80s Ski Style: “Hot Dog…The Movie” Turns 40

The 80’s… A time in history I don’t know much about. Wanting a firsthand report, I decided to ask my dear sainted mother about the 80’s. Once she shook off her thousand-yard stare, her only reply was, “God, I miss cocaine.” After that harrowing response, I decided to use Google. I dug through the tales of consumerism, ugly cars, and trickle-down economics, which obviously isn’t working due to us not letting the top get rich enough for the money to trickle down. Then I stumbled across a little ski movie that came out in 1984 by the name of Hot Dog…The Movie. It is the highest-grossing ski movie of all time, with over $17 million in box office returns against a budget of just $2 million. It received glowing reviews like, “light and less moronic than it might have been” and it received the honored title of “sexploitation flick.” I decided to check it out. Boy, was that a good idea because when the movie ended I noticed something that caught my eye, a little name in the credits that I wanted to share with all of you. You see dear reader, one of the stunt doubles in this film was none other than Frank Beddor himself. When I asked Frank why he had not talked much about being in this movie, he told me he was too embarrassed. Luckily for you all, I’m not embarrassed in the slightest.

Image of "The Looking Glass Wars" author and World Champion freestyle skier Frank Beddor with Peter Judge, Jeff Chumas, and friend on the set of "Hot Dog...The Movie" in 1983.

“The Looking Glass Wars” author and World Champion freestyle skier Frank Beddor with Peter Judge, Jeff Chumas, and friend on the set of “Hot Dog…The Movie” in 1983.

Hot Dog…The Movie follows Harkin Banks, played by Patrick Houser, a young freestyle skier who has come to Squaw Valley, California (which has since been renamed as Palisades Tahoe) to participate in a competition. It’s a standard underdog story. But what sets this movie apart from the other underdog stories, is that there are loads of boobs and 80’s racism played for comedy. When watching a comedy from the 80’s, one must remember times were different. You must turn off your 2024 lens and view it as a time capsule of an era that once was. That doesn’t make it appropriate today, but it allows you to laugh a bit more. Allow me to sell you on the film’s plot though. After picking up the hitchhiking Sunny, played by Tracy N. Smith, she and Harkin make their way to Tahoe. When they stop at the hotel, the concierge is busy in the hot tub with a gentleman, where we see a lot of plot. Then there is a wet t-shirt contest that is full of plot. Some skiing stuff happens that gets in the way of the plot and then there’s a party that ignites a love triangle between Harkin, Sunny, and Sylvia Fonda, played by 1982 Playboy Playmate of the Year Shannon Tweed, and of course, we see her plots. More ski stuff happens, and there is an unfortunate date rape joke (remember, it’s the 80s), then the movie ends.

Okay now that I’ve talked about all the plots you see in the movie, let’s talk about how Frank falls into this. The main antagonist, Rudolph “Rudi” Garmisch, played by John Patrick Reger, is an Austrian freestyle skier and all-around not-nice guy. Well as it turns out, John Patrick Reger can’t ski as well as he claimed. Actually, a lot of the actors couldn’t ski. So the studio hired stunt doubles, which is where Frank comes in. Frank was Rudolph’s stunt double. Most of the actors were paid peanuts, but not Frank. Frank had to do multiple flips, so he was paid a whopping thirty thousand dollars for one day’s work. Quick side note, Frank, I know you have at least thirty thousand dollars, can I borrow some money? Okay, back to the blog. As it turns out, Frank Beddor, author of The Looking Glass Wars, also happens to be a very competent skier. So competent, in fact, he was at one point the World Champion of freestyle skiing.

Still image of Shannon Tweed and David Naughton from the 1984 teen sex comedy ski film "Hot Dog...the Movie".
Image of the cover of June 1982 issue of Playboy magazine featuring Playmate of the Year Shannon Tweed reclining in a white, fur-lined robe.

After a second watch of the movie, I realized why the ski stuff was happening between all the plot, Harken and Rudolph are competing against each other. While I won’t spoil who wins, the skiing does not end after the competition. No, the true champion of freestyle skiing will be decided by whoever wins the Chinese Downhill. I’m sure you’re wondering, “What the fuck is a Chinese downhill?” This is also a question asked in the movie. A Chinese downhill is a race where there are no rules, except the winner is decided by being the first one to make it to the bottom and you have to start at the same time and you have to take the same path. That’s three more rules than none. What is meant by no rules is that the people participating in the race are allowed to do anything to win, including but not limited to; tripping other skiers with their poles, knocking skiers off cliffs, using smoke bombs strapped to their helmet to blind the opposition, and dressing up in military garb and using some kind of grenade shaped hammer. Of course, explaining what a Chinese downhill is does not clear up why it’s called Chinese and if you really think about it, a race doesn’t really settle who the best freestyle skier is. While some of the skills will cross over, freestyle skiing and ski racing have as much in common as swimming and diving. They are pretty different from each other. Nonetheless, the scene is very fun.

Poster for the 1984 teen sex comedy film "Hot Dog...The Movie" featuring a collection of skiers jumping off a mountain and a group of characters in a hot tub.

Now let’s talk about the comedy. Not counting the racist and sexist jokes, most of them are pretty funny. I do want to point out one racist joke though that did make me laugh because it was so unnecessary and out of nowhere. There is a Japanese freestyle skier named Kendo Yamamoto played by James Saito. In one scene at a bar, everyone is eating peanuts. There is an insert shot of Kendo’s hand grabbing a peanut and karate chopping it open. This isn’t played up big. There isn’t a “hi-ya!” It just happens. I also want to point out that Kendo is a friend of the group, treated equally and attractive to women. Pretty ahead of its time for the 80’s. Usually, Asian characters in older films are nerdy or soft-spoken and that’s played for comedy but kudos given when kudos due.

Still image from the 1984 teen sex comedy film "Hot Dog...The Movie" featuring actors David Naughton, Patrick Houser, Tracy Smith, and James Saito.

It might sound like I’m hating on this movie, but in actuality, I really did enjoy it. It was funny and easy to watch. A lot of people enjoy it as well, so many in fact that the movie has gained cult classic status. There was even a celebration in Tahoe for the twenty-year reunion which, much like the film, ended with Patrick Houser being paraded around the party on people’s shoulders.

There is a reason this film was so successful, you just have to look at it without your 2024 lens. Hot Dog…The Movie came out at the same time as Yentl. Now, put yourself in the shoes of a teenage moviegoer in the 80’s. When given the option between Yentl, the dramatic musical starring Barbra Streisand about a woman studying the Talmud even though it is forbidden for women to do so, or Hot Dog, the funny movie with tons of nudity and skiing. Which one would you truthfully choose? If you said Yentl you’re either lying because you want to win some PC award or you forgot what it was like to be a teenager. The fact I’m even talking about it today has to mean something. I mean the movie is turning forty this year. I wonder if the fortieth anniversary will be anything as wild as the movie?

Meet the Author:

Jared Hoffman Headshot

Jared Hoffman graduated from the American Film Institute with a degree in screenwriting. A Los Angeles native, his brand of comedy is satire stemming from the many different personalities and egos he has encountered throughout his life. As a lover of all things comedy, Jared is always working out new material and trying to make those around him laugh. His therapist claims this is a coping mechanism, but what does she know?


As an amateur scholar and die-hard enthusiast of everything to do with Alice in Wonderland, I have launched a podcast that takes on Alice’s everlasting influence on pop culture. As an author who draws on Lewis Carroll’s iconic masterpiece for my Looking Glass Wars universe, I’m well acquainted with the process of dipping into Wonderland for inspiration.

The journey has brought me into contact with a fantastic community of artists and creators from all walks of life—and this podcast will be the platform where we come together to answer the fascinating question: “What is it about Alice?”

For this episode, it was my great pleasure to have award-winning audiobook narrator Gerard Doyle join me as my guest! Read on to explore our conversation and check out the whole series on your favorite podcasting platform to listen to the full interview.

Frank Beddor
Gerard Doyle, thank you for doing this. It’s really fun to get to know somebody in this format who has done work for me and I just know them through their work. I was, of course, preparing a little bit today and I was so delighted to read about your background in theater and with Shakespeare so I have many questions for you. The most important question is, how would you compare Shakespeare’s work to The Looking Glass Wars trilogy? Are they about the same?

Gerard Doyle 
Apart from the lack of iambic pentameter? Shakespeare wrote some epic plays and some epic battle scenes. I can’t say he was present in my mind when I was recording The Looking Glass Wars audiobooks but the two are not a million miles removed, Don’t do yourself downly. That was a remarkable achievement. 

I’m really interested to hear about the narrations but I do want to start with acting because I had a very short acting career. I studied with Stella Adler at the end of her life and she made us all not only read the whole play but read biographies of the playwrights themselves so we could really understand the connection between their lives and their work and do a better job of interpreting the text. Then she also had us write a scene before the scene that we were performing on stage and that’s what got me interested in writing because I was practically writing a play before the one scene that I was doing in the class. 

I had no experience. I had come from doing commercials for when I was on the U.S. ski team. So my introduction to show business was through commercials and then acting. You’ve done a lot of work in the West End in London and you’ve done a lot of Shakespeare work. I deeply admire people who can make Shakespeare work, get on stage, and make it feel relevant for a contemporary audience. I’m really interested in hearing about your journey. Your work as an actor obviously translates to your audiobooks and narration. First listening to your work on The Looking Glass Wars was a shocking revelation because it didn’t seem like my book. I read it one way and the great thing about great actors is they find their own voice and their own way into the material. You have an extraordinary skill for that.

Illustration of The Cat attacking a group of Milliners from author Frank Beddor's novel "The Looking Glass Wars".

Well, thank you very much. I was very lucky. I was a late starter. I was persuaded to join a local amateur theater company in England at the age of 21. Having done a little bit of theater at school, it was my refuge really. I was quite heavily bullied at school because I was a bit of an oddball and I found refuge in the drama club. I experienced recognition and approbation for my acting in a way I hadn’t before. Being on stage felt very natural. In his autobiography, Patrick Stewart talks about how he felt the stage was a safe space for him. That really resonated with me. They couldn’t get me. I wasn’t being thrown down stairs. It saved me in so many ways. Then, in the way of these things, I dropped it. People said, “Oh, you should go to drama school.” But with my family, the expectations were fairly low in terms of one’s ability to forge any kind of career, especially in the arts. You left school at 15 and got a job. That’s pretty much what I did. Through one of the jobs, I was reintroduced to a girl I was at school with and she said, “Look, somebody’s dropped out of a play I’m doing, can you come?” It was a wonderful French farce called Don’t Listen Ladies. It was a gift of a role. It was the fixer, like the Arlecchino character. 

At that time, all the local amateur dramatic companies supported each other’s productions. So in this tiny theater that held about 40 people with a postage stamp stage, suddenly, on the Saturday night, there were representatives from all these local drama groups. And they all invited me to join their company, which I did. I was so flattered and didn’t like to say no to anybody. But I realized rehearsals were on the same nights and all the productions were within a week or two of each other. So I had to carefully choose and I got it down to three in the end. One of the companies was a group of young people and we did some pretty in-your-face theater. A lot of “nudge nudge, wink, wink” humor. But I was playing to audiences in tiny spaces. The front row was two feet away. It was something I got used to, not being inhibited by the proximity of an audience that you could literally look in the eye.

It was a great education. From that, at the age of 27, I went to drama school in Birmingham, England. It, frankly, wasn’t a great drama school but I left with my equity card. The one thing about it for me was being a little older and more experienced than most other people, I got quite a lot out of it, including being invited to join this little acting company that was striving to get equity cards. 

So I left drama school and got a job as an acting assistant stage manager at the Nuffield Theatre in Southampton. They had just finished a production of The Hired Man, which was a wonderful musical based on a novel about the mining and farming industries in the Northwest of England. It was based on real people. The author, Sir Melvyn Bragg, wrote about his family. I played his uncle, who was instrumental in unionizing the mining industry in the Northwest. This was 1984, at the height of the miners’ strikes. So it was pithy stuff. It was a wonderfully close-knit company. There are nine of us who are still in touch. But my education was actually in doing rather than academic. 

My first Shakespeare was actually in Dundee, Scotland. I played Trinculo in The Tempest. I come from an Irish background and I had an Irish accent until I was about five when I was allowed to go out on the streets to play with the other kids and  I lost it very quickly. But I still retained the ability to do the accent. It was thick in the house. So when I first read Trinculo, I thought, “I’ll do him Irish.” But then I started having doubts and I backed away from it. I was having terrible trouble in rehearsal and the director wasn’t really being very helpful. Lovely man but an awful director. I was floundering. Stephano and Caliban were both university-educated actors and because of the absence of direction, they took it upon themselves to direct our little comedy trio bits. I just wasn’t comfortable at all. Finally, on the last rehearsal, with all the tech crew and stage management and everything, the last day before we went into the theater, I thought “Fuck it, I can’t do this.” So at lunchtime, I went back to my original instinct and without telling anybody, very unprofessional, I changed Trinculo to Irish. The difference was just tremendous. But it screwed up everything they had carefully figured out for themselves. They weren’t happy bunnies but we all got over it because it really did make a big difference. 

I was actually reluctant to use my Irish accent but there was a girl who came to that rehearsal to visit her boyfriend, who was also in the play. We were talking afterward and she said that she recognized the accent. She asked, “Are you from anywhere near Kilsheelan?” Kilsheelan is in County Tipperary and eight miles from where my family came from. That was a huge reinforcement for me. 

When I came to doing audiobooks, my very first one was an Irish novel, A Star Called Henry by Roddy Doyle. I got the job because, at the time, I was understudying two lead roles in a play called The Weir by Conor McPherson, set in an Irish Pub. We were on Broadway and my agent said, “Somebody is looking for somebody who can record an audiobook.” It came down to me and one of the guys I was understudying and I got it. I got an award from AudioFile Magazine my very first book.

The thing was, I’d never heard of audiobooks. So Claudia Howard, God bless her, who ran Record Books at the time, directed me for the first third of the book. Then when I finished it up and she felt I got into my stride, she went off and did more important things. When I finished the whole book, she called me back in for corrections and said, “Look, sit down and listen to the beginning and then listen to the end.” It was chalk and cheese. I was tentative and holding back so she said “I want you to sit down and rerecord the first 70 pages with the same energy that you had throughout the rest of the book.” That got me my first Earphones Award from AudioFile.

Cover image of Irish author Roddy Doyle's historical novel "A Star Called Henry".
Photograph of Booker Prize-winning Irish author Roddy Doyle wearing a brown blazer and checked button-down shirt.

You’ve had so many since and been nominated for so many awards. But going back to that first book, what was the process for getting the job? It was between you and one other person for this audiobook. What did they say? Did you read it? What was the process?

I had auditioned for Claudia three years before, on a recommendation from a wonderful, wonderful Australian actor who had just finished doing The Lord of the Rings trilogy for Recorded Books. I was coming to America to introduce my son to his relatives here and my Australian actor friend said, “Oh, you must visit my friend Claudia Howard at Recorded Books.” So on the basis of his name, she gave me an audition and I was awful. It was absolutely dreadful. Three years later, when I went to audition for A Star Called Henry, she didn’t remember me, thanks be to God.

What was the audition like? Did you have to go in and read from the book cold? 

I don’t think I got any sides or anything.

So it’s a cold reading with prose.

What they’re really interested in is trying to figure out if you can really tell a story. I had no confidence in that because I hadn’t considered acting as storytelling. Of course, that is exactly what we do as actors. I hadn’t the common sense to trust my instincts. So I gave a very stilted reading that first audition. When I came back three years later, I had a lot more experience under my belt and confidence, by that time, in my Irish accent. So when I read, it probably wasn’t all that she was hoping for. Certainly, when I recorded the first chunk of the book, it wasn’t all she was hoping for. But that was good enough to get the job and then she had me go back and match the beginning to the rest.

Because reading or performing dialogue in a play is so different than trying to take a line of prose and imbuing it with the storytelling aspect. But you’re right, we all tell stories. It’s in the way you perform it. But you’re making so many choices. What was so remarkable about listening to your reading of my novel for the first time was how it differed from how I originally had it in my head. 

I would sometimes read the book out loud to see what the rhythm felt like and I knew that I would be not great for doing the audiobook because I was so typecast in the way I looked at the text. That’s why when I heard your version of it, not only is it because of the quality of your voice, but it’s the storytelling and the performance. It’s a performance piece and lines that I did not expect to be particularly thrilling felt really dramatic because they were setting up a moment that felt really suspenseful as you went into a piece of dialogue or a piece of action. It’s its own art form.

Photograph of actor and audiobook narrator Gerard Doyle speaking to a group of people in a classroom while being recorded by a camera.

I’ve come to kind of realize that over the years. It’s amazing how much how much free range one is given. I’ve had direct contact with authors more recently but in the early days, nothing. I didn’t think to ask. So it was all instinct and guesswork, not entirely because you obviously don’t just sit and record the book, you have to prep it and read it. 

The proper way is you read the book first to try and get all sorts of things. Depending on how much lead time one has, sometimes there’s barely enough time to read the damn thing. Then you’re recording against a deadline. But I pay attention to everything an author says about individual characters. I make a note of physical stuff, the timbre of their voice, their accent, whatever it might be. That’s something you have to be really careful with because an author, being the contrary bunch of bastards that they are, will introduce a character on page 15 and describe their bloody voice on page 90. Exactly. If you’ve made the wrong choice based on not doing your job properly or not doing the research, that’s an awful lot of rerecording to do. So paying attention to all those factors flushes out the character for me. 

