When Zoë Kravitz got involved with the Hulu adaptation of High Fidelity and decided to play the role of romantically challenged record shop owner Rob, she reached out to the man who invented him: Nick Hornby. Kravitz and the show’s creators and showrunners, Veronica West and Sarah Kucserka, were already in the midst of developing the series when Kravitz and Hornby, the author of the 1995 novel that previously inspired the 2000 movie, met for the first time. The result was a collaboration (Hornby is also an executive producer of the series) that enhanced High Fidelity, originally written from the perspective of a white British guy, as it turned into a story about a woman of color in Brooklyn dealing with the same issues and the same level of interest in all things vinyl.
With High Fidelity now out, Kravitz and Hornby got together to discuss how they navigated that update, why it isn’t just about “wokeness,” and how it feels to be a woman in conversations where women aren’t seen as relevant.
Zoë, how did the series come about from your perspective?
Zoë Kravitz: Veronica and Sarah came to me with the idea of a pilot that was quite different than the pilot that we have now. Nick was not involved at the time. [High Fidelity] is one of my favorite books and films, and I felt very excited but also very protective of the source material, so it was important to me to have Nick involved. I had a lot of opinions about what this reboot was going to be like, so I got in touch with Nick and we hit it off. I really wanted his blessing and ended up getting a lot more than that. I ended up getting a producer and a writer who had wonderful ideas.
You said you were a big fan of the book and the movie. When did you first read and see them?
ZK: I knew about the movie, obviously from my mother’s involvement. I watched the film when I was 15 years old and read the book when I was 19 or something.
Nick Hornby: Why did it take four years? Four years?
ZK: I don’t know, I was busy making other kinds of mistakes, you know what I’m saying?
NH: Yeah, okay. That was a big one.
When you read the book, what spoke to you about it?
ZK: The person who I identified with in the story was not really any of the women, it’s the Rob character. Specifically his obsession with music and his ability to understand something so deeply and fall so short in other aspects of his life.
Nick, you’ve said a friend of a friend of Zoë’s put you two in touch and then you had a conversation about the show. What was that conversation like?
NH: I didn’t know very much about the show. This can happen when you sell film rights to a book. They’re gone and people can do what they want with them after that. Someone had told me there was a TV show in development, but I don’t think I’d spoken to anyone at that stage. And then Zoë reached out. We met and talked and I got really excited about what she was thinking of doing. I thought, I want to be involved in any way I can.
A lot of things carry over from the book, down to the dialogue, but obviously the series diverges from it, too. How did you decide which elements from the book would work and which wouldn’t?
ZK: Anything that got left out of the show is simply because we hope to have future seasons and time. There are some things that weren’t in the movie that we were really excited to explore, like Rob going to buy the record collection from the scorned wife and all that. That’s one of my favorite parts of the book.
NH: When anyone talked about the movie, it was like, “Why wasn’t that scene in the movie?” People really missed it. They shot it and Beverly D’Angelo played the scorned wife —
ZK: I’ve seen it!
NH: It’s one of those things in movies. If you can just lift a scene out whole to save time, they tend to be the first things that are cut.
In the show, I really liked the scene where Rob and Clyde go to check out the ex-husband. Everything he has to say about music, he directs at Clyde and ignores Rob. I have been in the woman in that conversation so many times, and I’m wondering if you’ve had the same experience. Does this happen to you?
ZK: Oh yeah, and not only with music but with anything. With film or just opinions in general. I’ve been around a lot of men who direct all of their attention to the other men in the room.
NH: It possibly could have happened more to Zoë. At some point in your life, hanging around with older musicians who were associated with your dad, your view is absolutely not being validated in that kind of environment.
ZK: Yeah, that’s absolutely true.
You’re right that this sort of gender stereotyping happens with a lot of subjects. There’s an assumption that as a woman, you don’t know that much or care that much about stuff like music, sports, and film.
ZK: Which is so crazy, especially with music. [Laughs] It doesn’t make any sense to put any kind of gender to music. It’s just bizarre.
NH: And movies, too. I think sports can be complicated, but movies and music, it’s ridiculous.
It doesn’t happen as much around television, I’ve found.
ZK: Oh, that’s interesting. Maybe because TV’s changing?
NH: Maybe that’s because we all started on the same page.
My theory is that for a long time, TV was seen as inferior, so there wasn’t a baked-in snobbishness like there is with film.
ZK: And in fact, it was made for women who would stay at home while the kids were at school and watch TV.
Zoë, were there moments in making the show when you thought, “How would a woman, or this particular woman, react in this situation?”
