Harper’s Bazaar

ELENA FERRANTE OPENS UP ABOUT THE ‘MY BRILLIANT FRIEND’ HBO SERIES

By , 1 June 2017

Until now, author Elena Ferrante has remained quiet about her hugely popular Neapolitan series moving to television screens via HBO. However, as casting begins in Naples for the adaptation of My Brilliant Friend, the famously private author – who works under a pseudonym – has opened up about her involvement in the project.

“For now, my contribution to the set design is limited to a few notes on whether they look right,” she told The New York Times in a rare interview. “As far as the collaboration on the script, I don’t write, I don’t have the technical skills to do it, but I am reading the texts and send detailed notes. I still don’t know if they will take them into account. It is very likely that my notes will be used later on, in the writing of the final draft.”

However, she does want the young characters – including leads Lila and Elena – to be played by newcomers rather than established child actors or actresses. All four books show an unparalleled, compelling look at the complicated friendship of two women who were both born in poverty-stricken 1950s Naples.

“Child actors portray children as adults imagine children to be,” she explained. “Children who are not actors have some chance to break free of the stereotype, especially if the director is able to find the right balance between truth and fiction.”

That said, she appreciates that ultimately casting is not her decision.

“I don’t have this skill set. Sure, I’d very much like to weigh in, but I would do it cautiously and knowing that it is useless to say, ‘Lila has little or nothing to do with that body, that face, that gaze, that way of moving,’ etc,” she said. “No real person will ever match the image that I or a reader have in our minds. This is because the written word, of course, defines but by nature leaves much to reader’s imagination. The visual image instead shrinks those margins.”

Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels have sold two million copies in 39 countries worldwide. Her final book in the series, The Story of the Lost Child, was nominated for the Man Booker Prize. HBO announced news of the show – which will comprise eight episodes – in March this year, although a release date is not yet known. The series will be filmed in Italian with English subtitles.

The New York Times

Elena Ferrante on ‘My Brilliant Friend’ Moving to the Screen

I contacted the author Elena Ferrante, who chooses to remain anonymous and publish under a pseudonym, for a story I wrote for The Times about a citywide casting call for children in Naples to fill the starring roles in a mini-series based on her hit novel “My Brilliant Friend.”

Ms. Ferrante missed deadline by a good few days, but nevertheless the author had worthwhile thoughts. Below are her answers about what it’s like for a writer to have their major work adapted to the screen, to have regular kids incarnating her characters, how much she contributes to the production and whether she thinks the show will take off like “Game of Thrones.”

The first thing I’d like to know is what it feels like to have all these young kids in Naples, many from really disadvantaged sections of the city, lining up in the hopes of being Lila and Lenù? Obviously the books have had great acclaim, but I wonder what thoughts and feelings it evokes in you to actually have the works entering the lives of kids not so dissimilar to the ones you described.

For me it was a radical change. The characters, the neighborhood are all created from words, and yet they move from literature to the screen. They leave the world of readers and enter into the much more vast world of spectators, they meet people who have never read about them and people who, for social circumstances or by choice, would never read about them. It’s a process that intrigues me. The substance of the books is reworked according to other rules and other priorities, and it changes nature. The kids themselves who show up at the auditions are the first sign of this. They know little or nothing about books. They are spectators who hope to become actors, either for play or a shot at deliverance.

You’ve clearly described the characters, and the casting director, director and producers all have a clear idea of what they are looking for based on your descriptions. And they think that kids who have grown up in tough environments are best to convey the spirit of those kids. What do you think? Would you also rather have non-actors playing the roles (there is some risk there!) or would you prefer more practiced child actors?

Child actors portray children as adults imagine children to be. Children who are not actors have some chance to break free of the stereotype, especially if the director is able to find the right balance between truth and fiction.

A lot of these kids, frankly, have never heard of Elena Ferrante or the Neapolitan novels. Most of them have visions of TV stardom dancing in their heads. Are you, someone who has studiously avoided the stardom track, worried that the hysteria around the auditions could fuel the celebrity obsession so many young people now have?

They are children who take their lead from the myths of cinema, of television, definitely not those of the written word. They want to be on screen, to be center stage, to become stars, and this is not their fault — it’s the air breathed in the adult world and, as a result, in theirs. To be part of television today is one of the most powerful aspirations of the masses, and anyone, poor or well off, considers it an extraordinary opportunity. Across all the social classes, poor and rich, cultured and uncultured.

On the flip side, do you feel like this is an opportunity to introduce kids, many of them disadvantaged, to the joys of reading? I don’t mean just reading your books, but getting them interested in books in general.

