Black Bird EP Kary Antholis On Casting & Filming Apple TV+ Series, Working With Ray Liotta & Johnny Depp Trial

When Kary Antholis in 2019 stepped down as President, HBO Miniseries and Cinemax Programming, to launch Crime Story Media, his exit package included him staying on as executive producer on projects he had developed at the network that tackle crime and criminal justice. That included David Simon and George Pelecanos’ limited series We Own This City, which premiered April 25, and Dennis Lehane’s Black Bird, which ended up moving to Apple TV+. Headlined by Taron Egerton and Paul Walter Hauser and featuring Ray Liotta in his final TV role, the series premieres July 8.

Crime Story, dedicated to content that explores the criminal legal process, quickly made its mark in the podcast arena with The Crime Story Podcast, hosted by Antholis, which has produced 370 episodes so far; Firebug; as well as Jury Duty distributed by Acast, which has amassed 3.2 million downloads to date with its three seasons focused on the Robert Durst trial, the Ahmaud Arbery murder and the Kyle Rittenhouse trial. There will be a bonus Robert Durst trial season next built around Antholis’ exclusive 10-hour interview with the prosecutor on the case, John Lewin.

Additionally, Antholis has closed a deal with Entertainment One to fund and distribute a new Crime Story podcast series, Night Raid, hosted by Molly Miller, which is based on her article series, “Mongol – The Trial of David Martinez.” It tells the story of Martinez, the target of a chaotic 2014 SWAT raid that resulted in the death of an officer. Antholis describes the story as being in the vein of HBO’s The Night Of as it focuses on a guy who is accused of killing a police officer. The plan is to develop the podcast as a scripted television series, one of multiple scripted TV projects Crime Story has in the works. That includes the previously announced HBO limited series based on Season 3 of Serial. Writer Shola Amoo has written two scripts for the project, which is awaiting the network’s decision. 

Filmed in New Orleans, Lehane’s prison drama Black Bird, based on James Keene’s 2010 autobiographical novel, faced multiple challenges.

“We were doing it, obviously, in the middle of the pandemic; by the end we were being tested for Covid five days a week. We had a hurricane to deal with right in the middle of our shooting. We evacuated from New Orleans on a Friday, and we were shooting three weeks later,” Antholis said.

Still, he called making the series “an extraordinary experience,” which started with the scripts. “I remember that we did a Zoom read-through of the entire script over a day, and everybody was just blown away. I’ve never seen a read-through go like that in all my time as an executive.”

Assembling Black Bird‘s leading duo of British actor Taron Egerton as Jimmy Keene, who is sentenced to 10 years in a minimum security prison, and Paul Walter Hauser as suspected serial killer Larry Hall whose confession Keene is tasked with extracting, also was part of that.

The producers and Apple TV+ first reached out to Egerton who loved the script and signed on. Hauser was one of handful of actors in consideration to play Larry Hall. After Lehane had a couple of conversations with Hauser, “Dennis was completely locked in on Paul as the choice,” Antholis said.

The two did not do chemistry reads beforehand, and “they come at acting in different ways — Taron is trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts he comes at the craft from a more kind of British tradition of acting, and Paul spent many years as a stand-up comedian and has a more intuitive approach to the craft,” Antholis said. “But it worked for the two characters, and it worked for their dynamic on set. They really did develop a chemistry. We shot the series out of order, but most of the Larry and Jimmy scenes were shot in sequence. So we didn’t shoot the climactic moments of the story until towards the very end of our shoot. And I think that worked for the evolving actor-to-actor relationship for the two of them.”

Liotta has a small role in Black Bird as Jimmy’s father, reuniting with Antholis.

“I had worked with Ray before, when I was an executive. Coincidentally, I did this podcast called Firebug last year, and it was a story of John Orr. In the early 2000s, as an exec in the movie division at HBO, we made a movie about that story, and Ray played John Orr,” Antholis said.

“Ray adored Dennis, he was so grateful to Dennis for the opportunity to do this. And if anything, he just wished that Dennis had written him a bigger part. Beyond the memorial that Dennis wrote that you guys published, at this screening last week, he mentioned a couple of things and one was that Ray asked Dennis if he was writing a part for him in his next thing, and Dennis said, ‘I’m writing something for you in anything I do, Ray’ and Ray said, ‘Well, can we just make sure it’s a bigger part?’”

“Ray had that kind of spirit but he was also all business, he was focused, and if something didn’t make sense, he wasn’t inhibited about telling people about it. He was a pro, he set the tone for everybody in terms of professionalism and in terms of intensity. But he was also extremely appreciative and grateful for the work. I know that Dennis asked Ray to sign his Something Wild poster, and Ray was so touched by Dennis thinking of him for the part that he was very emotional and wrote a very touching dedication on this poster to Dennis.”

Antholis also has reunited with his two former bosses at HBO, Richard Plepler, who is an executive producer on Black Bird and helped set the project up at Apple TV+ via his deal there after HBO had passed on it, and Michael Lombardo, who runs television for eOne.

Covering trials is Crime Story’s bread and butter, so what did Antholis, who is a lawyer by trade, thought of the Johnny Depp-Amber Heard trial?

“It’s funny, I wondered whether it was a missed opportunity for us to do a daily podcast. And, in retrospect, if I had to do it over, I might have gone for it. I was blown away by how tuned in people were to that. I think people are interested in complex, especially star-driven stories,” he said. “I’m hoping that the judge allows us to cover the Danny Masterson trial when that starts — we covered some of the preliminary hearings — I think people will find it very compelling. I’m a little skeptical that Charlaine Olmedo, the judge, is going to allow cameras and audio in the courtroom, but I hope that the courts continue to allow access to cameras and audio recording to let people experience these things. I think they get a view of how the justice system worked.”

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