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January 24, 2019

One-on-One with 'I Am the Night' Director Patty Jenkins: How Her TNT Miniseries Takes on the Black Dahlia Murder Case


Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins is bringing her vision back to the small screen to tell a story close to her heart — the compelling tale of Fauna Hodel, a girl who uncovers her family’s connection to the infamous Black Dahlia murder case. I am the Night, a captivating six-episode miniseries set in 1960s Los Angeles, follows Jay Singletary (Chris Pine), a disgraced journalist looking to redeem himself by searching for the truth behind the unsolved mystery that ruined his career. His investigation leads him to Hodel (India Eisley), a teenage girl looking for her grandfather (Jefferson Mays), and finally, to the truth.

Jenkins sat down with Xfinity’s Nicholas Raymond to tell us what we can expect from this take on one of Hollywood’s most dramatic and mysterious crime stories, and why it means so much to her. (And, of course, she also gives us a taste of what we can expect from her next film project, Wonder Woman 1984, the highly-anticipated sequel to the 2017 ground-breaking blockbuster hit). Don’t miss the TNT TV show’s premiere on January 28 on X1 or Xfinity Stream.

Chris Pine

X1: First, tell us about your return to TV. You just directed Wonder Woman, which was a big hit, and now you're going back to TV. What influenced that decision?

Patty Jenkins: You know, this is a story I had always wanted to tell, and this is the best possible format to tell it in. And so, it was just a moment in time. Nothing was going to stop me from doing features. I was already making Wonder Woman 1984, and so it was the perfect use of a window to sneak in this great story that I've always wanted to tell on television.

X1: Let's talk about the Black Dahlia murder, and what makes this case so interesting for TV.

Patty Jenkins: I think that the Black Dahlia is one of the most striking and mysterious true crimes of our time. And because it was never solved, that story goes on and on and on, with people trying to figure it out. What blew me away with this story was it wasn't about that at all; it was about this incredibly mysterious identity of Fauna Hodel, and how with each chapter, what she learned about herself led to some strange new place. But when she got to the part where it led directly to the Black Dahlia, my jaw dropped, because a), I think it's true, and b), it shows that story from a different perspective than we've ever seen before. And for the first time, I believe it. This is the version of the Black Dahlia murder that tracks the most and makes the most sense to me. So, it was just stunning to discover this new way of getting into that story.

X1: This is a subject that is so unknown, it never did get solved. Does that make it more challenging to adapt this case?

Patty Jenkins: Yeah, it does. I think the most challenging thing about it was that it's been told so many times, and when you can't prove who did it, it leads to a very similar taste in your mouth. What I think was an interesting challenge here was to touch on that story again but to make it one that's a satisfying story of its own, because it is. It doesn't send someone to jail for the Black Dahlia murder, but it gives it a new fresh look and hopefully convinces you what we all believe is the truth of what really happened.

Chris Pine TNT Miniseries

X1: You're working with Chris Pine again. What's that like, and why was he the best choice for his character?

Patty Jenkins: Chris is just a tremendous actor and a true pleasure to work with. He's also has a lot of qualities that make him a great noir character. It just so happened that there was this part of the story that we needed to tell through a character like Jay, and Chris is just a fantastic person to do it. And I look forward to any opportunity to work with him. It just worked out.

X1: When we meet Jay, he seems like he's sort of a broken character.

Patty Jenkins: Yeah. He definitely is. I think that everybody in this movie is searching for the identity that they're after. Fauna is looking to find the truth of her origins. Jay is a broken man who once believed he could be a great man. George Hodel was a man who was so destined to be a great man, but he would do absolutely anything to achieve it. I think that the interesting journey with all six episodes is that by the end, they all come to a different perspective on what that is, and the person who is the weakest and the least likely to find strength in their identity is actually the one who rises up and saves the day for everybody. I love that about the story.

I am the Night

X1: Let’s move on to the setting. This, of course, isn't your first period piece. Wonder Woman was in World War I. Is there something you enjoy about revisiting these periods in history?

Patty Jenkins: Yeah, I do love telling period stories. I like the chance to step out of our current day. It allows you to have a little distance between you and the story and feel like you can tell something that's very different. But of course, it always ends up speaking to the truth of life, which has always been the same. So, I think it's nice to have that distance, and it's fun to get to know an era as well.

X1: There is a certain flavor of film noir -- was that intentional?

Patty Jenkins: Oh, definitely. Definitely. Film noir is "the" classic genre of this kind of story, particularly for L.A., and particularly for broken characters trying to redeem themselves. So, we were hyper aware of it. We tried to homage the best of noir, while putting our own spin on it by it being in a different era in the '60s. And it’s a slightly different story in the fact that Fauna Hodel, a 16-year-old girl, is the center of it, instead of a dame who's a sidekick.

X1: There is sort of a horror, or a deep suspenseful element to it, which makes sense considering the subject material.

Patty Jenkins: Yeah. It felt like the right way to do it and her story was gripping and terrifying, and even when she first told me her story, it was so terrifying that I was afraid to venture into it. So, it had to be represented.

Fauna Hodel and Mom

X1: Let’s discuss the complicated relationship between Fauna and her mother, Jimmy Lee. This is one of the most interesting relationships on the show.

Patty Jenkins: Yeah. That was the true story. She was the most important person to Fauna growing up, but she was the product of a very difficult life herself. I found it was a kind of an interesting opportunity to tell the story of these people that we pass in our lives who are maybe a disaster and damaged in all kinds of superficial ways, but they're still the people that we love and put up with. We still try to persevere to make peace with [them], because we understand that damage.

X1: Is there anything you can say about the dynamic between Jay and Fauna?

Patty Jenkins: I loved the fact that he's the detective on the surface, but she actually ends up being the driving detective in the story. Jay ends up having this incredible character story, and I think they're both able to see things differently and learn things from each other, which I just love. And I love their dynamic.

X1: You mentioned talking to Fauna Hodel. Did she have any kind of role in helping this show come about?

Patty Jenkins: Oh yeah, she was a friend of mine. It was Fauna who told me her story 10 years ago. I was going to make the show when she was still very much alive, and then we stayed friendly and in contact all the way up until when she passed away last year, to our great shock. So, she was definitely a partner and a participant in this project.

X1: Finally, let’s touch on Wonder Woman sequel. We know there's not much you can say, but can you talk about the decision to put it in the 1980s?

Patty Jenkins: Yeah, I wanted it to be a story that really represented mankind at their best and worst in the kind of western world that we've created, and there's nothing like the '80s to do that. The '80s, we were on top of the world, but none of the price had shown up yet, so it really just became a great period in time. It's also a period of time I strongly associate with Wonder Woman, so it just felt right, and it felt like the right way to tell the story.

I am the Night premieres Monday, January 28, on TNT. Catch the intrigue, mystery, and drama on X1 or watch it anywhere with Xfinity Stream.

Nicholas Raymond is a freelance entertainment journalist based in Alabama who writes about movies, TV, comics, and video games for Screen Rant. He’s also the author of the psychological thriller and time travel novel, ‘Man Against the World.’

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