It depends on whether it’s first-person or third-person narration but for any narration that refers directly to the character, I try to imbue it with the personality I feel that character has. So it sounds like it’s from his or her point of view. It doesn’t always work like that but I’ve become more comfortable doing that in recent years and it seems to work. 

What is the optimal way for you to prepare? I understand there are schedules and deadlines and they’re rushing, but that doesn’t seem to make much sense. Because then if you go too quickly and you haven’t had a chance to do the research, you’re going to be re-recording. 

When you’re presented with a book and they say, “Okay, do you want a week? Do you want two weeks?” Then in that prep time, you’re making all of these notes. That makes a lot of sense because some of these books, like Eragon, are big bestsellers and you want to get that right. 

I had eight days to prep that. 

That seems short. Is that normal? 

That was pretty short for my first big book, although I didn’t realize at the time how big it was going to be. But there’s a lot of controversy amongst readers who will instantly complain about the dragon voice. Eragon and the dragon Saphira communicate telepathically. So readers ask why I didn’t give the dragon a female voice. The truth is, I was in such a hurry to prepare I forgot they communicate telepathically. I remember Taro Meyer, the wonderful director whom I’ve done all these books for over 20 years, stopped me and said, “Is that the voice we’re going to use?” Rather than picking up on the hint, being young, arrogant, and nervous, I let it go. Of course, I didn’t realize at the time how many more dragons were going to be introduced in the following books and how doing all the voices and trying to differentiate them was going to rip my throat out.

Illustration of the dragon Saphira by John Jude Palencar from the cover of the young adult fantasy novel "Eragon" by author Christopher Paolini.

The director didn’t directly point out to you, “Hey, this is a female voice.”

I haven’t gone back to check, but I’ve been reminded that in the first few pages when Eragon meets the dragon, Christopher Paolini describes the dragon’s voice as being kind of gravelly and growling. Maybe I picked up on that. It’s just so painful to do that I kind of regret I went for that. But a lot of people now seem to like it.

It was such a successful launch and you also won the AudioField Award. It seems like you’ve won AudioFile Awards for all of your books.

Absolutely not true.

Well, you’ve done 400 books.

Wow. Okay. I don’t know, maybe 10% of them have received an AudioFile Award. 

That seems pretty good. I would definitely take that. By the way, The Looking Glass Wars audiobook was one of them. 

You said you got a scratchy voice because of the demands on your voice to do the dragon characters in Eragon. How do you sustain that? How much of the book do you get done daily?

It depends on the material but I’ve been known to do 70 or 80 pages, I’ve also been known to do 35. It really depends. As I’ve gotten older, of course, my rate slows down and now for the last 15 years, I’ve been recording at home. So I’m punch editing, rather than continuous recording. So that’s a slower process. It takes me, on average, two and a half to three hours to record an hour. I make a lot of mistakes and I catch most of them, but then I have to edit them as I go.

Then you go back and you redo…

No, I never listen to what I’ve just recorded. I’ve made all the choices. It’s an intense process. I’m the narrator, engineer, and director, all in one, and I’m making those decisions constantly. I make the best choices I can and I tend not to go back. If there are errors that I haven’t picked up on, mispronunciations or whatever, that will come back to me after post-production and I get a voice match. I record it as closely as I can to the original and they just drop it in. 

Do you have to take a day off if your throat gets sore or your voice gets a little hoarse? 

Cover image of the young adult fantasy novel "Brisingr" by author Christopher Paolini, featuring an illustration of the dragon Glaedr by John Jude Palencar.
Cover image of the young adult fantasy novel "Inheritance" by author Christopher Paolini, featuring an illustration of the dragon Firnen by John Jude Palencar.

I’ve rarely ever done that. I’m so lucky that my voice is quite robust. One of the Eragon books, I think number three, Brisingr, took around 110 hours to record the book over two weeks. I was pretty far gone after that. 

The author, Paolini is a blessing. He’s a wonderful guy. He invented three languages for these books and he’s great with providing pronunciations. He has a whole linguistic structure for each language. He’s fantastic at supporting all that. But he’s a mischievous little bugger. Right before I started on either book three (Brisingr) or book four (Inheritance) he said, “By the way, I’ve changed the ending.” This was the night before the recording. He said, “I’ve added another dragon to give Eragon a springboard into a future book, and just for you, I’ve given him an extra deep growly gravelly voice.” I said, “God bless you, Christopher.” Anyway, I couldn’t do it. I was so tired after 100 hours of recording. I nipped upstairs to where they were doing the post-production and I said to the chief engineer, “I know you’re not supposed to do this, but can you do something electronic?” I think he did a good job. I’ve not listened to it, though. I tend not to go back and listen to my stuff at all. I can’t stand to hear my own voice.

A lot of people feel that way, including myself. 

I’m delighted that other people appear to enjoy listening to my voice but for me it’s excruciating.

You’ve worked a lot with the Irish writer, Adrian McKinty. Were you acquainted? 

Blackstone Audio are the publishers and I cold-called them 16-17 years ago and Haley Williams, a wonderful producer there, talked with me for 45 minutes. We hadn’t met. She didn’t know me from Adam. Towards the end of it, she said, “Can you do an Irish accent?” I said, “Well, yeah, actually.” “I might have something for you,” she said. Two weeks later, they sent me one of his books, which was great. I think he liked what I did. That was recorded in the same studio where I recorded your trilogy. Same director, Sue Makowiec, and the same audio engineer Barbara Vlahides. 

Do you remember there was an instance in The Looking Glass Wars where General Doppelganger manifests himself into 10 or 12 doppelgangers? Rather than just duplicating my voice, Barbara asked, “Can we rerecord it?” I think we did seven separate takes of each line and then Barbara magicked it altogether. I thought it sounded terrific. 

That was amazing. I was so excited when I heard that. The whole experience was a little bit surreal because they did allow me to listen to some different voices from the auditions. There were some really good choices but when your voice came on it was, “That’s got to be the guy.” Then when they did that little manipulation with Doppelganger and the multiple voices over and over, I would never have imagined that. It was delightful. Thank you for the creative instinct.

It was a bit of fun, really, but then we realized it was quite a lovely thing. I contacted Sue Makowiec a couple of weeks ago just to say “I’m doing this podcast. Have you got anything?” She said, “I gotta tell you that your characterization of Queen Redd was so close to my own. Every time we finished doing a Redd session, I expected to walk into the booth and find a red corset and a pair of red high heels.” I’m not much of a method actor, but that would have been taking things a little far.

Did you do much cold calling when you were looking for work? 

I was working for an audiobook company, I’m not going to name them because this is illegal, that said, “If you’re working for us, you can’t work for these people.” I stuck to that and when another book came up from another publisher, I couldn’t turn it down so I changed my name. I used my birth name, Michael, and my stepfather’s name, which is Dehee. So I recorded several books for a lovely murder mystery writer named Deborah Crombie under Michael Dehee. I was doing this and I thought, “No, something’s not right here.” Then in AudioFile Magazine, many years ago, I saw that Barbara Rosenblat, who worked for the same publisher I’m talking about, had narrated for a different publisher. What sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. So, I called Blackstone. I think that was the only one I called because that was the company Barbara Rosenblat recorded this book for. So I called them and Haley Williams answered and the rest is history. 

And you’ve done 18 of Adrian McKinty’s books. Do you talk to him, having done that many books?

Cover image of the mystery novel "The Cold Cold Ground", the first in the Sean Duffy series, by the Northern Irish author Adrian McKinty.
Photograph of the Edgar Award-winning Northern Irish author Adrian McKinty wearing a black leather jacket and dark tinted glasses.

Adrian writes a great blog. After one of the first few books of his I did he wrote something in his blog that I interpreted as a derogatory comment about my recording. Now having gotten to know him and his sense of humor I realized what it was but, at the time, being a little bit fragile about such things, I took it seriously. Then he wrote this trilogy with all these words he’d invented and I called the publisher who said, “We can’t help you. We can’t put you in touch. Call his literary agent.” I thought, “God, what am I gonna do?” As well as recording 17 books a year, I was teaching full-time. I was sometimes working till two or three in the morning and then getting up and teaching a class at eight. Couldn’t do it now. I retired from teaching last June, thank God. But, anyway, I was at school and I called his literary agent, Bob, in New York, and I said, “Hello, my name is Gerard Doyle. You don’t know me from Adam.” He went, “Oh my Godly fuck, I love you, man!”

It was the last thing I expected. I found out the audiobooks had boosted the print sales. So the agent put me in direct touch with Adrian, who lived in Melbourne, Australia at the time. It was like we’d known each other all our lives. It was extraordinary. I couldn’t have been more wrong. He was just so appreciative of what I’d done. So I asked him to explain these pronunciations for this trilogy. He said, “I don’t know. Say what the fuck you like. I just made it up.” That’s all very well, Sunshine, but my name is on this book as well. I need some guidance here. Anyway, he was absolutely fucking useless. Between us, we figured it out. 

I remember sending you a list for The Looking Glass Wars. I can’t remember which words you were asking me about but I tried to be helpful. I also remember going “I don’t know, I just invented it. Can you please help me out?”

With the author’s permission, that’s exactly what I do. But I can’t just assume these things. Mispronouncing a name that’s been invented by the author is one thing but my wife, who’s a midwife, was put off audiobooks because she was listening to her first audiobook and in this book, the narrator mispronounced “midwifery”. That was it. That can make or break a listener’s experience. If they know what you’re talking about and you say it wrong, what’s your credibility? I’m very meticulous. I don’t always get it right but I’m very meticulous. I feel I owe it to the listener. Actually, not so much them, it’s my own self-preservation. I don’t want to get grumpy letters.

You’re sensitive to your own voice and you’re sensitive to readers’ reactions. Why is that? After reading so many books, you’ve won so many awards. Is it that you’re a perfectionist? What is it?

I’ve never lost my insecurity. Do you ever lose your insecurity as an actor? I don’t always trust myself to do it the way it needs to be done.

I can tell that.

I’m not as bad as I was. But I know you trust yourself. 

Concept art illustration by artist Brian Flora of the Pool of Tears from "The Looking Glass Wars" series by author Frank Beddor.

There were some emails back and forth between us with The Looking Glass Wars and then when I listened to it I thought exactly the opposite. I just thought this is somebody who has such a command over their voice and the form. It resonates when you listen. Having been very insecure about my writing, I asked this question because I’m sensitive as well. I had a lot of really bad reviews which I thought was because I was an American and people knew that I worked in Hollywood. I was taking on this iconic literary work, reimagining Alice in Wonderland. There were so many strikes against me heading into it and I had to rewrite it so many times because I was very insecure about it being any good. 

Again, your reading just grounded me. I just felt like, it’s a fucking good book. Listen to this guy. I want people to listen to your book before they read my book because I think it’s a better book. It seems like a better book as an audiobook, because of my insecurity. It’s a collaboration. You’re taking the text and using this extraordinary skill. I double back to the insecurity part because I relate to it. To answer your question, “I think you improve and then eventually, if they’re really snarky, you’re just like, “Fuck off.” 

The most useful words in the English language.

But I’d wake up at 3:30 in the morning and have little night terrors about what a shit chapter that was and how I have to go back and rewrite it.

That’s not something that haunts me, really. Your process is much more protracted than mine. I’m making all my decisions as the words are coming out of my mouth. Nothing is pre-planned. I used to do annotations for every line and it just ruins any kind of spontaneity. So I found the confidence not to do that and to trust myself that I can actually lift the words off the page and do something with them and they come out in the way they come out. I don’t have night terrors about what I have or haven’t done because I don’t leave the booth without feeling I’ve done the best I can with whatever was happening in that session.

But, smartly, you don’t go back and re-listen to it. I have to go back and re-read it. 

I’m curious. I listened to Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass and I think it had a cast audiobook. Philip Pullman was the narrator and they had all these other voices. Is that something that’s common? Is that something that you’ve ever done or participated in?

I’ve worked with two, three, maybe four other narrators. But we’ve never interacted. It’s always been separate. In more recent years, I’ve actually sat and discussed things with the other narrators. But again, I was so naive back in the early days. I didn’t want to put my head above the parapet. I just kind of read my bit and hoped that it was gonna fit in with everybody else. It mostly did, apparently. I really enjoy collaboration because I’ve done two books in collaboration with different narrators in the last two years, and it was just wonderful. They were so lovely to work with and we were very supportive of each other.

When audiobooks first started being released it was like, “Well, it’s not real reading. Why are you not reading the book?” It’s like it was cheating in some weird way and now there’s been such a big boom in audiobooks and they’re driving sales of printed books. Why do you think that is? 

People don’t have to lug a Walkman or a boombox around with them these days, that’s one thing. It’s all readily available. I think the word just got out that audiobooks are actually fun, educational, and interesting. I prefer to sit and read a book myself. I’ve got several authors I’m trying to juggle at the moment.

Who are you reading?

Cover image of the international bestselling romance novel "Four Letters of Love" by Irish author Niall Williams.
Cover image of the bestselling historical fiction novel "A Gentleman in Moscow" by American author Amor Towles.

Niall Williams, the Irish author. The man put words together like prayers. 

I would love to have that as a blurb. It’s so great.

I think I’m stealing from a review. I’m also reading Amor Towles. His second book, A Gentleman in Moscow is now a TV series. Wonderful, wonderful storyteller. Each book is completely different. Not even closely related. Completely different context, different parts of the world. 

That’s amazing. I envy that ability. With audiobooks, I find biographies to be ideal in terms of going for a walk and having your headset on. I don’t enjoy audiobooks when it comes to prose. I like to see the words in the sentences and paragraphs and find that rhythm. I’m with you on that but it is quite a booming section, which, anything that gets people interested in stories and books is great as far as I can tell.

Something just clicked when you said that, the rhythms and everything. I think that one of the things I tried to be sensitive to is how can I make this sound as interesting to somebody who’s listening to me as I find it reading it off the page. That’s the process. Elevating it is the wrong word but…

It is elevating it because it’s elevating it in a different medium. 

You narrated one of the novels of a show I’m watching which is Slow Horses. I’m really enjoying the show but have never read the book. Can you tell us a little bit about narrating the novel? Have you seen the show? Did they do a good job?

I started recording the Slough House books in 2016 and I had absolutely no terms of reference, no contact with the author. So I just did what I do, I went with what he was giving me. Then three years ago the series came out and I was reluctant to watch it but finally my wife said, “Oh, come on. It’s Gary Oldman. You’ve got to watch it.” So I did and I was delighted to realize that I wasn’t a million miles away with any of the characters.

Still image of Gary Oldman as Jackson Lamb holding an ice cream cone from Season 3 of the Apple TV+ spy thriller series "Slow Horses", based on the "Slough House" series of novels by British author Mick Herron.

That’s so satisfying.

I was very happy. I’m within the ballpark.

That’s so cool. How about Eragon, the movie? That was not as successful. Did you see it?

I saw it but I don’t remember much about it. I know that certain people close to the author weren’t happy with it.

They didn’t quite get that right.

Normally I would record those books every four or five years in a plus studio in New York City with the director, Taro Meyer, and an engineer but this year, with the latest book, the executive producer said, “Look, we’d like you to record it at home and we’d like you to engineer it.”

Do they even pay you extra for that? 

We negotiated something. But not including the engineer? I said, “Absolutely not.” It was a continuous record, which means you have to mark the script and you have to mark it in Pro Tools as well. I have trouble just interpreting the bloody story and dealing with my vocal errors. I absolutely put my foot down. She said, “We’ll get you an engineer from our pool.” I said, “No, my son is a brilliant audio engineer.” So they auditioned him and he got the job. He was sitting right outside my recording booth, managing my temperament and fairly a strong-willed director via Zoom from California and doing all that an engineer does. He was brilliant, not just with engineering, but with diplomacy, as well. It was an extraordinary experience. 

That’s a lovely father-son experience.

They don’t normally put the engineer’s name on the packaging but I asked them and so they they put Aiden’s name, Aiden Doyle, on the packaging.

That’s a perfect button on a fantastic father-son story. Is he going to continue to do other books with you?

As I’ve gotten older and as the market has been flooded with 1000s of young and very talented and very tech and social media savvy narrators, my slice of the work has diminished significantly. I’m trying to reinvent myself as a director working with less experienced narrators. I’ve been thinking of marketing my son, Aidan, and me as a team. He can nurture them through the recording process and I can guide them through the interpretation and various other things. 

That seems like a good idea because he’s quite young so he’s going to know and meet a lot of up-and-coming folks who are looking for narrators, authors, and books.

I wanted to talk about Alfred Bester, who wrote The Stars My Destination and The Demolished Man. I wanted to talk about it briefly because many, many years ago I optioned the short story “Fondly Fahrenheit” and I’ve been developing it as a feature since 1995, which shows you how impossible it is to get certain projects going. But I still continue to work on it and my partner, Chuck Roven, just won the Academy Award for Oppenheimer. So hopefully, that might move the ball forward. But I’m a huge Alfred Bester fan. The two books I mentioned earlier are brilliant. They’ve been trying to adapt those into movies for years and years. How did you come to narrate those novels? Had you known about Alfred Bester before the narration? 

Cover image of the science fiction novel "The Stars My Destination" by Alfred Bester, featuring a tattooed man and a futuristic castle in the background.
Black and white photograph of Hugo Award-winning science fiction author Alfred Bester, wearing a suit and tie.

No, I hadn’t ever heard of Alfred Bester. I’m not a big sci-fi or fantasy person. I find it all very hard to interpret because I simply have no connection with it. But there’s a publisher who lives on Shelter Island and I taught his kids at Ross School. He came to me one day and said “I’ve got a couple of books I’d like you to record for me.” It was extraordinary. In The Stars My Destination the writing in the print version is all distorted. One word will take up the entire page. It’s extraordinarily laid out. 

