Mark Bomback shares why Defending Jacob was the perfect novel to adapt

The Apple TV+ crime drama Defending Jacob is filled with suspense, and showrunner Mark Bomback tells FanSided how he adapted this exciting series.

It takes drama, insanely interesting characters, and an invested crew to pull off Apple TV+’s latest limited series Defending Jacob. The show stars Chris Evans, Michelle Dockery and Jaeden Martell as the Barber family who get taken on the ride of their lives when their young son, Jacob, is accused of murdering his classmate.

What follows is an intense eight episodes of a crime drama as Jacob’s innocence is constantly trying to be proved by his father and his mother, even when they can’t always come to terms with believing he’s not guilty. The series comes as an adaptation of William Landay’s Defending Jacob novel, in which showrunner and writer Mark Bomback drew his inspiration from.

Bomback was able to chat with FanSided via Zoom where we asked him all about the series. But be warned now (since the series is released weekly), we won’t be discussing any spoilers about the show’s ending. Read on past the trailer to hear Bomback’s initial thoughts about the show. And then head back to FanSided once the finale drops to hear more about how the conclusion came together.

FanSided: I’m glad I got you here, Mark. I watched the whole series and I was like, “Oh my gosh, I’m really excited to pick your brain about this.” I wanted to know right off the bat, what about the original novel inspired you to adapt it?

Well, I have four kids. And my central preoccupation is how good — or more often how bad — a job I’m doing raising them with my wife. So there was something about this particular nightmare in the book that really grabbed me. You know, we all are, in many ways, captive to our unconditional love for our children.

And I just thought it was a very particular dread that the book managed to evoke in a parent. And to me, the best stories are always ones where you say… “Oh, this feels like something [where] I could have seen myself going down this road.” And the fantasy is that I would somehow do better than the characters in the story. And so when you do something like this, especially if you write all eight, you’re going to spend a long, long time with the story. So I had to have it be something that I really cared about and responded to.

And then as a writer, I’m most excited about– you know, if you look at the kind of films I’ve worked on, they’re all kind of genre movies, different genres, but they’re genre movies; what I try to do is find a genre that is allowing me to also just think about what it means to be a human being, to be a parent, to be a child. And then ideally, there are certain stories that come along like this one that are enhanced by that exploration that, you know, thinking about the pure drama of it actually enhances, hopefully, the tension and the thriller of it. And the tension and the thriller of it makes you that much more invested in what’s happening as parents and spouses interact.

And you know, I’m going to get back to the theme of family in a minute, but I first wanted to ask about the stylization of the show. It’s got this cool kind of filter over it, and it’s kind of moody. Was that your idea? Or how did that come about?

No, I mean, it was something that Morten Tyldum (the director) and I discussed early on was this notion of really– we wanted to feel when you’re inside, you know, that a lot of the source lighting was going to come from what’s happening through a window. We really like the idea of exteriors and interiors, and then — and this is going to sound totally pretentious — it’s sort of thematically on point with the show, which is public and there’s private. And also, that part of the world in New England, you know, other than a bright summer day, does have that feeling to it. So we were trying to go for that feeling, too. So that’s where it came from.

I’ve actually never been to Massachusetts, so now I’m never going to go there!

Now you’re gonna steer clear, yeah!

Yeah! So going back to the idea about family and the themes, of course, include family and fatherhood as well. At one point, Billy (J.K. Simmons) is in prison talking to Andy (Chris Evans) and he says, “You can be a good man or you can be a good father. You get to choose.” In writing Andy’s character, did you picture him or make him out to be a good man or a good father?

That’s a great question. I think that Andy is someone who has chosen a career that he thinks is quite noble. I mean, you can argue that there’s lots of moral gray areas to being a prosecutor, but I think he’s someone who thought he was doing this to protect people and to serve his community. And really probably to an extent, it was a reaction to what his father had done, and I think he was drawn to the law in that way.

So I think he’s always defined himself as trying to be a good person, but I think he lives with this nightmare that somewhere inside of him, he is the son of someone who is capable of doing something terrible, and he is very aware that he has built a marriage with a lie underneath it, and I don’t think he did it with any nefarious intentions. I think he did it because it was a survival mechanism for him. But nevertheless, he did it.

And so I think, ultimately, that is the question he has to ask himself is, “If I am a good man and do things that could potentially hurt my own child, to what extent am I even still a good man?” And then, “If I’m a good father, does that automatically forgive anything I do?” on the other side of the equation. So it is, to me, really the seesaw that he’s dealing with the whole show.

And from your perspective, there are just so many characters who are like, well, they are characters! They all come with their own complex sides. So who, personally, do you find to be the most fascinating character in the show?

The most fascinating character in the show? You know, it’s funny. In the book, she’s just a throwaway. But the character Sarah was someone who I kept on trying to find more and more opportunities to return to — the girl that Jacob gets involved with.

Hopefully, it’s successful in the show that when you really step back and see what her actions were, she concealed pretty big evidence for a while. And you can’t tell to what extent she’s involved with Jacob because she actually likes him or because she’s driven by some sense of guilt. And I had a whole backstory for Sarah where her dad left when she was young. I had a whole thing going on with Sarah.

I just really liked that character. I think in some ways because she was a bit of an invention and… she’s not a ray of warmth, but she is a sense of normalcy to the show.

I never thought about that!

I have three daughters, so I had plenty to work from!

More: Review: Defending Jacob

Defending Jacob begins streaming on Apple TV+ April 24. Head back to FanSided Entertainment when Defending Jacob’s season finale releases to read the rest of Bomback’s interview and his reaction to the series finale.

This interview has been edited for clarity and spoilers.

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