Štěpán Hulík • Showrunner of Suspicion
“The speed and ease with which we can ruin another person's life today is frightening”
- BERLINALE 2022: Cineuropa sat down with the showrunner of the first series from Central and Eastern Europe selected for Berlinale Series to talk about true crime and strong female characters
Czech scriptwriter Štěpán Hulík rose to prominence after writing the Agnieszka Holland-directed miniseries Burning Bush [+see also:
film profile]. Hulík’s latest work, the Czech-French miniseries Suspicion [+see also:
interview: Štěpán Hulík
series profile], on which he also served as showrunner and which rising Slovak director Michal Blaško helmed (while also readying his feature debut, Victim – see the news), has been picked for the Berlinale Series sidebar of the Berlinale, making it the first series from Central and Eastern Europe to have achieved this feat. Cineuropa sat down with Hulík to talk about the international appeal of the show, combining genres and writing strong female characters, which are prevalent in his works.
Cineuropa: Suspicion is inspired by a case from real life. To what extent does the series reconstruct the real case(s), and was it motivated by the current interest in the true-crime genre?
Štěpán Hulík: Our miniseries is not a reconstruction of any particular case. However, we have drawn inspiration from some of these medical cases in terms of some of the details or plot motifs. The origins of the project date back to 2017, when interest in true crime was not nearly as strong as it is today. So, the fact that the premiere comes at a time when series from this genre are dominating the TV market is more of a coincidence. Personally, I see true crime as an offshoot of genre, which, if done well, can provide a basis for asking serious social or psychological questions. That's what I find appealing about it.
Suspicion is a blend of crime, medical and family drama. Why did you decide on this particular combination?
To answer very briefly: as a writer, I am interested in real life happening around us; I am interested in real people with their psychological uniqueness and their relationships. At the same time, I realise that this may not sound very appealing to the audience. So I try to add something extra to it – an element of surprise, suspense or mystery. Something to pique the viewer's interest and make them want to keep on watching. I don't speculate on what genres I'm combining, or whether they are attractive to the audience or not. I'm just trying to tell the best story I can and use the ingredients that go into good storytelling.
Why did you decide to thematise the current era of media lynching and the rapid formation of opinions based on headlines and without additional evidence?
Most of the time, our thinking operates according to familiar patterns and takes the same shortcuts, which today's quick reaction times have only accelerated. All it takes is one click, one like or one thumbs down. The speed and ease with which we can ruin another person's life is frightening, and most of the time we don't even realise it. We felt it was important to emphasise this.
Your previous works like Burning Bush and Wasteland, along with Suspicion, feature strong female characters. What is it about these characters that attracts you to them?
I believe that everything basic in our lives has its origin in early childhood. My mum has always been an extremely strong woman who has been able to face the most difficult challenges in life. I've sensed that since I was a kid, and I've transferred that feeling over to women in general: I have no doubt that most of them endure a lot more than most men.
In many ways, life is more difficult for them than it is for us men, even in this day and age. I admire them. I enjoy finding such heroines and writing about them; to some extent, a woman acting heroically is more imaginable to me than a man doing so. And it's also more appealing from a dramatic point of view – a woman in distress can't use physical force the way a man would in her position. She has to come up with another solution, and that can be much more interesting.
Suspicion was co-produced with France, and the miniseries has already been sold to several other countries. To what extent did you consider the international reach of the show?
I always try to reach as wide as possible. I choose subjects that I feel are internationally understandable, which will have a chance to travel. I write every script for a long time, most of them for several years. So I want it to have at least a chance of reaching the largest audience possible.
The miniseries was directed by rising Slovak filmmaker Michal Blaško. How did his direction enhance your story?
Michal has captured the whole miniseries in a completely unique visual way. At first glance, Suspicion is different from how things usually look on TV here. That in itself may not be an advantage, but the main thing is that the “otherness” doesn't come across as intentional. Michal used the images to bring out the emotion that I was trying to convey with the text.
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