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    "Nine Perfect Strangers" Is My Latest Series Obsession, And Here Are 17 Cool Facts About The Show You Might Not Know

    "Nicole Kidman is perfect!"

    Spotlight with Jonathan Levine with a photo of Jonathan at a premiere on the right
    Brooke Greenberg / BuzzFeed Celeb

    Hulu's latest addicting original series, Nine Perfect Strangers, is based on Liane Moriarty's book of the same name. Yes, the same Liane Moriarty who wrote the bestselling novel Big Little Lies, which later became an HBO hit series.

    To celebrate the show's success, I sat down with Nine Perfect Strangers director Jonathan Levine to learn about how the show came together, exploring triggering topics, and all the fun that went on behind the scenes.

    1. Jonathan didn't read the book before signing on to direct.

    Book cover for Nine Perfect Strangers which featured wisps of multicolored smoke
    Flatiron Books

    "My friend Bruna Papandrea, who produced this as well as Big Little Lies, thought that I might be a good fit for it. When I came on, I had not read the book. I'd only read the script. All I knew was that it was TV legend David E. Kelley's project and that Nicole Kidman and Melissa McCarthy were in it. 

    At the time, I think it was time-sensitive, so I had to either try to get the job or I'd miss the opportunity. But I ultimately met with Nicole, Melissa, and David, and then I read the book. I was like, 'Oh, my God, I love this even more than I could possibly have imagined!' I don't know what would have happened if I'd gotten the job and then really didn't like the book, that would have been really awkward. But luckily, I loved it!"

    2. But he was a fan of HBO's Big Little Lies.

    The cast of Big Little Lies during a scene where they're in a police lineup

    "I didn't know much about Liane Moriarty's written work, but I was a fan of Big Little Lies, which was based off of her book. I'm embarrassed to say it, but I don't read books, unless it's for a job. I just loved the characters — the characters that she writes are still lived in and beautiful. Then she kind of throws in this satirical edge with a boundary-pushing tone that's so clever and warm and charming. I just really love her writing and I hope we were able to do it justice."

    3. Liane Moriarty had complete trust in Hulu and the Nine Perfect Strangers team. So much so, she was pretty "hands off" during production.

    4. Despite the series being set in Northern California, Nine Perfect Strangers was actually filmed in Byron Bay, Australia. This was partially due to COVID-19.

    5. In Episode 1, when the characters meet Masha, that was actually the first time the cast met Nicole on set.

    6. Nicole Kidman blew Jonathan Levine away, both as an actor and an executive producer.

    Nicole Kidman's character smirking
    Vince Valitutti / Hulu / Everett Collection

    "It's so impressive to me when you meet your acting heroes and they know how to actually produce too. Nicole is perfect. She's so instinctively insightful as a creator and, not just as an actor, but as a storyteller. She's always thinking about the story. She's always thinking about the tone...and the tone of this show is pretty fucking crazy. She blew me away — her skill and technical ability are just so impressive."

    7. Melvin Gregg, Manny Jacinto, and Grace Van Patten all auditioned for their roles, while some actors were "offered" theirs.

    Rodin Eckenroth / FilmMagic, Rodin Eckenroth / Getty Images, Rob Kim / Getty Images for 2019 Tribeca Film Festival

    "Some people auditioned and some people we just offered it to. It's interesting, when you're putting together a cast like this — we got very lucky to have such an extraordinary group of well-known actors. Hmm...I'm trying to remember who auditioned. There was Melvin Gregg — who I think is fantastic — Grace Van Patten, and Manny Jacinto — who I wasn't familiar with, but I quickly learned how incredible his range is."

    8. Michael Shannon was scared of his character, Napoleon Marconi.

    Vince Valitutti / Hulu / Everett Collection

    "I remember him saying, 'I don't know if I'm this guy. He kind of scares me.' And then I was like, 'But what do you do with a role when it doesn't scare you?' He said, 'I'll pass. I won't do the role.' I think that's also really interesting that the fear  and the fact that he didn't know whether he could truly portray the character is what was enticing to him about the role."