Naturally, I hope that happens. But the opportunity we are talking about has little, if anything, to do with reading. Children are there to be part of show business, and that’s it. That doesn’t mean that some of them won’t discover that this all started with a book; that behind the world of show business, with its many moving parts and conspicuous cash flow, there always is, albeit in a subservient position, the evocative power of writing and reading.

What is your hope for this production as far as its impact on Naples and its image in the world, especially after the unflattering depictions in the movie and popular television show “Gomorrah”?

Cities don’t have their own energy. It derives from the density of their history, from the power of their literature and arts, of the emotional richness of human events that take place against that background. I hope that the visual storytelling will stir authentic emotions — complex and even contradictory sentiments. This is what makes us fall in love with cities.

Do you want to sign off on the children before they are officially cast? Do you want to make sure that they are true to your vision?

I don’t have this skill set. Sure, I’d very much like to weigh in, but I would do it cautiously and knowing that it is useless to say, “Lila has little or nothing to do with that body, that face, that gaze, that way of moving,” etc. No real person will ever match the image that I or a reader have in our minds. This is because the written word, of course, defines but by nature leaves much to reader’s imagination. The visual image instead shrinks those margins. It is destined to always leave out something that the words inspire — something that always matters.

What has your involvement been with the production? The director and producers told me you send notes on the script, and have helped them design the set out near Caserta. What do you want the set to look like?

The neighborhood is a composite of different places in Naples that I know well. That’s always the case when I write, both with people or things. I don’t know what will happen on the screen. For now, my contribution to the set design is limited to a few notes on whether they look right. As far as the collaboration on the script, I don’t write, I don’t have the technical skills to do it, but I am reading the texts and send detailed notes. I still don’t know if they will take them into account. It is very likely that my notes will be used later on, in the writing of the final draft.

They have also told me that you imagine the show visually as a fairy tale, that they shouldn’t be scared to go beyond the book and depict villains as monsters, etc. How faithful do you want them to be to the novels?

No, no, it is a realistic tale. It is childhood that is colored by elements of the fantastic, and surely Lila is too. As far as faithfulness to the book, I expect a faithfulness compatible with the needs of visual storytelling, which uses different means than writing to obtain the same effects.

And lastly, HBO is involved in the production. Do you hope, or maybe fear, that this becomes the next global phenomenon, Italy’s “Game of Thrones”?

Unfortunately, “My Brilliant Friend” doesn’t provide the same kind of plot points.

The New York Times

Saudi Arabia, Theresa May, Elena Ferrante: Your Friday Briefing 

Ferrante Fever has flared up in Naples, where nearly 5,000 children are vying to audition for HBO’s adaptation of “My Brilliant Friend,” the first of the four smash-hit novels by Elena Ferrante.

The open casting call has injected hysteria and hope in parts of the southern Italian city that is poor in resources but rich in characters.

Separately, our correspondent visited the nearby Villaggio Coppola, built in the 1960s with utopian ambitions. It’s now, in her words, “a sad illustration of Southern Italy’s violated beauty and neglect.”

The New York Times

A Casting Call in Naples Lets Children Dream, if for a Day

By JASON HOROWITZ
MAY 18, 2017

NAPLES, Italy — A legion of children raced up a dead-end street in Sanità, a tough Naples neighborhood dripping with laundry and suddenly brimming with the promise of stardom.

Marta Reale, 10, her smile broad, her bangs blanched, made her way to a recreation center’s doorway through the dense crowd of other children, sunlit cigarette smoke and mothers fanning themselves on the seats of scooters. Above her, more children were hanging out the window, and above them, more were crammed onto a balcony.

Then she approached the desk where she gave her name and age and got a numbered slip of paper and a parental release form. The sign above her head read, “Dream.”

This was not just any casting call, but one for “My Brilliant Friend,” an adaptation of the first of the four smash-hit Neapolitan Novels written by Elena Ferrante, whose hidden identity enthralled the literary world and whose books have sold more than a million copies.

HBO and the Italian state broadcaster RAI caught the Ferrante Fever and are producing an eight-episode mini-series inspired by that first book, introducing international viewers to the complicated relationship of two remarkably gifted girls, Lila (“that terrible, dazzling girl”) and Lenú (“I liked pleasing everyone”), as they grow up and apart in a violent, vivid Naples neighborhood in the lean postwar years.