But seeing that visual and trying to translate that orally was a pretty big challenge. But I just went for it really. I have a terrible American accent, my family has completely undermined any possible confidence I might have had in my American accent by guffawing outrageously every time I attempt one. So I had to interpret those books as being for English characters. I was concerned that might have diminished the impact, but people seemed to kind of enjoy the fact these voices weren’t from anywhere they were remotely familiar with. 

I’m looking forward to listening to them. I’ll tell you a quick little story about Alfred Bester. When I read the short story, I was looking to see if there were any heirs and I couldn’t find anything. Finally, somebody turned me on to his editor, a British fellow, and I called him up in the U.K. He said “I have no idea. If I were you, I would call his bartender.” There was a bar he went to all the time outside of Philadelphia. So I called up this bar and the owner came on and I asked, “Do you happen to know the author, Alfred Bester?” He said, “Alfie, oh, Alfie was a good friend of mine.” I said, “Do you know who owns the rights to his literary estate?” He goes, “I sure do. I do.” He willed the entire literary estate to his bartender because he had no family. So I made a deal with his bartender to option this short story. That’s as close as I got to the author himself. But bartenders have a lot of secrets about their patrons.

Isn’t it funny how this profession takes you anywhere? You never ever know. A number of times, I’ve been completely floored by something out of left field that is deeply personal. Case in point, I mentioned The Hired Man earlier. We did that in 1984 into 1985 in the West End. Several years later, I was with the English Shakespeare Company for the second year, and this young lad turned up as our sound engineer. He wanted to be a pilot but was colorblind and ended up doing sound engineering instead. We were on a world tour and he came up and sat next to me on the flight and said “You don’t know me, but you played my great uncle Seth in The Hired Man.”

Wow, that must have floored you.

It was just unbelievable.  

I’m curious, since you worked on The Looking Glass Wars trilogy, a reimagining of Alice in Wonderland, what were your experiences with Alice prior to that? When did you meet Alice in your life? Have you done any plays of the Lewis Carroll version? Then when you were reading The Looking Glass Wars, were you making connections? Or was it all fresh?

It was pretty fresh. I hadn’t actually read the Lewis Carroll version all the way through. I’d seen snippets of the movies and cartoons but my experience of the original was pretty much centered around reading it to my kids when they were both young. When The Looking Glass Wars came along, I was recording a book at Gizmo with Sue Makowiec and I was getting ready to go when she said, “Before you go, we’ve got this book we’re looking for people to audition for. Would you like to read?” I said, “Shit, okay.” She had me look through the book and choose a bit, which was the four caterpillars.

Concept art of the Blue, Orange, and Green Caterpillars from author Frank Beddor's "The Looking Glass Wars" trilogy.

That was the scene she had you read?

I couldn’t resist because four of them smoking. I had fun doing that and thought no more of it. Then I was absolutely astounded when she came back and said, “You’ve got it.” So, thank you very much. I had so much fun recording all three of those books. 

It really comes through and I’m so happy to connect with you on this podcast and hear your stories and learn more about the process. It’s a collaboration and I have to produce more books for us to collaborate on. I do have a couple of books, the prequels in the series, that I’m working on so I will be able to call you and we can do this all over again.

I’m a little more advanced now than I was then. I was listening to various sections and chapters in anticipation of this and I’m thinking “Oh, God, I let that go.” I’m hearing what I let slip away rather than using it in some way to advance and build. I didn’t recognize it for what it was and I’m being kind to myself and putting that down to an inexperience.

We can all go back. I was doing a podcast and talking about adapting the book for a television show and, in the process, came up with a scene that was so much better than the scene in the book. Then I started thinking about that scene in the book, how illogical it was, and how much more impactful the new scene would have been. So then I gave myself a break saying, “Maybe I can double back and do this in another medium one day.” 

I wanted to mention because I know you are musically inclined and have done musicals in your career, that I have commissioned a British writer to adapt the book into a musical in the hopes of starting in the West End in the same way that I first published my book in the UK. I also have a composer and I have a couple of producers who are interested. So you’ll have to be one of the early listeners or readers of the book because of your background. Maybe there’s a place for you to be King Nolan. I want you to have a beautiful death of some sort, “Off with your head,” along the way.

How lovely, thank you. I’m your fucking man.

On that, I thank you. 

Take care. All the best. Thank you.  

For the latest updates & news about All Things Alice,  please read our blog and subscribe to our podcast! If you’d like to hear Gerard’s excellent narration of The Looking Glass Wars, click here!

Mad Hatter and “Batman: The Animated Series”: When Wonderland Came To Gotham

Sometimes in the far reaches of space, two stars orbit each other closely and, over time, spiral inward until they collide, creating a magnetic field more than a trillion times stronger than Earth. The subsequent explosion is called a gamma-ray burst, the brightest and most energetic type of event since the Big Bang. The result? It can form a black hole, a body of pure nothingness where not even light can escape. Or the collision can create a brand new neutron star, bigger and heavier than before.

What does this have to do with Alice in Wonderland? Well, in 1948 Lew Sayre Schwartz and comic book pioneer Bill Finger engineered a stellar collision of their own when they turned Lewis Carroll’s Mad Hatter into a villain for Batman #49. The joining of Wonderland and Gotham was like two pop culture stars slamming into each other, producing a massive gamma-ray burst and creating a new, compelling take on an iconic character. Forty-four years after the Mad Hatter first terrorized Gotham, Paul Dini brought him to the screen in Season One of the groundbreaking show, Batman: The Animated Series.

Still image from the episode "Mad as a Hatter" of the animated show "Batman: The Animated Series" featuring Batman confronting Jervis Tetch/the Mad Hatter.

The Mad Hatter of Batman: The Animated Series (BTAS) is more grounded than in Carroll’s books, shaped to fit within the more realistic parameters of the noir-tinted cartoon. Hatter is the evil persona of Jervis Tetch, who is first introduced as a socially awkward but brilliant scientist developing mind-control chips for Wayne Enterprises. Tetch is a devotee of Lewis Carroll’s works and is obsessed with the office executive assistant, Alice, who (obviously) has blonde hair with bangs and wears a blue dress.

Tetch’s first appearance comes in the Season One episode, “Mad as a Hatter ”, in which transformation into the villainous Hatter takes place. Tetch is overjoyed when he learns that Alice and her boyfriend, Billy, have broken up and uses his mind control chips in an effort to impress her on a night town. He plays the bigshot, putting chips on servers, photographers, the maitre d’, and anyone who makes him look important to Alice. But he is driven mad with rage and jealousy when Alice reveals that she and Billy made up. Worse, they’re engaged. Tetch uses his mind control technology to make Billy dump Alice (again) and later kidnaps her. Batman becomes suspicious of Tetch when he connects the mind control cards to an illustration of Alice in Wonderland in Tetch’s office showing the Mad Hatter with the same type of card in his hat. Batman confronts Tetch in “Wonderland”, a section of the Gotham Storybook Land amusement park. After a thrilling fight, Batman throws his Batarang at the cords holding up a large Jabberwock statue. The Batarang cuts the cords and the statue falls on Tetch, trapping him. Batman frees Alice and Billy from Tetch’s mind-control devices and Tetch is thrown into Arkham Asylum.

Still image from the episode "Mad as a Hatter" of the animated show "Batman: The Animated Series" featuring Jervis Tetch/the Mad Hatter and Alice.

“Mad as a Hatter” is overflowing with references to Alice. Tetch constantly quotes the books, muttering “curiouser and curiouser” when he finds Alice crying about her break-up and exclaiming “Callooh! Callay! O frabjous day!” after his first “date” with her. As he descends into madness, Tetch dresses his henchmen as Alice characters including the Walrus and the Carpenter, Cheshire Cat, Caterpillar, the White Rabbit, and the Red Queen. Finally, when his defeat is clear, Tetch quotes the “Lobster Quadrille,” lamenting that he “could not join the dance.” For fans of Alice easter eggs, this episode is like being alone at an easter egg roll.

Writers Laren Bright and Michael Reaves continued to mine Carroll’s themes and devices in Hatter’s second appearance, “Perchance to Dream”. It opens with Batman being knocked out and waking up in a “Wonderland,” one where Batman is someone else, he (Bruce Wayne) is engaged to Selina Kyle, and his parents are still alive. Though tempted to remain in this “perfect” world, Bruce can’t shake the idea that something is wrong. He eventually deduces that he is stuck in a dream world. He confronts “Batman” and it turns out that the Caped Crusader is none other than Jervis Tetch, who has (predictably) escaped from Arkham Asylum. Tetch used his mind control technology to create a dream world for Bruce to keep Batman out of his own life. Bruce breaks out of the dream world and defeats Tetch in the real world, leading to Tetch being arrested again and sent to Arkham. The episode is a beautiful exploration of love and loss and shows the potential of using established works to enrich another storytelling world.

Still image from the episode "Perchance to Dream" of the animated show "Batman: The Animated Series" featuring Bruce Wayne and Jervis Tetch/the Mad Hatter.

In “The Worry Men” Hatter escapes from Arkham again (they really need to do something about the security in that place) and travels to South America, where he brainwashes the wealthy Veronica Vreeland into transporting Worry Men dolls back to Gotham and giving them out to her high society friends. The dolls contain Hatter’s brainwashing chips, resulting in Gotham’s wealthy elite funneling $100 million to Tetch/Hatter. But once Batman realizes that he has been hoodwinked into sending Tetch money, he tracks down the mad villain and makes him pay for his crimes.

The Mad Hatter’s final appearance as a main villain in Batman: The Animated Series comes in the Season Two episode “Trial”. He uses his mind control chips to brainwash the Arkham guards (again, that facility really needs a security audit) so that he and other icons of the Gotham rogues gallery can take control of the asylum. They kidnap District Attorney Janet Van Dorn, well known for her anti-Batman beliefs, and later lure the Dark Knight to Arkham where he is arrested. The villains then put Batman on trial for being responsible for their various conditions and evil deeds, calling to mind the Red Queen’s kangaroo court in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Despite her dislike of Batman, Van Dorn defends him and, to everyone’s surprise, gets him acquitted, though Batman is still forced to fight his way out after the Joker and other villains decide to disregard the “verdict”.

Still image from the animated show "Batman: The Animated Series" featuring Jervis Tetch/the Mad Hatter with his hands clasped and a maniacal grin.

The Mad Hatter in Batman: The Animated Series is an excellent example of using existing I.P. to create something fresh and exciting. The writers and producers of BTAS took the iconography and themes from Lewis Carroll’s work and perfectly grafted them onto the world of their show. The Alice references in “Mad as a Hatter” fueled a thoroughly entertaining adventure. Their use of dreams and a “Wonderland” in “Perchance to Dream” is a perfect marriage of Carroll’s themes and the tragedy of Bruce Wayne/Batman’s life. Their grounded construction of Jervis Tetch/the Mad Hatter delves into the birth of madness, imbuing the character with the intensely human emotions of jealousy and obsession, which motivate his transformation into the insane milliner.

An itinerant storyteller, John Drain attended the University of Edinburgh before studying film at DePaul University in Chicago and later earned an MFA in Screenwriting from the American Film Institute Conservatory. John focuses on writing mysteries and thrillers featuring characters who are thrown into the deep end of the pool and struggle to just keep their heads above water. His work has been recognized by the Academy Nicholls Fellowship, the Austin Film Festival, ScreenCraft, Cinestory, and the Montreal Independent Film Festival. In a previous life, John created and produced theme park attractions across the globe for a wide variety of audiences. John keeps busy in his spare time with three Dungeons and Dragons campaigns and a seemingly never-ending stack of medieval history books.

Why Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” is the Ultimate Piece of Alice in Wonderland Content

I’ve said it in countless blogs before and I’ll say it here again, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland has surpassed popular culture and has reached a different level – it is culture. We use Alice-isms such as, “down the rabbit hole” or “wonderland” in our everyday language without even thinking of the source material. Due to the cultural impact that Lewis Carrol’s novel has had and continues to have on the world, it should be a surprise to no one that there have been a lot of Alice references in media. From art, such as Salvador Dali’s illustrations of Wonderland, to films like The Matrix, to songs like Wonderland by Taylor Swift. Alice is everywhere. But I won’t talk about any of those media pieces today. No, today I’m going to be talking about arguably the most recognizable piece of Alice-inspired pop culture that has ever been made. Today I’m talking about Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit”.

For those of you who don’t know the song by name, you still know the song. You’ve definitely heard it. Have you seen any movie ever? Ever watched TV? Great, you’ve heard it. The song is used so much in film and television that if I were to list all movies and TV shows it’s in, you wouldn’t be able to read this blog as Frank wouldn’t be able to afford it. I think I found a good way to sum up how many credits it has. The song is featured in both the Oscar-winning Platoon, a powerful and harrowing anti-Vietnam war film, as well as the non-Oscar winning The Secret Life of Pets 2, which needs no introduction as the title is quite self-explanatory.

What gods amongst men could have created such a lasting piece of media? Who are these modern-day Prometheus… Prometheses? Promethei? Regardless, Jefferson Airplane was an American rock band that was formed in the 1960s in San Francisco. Like many 60’s rock bands from San Francisco, they partook in psychedelics. The writer of “White Rabbit,” Grace Slick, admitted that she came up with the song while hallucinating on LSD. Which I find pretty unfair because the one time I took acid, I didn’t come up with a hit song or create Apple computers or cool drawings. No, I just sat in the fetal position quite positive that what I had just done to my brain was permanent. While the permanence of the self-inflicted damage is up for debate, this song’s references to illicit substances are not. The line “Feed your head” is about expanding your mind with psychedelics along with the suggestion to read more books. Interestingly, this song is one of the first hit songs to reference and suggest the partaking of illicit substances without raising the suspicions of censors.

Black and White image of Jefferson Airplane singer Grace Slick, circa 1969.

Grace Slick often read both Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass as a child and found the books had a lasting effect on her. She enjoyed the fact that Alice was the rare children’s book that did not have a prince charming saving the heroine, that it followed a little girl in a strange land being driven forward by her curiosity which, to Grace, was represented by the White Rabbit. She thought that the message of the story could be taken and used by women to push their own agenda. I believe that during the ’60s, pushing an agenda was not thought of as an annoying thing to do.

Almost every line in “White Rabbit” references the world Lewis Carroll had created. Starting with the first verse, “One pill makes you larger/and one pill makes you small/and the ones your mother gives you/don’t do anything at all/Go ask Alice/When she’s ten feet tall.” I mean, besides the one line about mothers giving placebos, which might be about how parents are often thought of as not knowing what is going on in teens and not having the right “medicine” for them. I don’t know, I’m not Googling it. The first verse is literally Alice’s first action in Wonderland.

Psychedelic illustration inspired by "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" of Alice looking up at the Blue Caterpillar who is smoking on a mushroom. Work by artist Howie Green.

The next verse, “And if you go chasing rabbits/and you know you’re going to fall/Tell ‘em a hookah-smoking caterpillar/Has given you the call/Call Alice/When she was just small.” I’m not going to point out the references in this verse because, well you know them, but I believe this verse is about going on a metaphorical adventure and giving advice on what to do if you think you would fail. Think of Alice and allow your curiosity to drive you along.

“When the men on the chessboard/Get up and tell you where to go/And you’ve just had some kind of mushroom/ And your mind is moving low/Go ask Alice/I think she’ll know.” The third verse might be about people telling you what to do or how to be. The line about mushrooms and a low mind is probably just about taking psilocybin mushrooms and these people bringing your trip down. Then for the second time, telling the listener to, “ask Alice” which to me means that you should follow your curiosity, but in this instance, if you were on a hallucinogen, allowing your curiosity to pique is actually good advice for someone having a bad trip.

Psychedelic illustration of a multi-colored mushroom forest set against trees and sky.

The final verse, “When logic and proportion/Have fallen sloppy dead/And the White Knight is talking backwards/And the Red Queen’s off with her head/Remember what the dormouse said/Feed your head/Feed your head.” Okay, so this verse is about how if the world has gone crazy the best thing you can do to remedy the situation is to “feed your head,” a.k.a. learn, be it from books or illicit drugs. Grace Slick’s words, not mine.

This song is essentially a retelling of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland where the story beats of the book and the metaphorical beats in the song actually line up quite well. This might have something to do with the staying power of the song. Perhaps Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’s staying power rubbed off on Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit”. With references to the White Rabbit, the Blue Caterpillar, Eat Me and Drink Me, The White Knight, and of course the Red Queen, it’s easy to see how this is a quintessential piece of Alice media.

Promotional photograph taken in 1967 of the members of the psychedelic rock band Jefferson Airplane - Grace Slick, Marty Balin, Jack Casady, Spencer Dryden, Paul Kantner, and Jorma Kaukonen

The question still remains though, why is this song everywhere? I’ve come up with a theory. Along with the song’s catchy tune and well-written lyrics, the meaning of the song and its trippy vibe slot in perfectly to many different situations. Any time a character makes a big change in their life starts an adventure, or stops taking their meds, this song fits. I’m ignoring people not even caring about the meaning of the song and just putting it in a scene where someone is doing drugs because yeah of course it fits there too.

Regardless if you like the song or not, there is no arguing that Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” is the quintessential piece of Alice media. It has staying power, it has infiltrated everything we know without us noticing, and people like to take acid and listen to it. Which is to say, it’s essentially a baby Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. I like the song, but that might have to do with the fact that it played during Zach Snyder’s Sucker Punch, which is not my favorite movie but does hold a special place in my heart because it was the movie that was playing the first time I made out with a girl.

