John Adams is about to get star treatment -- and justifiably so, says Tom Hanks, co-executive producer of an epic seven-part, 81/2-hour, $100 million HBO miniseries premiering Sunday (8 ET/PT).
Based on historian David McCullough's Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of the same name, John Adams captures the career and personal life of the second president and the nation's rise from British rule to independence.
"Unless you're an American history buff, most people don't know a whole lot about John Adams," Hanks says. "That's the beauty of McCullough's book. It's a total surprise. We wanted to bring his work to life in a way that will constantly surprise people."
Hanks is a history buff whose Playtone Productions made HBO's Emmy-winning miniseries "Band of Brothers" and "From the Earth to the Moon." He says that as he dived into Adams' biography, "I was slapping my head, saying 'I never knew this.' "
Aside from his presidency, Adams is perhaps best known as a Founding Father. McCullough reveals a wider expanse of Adams' life, including his bond with Thomas Jefferson, his erstwhile diplomatic career, his loving, six-decade relationship with wife Abigail and, as a defense attorney, his gaining acquittals for British soldiers charged with murder after the Boston Massacre. "It's a scholarly tome but still loaded with so many utterly human details that put it into perspective," Hanks says.
Hanks, who does not act in the miniseries, was among several Hollywood producers interested in bringing Adams to TV. "The only questions were: How expensive was it going to be? How long is it going to be?"
Filmed largely in Virginia and Budapest, Hungary, with a cast including Paul Giamatti as Adams and Laura Linney as Abigail, Adams is "clearly up there as one of the most expensive things we've done," says HBO Films chief Colin Callender.
McCullough was moved by Hanks' interest when they had breakfast for two hours in Sun Valley, Idaho, several years ago. He recalls Hanks opening a dog-eared, note-filled copy of his book. "Tom loved it and was deadly serious," McCullough said. "He wanted to know how important some scenes would be. I realized very quickly he'd do it the right way."
McCullough is pleased with the results, particularly Kirk Ellis' script. "I was really worried about it becoming a costume pageant. But the accuracy can be seen in every detail, in the atmosphere of the scenes and in the language. People can't imagine a biographer loving what filmmakers have made of his work, but I love it."