After helming the acclaimed 2019 horror-comedy Little Monsters, Australian filmmaker Abe Forsythe wrote and directed the six-episode miniseries Wolf Like Me for Peacock. The series follows a single father, Gary (Josh Gad), struggling to raise his young daughter. Soon he meets a beautiful woman named Mary (Isla Fisher), who is poised to break him out of his loneliness and grief from losing his wife. However, Mary has a dark secret, and as they grow closer together, Gary quickly discovers this new woman in his life is not who she seems to be.
In an exclusive interview with CBR, Forsythe teased the twists and turns throughout Wolf Like Me's run. The series creator also explained the storytelling appeal of weaving genre elements into the upcoming Peacock series that appears, at first glance, to be a realistic dramedy.
Wolf Like Me feels like an intensely personal story for you. How did the origins of this story come about?
Abe Forsythe: Yes, it is drawn from a lot of my own experiences and life as a single parent.
I didn't really have an outlet to quite bring all that together into a story until I had an experience at the end of 2019 with someone where there was a coincidence on the night I happened to spend with this person. That led to the genre element coming into my story, "What would I do if this person was this?" All of a sudden it allowed a fun way to explore a lot of the things I had been going through. I don't know if I hadn't had this coincidence, we'd be talking right now about the show.
What I realized was that genre element allowed the audience to put themselves and their own version of relationships, trauma, stuff from your past in -- whatever Mary goes through in this show, you can use as a metaphor for your own life. Hopefully, it allows the audience to have fun watching the show and putting their life experiences into the world of these characters.
You mentioned that you saw the truth behind Josh Gad and Isla Fisher's performances, that they could do so much more than just comedy. To elaborate on that, what made them the perfect Mary and Gary?
I had worked with Josh before so I knew what he was capable of, as an actor, but also what a fantastic person he is as well too. I wanted to see him in this. Similarly with Isla, I was always a massive fan of hers. They both have, to me, what great comic actors have, which is a really good dramatic understanding of the intention behind a joke. A big part of the show for the audience is that appearances can be deceiving: don't judge a book by its cover. I felt like putting these two actors together, some of the audience might go, "Oh, it's that type of show!"
The fun then is seeing the audience realize that it's not that because it's actually putting the audience in the perspective of the characters going, "Holy shit! I don't know where this going!" I wouldn't be able to do that if I didn't have two actors deliver what they do in the show. It was really satisfying to watch them work so well together and that's the irony too: the more dramatically and seriously they took it, the funnier it actually becomes. It doesn't become funny from playing the comedy, it becomes funny from playing the truth and drama.
There's a funny moment when Gary thinks he's on a date but it's really just an impromptu English lesson --
-- I will say, that's actually drawn from my life, that scene [laughs].
A lot of your previous work, like Little Monsters, has that subverting of expectations and pivoting from story elements seemingly grounded in the real world to something else entirely. Is that to keep the audience on their toes and off-balance?
I love genre because it allows you to surprise the audience. I love to think an audience will get into this thinking it's one thing and gets to the end and they weren't expecting it to be all those other things. We wouldn't have gotten to that conclusion without the genre element in it. Little Monsters and Wolf Like Me are similar but also very different in the sense that, with Little Monsters, we were trying to make a send-up of the big-budget, American comedy but subvert the audience's expectations by making it really emotional at the end.
This does a similar thing, but I'm trying to make the audience emotional in a different way with this. It was taking a genre element and trying to make it as real as possible and actually make it a really heartfelt drama because, to me, genre is always the best way of exploring something that's going on in your life. It gives you a safe space to have fun and that's a big thing for me. I'm at a point in my life where I just want to be able to sit down and watch something and have fun. I'm much more interested in seeing genre used in a way to explore the things the characters are going through than watching a show without genre elements.
The emotional core of the show really is Gary and his daughter Emma, in a way, more than Gary and Mary. Ariel Donoghue more than holds her own in those scenes with Josh, especially handling such heavy material. How was it directing her?
Ariel is freakishly talented and she was like eleven when we filmed the show. I actually took for granted how talented she was because, anytime you turned the camera on her, she's so emotionally available and raw. You can constantly see everything that's going on with that character without her needing to say anything. She was actually very grounding for all of us working on the show because you got the sense of how troubled [Emma] was, and she hadn't found the right outlet for expressing who she was, which is what Mary brings to her character on the show.
It was just a joy working with her and the show wouldn't be what it is without her performance. I've worked with kids a lot in various things and the best thing about working with a child is they don't have any pretenses, they just sort of are. We looked at hundreds of people trying to find the right girl. I wouldn't have been able to make the show without her. We're so lucky she is as good as she is.
Developed for television by Abe Forsythe, catch all the romantic twists and turns of Wolf Like Me, premiering on Jan. 13 on Peacock.
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