Meet the Author:

Jared Hoffman Headshot

Jared Hoffman graduated from the American Film Institute with a degree in screenwriting. A Los Angeles native, his brand of comedy is satire stemming from the many different personalities and egos he has encountered throughout his life. As a lover of all things comedy, Jared is always working out new material and trying to make those around him laugh. His therapist claims this is a coping mechanism, but what does she know?

Everything You Need to Know About the “Wicked” Movie

Wicked is a pop art murder horror mystery. Scary and funny, youthful and smart, Wicked will keep you guessing, glued to your seat as the mystery unfolds.

Still image from the thriller movie "Wicked" featuring Julia Stiles in a red dress pouring wine while William R. Moses and Vanessa Zima.

The Plot

Ellie is a bored teenager living in Casa Del Norte, a sterile gated desert development somewhere east of Los Angeles, where life is far from idyllic. Mom is screwing erratic next-door neighbor Lawson and her father is carrying on with Lena the Swedish au-pair, which drives Ellie insanely jealous due to her unhealthy and extreme devotion to Dad. Then there’s younger sister Inger, who seems to be an innocent bystander to all this crazy action. Suddenly, Mom is found murdered in the kitchen, and suspicion focuses on the explosive Lawson. Then things start to get really creepy. Ellie begins to assume her mother’s role; not only fixing meals but wearing her revealing dresses…Her relationship with Dad transforms into something rather more lascivious than expected. Meanwhile, the veteran detective has moved Ellie to the top of the suspect list…Not even a man of his experience could foresee the last shocking twist.

The Cast

Still image from the thriller movie "Wicked" featuring Julia Stiles in a blue button-down shirt with kitchen knives hanging next to her.

Julia Stiles – Ellie Christianson

Julia Stiles is electric in her breakthrough lead role. By turns childlike, bratty, calculating, and lethal, she is a combination of 40’s vamp and 50’s noir. She was totally in sync with Ellie’s wicked behavior. Stiles explained at the time, “Ellie’s got a very twisted view of her own world and will do anything to get what she wants. I related to everything she felt – although,” she insisted, “I really do love my mother.”

The 15-year-old was recommended to producer Frank Beddor and responded to the script with a hand-written letter about how much she understood Ellie. Impressed with the young actor’s commitment, Beddor flew her out to L.A. for an audition with himself and director Michael Steinberg. She blew them away. Her performance in the film was so strong that Beddor put the unknown actor’s picture on the poster and her name above the title. “I treated her like a star because I believe she would become one,” remembered Beddor. 
He was right. Stiles would go on to star in iconic teen films like 10 Things I Hate About You and Save the Last Dance, spar with Matt Damon in the Jason Bourne franchise, and was nominated for a Golden Globe and Emmy for her performance in Season 5 of Dexter.

Still image from the thriller movie "Wicked" featuring Julia Stiles and Patrick Muldoon sitting across from each other on the edge of a hot tub.

Patrick Muldoon – Lawson Smith

Melrose Place heartthrob Patrick Muldoon joined Wicked right after finishing his work in the Paul Verhoeven cult classic Starship Troopers. Muldoon steals scenes as the sexy psycho neighbor, Lawson. Muldoon made an “out there” character more accessible with his comedic take, likeability, and star quality. Muldoon initially passed on the role but agreed to come to the set to talk about the part after the filmmakers addressed his concerns. “He liked our ideas and we hired him that day,” said Beddor.  

“His life is pretty much over,” said Muldoon about his character, “His wife and kid leave him at the beginning of the movie and he’s completely lost. When his adulterous sex partner next door is murdered – it pushes him past the edge…I liked playing a guy with absolutely nothing to lose.” On Lawson and Ellie’s connection, Muldoon pointed to the trauma both experience in the film, “Both of their worlds have totally collapsed, so they’re like the two lost souls of Casa Del Norte.”
The former Days of Our Lives star continued his eclectic career after Wicked, working with Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman, Bruce Willis, Val Kilmer, Ed Asner, and Liam Hemsworth. Most recently, he was seen alongside Liam Neeson and Diane Kruger in Neil Jordan’s neo-noir crime thriller Marlowe.

Still image from the thriller movie "Wicked" featuring Julia Stiles and William R. Moses sitting next to each other on the couch.

William R. Moses – Ben Christianson

Father doesn’t always know best in this suburban-Gothic spin on Lolita. William R. Moses plays Ben, the stressed and crumbling patriarch who has some serious boundary issues. “I think the relationship between Ellie and Ben starts as a strongly bonded father and daughter in a dysfunctional family and that dysfunction just totally takes over,” said Moses. ”The father starts with a basis of good intention and then because of his own character weaknesses devolves into his lowest self. Pressure and guilt completely destroy him and he makes the most destructive choices possible.”

Director Michael Steinberg said Moses’ performance was the “cornerstone” of the film. “This movie is always trying to play two tones together: one is the tragic disintegration of a family with the father at the epicenter, and the other is this absurdly comedic story of what happens when your world gets blown apart and you’re powerless to stop it from getting worse and worse and worse.”
Aside from Wicked, Moses appeared in 140 episodes of the prime-time soap Falcon Crest and played in Mystic Pizza starring Julia Roberts. He has had guest spots on dozens of TV series including Mad Men, Homeland, and How to Get Away with Murder. Since 2022, he has had a recurring role on the long-running soap General Hospital.

Still black and white image from the thriller movie "Wicked" featuring Michael Parks in a suit and tie.

Michael Parks – Detective Boland

Owner of over 140 film and television credits during a 50-year career, Michael Parks portrays the laconic Detective Boland in a “delicious, stylized performance” that evokes 1950s noir. Boland brings a Bogart-esque cynicism to Casa Del Norte, continuously suspicious of everyone in the seemingly idyllic community. 

Parks said he enjoyed playing the grizzled investigator, describing him as “a man apart from the turmoil. It gives you a different point of view, less conflict in your direction…Boland’s not a voyeur, but he has an objective point of view and gets to look at all the other characters…”
Parks, who passed away in 2017, had a long and varied career including playing Adam in John Huston’s The Bible: In the Beginning… and a disaffected, wandering biker in the NBC series Then Came Bronson. Parks experienced a career resurgence in the early 2000s, most notably working with Quentin Tarantino on the Kill Bill films and Django Unchained. He is the subject of a documentary produced by filmmaker Kevin Smith titled Long Lonesome Highway.

Still image from the thriller movie "Wicked" featuring William R. Moses and Vanessa Zima looking into a grave.

Vanessa Zima – Inger Christianson

Then ten-year-old Vanessa Zima portrayed Ellie’s younger sister, Inger, who by the film’s end evolves from an innocent child to a potential killer in the Christianson family cycle of self-destruction. “She has this mix of vulnerability and sweetness,” said producer Frank Beddor, “…and yet there’s something else going on, you can sense a darker place which made her an ideal choice.”

Zima’s talent was on full display in her portrayal of Inger and the young actor enjoyed the more dramatic requirements of her role. “I thought it was fun to cry at the funeral and then to almost fall into the grave,” she said impishly. 
Zima was hardly a rookie when she showed up on set, having been nominated for a Young Artist Award for playing Peter Fonda’s granddaughter in Ulee’s Gold. She also appeared in the 1995 adaptation of The Baby-Sitters Club books alongside Julia Stiles’ future 10 Things I Hate About You co-star Larisa Oleynik.

Still image from the thriller movie "Wicked" featuring Linda Hart singing into a microphone in a blue dress and layered pearl necklace.

Linda Hart – Mrs. Potter

Linda Hart portrays the neighborhood watchdog, Mrs. Potter, who entices Detective Boland with her soulful rendition of “I Honestly Love You” at Ben and Lena’s wedding. Director Michael Steinberg wrote Hart a letter pleading for her to consider the role and she blew the filmmakers away with her musical talent. “As soon as she started singing I panicked…” joked Beddor, “…this way too good for what the character Mrs. Potter was supposedly capable of. Only later did I learn that Linda together her Grammy-award-winning family, “The Harts,” had done 14 albums.” 
Other highlights of Hart’s music career have included an appearance on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and opening gigs for Hank Williams, Jr. and The Oak Ridge Boys. She has appeared on Broadway in shows such as Anything Goes, Hairspray, and Catch Me If You Can. Film and television appearances have included Get Shorty, Tin Cup, and Desperate Housewives.

Still image from the thriller movie "Wicked" featuring Vanessa Zima, Linda Hart, and Chelsea Field.

Chelsea Field – Karen Christianson

As mom and murder victim, Chelsea Field brought real sympathy to the part of Karen. Field says, ”Even though she’s cheating with the neighbor, I think you understand where Ellie’s mother’s frustrations come from when you see the lack of communication between her and her husband. And also, Ellie is a major force to contend with! Karen’s not the ideal mom but neither is she the mom from hell. That would be too easy.” 

Field launched her acting career off the heels of ten years as a professional dancer. With roles ranging from parts in large-scale action movies to heart-warming family films, she has starred in Flipper opposite Elijah Wood and The Last Boyscout with Bruce Willis, and recently had a recurring role in NCIS: New Orleans.

Still image from the thriller movie "Wicked" featuring William R. Moses and Louise Myrback sitting together at a wedding reception.

Louise Myrback – Lena
In her first film role in the United States, Swedish stage actress Louise Myrback portrayed Lena,  the Christianson au pair who falls for, and eventually marries, Ben. But Lena has to contend with Ellie, who presents herself as a rival for Ben’s affections. “It was very important to Lena that Ellie not manipulate her,”  said Myrback, “She knows that if she doesn’t succeed in having power over the daughter, she’s not going to have a chance with the father, because she can see that Ellie has a tremendous amount of power over Ben.”

The Director

Still image from the thriller movie "Wicked" featuring Julia Stiles and director Michael Steinberg.

Michael Steinberg

Michael Steinberg was baptized as a film lover at age 8 after his father took him to see Bonnie and Clyde in their native Rapid City, South Dakota. After gaining recognition with his UCLA student short, Nightwatch, Steinberg teamed with his film school friend Neal Jiminez to direct the drama The Waterdance for Gale Anne Hurd (The Terminator, The Walking Dead). The film was a festival darling, winning the IFP Spirit Award for “Best First Feature” and the “Audience Award” at Sundance. His next two features, Bodies, Rest, & Motion and Sleep With Me were both selected for the “Un Certain Regard” sections at the 1993 and 1994 editions of the Cannes Film Festivals. 

In approaching Wicked, Steinberg wanted it to be both entertaining and thought-provoking. “What’s interesting is that it ends up feeling real because it’s all grounded in deep-rooted truths about human nature,” said Steinberg. “We wanted people to have fun with Wicked but be disturbed by it too. To get under their skin.”

The Crew

Producer Frank Beddor, dressed in white pants and a white jacket, standing next to a poster for the thriller "Wicked" at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival in the Czech Republic.

Frank Beddor – Producer 

Frank Beddor had scaled the heights of professional skiing (as a two-time freestyle world champion) in his early 20s before arriving in L.A. as an actor and film producer. On a chairlift during the 1998 Sundance Film Festival pitched an outrageous comedy feature he had acquired to Fox executive Dylan Sellers. That project was There’s Something About Mary, which grossed over $350 million, was nominated for two Golden Globes, and is on AFI’s list of “Greatest American Comedies”. 

He was first attracted to Wicked, originally titled The Second Wife, due to the character of Ellie, the relationships, the absurdities of the situations, the potential for black comedy, and bending the mystery genre. Since Wicked, Beddor wrote The Looking Glass Wars series, which became a New York Times bestseller and a sensation in the U.K. in 2004. He went on to create the Hatter M, series (six graphic novels depicting the journey of Alyss’s faithful bodyguard, Hatter Madigan) to sate the appetite of his fans and readers. To cross-pollinate the LGW’s universe of content, he also produced original songs, audiobooks, card games, video games, an apparel line, and a proposal for a theatrical musical. Currently, he hosts the All Things Alice podcast and is in pre-production on the near future sci-fi tale The Juliet at Warner Bros, working alongside Oscar-winning producer Chuck Roven (Oppenheimer, The Dark Knight trilogy) of Atlas Entertainment.

Still image from the thriller movie "Wicked" featuring Julia Stiles struggling on the stairs with Chelsea Field in the background.

Eric Weiss – Screenwriter

A native of Framingham, Massachusetts, and alum of the American Film Institute, Eric Weiss experienced both resistance and curiosity when shopping his Electra-in-the-suburbs thriller. “When I wrote Wicked people thought I was nuts,” he recalled, “Just completely crazed. I think I would get meetings just because people wanted to meet me.” Producer Frank Beddor and director Michael Steinberg loved the script and worked with Weiss to enhance the mystery elements of the project before production. 

Weiss has also penned the black comedy indie Bongwater, also released in 1998, starring Luke Wilson, Brittany Murphy, and Jack Black. His next project was the 2001 military satire Buffalo Soldiers, adapted from the novel of the same name by Robert O’Connor. The film, starring Joaquin Phoenix and Ed Harris, was nominated for six British Independent Film Awards and won Best Screenplay at the Evening Standard British Film Awards.

Behind-the-scenes image from the thriller movie "Wicked" featuring Julia Stiles, wearing a red top and pink skirt, sitting on a raised platform with a camera and light in the foreground.

Bernd Heinl – Director of Photography

Bernd Heinl had previously worked with Steinberg on the 1993 drama Bodies, Rest & Motion. He used the lighting and the camera angles to convey the changing tone of the film: “Early in the story, we used more fill and bounce light and shot with wide angles, but after the mother died we shot everything a bit closer and went a little more direct, so that there would be more contrast. We also kept the walls darker so they would seem moody and threatening.”

To avoid slipping into the pure horror mode, Heinl said, “We didn’t use light shafts or distorted lenses or too many crazy angles because we wanted to keep the characters more human. Also, colors in horror films are often over the top and our background colors were enough, so I barely put gels on any of the lights. We kept the faces and skin tone neutral in the foreground and played with color in the background.”

Still image from the thriller movie "Wicked" featuring Chelsea Field lying on the floor with Vanessa Zima kneeling over her, both dressed in red.

Dominic Watkins – Production Designer

Wicked was not only Julia Stiles’ breakout role, it also proved to be the breakthrough for production designer Dominic Watkins. In the 26 years since Wicked took Sundance by storm, Watkins has built a glittering career defining the look of major blockbusters such as Bad Boys II, The Bourne Supremacy, National Treasure: Book of Secrets, and Snow White and the Huntsman

For Wicked, Watkins chose colors that had a dual personality: “In the kitchen, for instance, we used a peachy-orange color to convey warmth and normality, but depending on how we lit it, it could equally go towards red and have more violent connotations. We also put a lot of thought into what Ellie’s bedroom should be like because that was the only space she owned and decorated, and it was quite a contrast from the rest of the spaces. We used a wallpaper with a black base to create an oppressive atmosphere so that when you came out of the room, there was a sense of relief.”

Watkins said one of his points of departure was in researching the gated community. “I guess the planners view them as oases,” said Watkins, “but I think of them as something more like quicksand. What people look for is safety and seclusion but what they end up with is sterility and soullessness. And since so much of the outcome of the story has to do with the environment and the frustrations of the people within it, the setting was very important.”

Still image from the thriller movie "Wicked" featuring Julia Stiles in a green shirt, pale blue jacket, and blue and green skirt.

Sara Jane Slotnick – Costume Designer

Costume Designer Sara Jane Slotnick is known for her ability to authentically outfit offbeat characters. In choosing Ellie’s wardrobe, she said that she “wanted everything she put on to have a sense that it was completely unique to her.” Ellie’s baby blue leather coat was a key piece of clothing that defined her character, with Slotnick describing it as “her protection against the world – her security blanket.”
Since working on Wicked, Slotnick has worked on a wide range of projects including Nick Cassavetes’ Alpha Dog, the 2000 blockbuster Charlie’s Angels, Oscar-nominated films Loving and Blonde, and the Patty Jenkins limited series I Am the Night. Her most recent projects include an adaptation of Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot from It writer Gary Dauberman and the AMC crime drama series Parish starring Giancarlo Esposito.

The Music

Composer Cliff Martinez working in a recording studio while holding a brown guitar.

Cliff Martinez – Composer

Former Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer and member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Cliff Martinez has helped define pop culture both on stage and in the recording studio. Martinez’s debut as a composer was Steven Soderbergh’s Palme d’Or winner Sex, Lies, and Videotape. This was the first of 11 collaborations with Soderbergh, including Traffic and Contagion. Other notable projects include Drive, Spring Breakers, and The Neon Demon, for which he was named Best Composer at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival. 

From our recent blog on the Wicked soundtrack: “Martinez’s haunting and evocative compositions perfectly complement the dark and twisted narrative, immersing viewers in a world of moral ambiguity and psychological tension. With his trademark blend of electronic and orchestral elements, Martinez creates a sonic landscape that mirrors the inner turmoil and moral decay of the characters, enhancing the film’s suspense and intrigue.”

Cover of the 1999 debut album, "Split," from Canadian heavy metal band Kittie.


Wicked’s soundtrack perfectly reflects Ellie’s angst and rage with an energetic collection of late 90s alt-rock interspersed with a couple of classic love songs, emulating the film’s blended tone. Artists featured include Julian Hatfield, Kittie, Snake River Conspiracy, The Cranes, Switchblade Symphony, Jack Off Jill, Dusty Springfield, and Olivia-Newton John. 

To further explore the music of Wicked, check out our recent blog analyzing each song featured in the film.



Image of Julia Stiles, director Michael Steinberg, and producer Frank Beddor standing in front of a movie theater marquee at the Seattle International Film Festival.

