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Director Cary Joji Fukunaga takes us inside making Netflix series ‘Maniac’



Maniac 4 Michele K. Short Netflix final
Michele K.

  • “Maniac” director Cary Joji Fukunaga told Business Insider
    about the challenges of making his trippy new show for Netflix.
  • He also explained why Emma Stone hated playing the elf
    character, and why he and Stone almost went to Netflix to see if
    the screening giant would not release all the show’s episodes at


Warning: Spoilers below if you haven’t seen all
episodes of “Maniac.”

Cary Joji Fukanaga has built his career looking at the darker
side of society. Whether it’s the life of a young Mexican gang
member who rides atop a train to seek a new life in the United
States (“Sin Nombre”), or the 17-year-old case two detective
can’t get out of their heads (“True Detective”), he brings to all
his stories incredibly engaging characters and a dazzling visual

And in his latest project, the 10-episode Netflix series
“Maniac,” we get all of that, but a little dark humor as well.
The show follows two strangers (played by Emma Stone and Jonah
Hill) who meet at a facility that’s doing a pharmaceutical trial.
We then follow their hallucinations on the drugs, which involve
the two doing everything from playing a Long Island couple, to
Hill embodying a tattooed gangster with long hair, and Stone as
an elf.

The entire show, created by Patrick Somerville (and very loosely
based on a Norwegian TV series), shows off Fukunaga’s incredible
visual eye but also examines mental illness, drug dependency, and

Business Insider spoke to Fukunaga (the day it was
announced he would be directing James Bond 25
) about the
challenge of writing the show (especially since he had never seen
the original), why they almost dubbed over Jonah Hill’s Icelandic
accent in one episode, the reason Emma Stone hated playing an elf
in another, and why Fukunaga would not come back to direct if
“Maniac” got a season 2.

Jason Guerrasio: Was “Maniac” an interest
because it’s completely different in tone than what you’ve done

Cary Joji Fukunaga: Yes. Definitely. I think the
idea of delusions and opening up the genre pallet even wider to
do something with a more humorous tone, all of that made it

Basically what happened was Anonymous Content optioned the
Norwegian show. I never ever saw it, I just basically knew what
the format was. The idea was I can make a bunch of worlds, I can
get any actor I want, and I thought “let’s make it a two-hander.”
I knew I wanted Emma for sure, but I wasn’t sure who would play
the other one. And the night that I met with Emma to talk about
the show, that I had no idea yet [what it] was going to be about,
she brought up Jonah and I kind of did at the same time, and we
decided to call him up and go see him. And we did. That same

Hill and Emma Stone in the Netflix series


Guerrasio: Really? That day?

Fukunaga: Yeah. And he was like, “A show where
you have no idea what’s going on yet other than it’s going to be
a bunch of delusions? Okay. Sounds good.” [laughs]

Guerrasio: Is it true that you and Patrick
pretty much scrapped half of the episode scripts
three weeks before production
was to begin? 

Fukunaga: That’s a little of a
misrepresentation, basically we threw out a lot of different
episodes along the way trying to hammer out what this thing was.
I think part of collaboration is we both have to be happy with
what we’re doing. So there were things I would throw out there
and he would throw out there. We would put them up against the
wall. We would even write entire episodes and then scrap them. So
I can’t tell you how many episodes that were written that aren’t
there. Some of them were other worlds, some of them were shifts
in plot that went pretty wild, but then we honed in on this
version. Especially for the latter half. 

Guerrasio: Is there one of those scripts that
looking back you are bummed you didn’t do?

Fukunaga: There was one that was about Emma and
Jonah’s characters living together for 80 years. And I really
like the idea of exploring what that kind of partnership was
like. And we put it in a very stoic setting. But we never fully
fleshed out that idea. It was just something in concept I really

Guerrasio: And for that I would imagine they
would have had to have been in make-up to make them look older?

Fukunaga: Yes. We had that conversation and the
prosthetics component of that was hundreds of thousands of
dollars, so that immediately put the breaks on that. 

Cary Fukunaga Eamonn M McCormack Getty final
“Maniac” director Cary
Joji Fukunaga.

Eamonn M.

Guerrasio: Watching this show I felt it’s one
you don’t want to binge because, especially in the middle
episodes, they are almost like vignettes that you need a day or
so to digest. Was that in your head at all while making it?
Making an anti-binge show?

Fukunaga: No. But Emma and I did have
conversations about this. We wondered if we should campaign to
not have all the episodes released at once and should we talk to
[Netflix CCO] Ted [Sarandos]. We went back and forth about it and
ultimately we thought the thing about Netflix is you can either
binge it take time to watch it.