Continue reading

The New York Times

Elena Ferrante Series Coming to HBO

Variety

HBO, Rai to Adapt Elena Ferrante’s ‘My Brilliant Friend’ as Drama Series

Nick Vivarelli

ROME – HBO and Italian state broadcaster Rai have teamed up on “My Brilliant Friend,” the hotly anticipated drama series based on the first of four “Neapolitan Novels” written by Italian author Elena Ferrante, whose books have legions of fervent fans around the world.

FremantleMedia-owned Wildside and Domenico Procacci’s Fandango are producing the Italian-language series. The plan is to start shooting this summer in Naples for a premiere targeted in 2018.

Italian director Saverio Costanzo (“Private,” “Hungry Hearts”) will direct. Jennifer Schuur (“Big Love,” “Hannibal”) will serve as executive producer on “My Brilliant Friend” for Wildside and Fandango. The international distributor is FremantleMedia Intl.

Costanzo told Variety that Ferrante’s sweeping saga is “very literary but also very cinematographic” and said he planned to stick as closely as possible to the storyline of the book. “The characters really leap out of the book and come alive,” he said. “That makes it easier for us to transpose this cinematographically.”

Wildside and Fandango envision the series as 32 episodes covering all four books. HBO is on board for the first eight episodes.

Though casting is still being decided, the production is expected to draw widely from the large Neapolitan talent pool.

“My Brilliant Friend” tells the story of elderly woman Elena Greco who, after her best friend Lila disappears without a trace, starts writing the story of their 60-year friendship. It begins in the 1950s in the tough streets of Naples, which undergoes transformations along with the rest of Italy as the two women’s symbiotic, though often conflicted, relationship evolves.

“Through her characters, Elena and Lila, we will witness a lifelong friendship set against the seductive social web of Naples, Italy,” said HBO Programming president Casey Bloys. “An exploration of the complicated intensity of female friendship, these ambitious stories will no doubt resonate with the HBO audience.”

The Ferrante skein marks HBO’s second high-end Italian TV series, following “The Young Pope,” directed by Paolo Sorrentino, which was also co-produced by HBO with Wildside. “Pope” aired in Italy on Sky Italia.

This time, the Italian broadcaster on “My Brilliant Friend” will be Rai. Its  hefty investment in the Ferrante adaptation marks a drastic departure from the more mainstream and largely local TV dramas that have been staples for ages on its general entertainment channels.

“This is an ambitious project that satisfies many of our public service goals,” said Rai Managing Director Antonio Campo Dall’Orto. Striving for quality and cultural value at the mammoth pubcaster represents a novelty.

Costanzo said the vivid characters that Ferrante has crafted will be compelling to a wide range of viewers.

“They are characters that each one of us can inhabit no matter what country you are from,” Costanzo said. “They are so well told, in such detail, that we can all identify with them and their desire to emancipate themselves….Elena Ferrante has managed to tell in the first person things that are very intimate, risky, that we all feel but that you need plenty of courage to admit.”

The 41-year-old director broke out internationally in 2004 with “Private,” which was set in a Palestinian home in an occupied zone. More recently he lensed the New York-set “Hungry Hearts,” co-starring Adam Driver and Alba Rohrwacher, an offbeat drama based on a novel about New Age diet obsessions.

Costanzo said he was approaching the Ferrante series “as if I were making a big movie. For me the difference between TV and cinema is very subtle; today’s great TV series are cinematographic.”

He added: “From our conversations, I have a sense that HBO are the right people to help us make a great show because they have great faith in the audience.”

Costanzo is currently working on the screenplays for the eight hourlong episodes with top Italian scribes Francesco Piccolo (“Human Capital”), Laura Paolucci (“Gomorrah” the TV series) and with Ferrante herself, although “Elena Ferrante” is a pseudonym. He said he’s been communicating with Ferrante via email.

Last year, an investigative journalist for Italian financial daily Il Sole 24 Ore identified Italian literary translator Anita Raja as Ferrante. Costanzo says his focus is strictly on translating Ferrante’s work to the screen.

“I am among those who are not interested who she [really is]. I am just interested in her literary world, not her human reality,” Costanzo said.

iNews

The poems that make Olivia Colman, Elena Ferrante, Judi Dench and other ‘grown women’ cry

Elena Ferrante, writer

‘I Took Power in My Hand’ by Emily Dickinson (1862)

At times I’ve read these lines as a reflection on women’s writing, at times as a symbol of any female venture. The first painful fact is that Dickinson has no models of her own sex to refer to, nothing, anyway, that has the aura of David. This is the source of the inevitable comparison with the male figure from the Bible. His hand is bigger, the Power at his disposal is bigger. As a result, Dickinson, in order to make an equivalent gesture, needs twice the boldness.