Wicked has been praised for its boldness, style, and Stiles’ powerful performance. In his review for the Sundance program John Cooper called Wicked “an exhilarating hybrid that continuously surprises and amuses.” Writing for Variety, Glenn Lovell wrote that the film is “chockablock with nods to Lynch and early De Palma” and “a stylish, dandy nail biter.” While Father Geek wrote for Ain’t It Cool News that Wicked is “a gem of the macabre” and a “perfectly realized slick little flick.”

Other rave reviews for Wicked

Wicked is delightfully derivative: its style, lighting, subject, and especially its penchant for cold distant camera work are so Hitchcockian … ” – James Digiovanna, Tucson Weekly 

“Julia Stiles is destined for greatness” – Brendan Peterson, Film/Tape World 

“Great Movie! A surprising thriller of a “Wicked” little family in a gated community” – Jake Weien, Flagstaff LIVE 

“Visually sophisticated and darkly humorous” – Alison MacDonald, Austin American Statesman

” … Stiles’ performance is so stunning” – David Pfister, Interview Magazine 

“Wicked is a dark sleek film with a hell bent breakthrough performance by Stiles who is destined to grab an audience’s attention” – Jose Martinez, SOMA Magazine 

” … the most stylish suburban thriller in years.” – David Schwartz, World Cinema 

Wicked’s production values are top notch. The movie dances lightly on a tightrope that stretches from melodrama to farce” – The Georgia Straight – Vancouver

Wicked is one of those movies that sucks you into its twisted realm so subtly you don’t realize how far your mind has been bent until you leave the theater. ” – Sandy Gow, Vancouver International Film Festival 

“Stile’s smoldering performance in Wicked, earned her a starring role in the upcoming 10 Things I Hate About You.” – Michael Hogan, Vanity Fair 

Where to Watch

Still image from the thriller movie "Wicked" featuring Julia Stiles lying on the floor and looking underneath a door with an overlaid graphic reading "Julia Stiles" and "Wicked".

You can watch Julie Stiles’ breakthrough performance in Wicked on the following streaming platforms: Amazon, YouTube, Apple TV, Google Play, Vudu, Plex, and Tubi.


As an amateur scholar and die-hard enthusiast of everything to do with Alice in Wonderland, I have launched a podcast that takes on Alice’s everlasting influence on pop culture. As an author who draws on Lewis Carroll’s iconic masterpiece for my Looking Glass Wars universe, I’m well acquainted with the process of dipping into Wonderland for inspiration.

The journey has brought me into contact with a fantastic community of artists and creators from all walks of life—and this podcast will be the platform where we come together to answer the fascinating question: “What is it about Alice?”

For this episode, it was my great pleasure to have Teresa Lin join me as my guest for Part 3 of our deep dive into our creative process! Read on to explore our conversation and check out the whole series on your favorite podcasting platform to listen to the full interview.

Image of screenwriter Teresa Lin set against the book cover for the coming-of-age supernatural mystery novel "Static" along with the logo for the "All Things Alice" podcast.

Frank Beddor 
Hey, everybody, welcome back to All Things Alice. Today I’m with my savant, creative wife, Teresa Beddor Lin. Today we’re going to use Alice as a muse, as a metaphor for creativity as it relates to a separate project, Static, which is a book project I’m very proud of. I had nothing to do with the writing of this book but I did have something to do with the publishing of this book. I’ll give you a little background. 

I have a friend, Eric Laster, who’s written a number of books. His first book was published through Simon and Schuster and he had about 90 pages of a young adult paranormal mystery manuscript. I read the pages and I fell in love with the concept. I kept asking him, “Hey, when can I read more pages?” Over time, he would share pages as he felt confident in the work, and at the end of the day, when he finished the novel, I blurted out, “I would like to help you publish this book.” I was working on Hatter Madigan: Ghost in the H.A.T.B.O.X., at the time and I wanted to start a small publishing company called Automatic Publishing. I decided that Eric’s book would be the first that we would publish under the new imprint. 

It was an amazing creative experience. But at the same time I was working with Eric on the book, I was also thinking about adapting the novel as a television show. That’s what Theresa and I are here to talk about, the process of adapting a literary work and what choices you make when turning it into a viable TV property. The name of Eric Lester’s book is Static. It’s a coming-of-age, murder mystery, young adult novel. Here’s the book jacket description: 

“When Curtis Brooks starts receiving phone calls from his older brother Wilt, who’s been dead a week, he’s sure it’s to help him find evidence that will lead to a murderer’s arrest. But Wilt claims he wasn’t murdered; his calling, meant to help him adjust, is standard protocol for newly deceased at the Aftermart—a kind of inescapable, ever-expanding Walmart filled with discontinued products.

Wilt’s death ruled a homicide, Curtis embarks on a dangerous plan to find the killer, which soon has him scheming against a billionaire and floundering toward love with his brother’s ex-girlfriend Suzy, all while struggling through high school and his single mom’s poor choices.

Why does Wilt help Curtis win over Suzy, even as he organizes a rebellion at the Aftermart? Who’d wanted him dead? Curtis risks his life to answer these questions, in the process forging a bond with his brother unlike any they’ve ever had.”

One of the things that I really fell in love with was the relationship between the two brothers. At the beginning of the book, they’re estranged, and by the end of the book they’ve come to really appreciate and love each other in a much deeper way. Having said all of that, I’m going to let Teresa read you the pitch for the television show. Then we’re going to get into some of the reasons why we made these choices and changes.

Eric Laster, author of the coming-of-age supernatural mystery novel "Static," posing with folded arms in a blue sweater.
Cover of Eric Laster's coming-of-age supernatural mystery novel "Static," depicting an illustration of a smartphone under blue light.

In terms of the brother story, Static the TV show has evolved into a brother-sister story. We wanted to drop in on the point of view of an unreliable narrator, who was Curtis and is now Danni. Danni is 16-years-old and investigates her brother Wilt’s murder so his soul can move on in the Aftermart. We had to really hone in on what the Aftermart was and for the purposes of the show, the Aftermart became a retail way station where souls shop until they find the item that resolves their death. With Danni and Wilt, there are a series of calls that only they can hear and they must work together through absurd comedic and dangerous circumstances to catch the bad guys, bringing the family back together and learning the most challenging lessons about love. When we’re conceptualizing a show, we’re always thinking about the engine. What’s driving the show forward? What are the characters going through that would create an arc for them? How do they change? How are they tested throughout the show? In the book, there were souls were shopping in the Aftermart but then they went to counseling. There wasn’t a way in which the shopping connected to the character’s sense of resolution. 

What you’re talking about is there is a particular item that has a deep resident meaning for each character, which is a clue to why they haven’t left this way station. Resolving that mystery helps them transition to wherever they’re going to transition. One of the big things about the book and the show is setting up the mystery. 

The mystery in both places. When Danni, the 16-year-old sister, digs into her brother’s story, she finds out this whole world and this whole life that her brother had that she didn’t know about.

One of the things that’s not in the book that you introduced, separate from having a brother-sister story, was that Danni is really into murder mystery TV shows.

We really had fun setting up and coloring Danni’s character. In creating the tone for the show, we really wanted to make her an unreliable narrator. Somebody obsessed with solving murder mysteries. Somebody who had been on medication her whole life, and then suddenly decides that she’s going to come off of her meds and she’s gonna take life by the horns and do this one thing for her brother. So through her lens, you have her enthusiastic deep dive into creating a case out of her brother’s death that may or not be real, but as we follow her into the story, the details of what her brother was involved in become larger than life.

Graphic of a chalkboard featuring an interconnected web of suspects from the coming-of-age supernatural mystery novel "Static".

What’s really fun is her two friends who are really supporting her because she’s grieving and they think she’s going through these many different levels of grief.

The seven steps of grieving. They’re trying to name it for her and, of course, she has these severe mood swings and they’re playing along in support of her while they’re on this murder mystery investigation, digging into places digitally and going behind the scenes.

At first, they don’t believe her and it’s really amusing because they’re speculating on what’s going on with her. These are two boys who have a lot of hormones and are not that interested in exactly what she’s interested in. But eventually, they come around to believe that what’s happening is real for her.

There’s a whimsical and mischievous element to the tone of the show. Then on the flip side, with the supernatural or the paranormal, you have the Aftermart that feels as grounded as going into a Target today. It’s a mirror of our world. There’s a hierarchy in the afterlife, with people who are obeying or are working for the Wu, which is the organizing power of the Aftermart.

One of the pieces of feedback that Eric and I would often get when promoting his book at Comic-Cons or school events, was readers were really interested in the Aftermart. They were interested in how it works and the characters in the Aftermart. So in the television show, we decided to explore that and give equal weight to Danni in our world and Wilt in the Aftermart.

In the novel, the Aftermart started as just a place for discontinued items. One of the ways we thought it would make a good engine is if the things in the Aftermart resonated with these characters and had sentimental value to wherever the soul is stuck. It could be an egg timer. It could be an action figure. Something that’s connected to an unresolved memory. So when you find your item, you’re able to flash back into that memory. Then you can check out, essentially.

I still want to find a character whose item is a toilet with a clear back and the tank is an aquarium. 

We had a lot of fun doing research for the show because we got to look up a lot of discontinued items from the 70s and 80s.

There are things that young adults wouldn’t even know about. Certainly, my kids don’t know what an 8-track was. But there are all sorts of funny toys and concepts. That’s been fun, finding shelves for some of our favorite nostalgic items.

It was fun thinking about how the Aftermart would be organized. We came up with the idea that it would be organized by era. I certainly enjoy thinking about the difference between our experience in the analog world versus the digital world and how that’s changed because the only way Wilt and Danni are communicating with each other is through a smartphone. 

Only Danni can hear him.

And everybody else only hears static. 

Hence the title. 

Why don’t you talk about why you thought it would be better to have a brother-sister story versus two brothers? How different might that dynamic be? It sort of plays itself out in the beginning when Wilt is with Suzy, his girlfriend. They’re a couple years older than Danni and they’re completely ignoring her and they have a sexual life together. Danny is coming in and interrupting. It gives it a different flavor. 

Danni has always been on the outside of love. Her obsession in the beginning with solving murder mysteries and reading science fiction and fantasy shows that she’s always been curious about what life feels like for the people on the other side. Even though her brother is one of the most popular kids at school, Danni’s always lived on the fringe. Maybe it’s because of her medication or the childhood trauma she’s been holding on to and has repressed these feelings. When her brother dies she rises to the occasion and starts to feel the need to do something.

There was something interesting for me about her relationship with Suzy. That goes beyond the attraction between them and the attraction to life, to being alive and seen and wanted and desired. I think for Danni, Suzy and Wilt had that meaning for her. She wanted to step into what her brother had and perhaps keep that alive.

One of the other things that we were interested in doing was maximizing the setting. We thought Los Angeles would be a good setting because it’s very diverse. It’s not in the novel but because we’re turning it into a television show, we needed to get real specific.

Collection of four different images depicted the Los Angeles neighborhood of Koreatown, set within a teal border with text reading "Danni's Neighborhood" in the middle.

One of the choices we made was to make Danni and Wilt biracial. So their mom is Korean and their estranged father, who eventually comes back into their life, is African American. I thought it was really interesting to shine a light on biracial families and the coupling between African American and Koreans, specifically in Los Angeles. We have a large Koreatown in Los Angeles and I thought it would be really interesting to have some of the underworld goings-on happen around there and use that to color in some of Danni’s choices and the places she goes to do her investigating.

After working on the outline and conceptualizing these changes, then it’s the writing process. I’m interested in how you brought these choices together when you approached the pilot script.

There were a lot of different evolutions and drafts but the anchor and the primary piece of it has always been Danni and her POV. It’s telling the story through her lens, setting her up as the unreliable narrator and letting us in on her thought process. Being able to see her spying on her neighbors and creating this big story out of nothing. Having her be The Girl Who Cried Wolf one too many times.

You came up with that great scene, which was like a scene from Rear Window, to open up the pilot and it caused a lot of havoc at the apartment complex for her mother and for the neighbor. A detective shows up, who ultimately becomes a love interest to her mom.

There was a lot of that. For me, a lot of what makes a show great is creating characters that people want to spend time with and who people want to root for. If you can create somebody who’s lovable, even though they’re awkward and weird and strange. Especially if they’re awkward and weird and strange, because we all, in some ways, feel that way inside. It makes those aspects of herself feel relatable and accessible.

One of the ways we accentuated the unreliable narrator is that she’s on medication and seeing a therapist. 

Yes. You have her therapist weighing in on her instability and her need to stay on her medication. There is a clear point in the pilot where she flushes all her medication down the toilet and decides to go cold turkey. There’s an aspect of the show that deals with mental health. It deals with grief and it deals with growing up in a broken family. It deals with feeling estranged from your own family and making choices about how to get back to a place where you understand each other. There can be an ocean of division and silence and disconnect between family members, as most of us can understand, at one point or another.

Static is about this disconnection that they’re trying to bridge through solving Wilt’s murder and through connecting with Wilt now that he’s dead and in the Aftermart. Danni wants to do something so his soul can move on and reconnecting with her mother is also a big piece of this. What defines family? What defines that connective tissue between your family members when life has gotten so far away from you and things feel so hard? What are the things we do that bring us back together?

It’s all true in the story. It’s true in the pilot but that’s all subtextual. That makes good writing because you need that bubbly, attractive, whimsy of the Aftermart and the absurdity of the phone calls with Danni and Wilt. Danni’s two friends, Lou and Jeremy, who are in high school and find this stuff funny. The dynamic between Suzy, who’s lost somebody, and mourning, but wanting to post on Instagram about it. There’s a high school coming-of-age angst and comedic element to it. One of the shows that we were referencing in comparison to Static was the Netflix series Sex Education.

Still image of Aimee Lou Wood, Emma Mackey, and Asa Butterfield standing in front of yellow lockers from the Netflix series "Sex Education".

It’s not as raunchy as Sex Education but there are certainly similarities with the tone, the humor, and the melodrama between the characters. There’s a lightness to the way their friends show up for each other. Despite all the dark stuff that they find out in the clues, it’s her getting excited about finding clues that takes us from episode to episode. Those reveals are fun to do.

How about Wilt somehow helping Danni meet up with Suzy? He’s sort of encouraging it. Of course, she’s the most beautiful girl in high school so Lou and Jeremy are shocked when Danny goes and even starts to talk to Suzy. There’s a connection between them, an attraction, which is interesting.

Their attraction to each other, both on soul and gender levels, is really relevant now, talking about, “What is attraction? What’s okay?” 

Because they both loved Wilt. 

You could pitch this as a comedy. 

Absolutely. It’s a drama but there’s definitely a lot of whimsical elements to it. Tonally, we were thinking of the movie Ghost. For those of you who don’t remember, it starred Whoopi Goldberg, Patrick Swayze, and Demi Moore.

You have Shawn, the counselor in the Aftermart, who’s very uptight but comedic and trying to control what is uncontrollable. 

Parts of the Aftermart are structured a bit like The Good Place and there’s a certain hierarchy and structure that mirrors the bureaucracy in our world. But for the characters, if you think about Ghost and how funny it was when Whoopi Goldberg was going around hearing ghosts and no one believed her, and she just looked like a lunatic. I thought a lot about her while writing Danni. How convinced she is because she really does hear Wilt and she can’t believe nobody else does. She’s just going for it anyway. That makes her a really lovable character to me.

We’ve spoken to a couple of directors and we’ve landed on one that we’re going to be working with. I haven’t gotten the approval from him to talk about him. 

We’re excited to have a hot director attached.

He brings a look and feel to the project that I think is really unique, especially in the Aftermart. 

Graphic of a Walmart-style department store set inside a teal border with text reading "Into the Aftermart" superimposed over the image.

The director referenced the Meow Wolf exhibit in Las Vegas. The Aftermart has a very similar quality where there are corridors that go to nowhere and doors that open to no place and things are sectioned and recategorized.

And, of course in the Aftermart, there are levels and corridors that lead to another level. You see souls check out from the Aftermart and go beyond it. What the afterlife looks like beyond the Aftermart gives us a great way into the second season. The first season works really well and we love the idea of solving murders and resolving deaths from the other side. So the idea for Season Two is that Wilt and his friends in the Aftermart, stabilize a technology that allows them to connect with the living. So with Danni on the side of the living and Wilt on the side of the souls, they start to solve murder cases from both sides. So we’re very excited about that direction.

With the pandemic and then the Writers’ and SAG strikes, a lot of projects had been put on hold, including this one, and now people are trying to find their way. This is a young adult novel, therefore, it’s a young adult show. I see a lot of those types of shows on Netflix and other networks. We are taking the material with our hot, young, talented director, and we’re gonna go out and sell it. Hopefully, the next time we talk about Static, we’ll be in pre-production or shooting the show. 

I hope to share some more good news with you guys.

If anybody would like to read the novel, you can pick it up on frankbeddor.com. Thank you, Teresa, for sharing your insight.

Always a pleasure. We love talking about our process. 

It’s always fun to talk about getting from point A to point B and trying to make progress as creatives. I guess I’m gonna have to start a new podcast, All Things Creative with Teresa Lin.

We’ll make sure to keep creating things so we have something to talk about.

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Top 10 Julia Stiles Performances Ranked

Julia Stiles recently wrapped production on her directorial debut, “Wish You Were Here,” which she adapted from the bestseller of the same name by Renee Carlino. The romance stars Isabelle Fuhrman (The Hunger Games, The Novice) as a directionless server whose whirlwind one-night-stand with a terminally ill painter changes both of their lives. The film marks the culmination of an evolution for the Emmy and Golden Globe-nominated Stiles. With her tour-de-force breakthrough in the thriller Wicked, directed by Michael Steinberg and produced by Frank Beddor, Stiles launched a near-thirty-year career in front of the camera, which has produced a wide range of entertaining, compelling, and iconic performances. With her first directorial effort in the can, let’s take a look back at Julia Stiles’ top ten roles.