    9. Jonathan and the cast met with counselors before filming the suicide discussion scenes.


    "We did talk to some consultants in advance and after the fact, when we were editing, to make sure that we were both being respectful and not overly triggering. We never wanted to include something just for the sake of mining pain or to overwhelm the audience — we've always wanted to feel grounded and real.

    I would always meet with Michael Shannon, Asher Keddie, and Grace Van Patten (the Marconi family in the series) together at the same time, and we would just talk. It became this kind of intellectual discussion about grief and trauma, as well as conversations about the people we know and who we've lost. Then it became conversations about have we ever considered suicide, and it just got pretty deep."

    10. Jonathan Levine's personal connection to the subject matter made him even more cautious about his approach.

    Mike Coppola / Getty Images

    "I've had people in my life who have committed suicide, so I feel a great debt to portray that situation with both accuracy and with hope. You don't want to just present this sort of bleak portrayal, because you're rooting for this family to move on now — whatever that means. It's a complicated and textured thing, but we're hoping that they can come out the other side."

    11. In Episode 6, Asher Keddie's character lets out gut-wrenching screams after being confronted by a hallucination of her late son. Jonathan said she was quickly able to turn her emotions on and off for that scene.

    Asher's character holding her hands to her head in anguish

    "She would do these harrowing, guttural, and unbelievably real performances. Then I'd say cut and she'd be like, 'Yeah, was that cool?' or 'Yeah, let's do it again.' And then I'd be like, 'Alright, I don't want to make you do it too many times.' She'd reply, 'Yeah, I probably shouldn't do it too many times.' It's just very interesting how some people can turn it on and off like that, and go to that place in a second. She seems to be fine to just turn it on and off."

    12. In fact, Episode 6 is one of the episodes he's most proud of due to the emotional "tonal swings."


    "I would say Episode 6 is probably, just in general, the thing I'm most proud of, because I love the opportunity to do things that shouldn't work and then have them work. I have that tonal latitude as a director, and I also have the ability to move the camera more and do more trippy stylistic stuff. To go from Melissa McCarthy's hallucination of Paul Drabble in this very surreal way, to a very emotional scene, to a scene where you're not quite sure what's going on, to basically a rom-com between Bobby Cannavale and Melissa. We were able to use this style to help the audience feel the intensity of the trip that these guys are going on. I really liked what we were able to pull off and that there's the opportunity for it to be funny and heartfelt."

    13. Behind the scenes, the cast was always "fucking around" and "making each other laugh."

    14. In fact, Jonathan said Regina Hall was the "funniest person" he's ever met.

    Vince Valitutti / Hulu / Everett Collection

    "Regina is doing something a little different in this show. She's showing more dramatic shots than I think people are used to, and she does such a beautiful job. Regina is probably one of the funniest people I've ever met! She just cracks me up all the time."

    15. Jonathan personally asked Melissa McCarthy if her husband, Ben Falcone, would join the show.

    Vince Valitutti / Hulu / Everett Collection

    "I thought he would be perfect. So, I asked Melissa, 'Do you think your husband would want to do this?' And she goes, 'Well, he's gonna be with me in Australia anyway [laughs].' Ever since Bridesmaids and the first time I saw him on screen, I just loved his delivery. I just think he's so funny. I thought of him for this role because the humor is not from trying to make jokes, but more just from his sort of juxtaposition."

    16. Episodes 7 and 8 are his favorites from the series.


    "When you see [Episodes] 7 and 8 — they're my favorite episodes — you'll see that the story really wraps up and it actually becomes so much more about Masha. You learn more and more about her as we sort of hint at the end of [Episode] 6."

    17. Lastly, Jonathan already has ideas for Season 2...if it happens.

    Bertrand Rindoff Petroff / Getty Images

    "I hope that people enjoy it enough for Season 2 to be an option. I certainly can imagine where it would go for a second season. The one thing I did think would be cool is if you could get, like, another group of nine. One of them would be, like, a famous person playing themselves. I would love for people to want more. And then it's about whether we could convince David, the series creator, and Nicole."

    Nine Perfect Strangers is currently streaming on Hulu. You can check out Episodes 1–7 now.

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