Photo by Alex Bailey

‘Will’ Premiere Is (Finally) Here

A decade after HBO passed on the drama, twentysomething-Shakespeare series debuts on TNT

Craig Pearce, creator of the young-Shakespeare drama Will, has waited a long time for a premiere party tied to the show, which debuts on TNT Monday night. The project has been 10 years in the works, starting with HBO. He recalls delivering the pilot script to that network’s executives, and says they loved it. Only problem was, HBO had Game of Thrones in development, and Pearce says he was told that was enough high concept, period piece stuff for the network.

And so he kept shopping it.

Will looks at William Shakespeare, around age 25, arriving in London with hopes of being a part of the city’s lively, down-and-dirty theater scene. Pearce, who wrote the screenplay for Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 film Romeo + Juliet, said Shakespeare remains a vastly unknown figure. “He’s the most famous person in the world, but no one knows anything about him,” Pearce says.

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Shakespeare’s work is as timely as ever, Pearce believes. “We recognize ourselves in all of his characters,” he says. “He reminds us of our humanity.”

Pearce admits he “came late to the party” in television, and it was shows like Breaking Bad and The Wire that hooked him to the medium. And so he chose television—not film or drama—to tell the story of young Shakespeare. “Television allows you to take your character on a long journey, a long arc,” he says.

He mentions similarities between theater in Shakespeare’s time, in the late 1500s, and television today. Both mediums are widely consumed, endlessly discussed, and constantly in need of fresh material. “There’s a correlation between the energy and creativity and newness of theater then, and television now,” he says.

Will was shot in Wales. Newcomer Laurie Davidson plays Shakespeare. Other cast includes Colm Meaney as theater impresario James Burbage, the Aussie Olivia DeJonge as Alice Burbage and Jamie Campbell Bower as playwright Christopher Marlowe.

Pearce says Davidson made a strong impression. “He’d never been on a film set before,” he says. “He just nailed it.” (You can see the premiere early here.)

And the premiere party. Pearce says there will be a private screening for the cast and crew in London. “I might have one or two glasses of wine after,” he says.