Still image of Julia Stiles and Heath Ledger covered in paint from the 1999 teen romantic comedy film "10 Things I Hate About You".

10 Things I Hate About You

Following the rabid reaction at Sundance to her debut lead role in Wicked, Julia Stiles was cast in the 1999 romantic comedy 10 Things I Hate About You, Gil Junger’s modern-day retelling of William Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. Stiles is transcendent as Katarina “Kat” Strafford, an antisocial high schooler who is pursued by Patrick Verona (Heath Ledger), an Australian bad boy who is paid to woo Kat as part of a plot designed to get her father (Larry Miller) to relax his restrictions regarding dating for Kat and her younger sister Bianca (Larisa Oleynik). Starring opposite the sublime Ledger, Stiles deftly blends rage, intelligence, and vulnerability to create a beautiful portrayal of a young woman learning to allow herself to be loved and be loved. The film grossed $60 million at the box office and has become an iconic piece of 90s pop culture. The emotional core of the movie, Stiles’ performance was lauded by critics and led to a Most Promising Actress award from the Chicago Film Critics Association and established her as an up-and-coming star.

Still image of Julia Stiles and Sean Patrick Thomas dancing from the 2001 romance film "Save the Last Dance".

Save the Last Dance

Stiles cemented her status as a cult teen hero with her turn as Julliard hopeful Sara Johnson in the 2001 hit Save the Last Dance. A part of the wave of early 2000s teen dance movies, Save the Last Dance follows Sara, who quits ballet and moves to the South Side of Chicago with her father after her mother dies in a car accident. Depressed and struggling to navigate her new life, Sara is reinvigorated when she falls for Derek (Sean Patrick Thomas) at a hip-hop dance club at her new school. Their love motivates Sara to continue to pursue her passion for ballet and her dreams of attending Julliard. Stiles again imbues her character with a strength and wit uncommon for the genre and displays undeniable chemistry with Thomas. Stiles trained in ballet and hip-hop for two months ahead of shooting, preparation that paid off when Save the Last Dance debuted at #1 at the box office en route to taking in $131.7 million worldwide. Stiles was nominated for a host of awards and that dance scene has become an iconic teen movie moment, which she reenacted alongside Chloe Fineman on Saturday Night Live in 2023.

Still image of Julia Stiles and Michael C. Hall in a bathroom from Season 5 of the Showtime crime drama television series "Dexter".

Dexter – Season 5

Julia Stiles breathed new life into Dexter with her performance as Lumen Pierce in Season 5. Pierce is a survivor of an attack by a group of men including rapist-serial killer Boyd Fowler. When Pierce witnesses Dexter (Michael C. Hall) kill Fowler, she tries to convince the vigilante to help her take revenge on the rest of her attackers. Initially reluctant, Dexter eventually agrees to help her get vengeance and the two kindred souls develop a romantic relationship. In Dexter, Stiles showcases her ability to portray strength through vulnerability. Her grounded style lends authenticity to the sometimes over-the-top show and helps to humanize Hall’s murderous forensic technician. Stiles’ ten-episode arc as Lumen Pierce “totally changed” her mind about working in television and proved to be one of the most critically acclaimed roles of her career, resulting in Golden Globes and Emmy nominations.

Still image of Julia Stiles in a red shirt and heavy eye shadow from the 1998 thriller film "Wicked".


Julia Stiles’ audition for disturbed Ellie Christianson in the 1998 thriller Wicked blew away director Michael Steinberg and producer Frank Beddor, who said, “…we knew. She was Ellie. She also had IT.” The sixteen-year-old Stiles continued to wow her employers and co-stars with her intense portrayal of Ellie, a fourteen-year-old whose twisted obsession with her father (William R. Moses) and hatred of her mother (Chelsea Field) leads to horrifying consequences. Stiles’ performance is pure adolescent rage, depicting a girl who hates the world and will stop at nothing to get what she wants. But Ellie is no caricature. Stiles continuously reminds us that Ellie is still a child, adding depth and shading by showing her character’s insecurities. The result is a nuanced portrayal that still incites empathy for a character whose actions are truly detestable. Wicked proved to be Stiles’ breakthrough. The film was a smash at the 1998 Sundance Film Festival where Stiles’ performance made her “the darling of the festival” and she won the award for Best Actress at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival in the Czech Republic.

Still image of Julia Stiles and Matt Damon from Paul Greengrass' 2007 espionage action-thriller film "The Bourne Ultimatum".

Bourne Franchise

Julies Stiles stole scenes with her role as CIA logistics technician Nicky Parsons in four of the Jason Bourne films opposite Matt Damon’s amnesiac assassin. An adversary turned ally, Parsons works for Treadstone, a shadowy CIA black-ops program that utilizes behavioral modification to develop almost superhuman assassins. In the first two films, The Bourne Identity and The Bourne Supremacy, Parsons is a CIA operative who aids the hunt to capture Bourne. But in the third film, The Bourne Ultimatum, Parsons grows disillusioned with the CIA and helps Bourne evade his pursuers. As a character archetype, Nicky Parsons could’ve simply been a functionary. A character whose sole purpose was to move the plot forward by feeding information and exposition to the protagonist. But in Stiles’ hands, Nicky becomes essential to Bourne’s growth as a character. Stiles matches Damon’s intensity step for step, helping to set the foundation for a series of brooding, gritty, and spellbinding action thrillers.

Still image of Julia Stiles in a sauna from the 2001 drama film "The Business of Strangers".

The Business of Strangers

Tony-winning actor Stockard Channing said of her The Business of Strangers co-star: “In addition to her talent, she has an almost feral quality, something that can make people uneasy. She has an effect on people.” Rave reviews from critics are wonderful, but it’s arguably more important when praise comes from those you work with. In Patrick Stettner’s indie drama, Julia Stiles plays Paula, an assistant who helps her former boss Julie take revenge on Nick, a headhunter with whom Paula has a dark connection, when the three are stuck in a hotel after their flights are canceled. Paula is a woman of many secrets, and Stiles plays it perfectly, setting up a series of thrilling twists and turns. Her chemistry with Channing is electric and their back-and-forth drives the emotional resonance of the story. Stiles again reveled in success at Sundance as the film was nominated for a Grand Jury Prize and she was later nominated for Best Supporting Actress at the Satellite Awards.

Still image of Julia Stiles and Alec Baldwin in front of a window from the 2000 David Mamet dark comedy film "State and Main".

State and Main

One of the hallmarks of Julia Stiles’ career is her ability to elevate an ensemble. This talent is conspicuously on display in David Mamet’s 2000 comedy State and Main. The film tracks the effects that a film production and its crew have on a small Vermont town. It’s packed with stars, including William H. Macy, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Philip Seymour Hoffman (and John Krasinski in his acting debut). Stiles plays Carla, a crafty local who develops a relationship with Alec Baldwin’s Bob Barrenger, the film’s star who is attracted to underage girls. Stiles is electric in her nuanced portrayal of Carla, showcasing once again her ability to show strength through vulnerability. Her performance is an essential piece of a stellar cast, one that earned Best Cast awards from the Florida Film Critics Circle, the Online Film Critics Society, and the National Board of Review.

Still image of Julia Stiles and Jennifer Lopez in a prison interrogation room from the 2019 crime comedy-drama film "Hustlers".


Lorene Scafaria’s 2019 crime comedy-drama Hustlers is a visually stunning caper that blends piercing comedy with profound character work. The surprise hit drew comparisons to Goodfellas and praise for the star-studded cast, which included Jennifer Lopez, Constance Wu, Lili Reinhart, Keke Palmer, Lizzo, Cardi B, and, of course, Julia Stiles. Stiles portrays Elizabeth, a journalist following the exploits of a group of New York City strippers who drug and rob stock traders and corporate executives who patronize their club. Stiles doesn’t have the most glamorous role in the film, but she performs an essential function that makes the movie work. Her character represents the audience, giving us a platform through which we empathize and come to love these characters. Her blend of strength and warmth is on full display as she endeavors to tell the story of this diverse, multi-dimensional group of women.

Still image of Julia Stiles, Jennifer Lawrence, and Bradley Cooper from the 2012 David O. Russell romantic dramedy film "Silver Linings Playbook".

Silver Linings Playbook

Julia Stiles once again proves a scene stealer in David O. Russell’s Oscar-nominated 2012 romantic dramedy Silver Linings Playbook. The film follows a former teacher, Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper), with bipolar disorder who endeavors to win back his ex-wife after being released from a psychiatric hospital. But his plans are thrown into glorious disarray when he meets Tiffany Maxwell, a widowed dancer who promises to help Pat win his wife back if he enters a dance competition with her. In a supporting cast filled with heavyweights including Robert De Niro, Jacki Weaver, and Chris Tucker, Stiles stands out as Veronica, Tiffany’s spirited sister. Stiles punctuates brilliant performances from Cooper and Lawrence with her strength and energy, perfectly encapsulating the Philadelphia energy. Stiles earned a host of awards nominations as part of the ensemble, winning at the Critics’ Choice Movie Awards, as the film was nominated for eight Academy Awards, with Lawrence winning for Best Actress.

Still image of Julia Stiles and Mekhi Phifer sitting in a high school gym from the 2001 romantic thriller film "O".


The turn of the century saw a run on modern-day retellings of William Shakespeare’s works and Stiles seemed to appear in every one. After starring in 10 Things I Hate About You and Hamlet opposite Ethan Hawke, Stiles plays the Desdemona character in Tim Blake Nelson’s adaptation of Othello, O. Led by Mekhi Phifer as Odin (Othello), and Josh Hartnett as Hugo (Iago), O sets the Bard’s tragedy in a posh prep school where Hugo concocts a devious plan to destroy Odin due to his jealousy of Odin’s heroic exploits on the basketball court. Stiles and Phifer have electric chemistry as the doomed lovers, playing their complex relationship with nuance and power. Stiles imbues Desi with a hidden strength and engenders empathy in the viewers, making for a heart-wrenching experience when Hugo’s plot comes to fruition and Odin tragically murders Desi. Stiles’ firm grasp of her craft and psychology helps to show the continuing relevance of Shakespeare’s work.

An itinerant storyteller, John Drain attended the University of Edinburgh before studying film at DePaul University in Chicago and later earned an MFA in Screenwriting from the American Film Institute Conservatory. John focuses on writing mysteries and thrillers featuring characters who are thrown into the deep end of the pool and struggle to just keep their heads above water. His work has been recognized by the Academy Nicholls Fellowship, the Austin Film Festival, ScreenCraft, Cinestory, and the Montreal Independent Film Festival. In a previous life, John created and produced theme park attractions across the globe for a wide variety of audiences. John keeps busy in his spare time with three Dungeons and Dragons campaigns and a seemingly never-ending stack of medieval history books.

Surprising Similarities Between Batman and Hatter Madigan

In the vast realm of fictional characters, two iconic figures stand out for their enigmatic personas and unparalleled skills – Hatter Madigan from The Looking Glass Wars universe and Batman from DC Comics. Both characters share a commitment to justice, distinct styles, and formidable arsenals. In this article, we dive down the rabbit hole into the intricacies of Hatter Madigan’s capabilities, weapons, and magical elements, and then we’ll draw comparisons between the intrepid Milliner and the legendary Dark Knight.

Illustration of Hatter Madigan, left profile and brandishing a blade against the Suit Families logo, by artist Ben Templesmith.
Illustration of Batman on top of a building in Gotham City standing in front of the Bat Signal.

Hatter Madigan’s Mystical Arsenal:
Hatter Madigan, an intimidating figure with a tall and athletic build, dons a captivating ensemble complete with a sentient top hat, versatile trench coat, unique vest, high-tech armor, military-inspired boots, lethal wrist blades, and the complex backpack, known as “The Bug.” Each element of his arsenal is imbued with caterpillar thread, Wonderland magic, and advanced technology, creating a tapestry of unique capabilities.

Top Hat:
Hatter’s iconic top hat serves as more than a mere accessory; it is a semi-sentient sidekick made from Wonderland’s mysterious caterpillar silk. The hat boasts a mesmerizing red bejeweled eye on its “stovepipe,” signifying its sentient nature. It scans terrain, assesses danger, and can even track enemies, analyzing heat signatures, vulnerabilities, and voice recognition to provide Hatter with an overwhelming strategic advantage. With a flick of Hatter’s wrist, the hat flattens into a series of spinning S-shaped blades and is thrown to slice through attacking enemies.

Illustration of Hatter Madigan on the streets of New York throwing his hat by artist Maciej Kuciara.

One of the most unique aspects is the hat’s kinship to its owner. It communicates telepathically with Hatter, establishing a deep bond that goes beyond mere attire. The hat also offers a metal shield, precision aiming, and catching capabilities, showcasing its multifaceted utility in combat scenarios.

But it doesn’t end there. The hat can alter its size, strength, and color, seamlessly adapting to various situations. It is attuned to nature and the laws of the universe, which allows it to maneuver independently when separated from its owner. Further, its reality alteration capabilities, including the projection of illusions to confuse enemies, demonstrate the depth of Wonderland magic woven into its fabric.

Trench Coat:
Hatter’s trench coat, seemingly crafted from a Kevlar-like material, resembles Deckard’s jacket from Blade Runner and is both flexible and durable. It incorporates caterpillar silk, adding magical properties and it’s equipped with slits so blades from Hatter’s backpack can subtly emerge.Vest and Armor:

Vest and Armor:
Hatter’s vest, worn over his armor, features double-breasted Victorian detailing and piping with angled heart emblems. The shiny metal armor inspired by Thor’s armor adds to Hatter’s formidable appearance.

Boots and Wrist Blades
Hatter’s boots seamlessly blend military and equestrian design, showcasing Victorian and magical stitching details. The wrist blades, a departure from typical assassin tools, serve as a warrior’s weapon for parrying and slashing. They can even be used as projectiles over a considerable distance, adding a ranged element to Hatter’s offensive capabilities.

Illustration of Hatter Madigan with "The Bug" backpack deployed on the streets of London by artist Tae Young Choi.

“The Bug”:
The Bug is by far the most complicated part of Hatter’s arsenal. Its extensions, linked together by gears, form arms with various attachments, each reaching a good 4 feet in length. Bringing to mind the machinery of Spider-Man foe Doctor Octopus, the Bug’s arms can retract, bend forward, equip different ends, and unfold with eight points of movement, allowing for versatile combat maneuvers and providing a unique advantage in battle.

It communicates with Hatter and operates symbiotically through imagination, adding an element of wonder to its functionality. The Bug’s arms are complemented by the Arsenal Cube, strapped to Hatter’s back by Jabberwocky hide ‘bladeoliers.’ This cube is a marvel of Wonderland physics, expanding to reveal an infinite interior filled with blades and weapons, following the principles of sacred geometry.

Illustration of Batman wrapped in his cloak on a building in Gotham City.

Hatter Madigan and Batman:
Now that we’ve unraveled the complex components of Hatter Madigan’s arsenal, let’s turn our attention to the Dark Knight of Gotham City. Batman is renowned for his unparalleled detective skills, martial arts prowess, and an arsenal of gadgets.

Detective Skills and Intellect
Both Hatter and Batman share a keen intellect and exceptional detective skills. Batman, known as the “World’s Greatest Detective,” relies on his deductive reasoning to solve crimes and unravel mysteries in Gotham City. Hatter’s telepathic connection with his sentient top hat enhances his situational awareness, allowing him to gather information and make informed decisions.

Combat Skills:
In terms of combat, both characters excel in hand-to-hand combat and strategic planning. Batman’s mastery of various martial arts styles is legendary, allowing him to take on multiple opponents effortlessly. Hatter, with his unique arsenal, exhibits a more theatrical and mystical combat style. The retractable spinning blades, precision aiming, and catching capabilities of the hat, combined with the versatile arms of The Bug, provide Hatter with a dynamic and visually striking approach to combat.

Illustration of Hatter Madigan fighting a monkey against the Suit Families logo by Ben Templesmith.
Illustration of Batman jumping off a motorcycle towards a helicopter above a burning building.

Gadgets and Technology:
While Batman relies heavily on cutting-edge technology and an array of gadgets, Hatter’s arsenal is fueled by Wonderland magic. The hat’s scanning capabilities and reality alteration and the Arsenal Cube’s transcendent properties showcase a magical aspect absent in Batman’s more grounded and technology-driven toolkit.

Stealth and Camouflage:
Both characters are adept at stealth, but Hatter’s top hat takes it a step further with its natural camouflage capabilities. The hat seamlessly blends into its surroundings, allowing Hatter to navigate discreetly, a feature not present in Batman’s typical attire.

Mobility and Transportation:
Batman’s iconic Batmobile and Batcycle are extensions of his mastery of technology and symbols of his ubiquitous presence in Gotham. Hatter, on the other hand, relies on the unique abilities of his sentient hat and The Bug’s arms. The hat can expand into a parachute to help slow one of Hatter’s many falls, while The Bug’s arms can bend and extend, providing Hatter with a distinct advantage in navigating diverse terrains.

Illustration of Batman sitting astride the Batcycle and speaking with a child.

Motivation and Symbolism:
Both characters share a commitment to justice, driven by personal tragedies. Batman’s origin story is rooted in the murder of his parents, inspiring him to become a symbol of hope and justice in Gotham. Hatter’s journey in Wonderland is equally poignant, as he strives to protect Princess Alyss Heart and reclaim Wonderland from the clutches of the Red Queen after she overthrew and murdered Queen Genevieve, whom Hatter was sworn to protect.

