The Envelope Live screening series presented the Facebook Watch series “Limetown” at the Montalbán Theatre in Hollywood. Producer and star Jessica Biel and director Rebecca Thomas were on hand to chat with The Times’ Michael Ordoña about adapting a popular podcast to the screen and diving into a mystery with a morally and ethically challenged lead character.
“Limetown” follows investigative journalist Lia Haddock (Biel) as she obsessively digs into the disappearance of an entire research-facility community of more than 300 people. The podcast by Zack Akers and Skip Bronkle hit No. 1 on iTunes and spawned not only a second season but a prequel book. Akers and Bronkle worked closely with Thomas and Biel on developing the series for streaming television, starting with fleshing out the lead character.
Thomas said, “There wasn’t much of Lia in the podcast because you’re in her perspective, sort of experiencing it with her. ... You don’t know who she is or what she looks like. ... That was really us sitting in a conference room for a couple of weeks with the guys and really cracking her open. And of course it got darker and darker the more Jessica started speaking.”
Biel chuckled in agreement: “So true.”
“Figuring out with Jessica who she was really lent me a visual hand. I could actually figure out how to navigate the universe because I could understand her psychology much more,” said the director.
Thomas said the show took on an alternating-episode format to explore areas the source didn’t: “Every odd episode is dedicated to growing Leah’s character and every even episode is basically paralleling the podcast.”
Seizing the opportunity to dig into Lia, Biel said, “My first thought was, ‘Why is she obsessed with this? What is this connection to this uncle? And what happened there?’ The first place to start is back, into the childhood. ... We could look at the book and ask Skip and Zac a million questions.”
The actress relished examining a protagonist she said had difficulty connecting with people and would “make some odd choices and have this kind of ego about her and this narcissism that ‘I will get the answers to this story, no matter what it takes.’
“How do you create somebody that is likable, that you’re walking that fine line that you’ll go with this person even though she does that crazy thing? ... That’s the real fun, I think, is to walk that tightrope all the time. How far can we actually go before we lose the audience completely?”
Thomas said she was fascinated by the character’s ability to disassociate to get what she needs, as well as by the answers to the show’s mysteries (there actually are answers). “It feels very dark and honest and real when you get to that last person she meets. The fact that I was really surprised by this was really exciting.”
Biel said, “When you get all the answers and you really have all the information, it was so shocking, I loved it. I just thought, ‘This is the craziest thing. This is the craziest story I’ve ever heard. I love this story.’ I thought, I definitely want to watch that show.”