A two-part adaptation of Herman Melville's whale tale "Moby Dick" airs Monday and Tuesday (Aug. 1 and 2) on Encore, but the miniseries -- billed as Encore's first original program -- arrives with lttle fanfare. TV critics haven't seen it, but nevertheless, Starz/Encore brought stars William Hurt, Ethan Hawke and Gillian Anderson to Beverly Hills, where critics are meeting, to talk about the project. They were joined by screenwriter Nigel Williams.
Hurt plays Captain Ahab; Anderson is his wife, and Hawke plays Starbuck. Because no one in the room had seen the miniseries, questioners first addressed its hazy origins, especially after Hurt said it had already aired in Australia. Does that still make the Encore debut a "world premiere"?
Stephan Shelanski, programming boss for Starz/Encore, stepped in to "shed some light on that." The minseries, he said, "was an international co-production funded by lots of different entities, and it has shown in some territories worldwide, in limited fashion, but it hasn’t really played the vast majority of territories yet."
Someone else wondered what Anderson is even doing in the miniseries, since woman are virtually invisible in "Moby Dick."
"I play Ahab's wife and mother of his son, and my character doesn't appear as much in the novel as she does in the miniseries, " Anderson said. "My understanding is her role is in essence to humanize Ahab.... I think it's a sweet beginning to this story."
Hurt said his reason for doing "Moby Dick" was simple: "The novel. I read it. It changed my life."
Hawke, a man of few words and many pauses, sat silent so long that Hurt wondered if he had a microphone. "Yeah, he's miked," Anderson said. "He's just pausing. He's thinking."
"It's great material," he said finally. "I felt like it was time to be done again."
"Moby Dick" has been adapted many times, of course, and Williams said he thinks the best is John Huston's, written by Ray Bradbury.
But "this is a colossal book in which there are recipes for clam chowder and (instructions for) how to drain a whale of blood. There is family life. There is the passion of seafaring. So there's always another element that you can get into a version of this classic novel."
"Moby Dick" airs at 7 p.m. Monday and Tuesday on Encore and will be available On Demand, in addition to repeats. Watch a preview.
Gail Pennington is attending the Television Critics Association summer press tour in Los Angeles.