Style and Aesthetics:
In terms of style, Batman is often characterized by his brooding demeanor, dark and stealthy costume, and gritty aesthetic. Hatter, on the other hand, embraces a more whimsical and fantastical style, with an almost theatrical flair.

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The Wicked Soundtrack is Everything You Want

Cliff Martinez is a luminary in the realm of film composition, renowned for his distinctive and evocative soundscapes that have graced many critically acclaimed films. His work epitomizes innovation and creativity, continually pushing the boundaries of cinematic music. His compositions seamlessly blend electronic elements with traditional orchestration, creating atmospheric and immersive scores that leave an indelible mark on audiences.

Martinez’s collaboration with director Steven Soderbergh has been particularly noteworthy, yielding iconic scores for films such as Sex, Lies, and Videotape, Traffic, Solaris, and Contagion, among others. His ability to capture the essence of a film’s narrative and enhance its emotional impact with music has earned him widespread acclaim and numerous accolades, including several awards and nominations.

"Wicked" composer Cliff Martinez in his studio, working with a guitar, keyboard, and software interface.

His work on Wicked, the twisted psycho thriller starring Julia Stiles in her first lead role, stands as a testament to his ability to craft a score that elevates the atmosphere and intensity of a film. Martinez’s haunting and evocative compositions perfectly complement the dark and twisted narrative, immersing viewers in a world of moral ambiguity and psychological tension. With his trademark blend of electronic and orchestral elements, Martinez creates a sonic landscape that mirrors the inner turmoil and moral decay of the characters, enhancing the film’s suspense and intrigue. His score for Wicked not only heightens the emotional impact of key moments in the movie but also serves as a driving force behind the film’s eerie and foreboding atmosphere, leaving a lasting impression on audiences long after the credits roll.

The soundtrack for Wicked features a wide variety of enthralling and angsty songs from a collection of talented musicians:

“Bad Day” by Juliana Hatfield is a compelling and introspective track that showcases the artist’s ability to blend raw emotion with catchy melodies. The song captivates the audience with its poignant lyrics and infectious guitar hooks. Hatfield’s distinctive vocals convey a sense of vulnerability and frustration as Julia Stiles’ character Ellie grapples with feelings of disillusionment and disappointment. The driving rhythm and dynamic instrumentation underscore the song’s themes of inner turmoil and self-reflection, culminating in a cathartic and memorable musical experience.

“Trippin” by Kittie is a powerful and assertive song that embodies the band’s signature blend of heavy metal and alternative rock. Released on their debut album, Spit, the song immediately grabs listeners’ attention with its intense guitar riffs, thunderous drums, and visceral vocals. Frontwoman Morgan Lander’s commanding delivery adds an extra layer of aggression as she confronts themes of frustration, anger, and defiance. With its blistering energy and uncompromising attitude, “Trippin” serves as an anthem for empowerment and resilience.

“Casualty” by Snake River Conspiracy is a riveting and electrifying track that captivates listeners with its fusion of industrial rock and electronic elements. Released on their debut album, Sonic Jihad, in 2000, the song immediately establishes a dark and intense atmosphere with its pulsating beats, distorted guitars, and haunting synthesizers. Frontwoman Tobey Torres delivers a mesmerizing vocal performance, effortlessly transitioning between sultry whispers and powerful screams, adding depth and emotion to lyrics of disillusionment and defiance. With its infectious energy and thought-provoking lyrics, “Casualty” is a standout in Snake River Conspiracy’s repertoire, showcasing their ability to craft provocative and unforgettable music that pushes the boundaries of conventional rock.

The Cranes, a British alternative rock band, deliver a mesmerizing and ethereal experience with their song “Adoration.” The first single off their 1991 debut album Wings of Joy envelops listeners in a dreamlike soundscape characterized by shimmering guitars, haunting vocals, and atmospheric synths. Alison Shaw’s enchanting voice floats effortlessly over the lush instrumentation, conveying a sense of longing and introspection. With its hypnotic melodies and poetic lyrics, “Adoration” invites listeners into a world of soul-searching emotional depth, leaving a lasting impression with its evocative beauty.

“In the Night,” another standout track by the Cranes, showcases the band’s ability to blend elements of shoegaze and dream pop to create a haunting and immersive sonic experience. Featured on their 1994 album Loved, the song captivates from the opening notes with its swirling guitars and pulsating rhythms. Alison Shaw’s evocative vocals convey a sense of yearning and melancholy, perfectly complementing the track’s reflective lyrics. “In the Night” builds to a crescendo of intensity, pulling listeners deeper into its atmospheric embrace and transfixing them with its emotional resonance.

“Underwater,” the third Cranes’ entry in the Wicked soundtrack, further highlights the band’s talent for crafting atmospheric and emotionally resonant music. With its lush instrumentation and haunting melodies, the song creates a sense of immersion reminiscent of being submerged in a vast and mysterious ocean. “Underwater” transports listeners to a world of introspection and emotional exploration.

“Clown” by Switchblade Symphony is a haunting and evocative track that showcases the band’s unique blend of darkwave, gothic rock, and ethereal wave. Released on their 1995 debut album Serpentine Gallery, the song immediately captivates with its atmospheric synthesizers, driving percussion, and eerie melodies. Lead vocalist Tina Root’s mesmerizing vocals add an extra layer of intensity, as she delivers the song’s enigmatic lyrics with beauty and depth. “Clown” transports listeners to a world of darkness and mystery, where themes of love, loss, and longing intertwine to create a captivating and immersive experience.

“When I Am Queen” and “Rabbiteen” are signature tracks from Jack Off Jill‘s repertoire, known for their provocative lyrics and distinctive blend of punk, industrial, and gothic rock. “When I Am Queen,” featured on their 2000 album Clear Hearts Grey Flowers, unleashes a torrent of raw emotion and biting commentary. Lead vocalist Jessicka delivers powerful and defiant vocals, channeling themes of empowerment and rebellion against societal norms. The song’s dynamic instrumentation, including driving guitars and pounding drums, creates a sense of urgency and intensity, driving home its message of defiance and independence.

In contrast, “Rabbiteen,” delves into darker and more introspective territory. The track surrounds listeners in a brooding atmosphere, characterized by eerie melodies and haunting vocals. Jessicka’s haunting whispers and soaring cries add to the song’s haunting allure, as it explores themes of identity, isolation, and the struggle for self-acceptance. With its mesmerizing blend of gothic aesthetics and punk energy, “Rabbiteen” stands as a testament to Jack Off Jill’s ability to create music that is both thought-provoking and emotionally resonant.

Dusty Springfield’s “The Look of Love” epitomizes timeless elegance and sophistication. Originally written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David for the 1967 James Bond spoof Casino Royale, Springfield’s rendition is nothing short of iconic. With her sultry and emotive vocals, she effortlessly captures the essence of longing and desire expressed in David’s poignant lyrics. Backed by Bacharach’s lush orchestration, Springfield’s cover exudes an irresistible charm and allure. Through her interpretation, Springfield transforms the song into a timeless classic that serves as a testament to her unparalleled talent and enduring legacy in the world of music.

“Busy as a Bee,” as performed by Frenchy, is a lively and infectious track that embodies joy and exuberance. Released as part of Frenchy’s repertoire, the song captivates listeners with its upbeat rhythm, catchy melodies, and playful lyrics. Frenchy’s charismatic vocals shine as they deliver the song’s whimsical verses, painting a vivid picture of a bustling and vibrant world. With its irresistible energy and feel-good vibe, “Busy as a Bee” inspires listeners to embrace life’s challenges with a sense of optimism and determination. Whether it’s the driving beat or the infectious chorus, this track is guaranteed to leave a smile on the faces of all who hear it.

“So Com Voce,” by Rob Garza and Eric Hilton (also known as Thievery Corporation), offers a mesmerizing blend of electronic and world music influences that transport listeners to a tranquil and exotic realm. The song captivates with its dreamy atmosphere, lush instrumentation, and hypnotic rhythms. Sung in Portuguese, the vocals add an extra layer of mystique, inviting listeners to immerse themselves in the song’s rich tapestry of sound. Whether it’s the sultry melodies or the intricate production, “So Com Voce” enchants, showcasing the duo’s talent for crafting genre-defying music that transcends boundaries and captivates the imagination.

“Take My Hand, Precious Lord” by Thomas A. Dorsey is a timeless gospel classic, offering solace and comfort in times of trouble. Composed following the death of his wife and infant son after childbirth, Dorsey’s heartfelt lyrics and soul-stirring melody resonate with a profound sense of faith and resilience. First recorded by gospel singer Mahalia Jackson in 1956, the song has since become an anthem of hope and consolation. With its simple yet powerful message of surrendering to divine guidance and finding strength in faith, “Take My Hand, Precious Lord” continues to inspire and uplift generations, cementing its place as one of the most beloved hymns of all time.

“I Honestly Love You,” performed in the film by the brilliant Linda Hart, is a soulful rendition of Olivia Newton-John‘s classic ballad. Released in 1974, the song quickly became an anthem of unrequited love and longing. Pocket Songs’ interpretation retains the emotional depth of the original, with stirring vocals that tug at the heartstrings. Backed by a tender arrangement of piano and strings, the performance captures the bittersweet essence of the lyrics, evoking a sense of vulnerability and yearning. With its timeless melody and heartfelt delivery, “I Honestly Love You” stands as a poignant reminder of the universal experience of love and loss.

Image of The Blue Hawaiians' 1999 album, "Savage Night," featuring a woman's face superimposed on the exterior of a nightclub against the backdrop of a city.

“Second Time Around,” performed by The Blue Hawaiians, is a heartfelt ballad that resonates with themes of redemption and resilience. With its poignant lyrics and emotive melody, the song tells a story of overcoming adversity and embracing the opportunity for a fresh start. Fontana’s soulful vocals convey a sense of vulnerability and hope, drawing listeners into the emotional journey of self-discovery and growth. Whether it’s the gentle strumming of the acoustic guitar or the soaring strings in the background, “Second Time Around” captivates with sincerity and authenticity.

The songs “Bad Day,” “Adoration,” “In the Night,” “Underwater,” “Clown,” “Rabbiteen,” and “When I Am Queen” explore and share the movie’s themes of introspection and emotional turmoil, perfectly embodied by Julia Stiles’ performance. Whether it’s grappling with feelings of frustration and disillusionment (“Bad Day”), expressing devotion and longing (“Adoration”), delving into darker and more introspective territory (“In the Night,” “Underwater”), or confronting societal norms and personal identity (“Clown,” “Rabbiteen,” “When I Am Queen”), each track dives deep into the complexities of the human experience.

These songs vary in musical style and composition, but they share certain sonic elements that contribute to their artistic impact, such as the use of lush instrumentation. Moreover, the lyrical themes explored in these songs, such as introspection, rebellion, and personal identity, resonate with the angst and disillusionment that characterized much of the 90’s alt music scene. Many of these tracks capture that spirit of the 90s with their emotionally charged lyrics and raw, unfiltered sound.

There is an overall sense of intensity, moodiness, and atmosphere in the songs and score used in Wicked. From haunting melodies and brooding instrumentation to evocative vocals and atmospheric soundscapes, each track creates a distinct mood and vibe that draws the audience into the film’s emotional landscape. Whether it’s the ethereal and dreamlike quality of “Adoration,” the raw and gritty energy of “Bad Day,” or the haunting and introspective nature of “Rabbiteen,” these songs exude a sense of depth, complexity, and emotional authenticity that resonates with audiences on a visceral level.


As an amateur scholar and die-hard enthusiast of everything to do with Alice in Wonderland, I have launched a podcast that takes on Alice’s everlasting influence on pop culture. As an author who draws on Lewis Carroll’s iconic masterpiece for my Looking Glass Wars universe, I’m well acquainted with the process of dipping into Wonderland for inspiration.

The journey has brought me into contact with a fantastic community of artists and creators from all walks of life—and this podcast will be the platform where we come together to answer the fascinating question: “What is it about Alice?”

For this episode, it was my great pleasure to have Gary Murakami join me! Read on to explore our conversation and check out the whole series on your favorite podcasting platform to listen to the full interview.

Frank Beddor 
Welcome to the show Gary Murakami. I’m super happy to have you on and we’re here to talk about the love of your life, Liz Cavalier. You guys were together for 30 years. I met Liz shortly thereafter.

I want to have this shared experience with you because, unfortunately, Liz passed away in 2016. She was not only the love of your life, but she was the most inspirational and important creative collaborator and friend that I had here in Los Angeles. She was instrumental in all of these creative endeavors, many of which we would sort out in coffee shops, taking notes, and you would often accompany her and do your own thing while we were talking about story. 

I wanted to start today’s chat based on our lunch a couple of weeks ago. You mentioned that you had a lot to do with Helmet Head Girl Hero. I met Liz through a producer friend and the first thing I read of hers was this script: Helmet Head Girl Hero. It was an amazing script and I just loved the tone and the personality. You said that was her big break. Can you, as a way of introduction, lead us to your meeting Liz and then subsequently your collaboration on that script? 

Gary Murakami 
I met Liz in Santa Monica at a dance and exercise studio. I was taking dance classes. I remember wearing red tights that I had drawn stuff all over. Liz was stretching and exercising and I thought, “She’s really sexy.” But she was married at the time. So we eventually became friends. We hung out pretty much every day, going to cafes and taking trips to places like the Channel Islands. Eventually, her husband got arrested in Pakistan for smuggling heroin. So that ended the relationship. Liz had a really dramatic life. I think she passed more in her life than anyone I’ve ever known.

I knew this was going to be a good podcast. 

He was in Pakistan. Eventually, he bribed the police so he got out but she didn’t want to be involved with that. Turns out he was bipolar as well, too. So that was enough of that. But we got together in 90 or 91 or so. She was looking for a story to do. She had gotten some stuff done, but never got it made. 

She told me stories about her life. She was always a precocious child. Really smart. So much so that her parents had difficulty dealing with her because she was also the class clown. Her grandparents told her parents, “Look, she’s just so smart. You guys don’t know what to do with her.” So she was looking for a story and after hearing all the stories of her as a kid I told her I thought she should do her own childhood story. She was so cute. So precocious. She was always climbing trees with binoculars, creating forts, and spying on the neighbors. 

When she was about four, she was annoyed with the neighbors so she wrapped a note for them around a rock and she tried throwing it out the window. But the velocity kept taking the paper off so eventually, she picked up the paper, knocked on the door and gave it to the annoying neighbor. 

So I said that she should write a story about your life because she was so precocious and so cute and there were so many stories about it. She said, “Yeah, but they don’t do leading women or girl heroes.” I responded, “No, sure they do. People want the hero to be somewhat vulnerable so they can rise up and become a hero. They love it. What’s more vulnerable than a little girl or a woman trying to make it in life?” So she did. I never helped her write it but she would always bounce ideas off of me. So that’s how that started.

Author Liz Cavalier wearing a white apron and checkered shirt, posing with her fists raised.
A promotional graphic for the screenplay "Helmet Head Girl Hero" by Liz Cavalier featuring an image of Mary Badham as Scout Finch from the 1962 film "To Kill A Mockingbird".

The lead character’s name was Beverly. I thought she maybe needed to increase the size of the production. So we came up with this idea that there was a real conspiracy with Russians. So it became “Helmet Head Goes to the Moon”. I was convinced it was a hit movie and we had a lot of traction. 

But then Paramount made Harriet the Spy. That stopped the momentum of Liz’s script. But then I had this other kid’s idea, which was based on this dog in Telluride. It was called Dog Breath, which was funny but I didn’t think it was a big movie title. Then Liz said, “How about Eating Avalanches?” I said, “Okay, now that’s pretty cool. That’s memorable.” We developed this story that took place in Telluride about this dog that would go up the mountain with its owner. It became like a Goonies-style treasure hunt. In Telluride, they had this old mining town that still had all of the shafts and you could go down and tour to see what it was like in the early 1900s. But Liz was so much fun and so creative and she really created a lot of empathy with those characters. We worked on that for so many years. I loved working with her. We would butt heads a lot, though, because I would work from the plot side and she hated working from the plot side, she only wanted to come from the character and the inspirational side. 

But the most significant aspect of us working together was her writing on the Hatter M graphic novel series and all of the wonderful characters she came up with. Where do you think she got this inspiration from? You talked about her as a child being precocious and super smart. She was way ahead of her time in terms of focusing on women characters. That was one of the reasons she didn’t think these movies would get made because they were female-led. Now, almost all of the television and films for a period of time were women-led, which was a nice reversal. Sadly, she wasn’t around to see the transformation, but she came up with some amazing characters – Realm, Shaman of the White Flower Tribe, from graphic novel number three, The Nature of Wonder, or Jet Seer, which is one of her favorite characters. Did she talk about these characters and how they were coming together? 

Illustration of Realm, Shaman of the White Flower Tribe from the graphic novel "Hatter M: The Nature of Wonder" by Frank Beddor and Liz Cavalier.
Illustration of Jet Seer from the graphic novel "Hatter M: Love of Wonder" by Frank Beddor and Liz Cavalier.

Liz was an assertive person. She was the leader of her gang back in Eaton, New York. She was the class clown and always instigated stuff, like the high school graduation prank. Everyone got in trouble. Liz was a bad liar so she always got caught. She got caught shoplifting because she was such a bad liar. 

All the characters are her. I was reading Zen of Wonder, and they’re all her, Hatter M included. She had that very rational, realistic side but she had the other side where she was just surreal and liked to be inspired by thoughts that came out of nowhere. I always encouraged her to write women leads because my mom was really important in my life. My mom was such a strong person and Liz was the same way. A very strong, capable woman. 

