Tom Hank’s performance as Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon in movies based on the books of Dan Brown – “The Da Vinci Code,” “Angels and Demons” and “Inferno” – provided enough puzzle power to create a desire for more productions. The major buzz after “Inferno” was that Brown’s 2009 book, “The Lost Symbol,” was next in line for the big screen.
That never happened. Instead, the book has been adapted into a television series slated to launch on the streaming service Peacock on Sept. 16. The series premieres with one episode and a new episode will be available each Thursday.
Brian Grazer was an executive producer for “Inferno” and serves in the same capacity with “Dan Brown’s ‘The Lost Symbol.’” He says the original plan was to make a movie and work had started on a film script. Those plans were changed when the pandemic changed the way films and TV shows could be produced and when the story grew bigger than the typical 120-minute package for a feature film.
“As we see right now, certainly in our modern cinema or video, both, that cinematic form just takes size and shape differently all the time. It’s so fluid that way,” Grazer says. “So, we found that the character was so strong that the character and his journey actually warranted and sustained itself as a series as opposed to a movie.”
“Dan Brown’s ‘The Lost Symbol’” follows the early adventures of young Langdon (Ashley Zuckerman) who must solve a series of deadly puzzles to save his kidnapped mentor and thwart a chilling global conspiracy. The cast of “also includes Valorie Curry (“Blair Witch”), Sumalee Montano (“10 Cloverfield Lane”), Rick Gonzalez (“Arrow”), Eddie Izzard (“Ocean’s Thirteen”) and Beau Knapp (“Seven Seconds”).
Stepping into a role played by multiple-Oscar winner Tom Hanks to be part of a project based on a book loved by millions of fans comes with some natural places to feel pressure. Zuckerman had a different reaction.
“Pressure was not the first thing I felt. I was just genuinely honored to have been chosen. I know this is material that just means a lot to people, and to have been chosen to join that family was just a big thing,” Zuckerman says. “I think maybe something that helped me not feel that pressure was that even though this is the third book of the series, we are using it as an origin story.
“So, there is a distance we have from that timeline. Actually studying the book, I could actually look for clues and behaviors to unravel and sort of present the person who was going to become the character everyone loves. I’m not someone that’s immune to feeling pressure, but for some reason, that was not something I felt.”
It helps that Zuckerman has put together a long list of acting credits that helped him prepare for this latest challenge. The California native has worked on such projects as “Rush,” “Terra Nova,” “The Code,” “Designated Survivor” and “A Teacher.”
There was not an effort to find someone who was a perfect match to Hanks when the cast was being put together for “The Lost Symbol.” Glazer saw in Zuckerman the same qualities that Hanks brought to the role and that was enough.
Casting was critical because Brown’s books have such a strong following. Glazer has a theory as to why the books by Brown and projects based on his writing have been so popular. It’s because the world is filled with secret symbols that guide people toward or away from things.
Brown also has been big on conspiracy theories and secret groups. Those elements have always been looked at in a fun and entertaining way through the books and movies. A little more concern was put into dealing with those elements for the television show because of recent events.
The script for the first episode of “The Lost Symbol” was written long before the events of Jan. 6. Executive producer Dan Dworkin was surprised how much the script would end up reflecting what was happening in the real world.
“Right off the bat with Langdon’s first lecture, he is essentially talking about that very thing, and we kind of framed him as a character who believes that myth when taken too seriously can metastasize into conspiracy, which can become zealotry, which can become something quite dangerous,” Dworkin says. “That’s why he’s kind of opposed to some of the things he’s bumping up against in the series reflexively.
“Throughout the series, he becomes a little more open to some of these ideas despite his kind of reflexive instincts.”