Gillian Flynn is now at a blessed stage of her career.
“I can make up anything right now,” she told the Television Critics Association recently. Proof is “Utopia” (shown here) the wildly distinctive series that arrives Friday (Sept. 25) on Amazon Prime.
Earlier, Flynn was confined to non-fiction, including a decade at Entertainment Weekly. Her novels – including the mega-seller “Gone Girl” – were steeped in the hard choices of almost-normal lives.
But underneith those gritty tales was a fantasy writer, waiting to emerge. “My dad raised me on EC Comics and we’d talk about Ray Bradbury,” said Flynn, 49.
She wrote one comic-book story (for the “Dark Horse Presents” anthology) in 2015. Now she’s adapted a British mini-series, producing and writing all nine episodes about comic buffs who are plunged into an imaginary-but-true world.
That has an almost-giddy start at a comic convention … turf that some of the actors are familiar with.
Ashleigh Lathrop – who calls herself “a massive fan of anime” – went to one fest strictly as a fan. “It was probably one of the most fun experiences I’ve ever had. I spent progbably four hours watching these expert-level people playa master version of Dungeons and Dragons.”
John Cusack went to some as a celebrity. “It’s a weird thing, if you can sort of hang out with the guy who played Freddy Krueger (and) Chewbacca, William Shatner as Captain Kirk and Pam Grier. That’s a good room … a cool, weird world.”
Such a convention is at the core, when the story begins: Young lovers have made a discovery, unaware of its value: This is the “Utopia” graphic novel – the long-rumored sequel to “Dystopia.” Many readers feel the first one foretold real-life doom … and the second might have solutions. Soon, zestful buffs converge, desperate to get it.
Some of the actors will be familiar. Dan Byrd was a teen star in “Angels in America” and “Cougar Town”; Desmin Borges co-starred in “You’re the Worst.” Lathrop has had recurring roles in “Handmaid’s Tale,” “The 100” and “The Kominsky Method.”
Eventually, their search takes them to Cusack, Rainn Wilson and more. Before that, things turn very violent. “Gillian’s favorite joke on set,” Byrd said, “was to threaten to kill us off if we misbehaved.”
There’s a deep, dark side to this – as there is to many graphic novels. Things felt darker after the filming, when the real-life pandemic started to look like the fictional dystopia.
“It was kind of disturbing and surreal, to see it come so close to live,” said actor Christopher Denham.
Graphic novels can bee like that – but they can also concoct escapes. And right now, Flynn can make up anything.