When you hear the name Shawn Levy the first things that comes to mind would probably be his work on Stranger Things, Free Guy, The Night at the Museum series, or countless other films and television series, including the upcoming third entry in the Deadpool series. With that filmography behind him, the announcement that the director/producer would be helming Netflix’s adaptation of Anthony Doerr‘s beloved novel “All the Light We Cannot See” was somewhat unexpected.
Which is why my first question for Levy during our interview was after all the action and comedy, what drew him to tell this story? “I’m always kind of looking for what are different visual languages, different tonalities and genres that can challenge me in new ways,” he responded. “So one of those areas that I had not explored was a straight up drama, much less a historically set drama.”
“When I read this book years before I thought about directing it, I just fell in love with this story because it felt epic, but also very intimate,” explained Levy. “It felt like a period set story that did not feel emotionally remote. It felt visceral and poignant and romantic and heartbreaking.”
The limited series set in the final days of WWII, tells the story of a Marie-Laure, a blind French blind French girl and a German soldier (Louis Hofmann) whose paths collide as they try to survive the horrors of war.
“As a director, when a story can trigger you in all those different ways, that’s very irresistible,” explained Levy. “That’s really why I directed this, I only, at this point in my career, direct the things that I can’t resist, and this story was one of them.”
To play the teenage version of Marie-Laure, a newcomer by the name of Aria Mia Loberti was cast. This was not only the actress’s first role, the Fulbright scholar getting her PhD in rhetoric, “never acted before,” exclaimed Levy. “She has never auditioned before.” The feat of being cast was impressive on its own but the role hold greater meaning to the actress.
“Aria knew what this opportunity meant for her personally. It meant bringing to life a heroine, an iconic hero in one of her favorite books,” said Levy. “She and I also recognized that we were doing something that hadn’t been done. The lead performer in a major production, who is herself blind, playing a blind protagonist.” Yes, Loberti is legally blind, a fact that I only learned mid-interview.
“That hasn’t been done before,”explained Levy. “To me, it felt important, not only because it struck me as the right thing to do, but maybe more critically, it felt like the better thing to do. Because it would bring an authenticity to this.”
In these dark times where hatred and war seems to be on display across the globe, the way this story connects with viewers is likely different that it would have been just weeks ago. Levy agreed, “It’s been staggering. Revisiting this show, a show that always had themes that I knew were important, themes around the tenacious belief that there is light that we cannot see.”
“In the midst of very dark times, the need to protect your better self, your empathy, your humanity, your ability to see the other not as what they are, but who they are,” the director continued. “All these themes were always there, but to revisit it in the last several weeks with another war raging, with a resurgence of hate in the world. It’s made this show more topical and timely than I ever imagined.”
“On the one hand, that’s heartbreaking, but it’s also really important because I think that it’s imperative that we look at the circularity of history, but that we also protect ourselves from hopelessness, which is so easy to slide into.”
Watch my complete conversation with Shawn Levy (below). Check out his and Loberti’s work in All the Light We Cannot See streaming exclusively on Netflix. The limited series also stars Mark Ruffalo, Hugh Laurie, Lars Eidinger, and Nell Sutton