Station Eleven premiered today on HBO Max, a limited series based on Emily St. John Mandel’s international bestseller. “It’s a very aggressive adaptation of a very beautiful book that I love,” series creator, showrunner, and executive producer Patrick Somerville said about the series during a TCA press conference. “Emily’s voice as a novelist is impressive for what it does to knit things together. We needed to make our stories a little different to get that back.” Patrick Somerville also shared that Emily St. John gave him license to change what he needed to for the story to work in a visual medium.

(Parrish Lewis/HBO Max)

(Parrish Lewis/HBO Max)

“I think the really cool thing about this show is that it was imagined, and prepped, and broken, and written and thought about without us knowing there was a pandemic on the way,” Patrick Somerville revealed, adding that episodes one and three were filmed in February of 2020, before production and much of the world was shutdown for a real pandemic. “We were on a planned hiatus which became the hiatus that everyone else took. We didn’t change what we were intending to do because we had already started, and Emily was way out in front as well. We always wanted to make a post-apocalyptic show about joy. And I think as we went to live it, we began to feel feelings we didn’t expect to know about and it influenced things. But I think we did what we were always going to do.”

The real-world events surrounding the time of production became poignant for director and executive producer Jeremy Podeswa. “The show mirrored so much that we were all going through at the time that we were making it and it was a very strange experience,” the director shared. “We were all grappling with this new reality, but the themes of the show were becoming so resonant as we were going forward. It really made us think so much about what's important in life, which is really what the show is about. What really matters at the end of the day when you're facing a cataclysmic kind of event? And really what matters is other people, the people in your life you care about, your health. And also making art, which is what we were all doing with this show, and that really gave us a great sense of purpose in a really difficult time.”

Production was scheduled to resume in May of 2020, but the planned hiatus became a forced one. “When we went back to continue, finally, after all that time, it was obviously very different,” actor Himesh Patel explained, who plays Jeevan. “We had these guidelines we had to follow, and we had to get used to that really quickly. What it did for me was it brought home something that I've always been aware of and celebrated. And I think what should be definitely celebrated right now is how brilliant our crew was, these people who I literally didn’t see some of their faces until the last day of the shoot of my journey with them because we all had to be protected, and you realize how much we’re carried by the people we work with. And there was, strangely, there was a joy in realizing that for me. There was a kind of realizing how we all balance each other when we’re working together on film sets and how we really need to make sure we take care of each other in every way and in subtle ways, and so I look forward to the day that we can all start working together the way we used to and connecting with each other in those ways, because I do miss that, but there was a joy in the way that we were finding a way to do it despite difficulties.”

(Parrish Lewis/HBO Max)

(Parrish Lewis/HBO Max)

Due to a narrative time jump, two actors play Kristen – Matilda Lawler as a child and Mackenzie Davis as an adult. “When we came back to shoot the show, we were working together at the first part of it,” Mackenzie Davis explained. “And the first episode I shot, I got to really be near Matilda and see what she was doing or she was around at that time. So I got to pick up a lot of things and spend time with her outside of set and just watch. She has a very particular way of expressing herself in her face. I'm not somebody that really does a lot of mimicking things, but I definitely was absorbing how she felt inquisitive or troubled or how she processed information.” But with 20 years between the two versions of Kristen, Mackenzie Davis wasn’t bound to the performance Matilda Lawler gave in her cenes. “She has held onto the cornerstones that define her in a way that's pretty incredible to go through a pandemic and still be doing the things that she's doing.”

As dark and eerily similar to recent events as Station Eleven may be, the project proved to be a joyful experience for the cast. “We would spend all week shrouded and huddled away from each other in these groups where we couldn’t see each other,” Mackenzie Davis shared about the Toronto production filmed while the city was in lockdown. “I had a house with a backyard, and every Saturday people would come over, and I would have a nice roast lunch and that really made me so happy. There was like ecstasy at the end of a week ofisolation, even though you’re around a lot of people.” The fact that the cast and creative team had a job to do also helped bring them together in a time of isolation. “We also had each other to do a thing, to make a thing together,” Patrick Somerville reflected. “Which is what the show is about but we were doing it, also. And I think all the healing things, all the hard things, all the great things about collective artmaking were happening. And that made me feel better while we were taking risks to make a thing and separated from our families in most cases.”

The first three episodes of Station Eleven are now streaming on HBO Max. New episodes will launch on Thursdays.