The first season of Panic will hit Amazon Prime this weekend, showcasing a truly unpredictable take on a YA adventure. The series, which is based on Lauren Oliver's 2014 novel of the same name, takes place in a small Texas town, where every summer the graduating seniors compete in a series of challenges, winner takes all, which they believe is their one and only chance to escape their circumstances and make their lives better. But this year, the rules have changed — the pot of money is larger than ever and the game has become even more dangerous. The players will come face to face with their deepest, darkest fears and be forced to decide how much they are willing to risk in order to win.
The series brings about an interesting milestone for Oliver, who has had a decade-long career in the world of young adult novels. While her work has previously been adapted for the big screen with the 2017 teen drama Before I Fall, Panic sees Oliver herself serving as the series' creator, writer, and executive producer — a decision that pays off in spades in the finished series, which has an earnest, electrifying feel that will captivate audiences.
In anticipation of Panic's debut, ComicBook.com got a chance to chat with Oliver about the experience of translating her novel into television. We spoke about the collaborative process of working on the series, the major changes she made from the original novel, where the series could go in a second season, and more!
ComicBook.com: How did you initially come up with the idea for the novel? I grew up in Texas, and I definitely felt so many similarities with my experience and the experience of the show. So I was just curious how that came about.
Lauren Oliver: It's so funny because I was just saying that — Carp originally was inspired by Oregon, where I was living. But then I actually set the novel in upstate New York, where I ended up moving. But then when we moved to Texas — most places have their own culture, but Texas in particular, has its own. And I'm a really big believer in 'the more specific you can be, the more likely it is that it actually can be meaningful in a universal way.' But I was saying that to me, Carp is basically everywhere. That's not a major wealthy or more metropolitan area. There are three different iterations of it in my head, even between the original novel and the show. And each of them had a different flavor, each of them had a different history. But, it's basically all the parts of the country that you don't see on TV, but are the majority of the country.
The original idea for the book came more from my own personal experiences, I would say psychologically. If you combined Heather and Dodge, and then extended their arcs over 10 years instead of a summer, you would get a journey that I had gone on in my early adulthood. And then [I] mixed with just dumb stuff I saw my sister do sometimes with terrible consequences, or that we did as kids. But a lot of it was a psychological allegory, actually.prevnext
What was the process like for you to then adapt Panic to television? It feels like your involvement with the series is something that most authors don't necessarily get when their work gets taken into live-action.
It's an amazing gift and an amazing risk, obviously, that I don't think anybody other than Amazon Studios would have taken. And I really say that. It's really important to me that people understand that Amazon Studios [executive] Jen Salke — she put the show into the hands of a woman who'd never created for TV, in charge of a hugely expensive show, who was going to write every episode herself. That was one of the first things she did when she got hired. I mean, she fully would have been fired if I failed. I'm so grateful for that.
I was, of course, really dedicated to doing whatever it took. And ultimately, thank God, it turns out that TV — of course — is actually so collaborative, as much as we have the narrative and mythos of "the sole creator" or a single creator. I mean, once you have an art form that requires people to have staple guns, you know that you're dealing with a collaborative act. My favorite parts of it were actually the parts that reminded me of high school plays when you go and do load in. Every single person was so key and critical to do it.
There was, I would just say constant iteration because you write it, and then you were casting it. And as soon as you cast it, then you have to rewrite it — and you want to, because you've found actors who've brought new dimensions and really changed what you think of your own characters, and what you want to see from them. That changes how the action has to unfold. So constant iterations, [like] moving to Texas after we originally filmed a first pilot in upstate New York. Wanting to make sure that some of the uniqueness of Texas and some of the real frontier culture carried down. That really, [is] uniquely expressed in Texas still, and what its values are in terms of taking care of family. Wanting to make sure that that was reflected. So then changing Dodge's character, and also getting to incorporate a little bit of the rodeo culture and everything else. Basically, the process is constant iteration. If you line up all the scripts I did, you'd have 90 episodes of a hundred hours each. Most of them would be worthless, but you would have it.prevnext
You spoke in other interviews about Ray's characterization in particular, and about how after you cast the role, you reworked the character completely because he couldn't be portrayed as a straight villain. I was wondering if you could speak to that more, because having seen the entire season, he really goes on an arc that I just really enjoyed watching. It was so fascinating to see.