But what’s the use of being bolder? The woman who takes aim and throws her stone does not confront simply the Goliath of the youth with the slingshot: her Goliath is the entire world. Thus that throw can only be ineffectual, its sole victim the thrower. And so we arrive at the wonderful last two lines. Is the Goliath of the audacious Emily ‘too large’ or is it that she is ‘too small’? That adjective, followed by the question mark, moves me. I wish all Emilys not to be small by nature, I wish they would just try, and try again, and so become large. (Translation by Ann Goldstein)

I took my Power in my Hand–
And went against the World –
’Twas not so much as David – had –
But I – was twice as bold –

I aimed my Pebble – but Myself
Was all the one that fell –
Was it Goliath – was too large –
Or was myself – too small?

The Stage

Casting announced for Elena Ferrante stage adaptation

by Georgia Snow

Niamh Cusack and Catherine McCormack are to lead the cast of My Brilliant Friend, the stage adaptation of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels.

Adapted for the stage by April De Angelis, My Brilliant Friend is directed by Melly Still and premieres at the Rose Theatre Kingston in February.

Running from February 25 to April 2, it will have a press night on March 11.

The new two-part production will star Cusack and McCormack alongside a company made up of Justin Avoth, Adam Burton, Martin Hyder, Victoria Moseley, Emily Mytton, Ira Mandela Siobhan, Jonah Russell, Badria Timimi, Toby Wharton and Emily Wachter.

It has set and costume design by Soutra Gilmour, lighting by Malcolm Rippeth, sound by Jon Nicholls and music by James Fortune.

Movement is by Sarah Dowling and casting by Charlotte Sutton.

The show is produced by the Rose Theatre Kingston.

 

Variety

Novelist Elena Ferrante Spawns Documentary ‘Ferrante Fever’, Match Factory Takes Sales (EXCLUSIVE)

Boston Globe

A row of Elena Ferrante books at the Harvard Book Store.

It may be the next best thing to her being there.

Brookline Booksmith and WBUR have just announced that they will present a conversation on the work of the illusive Elena Ferrante Nov. 29 to mark the publication of Ferrante’s first collection of nonfiction, “Frantumaglia: A Writer’s Journey,” a collection of letters, essays, and interviews conducted via e-mail.

The event will feature Ann Goldstein, Ferrante’s translator; Vogue book critic Megan O’Grady; and Michael Reynolds, editor in chief of Europa, Ferrante’s US publisher. Christopher Lydon, host of WBUR’s “Open Source,” will moderate the discussion.

Ferrante, a pseudonym for an author desperate to remain unmasked, is best known in the United States for four novels called the Neapolitan series, which chronicle a beautiful and difficult decadeslong friendship between two girls from Naples. The books, translated from the Italian, have quietly and unexpectedly become a huge hit among American readers.

The event will take place at Coolidge Corner Theatre at 6 p.m. Tickets are $5, available through Brookline Booksmith.

Corriere Canadese

Time Out New York

#FerranteNightFever

#FerranteNightFever

If you spent your subway rides this year with your nose in one of Elena Ferrante’s heartbreaking Neapolitan novels, you’re not alone. Join other fans at launch parties for her collection of essays, Frantumaglia, and children’s book, The Beach at Night. Head bookstores all over town this week for panels about the author, which include John Turturro, translator Ann Goldstein and other guests.

Translationista

Ann Goldstein was awarded the Italian Prose in Translation Award for her translation of The Story of The Lost Child

2016 ALTA TRANSLATION PRIZES ANNOUNCED

SagawaCoverSPDThis weekend at the American Literary Translators Association conference in Oakland, the winners of the two 2016 National Translation Awards in Poetry and Prose were announced, along with the Lucien Stryk Prize for a translation from an Asian language, and the Italian Prose in Translation Award. Without further ado, here are the winners:

The National Translation Award in Poetry has gone to Hilary Kaplan for her translation of Rilke Shake by Angélica Freitas (Phoneme Media).

The National Translation Award in Prose has gone to Liz Harris, for her translation of Tristano Dies: A Life by Antonio Tabucchi (Archipelago)

The Lucien Stryk Prize has gone to Sawako Nakayasu for her translation of The Collected Poems of Chika Sagawa (Canarium Books).

The Italian Prose in Translation Award has gone to Ann Goldstein for her translation of The Story of the Lost Child by Elena Ferrante (whose name is Elena Ferrante, thank you very much) (Europa Editions).

Congratulations to all this year’s ALTA prize winners!

The New York Times

Elena Ferrante’s ‘My Brilliant Friend’ Goes From Page to Stage