Warning: This article contains spoilers for The Changeling.
If you’re wondering what category Apple TV+’s The Changeling falls into, you’re not alone. The genre-agnostic binge starring LaKeith Stanfield is described as an odyssey, fable, something in the vein of horror and a “fairytale for grown-ups” all at the same time.
Set in an alternate Manhattan, the show is based on the 2017 novel of the same name by Victor LaValle and follows Apollo (Stanfield) as he traverses a magical world in search of his wife and son.
I spoke with Van Tulleken and Williams over Zoom to discuss the show, their directorial process and the future of the industry.
Van Tulleken said he read The Changeling when it first came out and felt the story engaged with complex ideas such as parenthood and generational trauma in compelling ways.
“I love sophisticated genres,” Van Tulleken said. “To actually get sent the scripts and know that LaKeith was going to be in it and Kelly [Marcel] had adapted it beautifully and brought this wonderful female perspective to it and really brought forward the character of Emma the wife and hit that love story beautifully, it felt like a really bold piece of television.”
Williams found his entrypoint to the material through the lens of television, resisting the urge to read the novel so as to approach the series in the same way audiences would.
He made his directorial debut for television this past year with the Peabody-winning David Makes Man, created by Moonlight co-writer Tarell Alvin McCraney and executive produced by Oprah Winfrey and Michael B. Jordan. His narrative work tends to focus on stories of identity, culture and uplifting marginalized voices.
“As a director, I'm focusing on the episode that I'm working on and how that threads into this series,” Williams said. “To get to work on a show with the talent that Jonathan's already mentioned — as directors we’re nothing without our actors and writers. So it was just an incredible premium Black television project that I was really proud to get a chance to direct.”
Van Tulleken emphasized the directorial team’s intention to craft each episode as its own piece of cinema. He highlighted how the pilot episode directed by Matsoukas is a love story, while episode three serves as a full entry into the horror genre.
Williams, who directed the seventh episode of The Changeling, has been praised by The Hollywood Reporter and New York Times in the past, with his 90-minute pilot being named one of 2019’s best television episodes and receiving stellar reviews at SXSW.
“Michael [Williams] did this incredible bottle episode that is this piece of magical realism,” Van Tulleken said. “You're always trying to hold the season as a whole in your head and make sure that you're tracking those arcs.”
When asked about the role intellectual property will take on in the industry post-strike, Van Tulleken spoke of how IP has allowed the work of a novelist like LaValle to be discovered by a wider audience. He also acknowledged there is still room for original work within television and film.
Williams said the presence of world-building in the science fiction genre could make IP, especially nuanced novels like The Changeling, a good resource going forward.
“I'm just excited that our writers are able to get back to work now,” Williams said. “And looking forward to all the stories that they are able to craft.”