At first glance, there's no connections between "Trumbo" -- a surprisngly vibrant tale of the 1950s -- and "The Magicians," filled with modern teen angst. Both, however, are from writer/producer John McNamara, who's gone easily from true-drama to fictional fantasy. Here's the story I sent to papers:
By Mike Hughes
Even the best
college faculties, it seems, can't prepare you for everything that's
John McNamara didn't
meet a single wizard or magician or shaman. He did, however, meet
some blacklisted writers; that helped prepare him for part of his big
year, as writer and producer of:
-- “Trumbo.” HIs
script received a Writers Guild nomination; Bryan Cranston drew Oscar
and Golden Globe nominations for best actor.
-- Two TV series.
“Aquarius,” centering on Charles Manson, returns to NBC this
summer; “The Magicians” -- about a secret college that deals with
magic – is at a pivotal point in its first Syfy season.
That last one is new
turf for McNamara, who's had no wizard mentors. “I'm not a huge
fantasy fan,” he said. “I like it, but I'm not ... a true,
joined by Sera Gamble, who is. They're adapting three novels, filled
with what Gamble calls “emotionally sophisticated, complicated
stories about twenty-somethings.”
That's the one college prepared him for.
McNamara, 53, was a
lawyer's kid in Grand Rapids, Mich. “I grew up in a community that
was very safe and secure,” he said. Then came the University of
Michigan and New York University. “Kids are shot from a bubble ....
To me, it was like going to Oz.”
One of the NYU
writing teachers was Ian McLellan Hunter, who won an Academy Award
for “Roman Holiday” (1953) ... a movie he didn't write. Hunter
put his name on it, as a favor to blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo.
Later, he was briefly blacklisted himself.
McNamara would also
meet the blacklisted Waldo Salt and Ring Lardner Jr. and the briefly
blacklisted Arthur Laurents. These are men who – when blacklisting
finally ended – would write “Midnight Cowboy” (1969), “MASH”
(1970) and “The Way We Were” (1973) respectively.
Clearly, there was a
movie here, centering on the vibrantly unstoppable Trumbo. “That
sat on my shelf for 20 years,” McNamara said.
He went on to
produce TV series, starting with the critically praised “Profit,”
in 1996. He's done two Tim Daly shows (“Eyes” and “The
Fugitive”), two female-cop shows (“In Plain Sight” and the
American version of “Prime Suspect”) and more.
Then David Duchovny
took an interest in his “Aquarius” script and Cranston wanted to
do “Trumbo.” The latter was produced by Michael London ... who
had been pushing a “Magicians” series. “(Novelist) Lev Grossman
and I were sort of licking our wounds from the experience of not
getting the show made,” London said. “And John said, 'I have a
friend who worships these books more than life itself.'”
That was Gamble –
already working on “Aquarius” and a fan of the Grossman novels.
“It was worth it,” she said, “for John and Michael and I to
basically spend our own money, buy an option and sit in John's garage
for hours and hours and hours and write it. It's the best feeling in
the world for a writer.”
At the core of
“Magicians” is a young recluse, just realizing his magical
powers. “Quentin is a gold mine of neuroses and fears and
aspirations,” Gamble said.
Then there's his
friend Julia. Rejected by the college, she turns to rogue magic. In
the novels, her story isn't really told until the second book, via
flashbacks; in the series, it's entwined from the start.
“I think everybody
wishes that they could acquire something magical in their life,
whether it's real or not,” said Stella Maeve, who plays her.
Except, of course,
that things rarely work that way. “Magic isn't going to fix
anything,” said Olivia Taylor Dudley, who plays Alice. “Just like
in life, there's no quick fix.”
Instead, the current
episode finds naked students – including Quentin and Alice --
forced to admit truths. “Magicians” -- like “Trumbo” and
“Aquarius” ends up being about the shaky human condition.
Magicians,” 9 p.m. Mondays, rerunning at midnight, Syfy
-- The Feb. 22
episode also reruns at 10 p.m. Wednesday and at 4:30 and 6:30 a.m.