‘Dark Matter’ Showrunner Blake Crouch on Adapting His Sci-Fi Novel for Apple TV+

Crouch and EP Matt Tolmach unpack casting Joel Edgerton and making The Box come to life

Joel Edgerton and Jennifer Connelly in "Dark Matter" (Apple TV+)

While most authors opt for an executive producer credit on their book’s TV adaptation, “Dark Matter” author Blake Crouch knew he had the vision to make his 2016 novel come to life as a showrunner.

“Sometimes you get a really strong vision for things and that doesn’t always happen,” Crouch told TheWrap. “It’s really more about just having a real clarity of vision — that’s what everyone is ultimately looking for — you need someone to really have a strong point of view on it.”

“Dark Matter,” which is now streaming on Apple TV+, follows professor and physicist Jason Dessen, whose life its turned upside down when he is abducted while walking home and is plunged into an alternate version of his life, family and career.

Crouch initially sold “Dark Matter” as a feature film to Sony when he was about a quarter of the way through writing. Once the novel was complete and Crouch and the Sony team turned their attention to the feature adaptation, they quickly realized it would be “much better serviced as a TV show,” as Crouch noted they struggled to get “character moments to land” in the feature script.

“It became clearer and clearer that this thing wanted more runway, and that we wanted, rather than sort of limiting the scope and the characters, we wanted to expand,” executive producer Matt Tolmach told TheWrap, noting the team was given the greenlight to pursue a series in 2019.

Just the possibilities for “Dark Matter” opened up, as did casting for the show’s protagonist, Jason. It was Joel Edgerton whose interest in joining the show after reading “Dark Matter” was circulated to Crouch and Tolmach. The pair were immediately sold on giving Edgerton their lead role during their introductory Zoom call, with Crouch recalling, “We were both just like, ‘oh, my God, that’s Jason,’ [as] we were texting offline.”

“This is somebody who, on the one hand, has to be an everyman and relatable [but] he’s also a genius … He’s many things over the course of this of the season,” Tolmach said. “We needed somebody who had that nuance, the ability to inhabit nuanced versions of our character.”

As the team cast the rest of their supporting characters — including Jennifer Connelly, Jimmi Simpson, Alice Braga and Dayo Okeniyi, among others — Crouch noted the casting was “fortuitous,” noting that “everyone not only embodied the characters, but brought these other layers that I’m not even sure [were] in the book.”

With the cast already fallen into place, Tolmach noted the process of adapting the sci-fi thriller to screen was heavily eased by Crouch’s expertise and everyday presence.

“We had two superpowers in our arsenal: one was Blake sitting there — the integrity of whatever it was we were doing was always came from him [and] we had the book as our guide,” Tolmach said. “There was freedom there to reinterpret, but we always had a general understanding of structure, which was a a real godsend in the process.”

One aspect that wasn’t as easily adapted was what Crouch identifies as another “costar”: the interdimensional travel apparatus known as The Box.

“A lot of people who have read the book will have had a very specific picture in their mind of what it should look like, so we really went round and round exploring a lot of ideas, some crazy and way out there,” Crouch said. “It’s harder than it sounds to build a cool box, because we didn’t want it just to look like a box [and] we [didn’t] want to be boring.”

The team ended up going back to the book and landed on a version of the 12×12 foot cube, which Tolmach noted became a metaphor for the tone of the show, saying “it had to be grounded, it had to be something accepted in our world, but it also had to feel cool, heightened and otherworldly.”

As the series introduces alternate versions of what life could have looked like for Jason — and his wife Daniela (Connelly) — the sci-fi aspect of the series is grounded by real-life ponderings plaguing humanity, which Tolmach lists “is this it? Am I happy in my life? What are those choices that I made in my life that led me here? What if I had gone down a different road?”

First and foremost, Crouch hopes the show “entertains the hell out of everyone,” and further hopes ultimately leads to those “fun, occasionally uncomfortable questions.”

“This is sort of an anthem against regret,” Crouch said. “I would say ‘Dark Matter’ is about loving the life you have and having the courage to find the one that you want if you don’t.”

“Dark Matter” is now streaming on Apple TV+.


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