10 Fascinating Facts About Patrick Melrose

Showtime
Showtime

Benedict Cumberbatch has never made a secret that there are just two roles he has ever wanted to play: Hamlet and Patrick Melrose. In 2015, he took on Shakespeare’s famous protagonist at the Barbican in London. In May of this year, he played the latter role—a semi-autobiographical approximation of novelist Edward St. Aubyn—with a little help from Reddit.

The five-part Showtime miniseries, which was directed by Edward Berger and adapted by David Nicholls with St. Aubyn, is not an easy watch. But its unique mix of dark pathos and black humor—not to mention its stellar acting, sharp writing, and eye-popping cinematography—make it one of the year’s most compelling dramas. As the miniseries prepares to compete for five Emmy Awards, including Outstanding Limited Series and Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series for Cumberbatch, we took a look behind the scenes to find out what made Patrick Melrose tick.

1. EACH EPISODE COVERS AN ENTIRE BOOK.

Edward St. Aubyn’s Patrick Melrose book series is comprised of five titles: Never Mind, Bad News, Some Hope, Mother's Milk, and At Last, which is the same number of episodes as in the miniseries. It’s no coincidence. Each episode of the decades-spanning series covers one book, so that no part of the story was left untold.

“The books were fascinating because they were never envisioned as a kind of saga,” writer David Nicholls told Variety. “They were written one by one, and after each book, [St. Aubyn] thought that was the end of the story.” When it came time to adapt the series, it was important to Nicholls to maintain that ongoing structure as he believed that each story stood as “a snapshot from the character’s life."

2. THE BOOKS WERE CONSIDERED “UNADAPTABLE” BY MANY PEOPLE.

Like so many other popular novels before them, a lot of people couldn’t envision how one might adapt the Patrick Melrose books into a movie or television series. Among those people? Jennifer Jason Leigh, who plays Patrick’s mother Eleanor in the series. Leigh told Variety that while she loved the books, she “didn’t think it was possible to adapt it, ever.” So when she got her hands on Nicholls’s script, she was very pleasantly surprised. “The book came to life in such a beautiful way; I have no idea how he did it.”

Benedict Cumberbatch, too, was worried about how the books would translate to the screen. “I was very nervous about it, despite it being a bucket-list role because I knew the books had quite rightfully a variety of very passionate of devotees and they are difficult to adapt,” he told Deadline. “There’s such rich source material and extraordinary set pieces in the books as they are.”

Edward Berger, who directed the series, read the first book, Never Mind, in 1993—and even he admitted that he couldn’t imagine how one would adapt it for the screen because “not much happens. In terms of a traditional plot, there’s very little in it. It’s about one man, his psychological dismay, and him falling apart … So it’s very hard to visualize."

3. BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH HAS REDDIT TO (PARTLY) THANK FOR THE ROLE.

During a 2013 Reddit AMA, a fan asked Cumberbatch, “If you could choose to be any other literary character in an upcoming role who would it be?” His answer was swift and to the point: Patrick Melrose. What the actor didn’t realize was that the project was already in the works, and the producers had been eyeing him for the part. When they learned that it was a dream project for Cumberbatch as well, the wheels started moving rather quickly. "Never underestimate the power of an online Q&A," Cumberbatch told the Los Angeles Times.

4. ITS STRUCTURE WAS INFLUENCED BY THE GODFATHER.

When asked about his process for adapting so much text into a set amount of screen time, Nicholls told Variety that learning the books “back to front” was the first step. The second step was to “take a step back to see what stayed in [my] head as important and what [I] loved.” He looked to what might seem like an unlikely source for inspiration: Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather.

“I was very influenced by the way Francis Ford Coppola broke down The Godfather,” Nicholls told Variety, “so I broke each of these books down similarly and looked through them for the moments that I felt were most important and would work the best dramatically.”

5. LARA PULVER, A.K.A. SHERLOCK’S IRENE ADLER, ALMOST PLAYED CUMBERBATCH’S WIFE.

Fans of Sherlock know that Cumberbatch’s titular consulting detective is rarely at a loss for words, except for when he’s face-to-fact with dominatrix Irene Adler, a.k.a. “The Woman.” So it didn’t seem like the best idea to pair the two up as husband and wife for Patrick Melrose.

“The director of Ben’s Patrick Melrose project did call to ask about me playing his wife, but we both decided it wouldn’t work,” Pulver told The Telegraph. “When you’ve already been seen in a relationship together on such a large scale ...”

6. CUMBERBATCH HAD SOME TROUBLE WITH THE UPPER-CLASS MANNERISMS.

Holliday Grainger, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Prasanna Puwanarajah in 'Patrick Melrose'
Showtime

Though it might seem as if Cumberbatch is always playing some sort of aristocrat, he admitted that adapting both the vocal and physical mannerisms of the very specific English upper class to which the Melrose family belongs was one of his biggest challenges. “I know everyone goes on about the posh thing with me—but despite looking it, I am not that class,” Cumberbatch told the Radio Times. “That class is landed gentry. I had to posh up for this.”

