The TV adaptation of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels has finally cast not one but two pairs of young actresses to take on the roles of best friends Elena and Lila in the forthcoming HBO production of My Brilliant Friend, the first book in the series.
Elisa Del Genio and Ludovica Nasti will play Elena Greco, the novels’ narrator, and Lila Cerullo, her volatile best friend, as young child, while Margherita Mazzucco and Gaia Girace will portray the characters in adolescence.
According to new details from the US network (which is co-producing the eight-part show with Italy’s RAI Fiction), the search for the stars lasted around eight months, and involved auditioning 9,000 children and 500 adults in southwestern Italy. It also appears that the producers have painstakingly recreated the Naples of Ferrante’s novels, building 215,000 square feet of sets to bring Elena and Lila’s town, colloquially referred to as ‘the neighbourhood’ by the characters, to life, including 14 exterior apartment buildings, five interior sets of apartments, a church and a tunnel.’ The costume department has hardly been slacking on that front either, ‘gathering 1,500 costumes, many of which are original creations.’
The series was announced by the channels last year, with the notoriously private Ferrante going on to drop some hints about her involvement in a rare interview with the New York Times.
'For now, my contribution to the set design is limited to a few notes on whether they look right,' she told the newspaper. 'As far as the collaboration on the script, I don't write, I don't have the technical skills to do it, but I am reading the texts and send detailed notes. I still don't know if they will take them into account. It is very likely that my notes will be used later on, in the writing of the final draft.'
The four Neapolitan novels examine the complex and often fraught relationship between between two lifelong friends, Elena and Lila. My Brilliant Friend charts the early days of their friendship, taking the pair from schoolgirl rivalries through to romantic entanglements and family drama.
Ferrante will hopefully be pleased by the casting news, having also told the NYT that she would prefer for the two central characters to be played by new faces instead of established child stars. 'Child actors portray children as adults imagine children to be,' she said. 'Children who are not actors have some chance to break free of the stereotype, especially if the director is able to find the right balance between truth and fiction.' The show will be filmed in Italian, with a script written by Ferrante herself, Francesco Piccolo, Laura Paolucci and Saverio Costanzo, who will also direct.
'We are thrilled to partner with Wildside, RAI and Fandango to bring the powerful, epic storytelling of Elena Ferrante and her Neapolitan Novels to life,' HBO programming president Casey Bloys said in an announcement.
'Through her characters, Elena and Lila, we will witness a lifelong friendship set against the seductive social web of Naples, Italy. An exploration of the complicated intensity of female friendship, these ambitious stories will no doubt resonate with the HBO audience.'
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