There is an argument that if “True Detective” was released all at
once it wouldn’t have been as much of a conversation. I think
that’s a very valid argument for that show. You’ll never know if
that would be the difference in terms of the conversation that
happens around each episode. But I do think that it’s something
nice that as episodes come out they are about that episode rather
a whole. And then by the end looking at it as a whole and having
had all these conversations you come to the conclusion that this
is what this show is. But, on the other hand, it is crazy that
millions and millions of people, bigger than most countries, are
going to have access to this show. That in itself is mind

Guerrasio: I was really wowed by Jonah’s
performance, were you even surprised by the kind of range and
vulnerability he brought to this?

Fukunaga: The Icelandic ambassador character was
a long one in the making. We knew that he was going to be
Icelandic but didn’t know how Jonah was going to play it. And we
really didn’t have time to discuss it. I had the idea for white
hair but voicing-wise, when he came up with the voice I was like,
“I don’t know, maybe we will dub him.” There was a moment where
we had a conversation [about to] dub his voice with a real
Icelandic person. And Jonah didn’t know if he could do an
Icelandic voice. It’s a tricky accent to pull off and that’s why
we wrote in all that stuff that his mother was all these
different ethnicities so he couldn’t be pinpointed to once
accent. So Jonah was just having fun with it because he thought,
whatever, they are going to dub me after. And then halfway
through shooting that episode he said to me, “You got to keep my
voice.” And I said, alright. 

Guerrasio: But even the “option a / b” stuff in
the last episode. That’s some of the best work he’s even done, I

Fukunaga: It was important to us that that part
of his character was not a joke. The way his family treated him
could be a joke but not he himself. This is why we also moved the
show out of a mental hospital, as it’s set in the Norwegian show.
I don’t know Jonah’s process, he’s not necessary method, but it’s
close to it in really trying to feel what the character is going
through. It’s a very dark depressing character, so it was
definitely a challenge for him to inhabit that for so long. 

Guerrasio: Which characters did Jonah and Emma
like playing the most?

Fukunaga: I don’t know, honestly. But I can
guarantee you Emma’s favorite character was not playing an elf.
When we were first brainstorming I said, “How about an elf or a
vampire?” And she said, “No. Nothing that’s not real.” She
doesn’t like not real things. 

Maniac 3 Michele K. Short Netflix final
Emma Stone (R) was not a
fan of playing the elf character in “Maniac.”

Michele K. Short/Netflix

Guerrasio: That’s funny because she’s really
great in that episode.

Fukunaga: She can do anything. Just personally,
that’s not her taste. She’s never seen “Lord of the Rings,” she
can’t get into things that aren’t real. So Patrick and I thought,
well, doesn’t that make sense for the “Confrontation” drug?
Something she really doesn’t enjoy? So we wrote that mildly into
the character. And when she did the scene she was just like
[gritting his teeth] “Cary, I’m doing this for you!”

Guerrasio: In episode 9 you do a single-shot
scene of Emma’s character, who is a CIA agent in that episode,
killing a bunch of guards in a hallway? What was the motivation
behind doing a “oner” there.

Fukunaga: That was efficiency. One of the
reasons to do that oner in “True Detective” is because
there’s no way in the schedule that we can shoot this in a real
action sequence. It would be a bad version of it. So a oner
actually, if you have the time to get the choreography down, is
just more efficient. For “Maniac,” we shot that whole thing in
less than half a day. 

Guerrasio: Wow! But what about Emma getting down
the choreography for it? How long did that take?

Fukunaga: She had like a couple of hours. She’s
not doing anything extremely “Aeon Flux”-like. But she’s a good
dancer, she understands her body. She hurt her wrist doing it in
one of the takes. I don’t remember what take we ultimately used.
But there’s no place to do a splice to cut together, so she just
had to kind of get through the whole thing. 

Maniac 2 Michele K Short Netflix final
Emma Stone as a CIA agent
and Jonah Hill as an Icelandic ambassador in

Michele K.

Guerrasio: And is Jonah just riffing through
that whole thing?

Fukunaga: Yeah. There were a few lines we wrote,
but things like “I killed many men,” that’s just him. 

Guerrasio: So are you interested in doing a
Season 2 if Netflix does one?

Fukunaga: For me, I like to do one and move onto
something else. I’d be very happy if another season were to
happen, but I think they were just thinking about this as a
limited season and if there’s an appetite for another one then I
think Patrick would be happy to take it up and do it again. But
not with me. 

Guerrasio: Last question. You spent almost three
years developing and writing “It,” you were going to direct it
but left the project over creative differences. Have you seen the
movie yet?

Fukunaga: [Laughs] I feel bad saying I
haven’t, but I haven’t. I just think it’s no longer mine anymore
so it’s like I will watch it one day, I’m not opposed to

Guerrasio: On an airplane or something?

Fukunaga: Exactly. A place where I’m a captive


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