When “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” creator Francesca Sloane was first approached by Donald Glover to collaborate on a TV reboot of the 2005 spy romcom, the pair knew their series would be a steep departure from the glossy film starring Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.
“Donald wanting to collaborate with me to write a straight-up action series would make no sense,” Sloane told TheWrap in a recent interview, explaining that the pair — who first worked together in the “Atlanta” writers’ room — instead embraced the spy romance framework as they honed in on a probing, yet relatable look at marriage.
“What made the movie fun, and what drew people to the idea of it, was seeing a spy film through the metaphor of marriage,” Sloane added. “Now, how do you take that and dive even deeper? What’s the next level of that?”
Whereas the 2005 film introduces John and Jane as a married couple, unaware of their opposing alliances, the Prime Video series shows its John and Jane (played by Glover and Maya Erskine, respectively) signing up for a mysterious and alluring spy program, promising to abandon their previous lives and relationships as they disappear into their new identities where they play a married couple.
“Why would two people sign up for something like that?” Sloane asked. “What are those reasons — loneliness, wanting to be something bigger, wanting to be the star of your own story — which happened to then seamlessly line up with why people get married in the first place.”
As the new couple is given free rein of an extravagant New York City walk up with no parameters on their new relationship, Sloane and Glover looked to reality dating shows like “Terrace House,” “Married at First Sight” and “90 Day Fiancé” for an authentic look at how a newfound pairing set up by a higher power — whether that be a high-risk spy agency or TV producers — might interact.
“[The shows] took people in this experimental experience, and aligned them with each other to believe that maybe somebody knew better than them to put them together,” Sloane said. “We felt like that was such a great backdrop to inform us about John and Jane and our version of the story.”
Another stark contrast from the original movie is the show’s versions of John and Jane, who Sloane describes as the “antithesis” of who viewers might expect to replace Pitt and Jolie’s glamorous take on the couple.
“They both represent this really great idea of advocating for the underdog,” Sloane said. “So many people could turn around and see themselves in both of them, and that felt really important to us.”
While Glover had been slated to play John since the reboot’s genesis, Sloane and Glover turned their attention on finding their Jane after “Fleabag” star Phoebe Waller-Bridge exited the adaptation due to creative differences. When it came time to recast the role, Erskine was “the only person on all of our tongues,” according to Sloane.
“I don’t even know exactly what it is except for the fact that she was a surprising choice. She is such a layered actor and her vulnerability comes straight to the surface right away,” Sloane said.
Sloane worked with Erskine and Glover to incorporate their qualities into the characters, crafting Jane as a self-protective protagonist whose walls begin to dissipate as she forms a close bond with John, who takes a very different approach to the gig.
“Donald self-proclaimed John as a golden retriever… [who] wears his heart on his sleeve [and is] a little bit more excitable and soft,” Sloane said, adding that John was inspired from a 13-year-old boy’s fantasy of what a spy would look like — which is quickly distorted when he’s thrown in the “muck” of high-risk missions and espionage.
Erskine and Glover’s vulnerability went hand-in-hand with the moments of levity and humor Sloane sprinkled into the series, like when Jane glances at her blistered feet after wearing less than ideal shoes for a mission; or as Jane and John lock eyes and laugh hysterically in relief of narrowly escaping death.
“If we’re going to be seeing a lot of action-packed violence, and even if it’s done in this really stylized way, what is the way to make the medicine go down?” Sloane posed. “I do think humor is that healthy dose of medicine — it helps you lean into the absurd, and also make it real at the exact same time.”
In spotlighting these seemingly mundane instances that go unrecognized in ritzy action flicks, Sloane and Glover aimed to subvert the action genre — a word that Sloane admits is thrown around frequently within film circles.
“What we wanted to do is especially subvert what people would think the movie TV version would be, which would be allowing it to feel more slick and pop-corny,” Sloane said. “While we do have those moments, what really spoke to us is getting into the nitty gritty of what makes two people truly vulnerable to actually know each other — how ugly that can get, how beautiful that can get, how raw that can be, and really make this relationship feel like something that other people can relate to with by making it as specific as possible.”
Still, Sloane understands cynics’ hesitation to embrace a reboot series amid dozens of remakes across film and TV, so much so that she penned an open letter last month to elaborate on her reasoning for pursuing the show.
“One of the things we still have left in a really cynical world is being authentic, and self-awareness,” Sloane said. “We are recirculating reboot after reboot after reboot, and I just wanted to make it clear that … we set out to make something that felt fresh and unique as a way of combating that fatigue.”
All episodes of “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” are currently streaming on Prime Video.
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