on the Sunset Strip in the seventies, but doesn’t it sound fun? I have to have that pull and that pull is different than the logical piece of my brain that says, “This is what I want to talk about next.” I have a pull for different times and places.

Then what are the characters that you gravitate toward wanting to explore?

I think what it is is that I’m in some ways writing and guided by trying to fill out this world a little bit. Evelyn Hugo is incredibly self-possessed and has to in some ways, grab what she wants with her whole hand in order to get it. She has so many things working against her and she forces her way through. I was really drawn to that kind of woman; show me a woman who demands that she will have the power that she wants… that’s fascinating to me. But once I did that, what then began to interest me as well was show me a woman who’s been given everything and is about to fall apart. And once I had done that, with Nina it felt like show me a woman who will pick up the pieces every single time. Show me a woman whose father is amiss and attention has always been on her and she’s beautiful. There are a thousand reasons that her life shouldn’t be perfect from the outside, but she just wants a minute to herself.

Like your previous works, Daisy Jones and Evelyn Hugo, Malibu Rising also takes a unique approach in how it’s framed, where you present the story as an hourly account mixed with flashbacks. How do you go about sorting a narrative framework and was the intent to always write Malibu as a story that takes place over the span of 24 hours?

I can’t for the life of me figure out how to tell a story in order (laughs), so what ends up happening is just some craziness. I’m just telling the story in the way that feels most organic to tell it. Every time I feel like I have people in my life [and] on my team who are like, “Okay, now is this one told linear?” And I’m like “oh sorry!” It’s so funny because I do get questions like that: “Oh, you’re always playing with structure.” And there’s a part of me that thinks, “Yes, make it look purposeful and act like you’re a genius,” but really what I’m just trying to find the most organic way to that particular story. I want the feeling that you have to be immersive. So how do I do that? If what I want is for you to feel immersed in this party [then] I think I want to start this story at 7:00 AM before the party starts and take you through this whole day. And so it’s really about trying to create a ride for the reader to go on more than anything.

What do you hope people take away from Malibu Rising and the characters? Then was there anything you took away personally after writing this? 

I just want people to have a good time. I really pour my heart and soul into trying to tell stories that matter to me, but at the end of the day, I really want people to be able to escape. For me, storytelling has been my whole life and, as a consumer of stories, [that] has been an opportunity to just get a break and I want to give that to people. I think transporting people to a house party in Malibu in 1983 could be fun. More specifically, I think I wanted very much to signal to the people in the world who are the ones who are always holding it together for everybody else that maybe you can sit down. Maybe somebody else can hold it together for a minute and you don’t always have to hold on to that burden. For me, I think it ended up being very much a story about generations. Families can perpetuate cycles and also break cycles. I didn’t set out for it to, but it’s made me very introspective about my role as a parent. What are the things that I want to give my daughter and what are the things that I have collected along the way that I really hope I don’t give her? That introspection kind of snuck up on me on in this one. I think I’m a different person and I think I’m a more thoughtful parent because of it.

So now that you’ve published books that take readers to the sixties, seventies and eighties, would it be safe to expect an exploration of the nineties in a future novel?

You’re onto me! You’re paying close attention and I’m appreciating it. I think there’s one more thing I want to explore and a different type of famous woman that I’d like to wrestle with. That take is fluid at the moment but I have the intention that the book that I write next will fit in very well with the previous three and form a sort of a quartet.

Interview edited for length and clarity. 

Malibu Rising is available now.

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