A new miniseries, My Brilliant Friend, stars a cast of relative unknowns. The eight-episode series, which airs new episodes in pairs on consecutive Sunday and Monday nights through Dec. 10, is based on the novel of the same name by Elena Ferrante. It tells the tale of two girls growing up in Naples, Italy in the 1950s and '60s. So who is in the cast of My Brilliant Friend on HBO? Let's find out.
But first, a little back story: The first of four novels about Elena and Lila, My Brilliant Friend is told through the eyes of the former, who finds herself in a bit of a rocky friendship with the latter, a cobbler's daughter who is, as the title might suggest, very intelligent, but troubled in some ways. Both girls are smart and excel in school, but end up on different paths, and their relationship sometimes suffers for it.
In this first miniseries, Elena and Lila (along with their many peers) will each be portrayed by two different actors, as about a decade of their lives is to be shown, from first grade through much of their teenage years. The first two episodes, "The Dolls" and "The Money," reflect times from the book that are during their childhood. Beginning with "The Metamorphosis," Elena and Lila as teens will make their debut.
The actresses behind the best friends are Elisa Del Genio (young Elena), Ludovica Nasti (young Lila), Margherita Mazzucco (teenage Elena), and Gaia Girace (teenage Lila). (Additionally, Elisabetta De Palo will play adult narrator Elena.) All four girls are complete newcomers chosen during what sounds to be a very difficult casting process, as it was important to Ferrante and others behind the scenes that the stars were accurate representations of the characters and therefore all from the Neapolitan region of Italy.
In fact, Ferrante was very involved, and is credited as a writer for the series. All of the episodes were co-written by Ferrante, award-winning author and screenwriter Francesco Piccolo, Gomorrah producer Laura Paolucci, and Saverio Constanzo, who also directed all of the episodes.
The rest of the cast is also entirely Italian. A number of the adults, including Lila's parents, Nunzia and Fernando Cerullo, are portrayed by more seasoned actors (Valentina Acca and Antonio Buonanno, respectively). But in general, this isn't a who's who of Italian stars known in the U.S. — it's an authentic Italian production, that was made in conjunction with HBO (with subtitles, not dubbed), similar to the way My Brilliant Friend has been translated into many different languages.
It makes a lot of sense that this evolved into a miniseries at HBO, as it's very cinematic in nature. Even though it's just the first book out of four, My Brilliant Friend covers a lot of material over a significant period of time, and a movie version just wouldn't cut it. If My Brilliant Friend is well-received, it seems almost certain that HBO would capitalize on this and turn it into four miniseries, each covering a different book in the quartet. This will require quite a bit more of that difficult casting, but with the groundwork they've laid for the first one, the model from which to grow is already in place, and future Elenas and Lilas are bound to reflect this.