Writer-director Hannah Fidell had already made the acclaimed indie film A Teacher in 2013, but when the opportunity arose to expand the story as a television series and really bring out all its complexities, she jumped at the chance.
As she said during the FX series’ panel at Deadline’s Contenders Television awards-season event, the story of a teacher who embarks on an affair with her 17-year-old high school student is controversial, but she needed the audience to feel sympathetic to the central characters — at least in the early episodes of the 12-part half-hour limited series.
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“Definitely from the get-go our intent was to make the audience feel complicit. And in order to do that for at least the beginning episodes, not that we want the audience to feel like they should be together, but certainly to make them complicit in the abuse part of that really is we need to live through this experience with Eric, the character that Nick Robinson played,” Fidell said. “And if Eric is feeling enamored with Claire his teacher, the audience should feel that also. I think part of that intent was to really show how complicated consent is. I hate, personally, shows that are so outwardly moralistic, and so to sort of have the audience vacillate between is this right, is this wrong, was certainly something planned.”
Kate Mara plays the teacher and also joined as a producer. She knew this would be a rich experience and also one where they could reflect on inspiration from some real-life stories about teacher-student affairs.
“The fact that she is such a complex character who’s super layered and you know she’s not just the villain of the story — I think she’s got a lot more going on and a lot to sort of uncover and explore. I’ve never played a character like this before, so to me it was an exciting challenge to explore this person and her psyche,” she said. “Hannah and I did a lot of research into the real stories that are similar to this one. It’s hard to get concrete answers on why this sort of thing happens, especially from the abuser’s standpoint. So, that all was stuff that is really a credit to Hannah and the writers room and just a lot of conversations about why this might happen in this person’s life. But yeah, we certainly looked at real-life stories and watched all the documentaries and read all the news articles that we could find.”
Robinson wasn’t looking to play another high school student at this point in his career, but he found this too irresistible to pass up.
“It was like this is a high school story, but it was very different from anything I’ve played before. The characters were very complex and it wasn’t really dealing with high school drama. It was about this high schooler dealing with very adult circumstances and kind of thrust into this very adult drama,” he said. “It felt like a challenge and it felt like I was re-treading some material that I had done before, but through a totally different lens and telling a totally different story, and that was really exciting to me.
“It felt like a great way to cap my fake high school experiences,” he said, laughing.
Check out the conversation in the video above.
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