Awards Daily talks to Hannah Fidell, creator behind FX on Hulu’s A Teacher, about why she turned her movie into a TV series and what she hopes the show adds to the conversation around #MeToo.
The metric of a good piece of art is that you can imagine what the characters do beyond the page or screen, and when it came to writer/director Hannah Fidell’s 2013 film A Teacher, about a high school teacher who has an affair with a student, she wanted to stay in that world a little longer.
“I think it’s genuinely as simple as being able to spend more time with the characters in the story,” says Fidell, on why she extended the story. The film, a tiny independent one, differs from the series in that it’s about a specific moment in the relationship before the teacher is found out, whereas FX’s A Teacher follows the consequences. “To be able to see how it began, what the aftermath was for both Eric [Nick Robinson] and Claire [Kate Mara], was really exciting.”
There’s a close intimacy to this series, in the way that it’s shot and written, and the 30-minute episodes aren’t a budgetary constraint, but deliberate.
“Because it’s a story about just two people, to fill up the space of an hour would require a lot of other storylines and that just felt like it was diluting the central theme of the show.”
Kate and Nick’s Uncomfortable Chemistry
Since the show is nearly a two-hander, that makes it crucial for the leads to have chemistry, something that gets uncomfortable given the subject matter of predatory behavior.
“I wanted the audience to feel complicit, and the only way to do that is to go through this journey with Eric’s character, who feels mistakenly that this is love. We need to feel what he’s feeling and that is a sense of desire and lust. That just makes the back half of the series hit that much harder.”
And yet, despite the controversial nature of the relationship—and even the content warning about grooming at the beginning and end of every episode—fans of the show still want to believe that Eric and Claire’s relationship was something real emotionally.
“It’s been really interesting to see how audiences really want to believe there is a deeper connection, which I think is human nature. We don’t want to believe it isn’t a happy ending. I can’t tell you the number of messages I receive about the show that say, ‘But can’t they end up together?'”
A Teacher‘s Ending
In the final moments of the limited series, Claire and Eric meet one final time at a restaurant and Eric lets her know why their relationship was wrong and unleashes his frustration in the 10 years since their affair ended. And then he walks out of the restaurant—end scene.
It’s a beautiful finale, something akin to how it might feel in real life, but some fans of the show viewed it as a cliffhanger.
“To me, it feels like a really cathartic resolution for Eric. The story is no longer the teacher’s story, but it’s his story that he’s able to put as behind him as he can. So to me, it feels like, yes, he’s damaged and hurt and the experience really shaped the course of his life, but he is able to tell her all of this in a way that he wouldn’t have been able to at the time when it was happening. So there’s something really empowering in that, because not many victims are able to do that. And even if they are, to be able to find the power within themselves to do that, I think that’s as happy an ending for Eric as we can get.”
Claire’s situation is less positive: remarried and appearing restrained, almost as if she married for convenience. When asked whether she thinks Claire always had this predatory behavior in her, Fidell doesn’t necessarily believe she was always going to have an inappropriate relationship with a student specifically.
“The way that I viewed Claire was that, for her, she would have blown up her life anyway; Eric was just a conduit. But it would have happened, not necessarily with a student, but in one way or another. She’s an epic self-sabotager. Unfortunately that means that people get caught in her wake, and that has real consequences for those around her like Eric and her husband.”
A Teacher and Grooming
Fidell is also happy to hear the conversations people are having about her show, especially in regards to grooming and #MeToo.
“There’s a lot of television that’s fun and light and doesn’t make you think at all, and I am so happy to hear that we’re able to have people who are watching it think about larger societal personal situations.”
While grooming, or the act of an adult effectively preparing a child for a sexual offense, has always been something unfortunate that exists in society, only recently did the term start to enter popular culture and be written about more. Fidell hopes her show sheds more light on the behavior, while also flipping the script on “Hot for Teacher” scenarios.
“I know that the trope of female teacher/male student has been done many times on television, but the point of the show wasn’t to sensationalize that, but it was really to show that there are real consequences and that men and boys can be victims, too.”
All episodes of A Teacher are available on FX on Hulu.