13 Things About The My Brilliant Friend TV Adaptation All Elena Ferrante Fans Need To Know

The HBO adaptation of Elena Ferrante's book My Brilliant Friend is arriving on Sunday, November 18, and all we can wistfully sigh is, "At last." After countless articles fantasizing about the adaptations' dream cast, we'll see the official visualization of the books that set off a little something called "Ferrante fever." Ferrante's quartet about two women growing up in post-war Naples ignited a rare kind of literary craze.
The series' foray into prestige TV seemed almost inevitable — but with a series this beloved, the stakes were high. Luckily, we can say the adaptation clings to the source material accurately, thanks in part to the interventions of the enigmatic author, who goes by a pen name. When you see Elena Greco and Lina Cerullo on screen, you'll recognize them immediately by their faces, as well as by the mountain of emotion that exists just a level below their expressions, occasionally peaking through.
My Brilliant Friend catches Elena and Lina at the start of their winding lives. They're bright young girls who recognize in one another an aching hunger to be more than what their traditional, rigid community in Naples has dreamt for them. The next three novels follow the repercussions of their ambition — and, most memorably, tracks their thorny, compelling, occasionally toxic friendship.
This is what we know you want to know about the adaptation of My Brilliant Friend.
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For the uninitiated, this is what the Neapolitan Novels are about.

Elena Ferrante's four-book series begin when Elena Greco, a woman in her 60s, receives a call that her old friend, Lina Cerullo, has suddenly disappeared. Elena doesn’t seem terribly surprised. This revelation prompts Elena to write the long story of their friendship, beginning with the events depicted in My Brilliant Friend. In that first novel, Lina and Elena meet as elementary schoolers in a post-World War II Naples community set on dimming their fire and eventually marrying them off. The next books — The Story of a New Name, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, and The Story of the Lost Child — track the rest of their lives. The elderly Elena tries to parse her younger self's motivations and dreams, and does the same for Lina.
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Maria Laura Antonelli/REX/Shutterstock
Elena Ferrante hand-picked the series’ director.

Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels are beloved for their crisp depiction of women’s inner lives. However, the HBO adaptation was directed by a man — a man who came with the Ferrante stamp of approval. Saverio Costanzo is a Roman director most famous for his 2014 movie Hungry Hearts, which starred Adam Driver.

Costanzo’s relationship with Ferrante goes back to 2007, back when he was a young director looking to adapt her novella The Lost Daughter. Despite being dissatisfied with the past two adaptations of her novellas, Ferrante agreed that Costanzo could have rights to The Lost Daughter for six months. But Costanzo couldn’t make the script work. After six months of laboring, he renounced the rights. Ferrante was out of touch for the next nine years, while Costanzo's career grew.

Then, in 2016, Costanzo got an unexpected call saying Ferrante had put his name forward to direct the TV adaptation of her Neapolitan Novels. A few weeks later, producers called to say he got the job, one to which he had never applied. Though Costanzo spoke of his initial hesitations to the New York Times, he decided he couldn’t pass up a second chance to adapt Ferrante’s work.

Pictured: Saverio Costanzo
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Eduardo Castaldo/HBO Margherita Mazzucco.
Don’t worry: Ferrante was heavily involved in the writing process.

Costanzo and Ferrante were in dialogue while he was writing the script for the series. She was a very vocal critic. Costanzo recalls her saying at certain points, "'This dialogue is ridiculous, the way she talks here is ridiculous.’” In addition to tweaking the language, she was involved with the series' structure. Ferrante insisted that Costanzo preserve the wedding banquet at the end of My Brilliant Friend. She has a screenplay credit in the series.
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Eduardo Castaldo/HBO Margherita Mazzucco.
The casting process was quite an undertaking.

It took eight months and 9,000 auditions from an open casting call for the producers of My Brilliant Friend to find the four women who would portray the characters Lina and Elena in their youth and teenage years. All four are amateur actresses.

According to the New York Times, Costanzo and his casting director were looking for girls who could convey the books’ interiority, girls with ‘sad eyes’ and ‘something a bit broken.’” Costanzo used a metaphor from Ferrante as a compass throughout the casting process. “Imagine that the lines an actress reads are a river that runs calmly along the surface of the earth. Then imagine that the actresses are the earth, and that under the earth is another river, a wilder one whose current leaps in the opposite direction, whose roar is muted. Every time the actress speaks her lines, she must offer a glimpse of the river that runs beneath: the mysterious churn of her consciousness, the lawlessness of a person’s doubts or desires,” Merve Emre summarized in her New York Times profile.
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Eduardo Castaldo/HBO Margherita Mazzucco.
This is what young Elena Greco looks like.

