The first day of BookCon concluded with the “Hulu Presents John Green’s Looking for Alaska” panel on the Main Stage. Excited fans, mostly teens, waited patiently in a long line to enter the auditorium. Just before the panel began, the crowd, now seated, were invited to fill the remaining unoccupied VIP seats at the front of the hall, resulting in a mad dash.
The panel, which began with an early viewing of scenes from the Hulu adaptation, featured author John Green, executive producers Stephanie Savage and Josh Schwartz, and actors Kristine Froseth and Charlie Plummer, and was moderated by author and YouTube personality Akilah Hughes.
Hughes kicked off the panel by asking how the adaptation became a reality. “I never imagined it’d still be in print, let alone that Hulu would exist,” Green said of his 2005 debut YA novel, Looking for Alaska, and its new incarnation. “I’m so happy Josh and Steph got to make it.” Schwartz revealed that Green sent him a manuscript of Looking for Alaska before it was published. “I fell in love. Fourteen years later, here we are.” Savage read the book while working with Schwartz on the second season of the television show The OC, long before the two started a production company together.
Plummer, who plays the novel’s main character Miles in the Hulu adaptation, first read Looking for Alaska at age 15 and said he connected to the “passion to experience life” expressed by the characters. Froseth, who plays the titular and enigmatic Alaska, first read the novel in high school, but revealed that she has felt more “deeply connected” to the novel today.
Hughes called out the quieter moments and characters in the novel, asking about amplifying those elements on the screen. Schwartz explained that the show takes those scenes—and even scenes that are only alluded to in the book—and puts them on screen. “Everything you love is on the screen,” he assured the audience.
When asked why Looking for Alaska still resonates with readers, Green joked, “I don’t know. I haven’t read it in 15 years.” He then shared that he believes readers respond to the novel’s “emotion, yearning, and sense of lost time,” and the fact that “we’ve all failed someone because we didn’t imagine them completely, as the full and complete person they are.”
Hughes spoke directly to Froseth and Plummer when asking about relating to the story’s characters and representing them on screen. Froseth divulged connecting to “Alaska’s internal life and struggle with her sense of self” and her “escapism habits.” For Froseth, the character fully came together when the team traveled with Green to Alabama, to see the places that inspired the novel: “It all kind of clicked.” Plummer spoke of using his personal experiences to better understand the character of Miles. “The special thing,” he told the audience, “is that everyone working on the show has a personal connection to the book.”
The panelists then discussed which scenes they’re most excited for fans to see brought to life. Plummer mentioned the first connection between Miles and Alaska, as well as the Thanksgiving scene, which he called a “beautiful experience.” Green spoke fondly of being on set during the filming of a favorite scene at a liquor store: “Other people from the cast came to show support, even though they weren’t filming that day. There was a sense of family. You get to experience that very rarely in life.”
When it came to casting the show, Schwartz shared that “everyone sees Alaska in a very specific way based on personal experiences” but that, when Plummer auditioned for the role of Miles, “all talking and arguing stopped. You just wanted to watch Charlie. We knew right away.” Similarly, Schwartz said the only actor who could play ‘The Colonel’ was actor Denny Love. “He’s a revelation,” Green said of Love. “I can’t wait for you all to see him.”
In answering what they hope viewers take from the Looking for Alaska adaptation, which is set to premiere October 18, Savage spoke about creating a show that is “timeless and perennial. We hope that you binge it the weekend it comes out and then again, and again, and again, and then, the next year, you’re ready to watch it again,” she said. “Ultimately, we hope viewers connect with the characters, then the world, then each other, and that it brings people together to talk about the themes of the book.”
Schwartz said, “The show wrestles with big, unanswerable questions. That feeling of being a teen and feeling immortal, then experiencing loss for the first time.” “To me,” Green added, “one of the hardest things about being a person is about learning to live with ambiguity. Living with questions that don’t get answered, even when those questions deserve answers. And learning to live with guilt and the responsibility of living with the failures you’ve had. My hope for the series is that we explore that in ways that are meaningful for people.”