You’re also a very creative person. You’ve been an artist and you’re an actor. What other things have you done? 

I booked that video job. 

Congratulations! You owe me lunch.

I will pay for lunch. It’s being produced by Tennyson, that huge Chinese company. They’re drawing up the contracts this week. They’ve written me into the cast. I didn’t book any of the two characters I did, but they liked me so much they’re writing me a character. And I may do other characters as well in the project. 

You and Liz had a really unique relationship. I’d like you to talk about that a little bit but also the creative space that you lived in. I was always struck by the art on the walls, the spontaneity, the affection, and the path less traveled you both took. Both creatively and in terms of how you see the world. The two of you were so in sync and you were so compatible, which doesn’t seem like the most romantic thing, but compatibility is ultimately so romantic. Because when you feel compatible, you feel yourself. And whenever I was in your presence, you both felt like yourselves yet you also felt like one. Is that accurate?

Author Liz Cavalier sitting on a white moped on a tree-lined sidewalk.

Whenever I went to the restroom if the door was unlocked, Liz had a camera and she’d just bust that door open. There are so many pictures of me on the toilet going, “Liz why do you do that?” She’d say, “Because Gary, that’s the most animated I see you.” When we got our first apartment together, I remember, she would get a bucket of water whenever I went to take a shower. She’d have me screaming. We’d be laughing so much. At one point the neighbors were like, “Shut up!”

I love doing this podcast because you don’t normally get stories like that in life. Those are very, very funny. She was such a practical jokester.

Constantly. It was almost too much. You know how much Liz liked to talk.

Would you say that you’re super chatty or not?

Not at the time. But when she passed away, I missed all that chatter so I decided to become more chatty. 

With The Looking Glass Wars, the idea behind it is that it’s the true story of how Alice came to our world and Lewis Carroll got the story wrong. So Liz wanted to create the Hatter M Institute for Paranormal Travel, which was a group of people who got together to discover the secrets of Hatter’s 13-year travels in our world and she never wanted to break that fourth wall. Whenever we went to Comic-Cons or schools, or did any interviews, it was, “This happened. We’re sticking to it. This is the real story.” She was so committed to it and it was so much fun to watch her pontificate on the work that they’ve been doing or the secret missions they were going on when we would do Comic-Cons. Did she talk about the conception of that? 

Wonderland is real to Liz. That idea that Wonderland is real, or the realm of imagination is the fourth dimension comes from Edgar Cayce, who was a clairvoyant and psychic in the early 1900s. There’s a whole foundation based on him, the Association for Research and Enlightenment. He said that all ideas, all imaginations, are in this fourth dimension, and anything on Earth is imagined there first, and then it’s here. The original, which is in the other dimension, is much more vivid. She took that seriously. When I read Hatter and all the characters, I see her philosophy, because she always wanted to start a religion.

That does not surprise me. After the success of Scientology, she was probably thinking, “Yeah, I can do better.”

She took those ideas about imagination really seriously. That’s what our conversations were most of the time. They weren’t based in reality. It was, “What if?” and “Maybe this.” So we would go investigate in the Desert Hot Springs and look for clues and stuff like that. We’d play k.d. lang and Sergio Leone tapes in the car while we were cruising around the desert.

You guys did a lot of exploring off the beaten track. She was often feeding her imagination and I think it’s so important as a writer, to be very open to receive. I remember her saying one time that ideas are everywhere. They’re just all around you. As long as you go out into the world and explore, you will find ideas. You’ll be inspired. You’ll be touched. She lived that life with you.

She did. Liz told me if she were a man, she would have wanted to be a Merchant Marine so she could explore the world. She really meant that. 

She did a lot in her imagination as well. 

Physically as well, too, though. Liz was able to take care of herself as well. She had the strongest punch of any woman I’ve ever felt. Not that she punched me in the face, she punched my hands and stuff. She had great torque in her body. She never wanted to be the kind of writer who was just kind of anemic-looking just typing away. She wanted to experience things. She wanted to be capable out in the world as well. She always tested herself, riding the metro by herself or just driving by herself. Just the challenge of yourself out in the world. I think she put it into her writing as well through the kinds of characters that she admired.

She was so well-read. She would introduce me to writers that I had no idea of. I think it was out of that the Wonderland portal idea emerged because she was interested in pop culture but she was interested in pop culture through a unique lens. That Wonderland portal was her baby. She was in charge of the content and she would pull all the content from pop culture and then write whatever she wanted to write. It always seemed to be catching the zeitgeist of what was next.

Liz always wanted to be ahead. She had the spirit of a pioneer. She just wanted to be ahead and if you wanted to join, great. If you didn’t, that’s fine, “See you later.”

A group of four female Army Air Force pilots walking towards camera with a B-17 Flying Fortress in the background taken in 1944.

That’s why she loved that World War II story about the WASPs, the Women Airforce Service Pilots. She came up with Sis Kipling as a character, who had all the agency in the world, all the ability to fly a plane better than the men. Held back by society but damn determined to bust out and to make a difference. I see how much of herself was in the characters she created. That’s where the best writing comes from. When you put yourself out there, people feel it, then it comes off the page the way it’s meant to come off the page. 

She was terrific. I really miss her deeply. The conversations, the back and forth, and the little Christmas presents that would show up in my inbox. She was funny at Comic-Cons. I’m very outgoing and I’m sticking my hand out, stepping in front of people, and waving them over to the booth. But when Liz started talking to people, they would lean in and she would engage them on a deeper level. I was giving them the elevator pitch and she was giving them the reason they should really care. It was really impressive to watch, her passion for the inside game of what the graphic novel was about, or a character she introduced or invented. I also miss getting her perspective on things.

When she was ill, her friends had come from New York to help out the last two weeks. They were more in grief before she passed away and she was actually trying to cheer them up and help them. And I thought, “Why does Liz have to do this?” But she was good at that stuff. I never saw that side of her before that time.

She was really nurturing, especially in the creative sense. “Let’s all come together. Let’s deal with this. I think I have a solution. I think I have a point of view. This is going well, let me take that off your plate.” She was incredibly giving like that. But the longest lasting really comes down to the work and the five graphic novels. If you read those graphic novels and look at the back matter and think about other comic books, you will see an enormous talent in Liz. She came up with almost all of that back matter. All of it was important to her to contextualize these ideas in the book, but to contextualize Wonderland, the power of imagination, these characters and where they came from, and then the fun. I want to lean into how much fun and how comedic she could be.

I read her graphic novels and I said, “You got that comedic rhythm.” She said, “Really?” She had no training in that at all. It was natural to her, in both writing and in life. She just had that rhythm and timing.

You write you write from being, which is exactly what she did.

That’s why Helmet-Head was so successful. It was her.

That’s still an amazing piece of work. I was thinking about how I could turn that screenplay into a book. 

We read that several years later and we were both so shocked that she didn’t realize it contained a lot of the things between her and her parents when she was a little girl. She exposed a lot of things. She had no idea she wrote that stuff. She really didn’t. It’s like, she subconsciously put it down on paper.

I have a lot of different drafts as well, but I think it would make a great book. Tsunami Surf Sisters is going to make a great graphic novel, which we at Automattic are in the middle of creating and expanding. We’ve been really inspired because it seems so perfectly timed now. She was really ahead of her time. Tsunami Surf Sisters is about a bunch of female surfers who are interested in what’s happening to the oceans. So it has an environmental slant to it. If there was a relevant time, I think now is as good as any. We’ve been working on it as a graphic novel and certainly want to honor Liz’s contribution. 

I’m also keen on Sis Kipling as a graphic novel as well. Liz and I learned a lot of television and movie projects stall out whereas writing books and graphic novels, you have the full experience of creating something, publishing it, and then taking it out to the audience. It feels no different than my movie, There’s Something About Mary, than going into a Comic-Con and selling a copy of Zen of Wonder, and having the readers come back and say, “When’s the next one coming out?” 

How much interest did Liz have in writing novels? 

I remember her saying that full-on novels are just too much work and take too much time. She likes short, fast, funny things that had a point.

That’s why she liked scripts and graphic novels because you can write those relatively quickly. They’re dynamic in the creation and they’re collaborative, which was perfect for her because she was so outgoing. We did all of our best work in coffee shops just sitting there talking.

I remember so many of them.

What was Liz’s or your introduction to Alice in Wonderland? Did that subject come up much in your life together?

It was a constant thing. Alice was such a big part of our lives. But in reading the characters she wrote, each one is a part of her. They seem to be living, like dream symbols. Nekko was the Zen part. Alan Watts was a Zen advocate and also Eckhart Tolle, who is huge now, (as you said, she was always ahead of her time). He wrote The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment, which is basically mindfulness and being present.

Illustration of Nekko from the graphic novel "Hatter M: Zen of Wonder" by Frank Beddor and Liz Cavalier.

That’s absolutely true. I remember she introduced me to Alan Watts. Nekko was the Zen guide for Hatter in book four, Zen of Wonder. She also created Little Dick, who was also in book four. 

And Mr. Murakami, where Hatter said, “The crapper?!” Thanks, Liz.

That’s very funny. Really relevant given where this conversation started her taking pictures on the crapper. Now we know an inside joke that I did not know about.

This is actually a dream from last night, I was in bed and she was poking me in the bed and I heard her laughing. Then the last thing was you and I were walking in Santa Monica on Fourth Street and we got to the overpass over Ocean Avenue. You said stop, “You’re ready there and you’re gonna take photos.” I said, “Okay, Frank. I like this like that.” And you gave me some little toy butterflies to pose. I couldn’t hear you because when I said “Frank, you didn’t finish your sentence!”

She talked a lot about dreams. She talked about mindfulness a lot. 

She was very much into it. She was taking cold showers back then. Which is really big now in all the longevity stuff. She used to take cold showers in the morning and she would pound her chest.

As I said, way ahead of her time. What was her first introduction to the classic Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland?

I’m sure it was in school but she never really talked about that much. She got into Alice only when she started collaborating with you and she started expanding. I think she wanted to update it. Add more to it. 

Author Liz Cavalier holding a pink and grey guide map with a bottle of Sapporo beer in the foreground.

Suddenly, we both became really aware of Alice and pop culture. “Did you hear that band has an Alice song?” Or she would send me a piece of art from a garden where the plants were Alice-themed or cut out.

I think she felt that the film and story were going to become not so literal and not so black and white, because I think I really believe people can understand metaphor now. Or accept gray areas, whereas before it had to be this way or that way. I really feel that Liz felt that everything was going toward where one symbol would mean many things. It wasn’t just one thing and there were many gray areas. In a way, everything’s become surreal. It’s almost unbelievable.

If you’ve just reread Zen of Wonder you can see she really communicates that successfully.

She does. She didn’t respect the powers that be, the elite. She felt that an individual had their own power and they could do whatever to make a difference. 

Do you remember she came up with a character for Whoopi Goldberg, the Queen of Clubs? The Queen of Clubs is best friends with Redd except she doesn’t believe in Redd’s ruling theories so she’s working behind the scenes. Then Redd finds out and it’s no good deed goes unpunished, off with the head. Liz would laugh and say, “Whoopi’ gonna die.” Then I had to tell Whoopi that on The View. It turns out that Whoopi Goldberg is a huge Alice fan and was in the TV movie. She narrates the Alice in Wonderland statues in Central Park in New York. 

The Queen of Clubs, inspired by Whoopi Goldberg, from the graphic novel "Hatter M: Love of Wonder" by Frank Beddor and Liz Cavalier.

The outpouring of support from her friends who reached out to me when we all got the news that her illness was terminal, which is a really hard moment in life to contemplate. She often shared with me some of the pain she was in and in doing that, I felt like I was a little bit on the journey with her. Because I know she was really private. And she didn’t, but we had

Most of her friends didn’t know. She didn’t want to tell anybody.

Why do you think that is?

She was so into organic food and cold showers. She said part of it was that she was embarrassed. With doing all that, that happened.

She described this growth that was in her stomach as this kind of alien. In the end, she just wanted it to get out and move on. I just thought she was incredibly brave and it really revealed, yet again, another side of her courage and her sentiment because she didn’t seem that afraid. Even though she was taken young, she prepared herself. She used to tell me, “Check in on Gary.”

She was always concerned about me because I was not worldly at all back in those days. I became so after Liz left because I had to. 

Thirty years is a long stretch with one person. It was a really great, successful run.

Author Liz Cavalier cooking wearing a white apron and blue turtleneck.

She lived a very full life. Maybe two or three lifetimes full and I told her so. She knew it. She did not die perfectly preserved. She was worn out because she did so much. That’s the way to live. 

If you just look at you and your family, the Beddors, you guys race cars, you’re flipping in the air off of ski jumps and risking your life or being paralyzed. You guys weren’t trying to stay perfectly preserved. You had the Sin Bin and, sorry about the Sin Bin, maybe your friends don’t want to hear about that. Your mom was the fastest car driver in her age group. She beat your father who was a big, wheeling dealing business guy. You guys live fast and full.

Thank you for that. The Sin Bin isn’t a big deal other than for my mom. I had moved out to Salt Lake City and was on the U.S. Ski Team. I had made a little bit of money and I bought a condominium. Very modest, but I bought a condominium and I called my mom and told her and for whatever reason, my mom associated that with a “Sin Bin” as she called it. “I don’t know what you’re doing living in a Sin Bin.” Somehow, condominiums were different from houses or apartments. I guess she had seen too many teen or college movies. I teased her relentlessly her entire life about the Sin Bin.

I’m sure it was squeaky clean.

It was far from squeaky clean. Squeaky maybe. Having a full life is what we all hoped for and Liz did. She made my life so much more exciting and richer. I really learned how to collaborate and communicate with somebody on both the creative side and the friendship side because, after 28 years, you’re gonna have your differences and you have to sort those things out. I’ve been lucky that I have a lot of long-term friendships and I attribute that to taking responsibility for my part of differences and being able to express that. She was equally good at that, which makes for a good friendship.

I related to a lot of the messages from Nekko to Hatter because Liz told me that she always saw me as Hatter. Not that I’m trying to get myself into your movie.

You’d be a good Hatter. 

Cover illustration by artist Vincent Proce for the graphic novel "Zen of Wonder" by Frank Beddor and Liz Cavalier.

Nekko’s messages to Hatter were, “Don’t be so rational. You gotta be open. Gotta be in the moment. Gotta be spontaneous.” Liz even got me to take an improv class. I’ve had many dreams since reading Zen of Wonder. I think one of the reasons she wrote Zen was to provoke insightful dreams in the readers, because all the characters are so surreal. 

She had all those Japanese demons which I didn’t realize there were so many.

For everything.

I thought Catholicism was scary.

Catholicism is scary.

You drew some characters for Liz and me for one of the graphic novels. You drew a Milliner, I believe.

Illustration of a Japanese soldier holding a spear, standing next to a stone castle tower, by artist Gary Murakami.
Illustration of a Japanese soldier holding a sword and wearing a shield on his back by artist Gary Murakami.

Yes, a Milliner. Sarah, your producer, sent them to me. I don’t wanna brag, but I was surprised by how good they were. They’re very flowing. 

They’re really good.

I mainly drew them for Liz because I think she always wanted me to be a visual artist. When I was young, that’s what they said I should be. I told everyone I was gonna become a graphic artist. I didn’t know what it was but it sounded really good and adults approved of it. “I’m gonna be a graphic artist. I’m gonna go to art school.” I was in line to do it until some other grade school kid’s mom called my mom and asked, “Which art school is Gary going to because I want to send my daughter?” My mom said, “What are you talking about?” But yeah, I left it for Liz to show you. She was encouraging me to do that. I like him. I was surprised.

I’ve gone back and looked at a lot of different artists and I’ve been surprised in terms of the different styles and what people have been able to produce in the world of Wonderland.

Originally, I guess Hatter was supposed to be bigger and bulkier like a bodybuilder. But I remember telling Liz, “No, I think you should be because of his skills, more like Bruce Lee.” More like a swimmer with a more athletic build and able to move quickly and all that just popped up. 

Still image of actor and martial artist Bruce Lee from the 1973 film "Enter the Dragon".

That was a really good choice. I think Bruce Lee is the perfect prototype for Hatter, a stranger in a strange land with a remarkable set of skills that many people underestimate. You get the satisfaction of the comeuppance for the know-it-alls or the baddies who think they can take anybody.

No matter what Tarantino says, Brad Pitt cannot beat Bruce Lee. 

That’s for sure. I’m going to keep you posted on the creative material that we’re trying to birth into the world that Liz was a part of, whether that’s Tsunami Surf Sisters, Sis Kipling, or Helmet Head. I was even thinking Eating Avalanches might make a nice nostalgic adventure story. So we keep her memory and her work alive.

I’m going to take the graphic novels and repackage them. I think as we move forward in terms of getting a TV show or a musical going, there’s going to be a resurgence in interest in reading the graphic novels. 

I’ll be going to Peru from the 14th to the 25th and apparently, there’s an underground city underneath Manta Picchu. I’m hoping to bribe somebody like $1,500 or something to get under there. We have a shaman, Don Juan, who’s going to be leading some meditation so maybe he can get me into that underground city and I’ll report to the Hatter Institute.

For any Hatter sightings or exotic artifacts, you might discover.

If you were a character from Alice in Wonderland, either my book or from Lewis Carroll’s book, would you think you’re Hatter Madigan, as Liz suggested? Or do you have another idea?

That or the free ghost Mr. Murakami, from the outhouse.

Okay, the character that you already are. All right, good. Thank you, Gary. Thanks for going down memory lane with me about one of the most important people in both of our lives, Liz Cavalier.

Yes, long live Liz. Thanks, Frank.

Long live my queen. Take care, buddy.

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