The casting of My Brilliant Friend has been the stuff of fantasy for a while. At last, we know the answer. Elisa Del Genio (11) plays young Elena. Del Genio, who is half-Norwegian and from Naples, had accompanied her younger brother to an open audition. He was passed up for looking too Nordic, but Del Genio was cast for the leading part.

“I feel really close to Elena. We are both shy,” Del Genio told the Orlando Sentinel. “I think we are both internally much stronger than people would think if they saw us from the outside.”
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Eduardo Castaldo/HBO Margherita Mazzucco.
This is what teenage Elena looks like.

It took Margherita Mazzucco a while to warm up to her character, Elena. According to Vanity Fair, Mazzucco auditioned after seeing a flyer at school. At first, she preferred Lila’s dynamic energy. Her feelings changed as the process went on. “I began to understand the character much better, and then I liked her. At first glance Elena seems shy and reserved, but in reality she has a great determination, discipline, and courage, which will allow her to get away from poverty and change her life through study,” Mazzucco told The Guardian.

Both Del Genio and Mazzucco identify with their character. And in a total Elena move, Mazzucco continued to study Latin, ancient Greek, and Italian from her high school teacher while she was filming. She filmed and then went to school to take her tests.
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Eduardo Castaldo/HBO Margherita Mazzucco.
This is what young Lina looks like.

On set of My Brilliant Friend, 12-year-old Ludovica Nasti's nickname is "the boss." Typical Lina.
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Eduardo Castaldo/HBO Margherita Mazzucco.
This is what teenage Lina looks like.

Of the four lead actresses, only Gaia Girace (15) had taken acting lessons prior to My Brilliant Friend. She wanted the part from the start of the nine-week audition process. “I fell in love with my character from the first scene I had to play, so I wanted to get that part at all costs,” Girace told The Guardian of Lina.
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photo: Eduardo Castaldo/HBO
Expect more seasons.

My Brilliant Friend is only the first installment of this enormous undertaking. The series is set to run 32 episodes in total, amounting to 8 episodes per book.
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photo: Eduardo Castaldo/HBO
Lila will wear a couture wedding dress (kind of).

For those of you who read My Brilliant Friend, it’s no spoiler that Lila gets married at some point in the book. Her wedding dress, as well as the shoes she makes in her father’s shop, are both designed by Pierpaolo Picciolo, the creative director of Valentino.
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The show will be subtitled for everyone.

The series is filmed in the thick Neapolitan dialect. During its run, Elena and Lina learn to speak "proper" Italian.

But English-speaking viewers aren't the only people who will need subtittles. “This show is going to be subtitled in Italy, too, because we don’t understand the Neapolitan dialect,” co-executive producer Lorenzo Mieli told Reuters. “We come from Rome, so we don’t understand at least 70% of the dialogue.”
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The set is meant to reflect Naples accurately, not rosily.

My Brilliant Friend was filmed on location in Naples. Much of the show’s action takes place within a series of off-white apartment blocks, located a 45 minutes drive from the city. Though the book’s location is always unnamed, it’s supposed to be Rione Luzzatti, a neighborhood near Naples’ industrial zone. The production designer, Giancarlo Basili, moved to the rione for a week doing research, then constructed the show’s buildings. To test for accuracy, Basili brought a man who’d live in the rione in the ‘50s and ‘60s to the completed set. According to The Guardian, “he was so overcome he ended up in tears.”

“In a way, Ferrante’s book is keeping the real heart of Naples intact. I think it gives the city a lot of energy, a story like this, compared to just mobster stories, crime. There is something very ancient, very old that belongs to Naples in this series, even if the city has changed a lot over the years. Because the heart of Naples is still the same as in Elena Ferrante’s book, even nowadays,” Costanzo told The Guardian.
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Gregory Pace/REX/Shutterstock
There’s another Ferrante adaptation in the works.

Remember The Lost Daughter, the novella that Costanzo wanted to adapt in 2007, but ultimately abandoned? Maggie Gyllenhaal has taken the helm. Gyllenhaal said she spent weeks writing a letter to Ferrante about her vision for the book. Ferrante responded, “'You can have the rights, but you have to direct it. I’m only giving the rights to you to direct.'” In October 2018, she announced that she would indeed be directing The Lost Daughter.

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