What happened with Ray was so interesting because.... It was a joke of mine, that I was like, "Everybody has dimensions, except for Ray. He's a piece of sh-t." But it was very clear to me that Ray Nicholson was Ray — he was the only one who actually felt threatening at all, or felt like you couldn't predict what he would be up to next. There was something electric about him, and not in a necessarily good way. And yet, also watching him — and I'm talking about just from the audition — I didn't believe it. I didn't believe that he was a full villain.
Not only did I not believe it — I didn't want it to be true, on a deep level. You have to believe in that as being an experience that is revealing something about how the actor is, about what he's bringing. And I wanted to follow that thread. So once we started following the thread, what I had to do was look at what context, what series of events would make a person who could, on the outside be so immediately scary in a way and threatening, but you don't want it to be true and it's not true. And then from that context of, "Okay, who is that person? What life experience has that person had?" We found Ray as he is currently depicted in the show, and we found his arc.prevnext
What would you say surprised you the most with the whole process of bringing Panic the show to life?
There's no parallel, for a person who's written novels, of writing your imagination directly onto the world, into a living form. The constant engagement with things that are — again, live acting, live characters — but also things like budgets. And I don't mean that as a negative. Anything involving writing is really interesting to me, because I'm a nerd. So that's just a different kind of writing, where that's part of the tool and the creative limitation. That's part of the palette that you're using.
I was constantly surprised by the way that actors would take a scene or words and add their performance [to] it. And I mean that in a good way. You've seen people respond or act in a certain way when you're writing, and you think that it's very obvious that that's the only way to think about those words. So I was constantly surprised, finding the way that the actors actually found nuances or even ways to play against some of these things. That gave me a chance to then really learn my own writing in a totally different way. That didn't feel like my writing. I'm not doing a good job of explaining it, but there was a creative alchemy that exists between imagination and the real world, that is unparalleled, that I'd never experienced.prevnext
What are you most excited to see viewers respond to once the series premieres?
I'm so nervous. I don't know. I hope they like it. That's where I'm at. I mean, I hope they don't hate it. I'm really happy for the actors. I'm really happy for them, and I hope that people respond to them, because they did an amazing job.
I hope that it means something to some people. There are messages in it that I hope carry through about — not fear, but a certain degree of faith. And what courage really looks like. I hope that that finds some people. But again, I'm so nervous, I'm in denial. [laughs] I'm going to go away the weekend it comes out, and hide in the woods. That's where I am.prevnext
Do you guys have any plans to potentially continue the show and tell more story? Because, without getting into spoilers, the ending of Season 1 is definitely going to make a lot of people want a second season.
We will have as many seasons as we need to, should we be so lucky. There's so much to pull from here. We don't know if we will be so lucky, but if we do, we got you.prevnext
Being from ComicBook.com, I have to ask — is there any dream franchise or dream comic character that you would love to take on? Is there anything you would love to put your stamp on?
My father is working on a graphic novel now. I'm a huge fan. He wrote books about comic book collecting. I have a company as well, [and] we actually are working on a couple of graphic novels now.
It's interesting that you say that. I'm such a huge fan of, I've read all canon, basically, but then also some of the more little-known stuff. He wasn't actually originally a comic book hero, but there's a character who we get many of our comic book villains from, who I'm obsessed with. And I would love to do my stamp on him. It's from a 19th-century short story thing. I'm working on graphic novels and comics now, so I won't say others.
Other than that, I guess my favorite ones are — it's really boring to say, but I'm a huge Frank Miller fan. I love Frank Miller, and Sin City is one of my favorites of all time.