ZK: There were aspects of her character that people wanted to tone down, and I think that’s because I’m a woman. Not wanting her to be off-putting or too psychotic. John Cusack could get away with it just fine, and people romanticize that idea of a man. But when it’s a woman doing it, people want you to be liked. People want you to smile more. That was a conversation that I had to have with people, asking the question, “Would I be getting this note if I were a man? I’m not going to be less angry in this moment, I’m not going to be more likable, and I’m not going to smile more.”
NH: Actually, the same kinds of criticisms were both applied to the book and the movie anyway. It was nothing to do with gender. It was like, does this guy have to be so sulky and quiet and bitter? That, to me, was an important part of the character. Rob is chronically low on confidence in the book. You can certainly find men and women who feel that way.
Nick, what kinds of notes or suggestions did you have as they were making the show?
NH: I read each script and I sent Zoe any thoughts that I had. I think I wrote a few lines here and there.
ZK: The Fleetwood Mac bit at the opening of the show, which is the first time when we hear Rob talk about music, that was all Nick.
NH: We were talking about Michael Jackson and what could be redeeming about Off the Wall. I think the horn charts [line] was my idea, but then Questlove told me that they got them wrong anyway.
ZK: No, no, he didn’t say they got it wrong. He said he had a different opinion.
NH: No, no, he said Quincy Jones had a horn arranger. If I would have known, that would have been a really cool thing [to include].
In terms of the music that’s discussed and incorporated into the soundtrack, how much was in the script? How much of it did you two discuss? The show’s musical canvas is really wide.
ZK: A lot of it was written into the scripts. I started making this playlist during the writing process and it grew and grew and grew, and we were very fortunate to clear a lot of the songs. Amir [Questlove] had input; we had great music supervisors. When we couldn’t get a song, we would find something we loved just as much, if not more. But these are all musicians and songs that I love. I love all different kinds of music. It was easy to go from Fleetwood Mac to Frank Ocean. I love them equally.
NH: When Zoë and I met, I liked her a lot and thought she was really smart. Then she sent me this playlist that she’d made for the show. The breadth and depth of the playlist, I was in absolutely no doubt that the show was in the right hands. It was insane what was on there.
Kravitz: Since then, me and Nick have become playlist buddies. He sends me tons of playlists. They’ve become a bit of an addiction.
Do you send him ones, too?
ZK: I’ve been really lazy. Honestly, it’s been a one-sided thing for a minute. I need to get my shit together.
NH: It’s unrequited at the moment.
ZK: I’m just taking and taking and taking.
I would feel so intimidated trying to make him a playlist.
ZK: I don’t feel intimidated. Especially because he loved the first one I made and we’ve talked about music and I think we have very similar taste. It’s funny, though: We had lunch in London and I was saying that I felt really behind on current-day music and he sent me this great playlist of the year’s best albums. Nick is educating me on the newest music.
NH: That’s because I don’t let you have an opinion of your own.
ZK: [Laughs] I do and say as Nick tells me.
Nick, you wrote in a Rolling Stone article that “If I catch anyone saying it’s self-consciously ‘woke,’ what with its gender reversals and its inclusion of more than one race/sexuality, I will come ’round to your house and put you back to sleep. Because, guess what: High Fidelity isn’t just about you. It’s about people who aren’t like you, too.” Can you elaborate on that?
Hornby: The whole thing about political correctness and wokeness can be an incredibly white perspective. Like, “Oh, they’re only doing this because it’s in the zeitgeist that you’ve got to gender flip things and you’ve got to be more inclusive with your casting.” Where does that leave women or people of color who actually want to make the stuff? They’re not being politically correct. It’s just who they are. Of course, the original readership for High Fidelity was pretty much white guys like me.
And then me and Zoë.
ZK: [Laughs] Yeah.
NH: And then it went on and on and on and it spread and spread and spread. Like, I know Questlove read the book and it meant something to him. Anyone who wants to say there is something ungenuine about this project, it really irritates me.
At the end of the book, that’s also the lesson that Rob learns. He recognizes that he should be less judgmental of people based upon what their tastes are.
NH: Yeah, that’s the journey he goes on in the book. His final gesture to Laura of making a playlist of songs that she might actually like, rather than something that he thinks she needs to know about, is some mark of increasing emotional maturity. It’s interesting: The consumption of books and music and movies is still incredibly important to me, but I’ve realized as I’ve gotten older that it’s a very personal journey. It’s fantastic when you find people who share your passions, but you’re never going to make things mean as much to other people if they’re not that way inclined anyway.
Zoë, please disagree with me if I’m wrong, but it seems like Rob already has a better sense of that lesson in the TV series.
ZK: It’s definitely less heavy-handed. I think that there is room to explore that a little bit deeper, though. In this show, the ex who she’s getting over, Mac, was very similar to her. In future seasons if, let’s say, she and Clyde did end up together, I would like to see her have to deal with that. What dating a guy who likes Phish is like for someone like Rob.