The Cast of Kindred on the Octavia E. Butler TV Adaptation

FX’s “Kindred” is the literary TV event of the year and the cast and crew are honored to bring such an iconic story to the small screen. The series adaptation based on Octavia E. Butler’s celebrated 1979 novel of the same name, which arrived on Hulu on Dec. 13, is billed as a “genre-bending exploration” of slavery, racism, sexism, and family history at the crux of a young Black woman’s unexpected time travel expedition set in 2016.

“Every decision we made, we tried to make in the grain of the book or some version of the book we were given access to.”

Centered on Dana (played by Mallori Johnson), “Kindred” follows the aspiring writer-turned-Los Angeles transplant and her budding interracial romance with new friend Kevin (Micah Stock) as she’s violently pulled back in time to a 19th-century plantation that she finds she has secret family ties to. All the while, she struggles to understand the cause of her mysterious travels that leave her scarred with terrible memories each and every trip. Now, “Kindred” may not follow every part of Butler’s bestselling book to the tee, but showrunner Branden Jacobs-Jenkins tells POPSUGAR that he used the author’s work as “the guiding light” for his historical science fiction adaptation.

“Every decision we made, we tried to make in the grain of the book or some version of the book we were given access to,” he says of himself and the show’s writers. “I really set out to tell the story of ‘Kindred’ itself. It’s a story about a young Black woman who moves to LA and this crazy thing starts happening to her. And in the process, she begins to completely revise her own ideas of herself, her history, and her relationships with others around her. In a lot of ways, it’s an allegory for the coming of age that any kind of artist ultimately moves through, but also, in some ways, about what it is to come of age as an American and reckon with the history that you’ve inherited — all the social dynamics and psychological forces it entails.”

“Kindred” stars Johnson, Stock, and others who portray key players that shape Dana’s journey on the show — including Ryan Kwanten as plantation owner Thomas Weylin, Gayle Rankin as his wife Margaret Weylin, David Alexander Kaplan as their son Rufus Weylin, Austin Smith as enslaved foreman Luke, Sophina Brown as the plantation’s head cook Sarah, and Sheria Irving as Dana’s mother, Olivia. Not every actor was familiar with Butler’s book before they joined the cast, but they all felt the weight of the story they were telling for the historical drama.

“It was extremely nerve-wracking,” 24-year-old Johnson shares of tackling her debut leading role in the first-ever TV adaptation of “Kindred.” “Octavia Butler is so legendary and I know she had such a huge cult following. So going into it, I was just thinking I don’t want to cause any disrespect to her legacy . . . It was intimidating.”

“This show really covers the gamut of hot-button issues that feel just as poignant now as they did when Octavia wrote it.”

Aside from adding to Butler’s legacy, “Kindred”‘s compelling narratives and scripts were also big draws for the cast. “These days it’s so hard to find emotionally, character-driven, original stories and I can’t think of anything that comes close to this,” Kwanten explains of the series. “There are elements of the show that exist in other shows, but from an overall standpoint, when you’re dealing with sexism, social-standing, social observations, this show really covers the gamut of hot-button issues that feel just as poignant now as they did when Octavia wrote it. It was a huge honor for us to carry on her legacy and to see how well Brandon channeled her in the writing.”

Brown also praises “Kindred”‘s “brilliant” writing — her costar Smith even calls the pilot episode (directed by “Zola”‘s Janicza Bravo) “one of the best I’ve ever read” — and adds, “I feel so incredibly privileged to just have dipped my toe into the waters of Ms. Butler. Her body of work is just incredible.”

As gripping as Butler’s literary blueprint and FX’s “Kindred” is, the series dives into a lot of heavy, emotionally-taxing topics. From past and present racial tensions to Dana’s strained relationships with her relatives, as well as concerns for her mental well-being, “Kindred” doesn’t shys away from sensitive material. But according to Rankin, it was all “handled really delicately and very openly.” “I know that was something I think we were all pretty grateful for and it was so necessary,” she adds. “Participating in these kinds of narratives can be taken for granted, so it’s a privilege to get to be in the conversation or be making art about the conversation.”

Gayle Rankin and Ryan Kwanten in FX's Kindred.

Over the span of eight episodes, “Kindred” takes on the daunting task of interpreting Butler’s literary masterpiece for a modern-day tale. With no particular message designed, Jacob-Jenkins anticipates that the series will hit home for viewers and make them consider Dana’s circumstances — “What would we do if we were put in this situation?” Meanwhile, the show’s cast all internalized different points from the adaptation based on their characters.

“I hope that people are able to look at this narrative and really understand, empathize with, learn from the past.”

“Octavia wrote [‘Kindred’] initially to honor enslaved people. To ask the question, ‘What would you do if you were transported back in time? What would you do? How would you behave?'” Brown notes. On the other hand, Smith says his understanding of the series is that it’s “also about understanding and reconciling your own family history.” “It’s about healing family trauma and how difficult, scary, and sometimes like a horror movie that can be. And that as a country, we can’t hide from it,” he adds. “We can’t hide from this history. Because the more we try to get away from it, the more it’s going to pull us right back. So I think that’s definitely something audiences will walk away from after having seen the show.”

Dana’s journey is the focus of “Kindred” but every experience highlighted in the show represents a reality all too familiar to American history. “. . . This story is so much bigger than its protagonist that it has ramifications for all of us,” Kwanten adds.

By the end of season one, viewers may just walk away from “Kindred” with a whole new outlook on the past. “I hope that people are able to look at this narrative and really understand, empathize with, learn from the past,” Brown says. “So that moving forward towards the future, we don’t make the same mistakes.”

All eight episodes of “Kindred” are now streaming on Hulu.

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