In early 2013, Therese Anne Fowler's book Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald reached readers' hands and exploded the mythology around Zelda Fitzgerald. Now Fowler's novel has been transformed from page to screen by Amazon Studios.
Amazon Book Review: Most people are familiar with F. Scott Fitzgerald but are less familiar with his wife, Zelda, even though she was a writer in her own right. What got you interested in her life?
Therese Anne Fowler: I'd written three previous novels—contemporary family drama type stories—and I was looking for a direction change in my career, so I was thinking that I'd write something historical. And out of nowhere, literally truly, I had this idea to write about Zelda. So I started reading a little bit about her on Wikipedia and fishing around the Internet just for information, and weirdly the date of her death happened to be the same as my mother's death, though in different years. I thought, Okay, this is getting a little strange. This idea had just dropped into my head, and then I have these coincidental dates. I kept looking for more information about her and discovered pretty quickly that what I thought I knew about Zelda was not actually true. Nancy Milford had written a very famous biography and Sally Klein had a biography about Zelda also, so it wasn't as if no one had ever tried to champion her story and bring her out of the shadows. But for whatever reason, this misperception about who she was persisted. And that kind of made me mad! [Laughs.] This is wrong! She was a very interesting, very talented woman who never quite achieved what she might have. And the fact that we all know and revere her husband is great. But instead of [wrongfully] blaming her for the end of his career and the fact that he never achieved the kind of greatness—at least that was the story—that he might have had if he hadn't had this albatross of a wife around his neck... That seemed to me a compelling enough reason to take on this subject matter again in fiction. So it became this mission for me to tell her real story, as much as I could determine it.
How did Amazon Studios decide to film an original pilot of Z?
Christina Ricci read Z sometime in the year that it was published, and she took the idea of doing a feature film—a biopic film—to Killer Films. But they didn't have a screenwriter attached and they didn't have any money for the production, so what we said is, That it sounds really interesting, we like your ideas, come back when you have more of the pieces of the puzzle put together. About nine months went by and they came back and said, "Actually, how about this idea? We've got Amazon Studios interested in doing this as a series." And I thought that was magical, honestly, because there's so much ground to cover. A twenty-year story. And they could do so much more than I was able to with the novel if they did it for series television. Dawn Prestwich and Nicole Yorkin had just come off doing the TV series The Killing, and they were available [to write]. They wrote a pilot script and they took it to Amazon, and everybody was happy about it, and they said, "Okay, go make a pilot."
How much of Zelda's life does the series cover?
The pilot is the point where Zelda and Scott first meet. We're seeing Zelda in Montgomery, Alabama. She's a teenager; she's living with her grumpy father. She's the sixth child of the family and her parents are pretty worn out. And she's such a wild child anyway. So that's where the pilot opens. And then the rest of the series will cover more or less from the time they meet in the first episode into the first year of their marriage, when everything is going right for them—or at least as right as it's going to go. [Laughs.] Scott becomes a celebrity author very quickly, and they have all this tension, kind of like the first celebrity "it" couple.
Did you get to see the filming at all?
I did. I went to see when they were shooting the pilot, which was in 2015, and then I went back again last summer when they were filming for the first season. I spent about two weeks on the set, all told.
Was there anything that surprised you while you were there?
Well, I felt like a complete interloper because even though I've been a consultant, I've not been involved in the production. But everybody was wonderful. They kept saying, "You're the reason we're doing this." And I said, "No, Zelda is the reason we're doing this." I didn't make up Zelda. I just wrote about her.
Everybody adores Christina Ricci. Everybody I talked to, the whole time I was on the set, was saying, "She is just so great. She's so professional, she's so smart, she's so talented." Gosh, it was great! They were going on and on about it.
I was most impressed by the passion that everyone involved has had for the project and how much they seem to respect and enjoy working with one another. It was lovely to see. It made me feel confident that the project was in good hands.
What are you writing now?
I am doing a novel that is broadly about the Vanderbilts, which is a name that most of us know, but we don't know very much about who they were or are. And it's focused on a woman [whose situation is] kind of like Zelda's, in that if you know anything about her, what you know is actually not very true to who she was.
The entire first season of Z: The Beginning of Everything is available for streaming on Friday, January 27.