After the popular comics upon which the new Netflix series is based came out in 2008, there was a rush on to adapt it for the screen.
The story about a family with a widowed mother, three kids and a spooky house which hides within its walls, magical keys that granted special powers and opened doors to different realms, was first going to be a TV show in 2010.
There was a script, a cast, including Miranda Otto and Jesse McCartney and a pilot episode which screened at Comic-Con. As such things go, that series didn’t come to pass.
Two more failed attempts to mount the title – a movie and another TV show – and the screen rights reverted back to the book’s writer Joe Hill, the song of Stephen King.
Locke & Key was threatening to be the stuff of Hollywood legend, the one that got away. That’s when prolific TV producer Carlton Cuse (Nash Bridges, Lost, Jack Ryan) came into the mix.
Cuse was in New York with his agent when he heard the rights to the book had gone back to Hill and he immediately went about setting something up.
“I said ‘I’m super interested’ and when Joe Hill heard that, he was a fan of some of the shows I had done, so he and I got together and we really clicked,” Cuse told news.com.au.
“I read the comic in 2008 when it first came out and it was one of the best comics I’d ever read and I thought [Joe and artist Gabriel Rodriguez] had done a masterful job on a comic that’s in a very crowded space where a lot of stories were being told yet they told a story that felt fresh, original and heartfelt.”
Even with the combination of Cuse and Hill, Locke & Key would go through another round of rejection – a pilot shot for American streamer Hulu, who passed – before it landed at Netflix, this time with writer and producer Meredith Averill (The Haunting of Hill House) on board.
The story follows the Locke family who moves across the US to the father Rendell’s (Bill Heck) ancestral home after his murder. Mum Nina (Darby Stanchfied), teens Tyler (Connor Jessup) and Kinsey (Emilia Jones) and youngster Bode (Jackson Robert Scott) are drawn into the history of the gothic house and the secrets of now-dead Rendell’s ancestry.
There’s a well with a threatening presence at the bottom and all kinds of magical shenanigans.
“I read the comics and was so in love with it right away,” Averill said. “Obviously I loved the keys and the fantasy elements of it. But at the heart of it was this story of this family that was broken and finding their way back to the light, that they would be discovering more about their father through the keys and the incredible mystery at the centre of the show.
“It was a page turner and then we I sat down with Carlton, we had a similar vision for what we felt the show should be and could be.”
Cuse added: “Part of the challenge of what made Locke & Key so hard to get to the screen was there are so many cool things Joe and Gabe put into the comic – it has horror, it has fantasy, it has a murder mystery, it has family drama.
“Trying to calibrate all these elements and put them together in a way that feels cohesive and connected was hard. It took us a long time to figure out what that cocktail needed to be.
“I think there’s a weird intangible when you make TV and that’s alchemy. Netflix very much wanted to embrace the fantasy elements of the show. There was tremendous alchemy between me and Meredith and I think we were also lucky in that we cast a bunch of actors who had incredible chemistry with each other.
I think all of these elements, in ways big and small, is what ultimately led to the success of the show.”
When a series has such an involving world and requires new audiences to buy into a high concept, there’s always the challenge of balancing the source material and what’s required in a televisual medium.
That means there are some changes, including the ending of the first season deviating from the book in a way that sets the series up for a potential second season. And some things may look a little different.
Averill said: “The fans of the comics are certainly going to recognise so much of what they love, but there are also new stories for them to discover that are also part of that world. Hopefully it’ll be an enhanced experience for them.”
Cuse added that one of the changes the series had to make was the look of Keyhouse.
“If we had literally built that house from the comics, it would’ve been 100 feet tall, like a 10-storey building.
“There’s a certain kind of heightened reality in comics that is great for the page but doesn’t work if you want to make television that has a reality tone, and we wanted to make sure it felt authentic and realistic and not too over-the-top so we had to calibrate.”
Existing fans of the books who might be concerned will be pleased to know Hill is involved on the Netflix adaptation. He’s credited as the creator of the show and was a “partner” to Cuse and Averill and was part of the adaptation process. He’s even credited on the script for the season finale.
Locke & Key is available to stream on Netflix from Friday, February 7 at 7pm AEDT
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