Revered Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins has long been a connoisseur of a good story. However, never did she anticipate a story of this magnitude when she met Fauna Hodel for coffee roughly 10 years ago.
At their meetup, a then 50-something-year-old Fauna unraveled a story that was truly unbelievable. If you’re not from California, chances are you won’t be familiar with the Hodel name. Fauna was the granddaughter to the infamous Los Angeles physician George Hodel, who in 1949 was accused and acquitted of molesting his 14-year-old daughter Tamar (Fauna’s mother), as well as being linked to the most notorious unsolved murder in L.A. history — the Black Dahlia. But that’s just one element to this twisted story.
Fauna’s story actually began when her mother, Tamar, gave birth at 16 and told everyone that the father of the baby was black. Outraged, Tamar’s parents gave Fauna away to a random black maid working at a Nevada casino, and it is from those unthinkable beginnings that writer Sam Sheridan crafted the complicated, multi-character, six-part TV series I Am the Night, which begins on TNT Jan. 28 and airs Mondays.
“I’ve told a lot of stories, and when I met Fauna Hodel and she told me her life story, I’d never had an experience like that,” Jenkins tells us. “Every time I thought I knew where it was headed, it would head in some other direction, and I just ended up being floored. I went home and started researching it, and it was just captivating in the most interesting way because I was deeply inspired by her — she was such a positive, uplifting person — and then deeply haunted. It was one of the scariest, most haunting stories I’ve ever heard once I got into who George Hodel was.”
But it was years after Jenkins’ original meeting with Fauna that the project actually came to fruition. “It was nothing but a strange coincidence that while I was making Wonder Woman, somebody else was trying to do her story, and I was just trying to advise [Fauna] on negotiating a good deal, and she just wouldn’t leave it alone, saying, ‘I know you’re the one. I know you’re the one who’s gonna do it.’ I was saying, ‘Fauna, I am too busy. I can’t. Don’t wait for me.’ And then, it’s so funny that it did work out this way, and she got to be there for us, developing it.” (Unfortunately, Fauna passed away when the series was in pre-production.)
It was also on the set of Wonder Woman when Jenkins shared the idea with her male lead and friend Chris Pine, who was equally as jaw-dropped over the story.
“Before there was even a mention of me doing it, Patty was just describing the story that she’d heard from Fauna and I said, ‘Yeah, you gotta do it, Patty. You gotta figure out a way to do it. It’s too good,’” Pine tells (pictured below with Jenkins on the set). “And then Sam Sheridan had an angle on how he could include me in the story, and the combination of a true crime with a tweak on the noir genre, and the character that they laid out for me — it just seemed too good to be true.”
For Pine it was a whirlwind as he wrapped Wonder Woman and immediately went to Scotland to film Outlaw King and then pushed to fit in I Am the Night before moving on to the upcoming Wonder Woman 1984.
“I have a lot of trust in Patty, and I told her I don’t have much time to prep, so just give me what you want, and give me the courage and foundation of this guy, and then let’s go off and play and see if we can discover it on set,” Pine shares.
What they discovered was a complicated, emotionally flawed but extremely likable individual in Pine’s character Jay Singletary, a disgraced reporter who is tortured by self-loathing and is desperate for a shot at redemption. That opportunity comes in 1965 when he meets Fauna Hodel (played mesmerizingly by India Eisley), who is seeking answers to her secretive origin.
“I think the great parallel between these two characters is that this young woman is trying to find who she is, and while she is trying to find who she is, Jay is trying to redefine the purpose of his life,” Pine says. “He’s the tragicomic antihero. When you meet him, he is at rock bottom, but I always like to find the humor in someone or, at least, the self-awareness that he’s got some life left in him. Even in those darkest, darkest moments, Jay is really funny.”
Pine blazingly infuses his charisma into this role and ultimately leaves viewers desperately wanting to see Jay get out of his coked-up trashy beat and find redemption and help Fauna. Every episode leaves you with more questions and pulls you deeper into this creepy, mysterious, unbelievable world that — remember — was actually inspired by true events. You won’t find a more captivating story.
Jenkins concludes in saying she hopes viewers will walk away believing, “Wow, that’s an incredible story and what an unbelievable, spiritually evolved person came out of that situation. What a beautiful story that is.”
I Am the Night airs on TNT Mondays at 9/8c beginning Jan. 28