Mike Kelley Interview: Netflix Series What/If The Brains Behind The Neo-Noir Social Thriller
Ready Steady Cut had the chance to interview Mike Kelley (creator of Revenge /Intikam) to discuss his latest creation What/If, a Netflix series gracing the streaming platform. We discuss his inspiration behind the story and working with Renée Zellweger.
I’ve had the pleasure to watch all the episodes of your new Netflix series What/If. What encouraged you to make this series?
We seem to be living in a moment where the line governing our moral choices, personal, professional, and political is dissolving as fast as the polar ice caps, so I wanted to examine society’s complex relationship with personal responsibility, but rather than get all preachy, bury those themes inside a sexy summer romp inspired by the high gloss social thrillers of the late 80s and early 90s like Basic Instinct, Fatal Attraction, and quite obviously, Indecent Proposal.
What’s so striking about What/If is its Neo-noir social style. It makes the whole viewing experience absorbing. What was the thought process behind the way it is filmed?
Prior to filming, director Phillip Noyce (with whom I also collaborated on the pilot of Revenge) and I talked a lot about how the look of the film and San Francisco, in particular, should be a character in and of itself, with all its iconic hillside streets, dark corners, and distinct architecture, San Francisco is a very noir-ish city already. Phillip used that to create a heightened feeling of paranoia and mistrust between our characters.
We have to talk about Renée Zellweger of course! She takes on such a classy, sexy yet ruthless character in the Netflix series. She’s fascinating to watch. What was it like working with Zellweger for this character?
It has been the thrill of a lifetime working with Renée. There is no one better at her craft. So smart, so nuanced, so game to embrace the fun of the heightened tone of the world we created — not to mention kind, generous, and flat out gorgeous both inside and out. I could go on and on… Renée and I talked early on about Anne Bancroft’s performance as Mrs. Robinson in the Graduate as a touchstone for how to approach Anne Montgomery (whom I named after Ms. Bancroft), taking all of Mrs. Robinson’s formidable powers of manipulation, searing wit, and casual cruelty, removing her self-loathing and alcoholism and channeling all that power into elite success and unapologetic ruthlessness in her quest to become a cultural and business titan for the ages.
What/If is marketed as an anthology series, so are we to expect more seasons with different morality stories in the future?
If the audience has as much fun riding this wild and woolly roller coaster as we had crafting it, I’d jump at the chance to take everyone for another ride! There certainly isn’t a lack of moral quandaries out there, or for that matter, culturally consequential source material to draw from for fresh narratives…
What was it like working on this project with Netflix?
All the rumours you’ve heard about working with Netflix are true. Hands down the most supportive, clever, collaborative, and kind group of executives in the business, from creative, to marketing, to publicity.
Have you got any more exciting projects upcoming this year that you can tell us about?
Later this summer on OWN, look for a coming of age drama called David Makes Man – it is one of the most moving and magical projects my producing partner Melissa Loy and I have ever had the honor of Executive Producing. While I do no actual writing for the show, it comes from a story we helped Tarell McCraney (another Oscar winner! – for co-writing Moonlight) develop alongside two more producing partners you may have heard of, Michael B. Jordan, and Oprah Winfrey! All in all, it’s been just an incredible year and I couldn’t be more grateful for it all.
Thank you so much for supporting our show!