Harriet Warner and Colin Callender Subvert Expectations with STARZ's new Dangerous Liaisons

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Dangerous Liaisons first sparked the imagination with the epistolary novel by Pierre Chordelos de Laclos, published in 1782.

It has seen many iterations, including operas, ballets, and many films and television adaptations.

Perhaps most famous is the 1988 film directed by Stephen Frears, starring Glenn Close, John Malkovich, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Uma Thurman, written by Christopher Hampton, based on his successful play.

Dangerous Liaisons Wide

This latest version sees a story focusing on the rise of Valmont and the Marquise de Merteuil and how they found their place in the French aristocracy.

We had the pleasure of speaking to creator/showrunner Harriet Warner and executive producer Collin Callender about what we can expect from this racy new take on a classic.

Camille & Pascal - Dangerous Liaisons

We've seen many remakes of this story, so what inspired you to take these characters into a prequel?

Colin Callender: I began by asking, "What is it about Dangerous Liaisons that has made it continue to be part of the landscape of modern culture, even 300 years after the book was published? What is it about the book that endures, and what could we explore in television over time, with characters, that you couldn't do with a single movie or a play?"

At the core of it, there are two things. One is that it's a love story, albeit a fractured and tragic one.

But it's also the story of a woman trying to navigate a man's world. That's as relevant today as it was back in the latter part of the 18th century. and that was what I came to Harriet with.

Genevieve - Dangerous Liaisons

Harriet Warner: Obviously, [I wanted] to work with Colin, who's such a brilliant man in this industry. He was excited about this project, so I really wanted to find a way to do it.

There have been so many adaptations. Christopher Hampton's was such a seminal piece of work that it was so true to the book, Cruel Intentions was a brilliant contemporary version. So I wanted to make sure there was something sustaining to say.

[I wanted something that] would survive the brilliant luxury of time we have with TV but also the scrutiny of smart viewers with so much choice.

So, I looked again at the novel, and when re-reading, this one particular letter really stood out to me, Letter 81, which was from the Marquise de Merteuil.

Camille - Dangerous Liaisons

It's this extraordinary mission statement where she talks about how she has created herself and that, essentially, she's built a facade, she is a construct.

She's done it to negotiate, navigate, and survive in this world. My interpretation of that was, "Wow, the need for all of this really feels like she's not necessarily from that world."

That was the spark for me, the idea that maybe that was a whole landscape to explore, of her past, how she gets to be that character and gets to come into this world with which she's clearly not at ease.

I suggested to Colin that what we might have here is a prelude rather than an adaptation, and therefore we can use the brilliant novel as our inspiration. Season 1 really does deliver the world of the novel -- the seductions, the wit, the humor, the schemes...

CC: ...the danger!

Rose - Dangerous Liaisons

HW: Ours is more dangerous because the stakes are so much higher. We are at a point before these two extraordinary characters play games. We are at the point when all these things matter, and [the characters] are driven by past events, so that was exciting. We were both thinking, "This is the way into the show."

The female gaze is so strong in this version, as opposed to the original, in which the male gaze is almost jarring from a contemporary lens. How did you ensure that these characters were portrayed more equitably?

CC: The female gaze was more than just a strategic narrative device. It's central to the whole endeavor.

HW: In going against the original movie and original material, I was very struck, as a woman, as a feminist, to see essentially rape dressed up as seduction. I didn't know how to take that character or how to want to love that character, Valmont.

Valmont Desired - Dangerous Liaisons

So, to me, one of the key challenges and ambitions of this version of Dangerous Liaisons was to really understand how we get to this damaged narcissist that we meet in the novel and to understand the journey for him particularly.

To see that as a story of fragile masculinity was exciting, to think maybe there was a way to go with Valmont, and he's a character that is very hard not to understand and love now. But also not to take away the danger of him and what he does.

I do think we understand why he's driven to do it in the same way that Camille is driven to try and avenge her past, and that obviously impacts who she is now and how she behaves.

It was always so key that this would be a story driven hugely by a female character. [A type] that we definitely haven't had enough of.

Camille & Victoire - Dangerous Liaisons

Camille always came, in a way, fully formed to this space of the past, of her past, as an agent of change and a sort of revolution in herself.

That was always just a real moment where she landed.

Then talking about her with Colin, we realized that she] is a character who can continue and embrace the huge changes in the time and events and that period of French history.

Check out the video from our interview with Collin and Harriet here:

Dangerous Liaisons premieres November 6 at 9 p.m. on STARZ.

Watch for more interviews with the cast this week and full reviews and recaps as the show airs.

Mary Littlejohn Mary Littlejohn is a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She loves television, cinema, and theatre (especially musicals!), particularly when it champions inclusivity, diversity, and social justice. Follow her on Twitter.

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Dangerous Liaisons Quotes

Pascal: Didn’t I promise you the brightest future when I took you on here?
Azolan: You did, though it still remains too bright to see with the human eye.

You are my glorious release. Desire has made me fearless, and reckless with my reputation.