“I went to a very posh public school, second to Eton, yet I had only one friend from the landed gentry,” he told Vanity Fair. "I’ve been trying to knock the corners off my accent ever since I left Harrow.” For help, he often tapped St. Aubyn.

7. NOW WAS THE PERFECT—AND PERHAPS THE ONLY—TIME FOR CUMBERBATCH TO TAKE ON THE ROLE.

While audiences see Patrick as a young boy played by Sebastian Maltz, Cumberbatch portrays the character from ages 25 to 45, which provided yet another challenge. Yet the actor thinks that, as far as his age goes, now is about the only time he could have pulled that off. “These books lay out a very particular set of circumstances and the personal dilemma of them,” he told Deadline. “So, of course, the older you get the wiser you get for whatever reason, but I think for these books, I had to be somewhere in the balance of his age.”

8. THE PRODUCERS WERE DETERMINED TO PORTRAY ADDICTION AS ACCURATELY AS POSSIBLE.

In addition to starring in the series, Cumberbatch also served as an executive producer via his production company, SunnyMarch. As so much of the series centers on Melrose’s addiction to drugs, it was important to the actor and his fellow producers that they get that part right. Which took some research. “I’ve always been about moderation,” Cumberbatch told Rolling Stone. “I’m not a binger and nothing is habitual with me. So the idea of what an addict goes through is something I really had to come to understand.”

In order to help accurately portray the experience and psychology of addiction, Cumberbatch told Deadline that they “were very much advised by two people who were addicts as well as [St. Aubyn] having been very honest about his own experiences. I didn’t want to alienate that world at all. I wanted them to feel, however uncomfortable the watch might be, that we were being accurate. But also, I think that this is a story of salvation, so it’s universal. You don’t have to have experienced the trauma that he has on any level to go on the journey.”

9. CUMBERBATCH’S EMMY NOMINATION PUTS HIM IN RARE COMPANY.

 Actor Benedict Cumberbatch attends The Academy Of Television Arts & Sciences Performer Nominees' 64th Primetime Emmy Awards Reception at Spectra by Wolfgang Puck at the Pacific Design Center on September 21, 2012
Imeh Akpanudosen, Getty Images

Cumberbatch is no stranger to the Emmy Awards. In addition to winning the award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie for Sherlock in 2014, he has been nominated as a lead actor an additional five times—putting his grand total as of 2018 at six, an almost-record number that only Laurence Olivier has ever matched. (Hal Holbrook has them both beat with seven nominations.)

“It’s amazing,” Cumberbatch told the Los Angeles Times in reaction to the honor. “I don’t know what to say about that really. That’s something to put on your gravestone. I don’t know—yeah, I’m speechless. That’s my very English reaction to that. Maybe I should try other categories? Art direction?”

10. DON’T EXPECT CUMBERBATCH TO RETIRE ANYTIME SOON.

In any profession, the problem with stating your ultimate goal is what to do after you’ve achieved it. But early retirement is not a likely next move for Cumberbatch, who’ll voice the Grinch later this year. “Melrose and Hamlet were the only two roles I was ever desperate to play,” he told the Radio Times. “And now I’ve done both! I can retire! Much to the relief of the world! Except, I will never retire.”

11 Surprising Facts About George R.R. Martin

Kevin Winter, Getty Images
Kevin Winter, Getty Images

Game of Thrones fans know the epic HBO series is based on George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire book series, but beyond the TV show, how much do they really know about the author? Sure, they know it’s taking him a really long time to finish The Winds of Winter, the sixth book in the series, but what about him as a person? Here are a few things you might not know about the man who brought us the world of Westeros.

1. As a kid, he made money selling monster stories.

The famed author grew up in Bayonne, New Jersey, where his father was a longshoreman. "When I was living in Bayonne, I desperately wanted to get away," Martin told The Independent. "Not because Bayonne was a bad place, mind you. Bayonne was a very nice place in some ways. But we were poor. We had no money. We never went anywhere."

Though his family didn't have the means to travel outside of Bayonne, Martin began to develop a love of reading and writing at a very young age, which allowed him to imagine fantastical worlds beyond his New Jersey hometown. He also learned that writing could be a profitable endeavor: he began selling his stories to other kids in the neighborhood for a penny apiece. (He later raised his prices to a nickel.) Martin's entrepreneurial efforts came to an end when his stories began giving one of his kid customers nightmares, which eventually got back to Martin's mom.

2. He is obsessed with comic books.

In 2014, Martin sat down for a Q&A about his career at the Santa Fe Independent Film Festival. Though, given his love of fantasy worlds, it might not be surprising to learn that Martin is a comic book fan, he also credits the genre with inspiring him to begin writing in the first place.

"I’m so grateful for comic books because they were really the thing that made me a reader, which in return made me a writer," Martin said. "In the 1950s in America, we had these books that taught you to read, and they were all about Dick and Jane, who were the most boring family you ever wanted to meet ... I didn’t know anyone who lived like that, and it just seemed like a horrible thing. But Batman and Superman, they had a much more interesting life. Gotham City was much more interesting than wherever it was where Dick and Jane lived.”

