HBO Italian drama considers the meaning of friendship

‘My Brilliant Friend’ – From Italy to HBO

Elisa Del Genio (left) and Ludovica Nasti star in “My Brilliant Friend,” premiering Sunday on HBO.

A quiet contemplation of the meaning of friendship is not something often seen on this side of the Atlantic, so HBO has turned to Italian broadcaster Rai 1 for help.

Premiering Sunday, Nov. 18, the eight-episode drama “My Brilliant Friend” tells the story of the 60-year friendship of two women from the perspective of Elena, an elderly lady who sits down at her computer to write her memoirs after learning of the apparent disappearance of the most important friend in her life.

And with that, we are whisked back to 1950s Naples, where Elena (Elisa Del Genio) and Lila (Ludovica Nasti) are young children, the former the teacher’s pet and the latter a wild child who resents her. Nonetheless, a complicated friendship forms as they negotiate life in a poor Neapolitan neighborhood.

Based on the best-selling book by Elena Ferrante, the series was filmed in Italian with English captions. But, explains executive producer Jennifer Schuur, that was one of the few concessions made to an American audience.

“There’s so many American fans of the book,” Schuur says, “like it’s a pretty rabid fan base here. And I cannot relate to growing up in the 1950s in Naples in a very poor section of that city … war ravaged and all of that. Yet there are so many universal themes in the book that I think any reader can relate to that we just sort of leaned on those to talk to a worldwide audience.”

Audiences will also likely be taken with the two young actresses, Nasti and Del Genio, both of whom delivered eye-opening performances in their acting debuts.

“For the young Lila, she sort of had to have a feral quality to her,” Schuur says. “And Ludovica Nasti, she just walked in with that on day one. You could just see the set to her jaw and this strength of purpose in the way she carried herself. And so that became a very clear choice for us.

“And then for Elisa Del Genio, she had to play sort of very observant and watchful, sort of the good girl. The yin to Lila’s yang. And so when we found her with those big eyes and those curls, we thought this could be a really magical pairing. … They had brought a lot of natural ability and comfortability in front of the camera.”

George Dickie

George Dickie

George Dickie has been a features writer for Gracenote/Tribune Media Services since 1989, when “Hee-Haw” was still on the air and George “Goober” Lindsay was his first interview. His early interviews ranged from Jim Henson and Dick Van Dyke to Phil Collins and the Dixie Chicks.

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