A transatlantic thriller in ‘Ripley’

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NEW YORK, April 9, (AP): It’s time to take another trip to Italy, to the charming, cobblestoned streets of the AmalfiCoast, sipping coffee at cafes and looking for the la dolce vita. And it just wouldn’t be fun without our favorite serial killer, right? Tom Ripley is back for another turn at wearing dressing gowns and having a drink on the terrace in “Ripley,” a thrilling new Netfl ix series based on the enduring character created by novelist Patricia Highsmith in “The Talented Mr. Ripley.” It premiered April 4. “The idea that we know we’re not supposed to like him, but we do want to see him get away with it is very interesting. What’s it say about us?” asks Steven Zaillian, who created, directed and wrote the eight-episode adaptation. Andrew Scott steps up to play Ripley, a scrappy check fraudster in grimy New York who is hired to locate a rich dilettante in Italy, but kills him and then impersonates him, leading to more murders and scams.

“Like with any sort of iconic literary character like that, people have very strong opinions – he’s a psychopath, he’s a serial killer,” says Scott. “Part of the challenge was how do you make an audience feel like what it’s like to be Tom Ripley, rather than what is usually done, which is to want to feel like to be a victim of Tom Ripley.” The eight-hour canvas allows viewers time to watch him figure out how to get out of jams in real-time, like a murder he commits in his apartment in the fifth episode. He needs to find the victim’s car, clean up the crime scene, move the body and make it all seem like an alcohol-induced accident. “I think because we sort of see every little step of how he figures things out and does things that we take part in them,” says Zaillian.

“He often doesn’t know what he should do next, and neither do we. And so we become part of the process in that way.” Scott, known for his stage work, the Emmy-winning “Fleabag” and the recent film “All of Us Strangers,” says it may take some viewers raised on TikTok a little while to adjust to a more sedate, deliberate storytelling pace – one in which characters climb staircases, look at waves and make small talk. There is time to watch where an ashtray is bought before it’s later used to bludgeon someone to death. “You have to teach the audience how to watch it to a certain degree,” he says. “There’s certain times the pacing is really quite fast and there’s certain times where you think this would take time and you have to stay with the agony and the thrill and the tension when things aren’t going right. That’s the way life is.”


Zaillian, an Oscar winner for the screenplay of “Schindler’s List,” refused a suggestion to update Highsmith’s book series and is careful to keep everything very early 1960s, even filming it all in black and white, like “Schindler’s List.” “It puts us in that time period effortlessly and immediately. But more than that, I did not want what I would call a color postcard sort of Italy for this story, with sunny blue skies and lots of colorful outfits. That was not something I saw in my mind when I read the book and not something that I wanted to do in the show,” he says. If other TV shows are dialoguedriven, “Ripley” is more interested in the spaces between dialogue. It’s all about suspicious looks, wary interactions and putting on a brave face with police inspectors and hotel clerks. “I was so excited by getting to communicate so much with micro-movements in the face and a look – that thing where you can read someone’s thoughts through their eyes,” says Dakota Fanning, who plays the suspicious girlfriend of the rich dilettante Dickie Greenleaf. Zaillian is faithful to Highsmith’s novels but adds some of himself into the series, like making Ripley a fan of Italian painter Caravaggio, who worked with intense and unsettling realism and was also a killer. “I found as I was writing it there’s actually a connection between him and Caravaggio. They were both these sort of rascals and both ended up killing somebody.

So it sort of grew from a personal moment that I had into a motif and then kind of into an aspect of his character,” he says. Like Caravaggio, the series is grounded in realism, from the rusty showerheads and the gritty, screeching subways of New York to the crumbling walls and pigeon poop-streaked statues in Italy. Cleaning up blood takes what seems like hours. Ripley, who over the years has been portrayed by, among others, Matt Damon, John Malkovich, Ian Hart and Dennis Hopper, is played understated by Scott as a killer who makes mistakes, improvises and must double back to correct errors. Zaillian thought of Scott for the role very early in the casting process, aware of his work in “Fleabag” and as Moriarty on the BBC series “Sherlock.” He was smitten. “I just found him really sort of watchable,” Zaillian says. “I knew that since we spend so much time with somebody alone – there’s a lot of scenes where it’s just us and him – that he has to be watchable. We have to be able to see him think and express himself in a way that lets us know what he’s thinking. And I found that Andrew was able to do that.” Johnny Flynn, who plays the golden boy Greenleaf, says filming in Italy took him to some of the most beautiful places on the planet but ones that got darker as the summer tourists left and the sun got lower, perfect for a noirish vibe. He and the cast were also reminded that many small Italian towns built on cliffs have many, many steps. “We were just out of breath all the time,” he says, laughing. Which is what can be said for lots of people who meet Ripley.

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