3. He built a library tower in Santa Fe.

In 2009, Martin bought the home across the street from his house in Santa Fe, New Mexico and turned it into an office space with a library tower built inside. The tower is only two stories tall, because of city building restrictions, but it seems only fitting that the author/history buff would want to be surrounded with books while he writes.

4. A fan letter got his professional writing career started.

Martin's love of comic books is what got his professional career rolling, too. "I had a letter published in Fantastic Four, and because my address was in there I started getting these fanzines and I started writing stories for them," Martin said during the same Santa Fe Q&A. "Funny enough, people writing stories in these fanzines at the time were just awful. They were just really bad, which was good because I looked at these awful stories and knew I could do better than that. I may not have been Shakespeare or J.R.R. Tolkien, but I was certain I could write better than the crap in the fanzines, and indeed I could."

5. A failed novel led to a television writing career.

More than 10 years before A Song of Ice and Fire debuted in 1996, Martin wrote a book called The Armageddon Rag in 1983. Though it was a critical disappointment, producer Phil DeGuere was interested in adapting the project with Martin's help. While that never came to fruition, DeGuere thought of Martin when they were rebooting The Twilight Zone in the mid-1980s and brought him on board to write a handful of episodes. He later did some writing for the live-action Beauty and the Beast series, starring Ron Perlman and Linda Hamilton.

6. Network television standards were not a fit for Martin's style of writing.

Though Martin found success as a television writer, the constant back-and-forth about what they were or were not allowed to show proved to be too much for the writer. "[T]here were constant limitations. It wore me down," Martin told Rolling Stone. "There were battles over censorship, how sexual things could be, whether a scene was too 'politically charged,' how violent things could be. Don’t want to disturb anyone. We got into that fight on Beauty and the Beast. The Beast killed people. That was the point of the character. He was a beast. But CBS didn’t want blood, or for the beast to kill people ... The character had to remain likable."

7. He owns an independent movie theater.

In 2006, The Jean Cocteau Cinema in Santa Fe closed its doors, which saddened many locals who were regular patrons, Martin among them. Several years later, Martin decided to give the theater a second life and, after a slight makeover, reopened its doors in 2013. Today, in addition to independent films, the theater holds regular special events—including screenings of Game of Thrones episodes. There's also an onsite bar that serves Game of Thrones-themed cocktails, like the signature White Walker.

8. Martin credits HBO with changing the rules of television.

Network television standards may have been too tame and regimented for Martin's tastes, but all that changed with HBO and The Sopranos, which he credits as paving the way for a series like Game of Thrones to exist in its current form at all.

"I credit HBO with smashing the damn trope that everybody had to be likable on television," Martin told Rolling Stone. "The Sopranos turned it around. When you meet Tony Soprano, he’s in the psychiatrist office, he’s talking about the ducks, his depression and that stuff, and you like this guy. Then he gets in his car and he’s driving away and he sees someone who owes him money, and he jumps out and he starts stomping him. Now how likable was he? Well you didn’t care, because they already had you. A character like Walter White on Breaking Bad could never have existed before HBO."

9. Martin thinks it's important for writers to break the rules.

While he's an admitted fan of William Goldman, Martin has a very different opinion of noted screenplay expert Syd Field. "There is a book out there by Syd and it’s his guide to writing screenplays and it’s probably one of the most harmful things that has ever been done for the movie industry,” Martin said. “For some perverse reason, it has become the bible not for writers but for what we call 'the suits,' the guys at the studios whose job it is to develop properties and give notes to supervise screenplays. They take Syd Field’s course and they buy the book and they start criticizing screenplays like, ‘Well you know, the first turn is supposed to be on page 12 and yours is not until page 17, so obviously this won’t do!'"

"Syd just writes downs these ridiculous rules," Martin continued. "If there really was a formula as he says, then every movie would be a blockbuster. We would just connect A, B, and C and we would have a great movie and everyone would pack the theater to see it. But every movie is not a blockbuster. Many movies that follow his rules precisely actually go down the toilet."

10. He’s a skilled chess player.

"I started playing chess when I was quite young, in grade school," Martin told The Independent. "I played it through high school. In college, I founded the chess club. I was captain of the chess team." Eventually, Martin discovered that he could actually make some money off this skill.

"For two or three years, I had a pretty good situation. Most writers who have to have a day job work five days a week and then they have the weekend off to write. These chess tournaments were all on the weekend so I had to work on Saturday and Sunday, but then I had five days off to write. The chess generated enough money for me to pay my bills."

11. He has a very specific way of writing, which is why he hasn't finished the winds of winter.

Fans have been waiting for a while for the next book in the A Song of Ice and Fire series, and Martin has been honest about why it's taking him so long. "Writer’s block isn’t to blame here, it’s distraction," he said. "In recent years, all of the work I’ve been doing creates problems because it creates distraction. Because the books and the show are so popular I have interviews to do constantly. I have travel plans constantly. It’s like suddenly I get invited to travel to South Africa or Dubai, and who’s passing up a free trip to Dubai? I don’t write when I travel. I don’t write in hotel rooms. I don’t write on airplanes. I really have to be in my own house undisturbed to write. Through most of my life no body did bother me, but now everyone bothers me every day."

Can You Guess the Meaning of These Dothraki Words?

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