‘Apples Never Fall’ Showrunner on That Ending, Changes From the Book and Why Everyone Should Call Their Mom After Watching

SPOILER ALERT: This story contains major spoilers for “Apples Never Fall,” now streaming on Peacock.

Known for her twisty and darkly humorous thrillers, Liane Moriarty is the author behind the source material for TV hits like HBO’s “Big Little Lies” and Hulu’s “Nine Perfect Strangers.” Like many of her stories, the newest Moriarty adaptation — Peacock’s “Apples Never Fall” — is centered on a suspenseful mystery, but showrunner Melanie Marnich was just as interested in what the author had to say about the complexities of family dynamics.

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“You have to know these people love each other, otherwise they can’t cause each other pain,” Marnich told Variety at an early screening event for the series. “There’s a phrase in [Moriarty’s] book that’s something like: ‘You can love somebody and hate somebody. Both things can be true.’ You can look across the table at your husband, your wife or your child and resent them and love them more than anything. Both things can be true.”

The seven-episode limited series revolves around the tennis-obsessed Delaneys, whose lives unravel after a troubled young woman named Savannah (Georgia Flood) shows up at their door, and the family matriarch Joy (Annette Bening) later disappears. When her husband Stan (Sam Neill) becomes a prime suspect in the investigation, their children — played by Alison Brie, Jake Lacy, Conor Merrigan-Turner and Essie Randles — are forced to reexamine everything they know about their parents’ marriage.

Marnich sat down with Variety to break down the changes she made from the novel, how she crafted the final scene — and why she wants viewers to call their mom after finishing the series.

First, can you talk about how you came to this project?

My agent sent me the galleys for it. I had just told my agent, “Don’t send me anything. Don’t talk to me. I need a vacation.” I’d been working and going from project to project to project. And like a good agent, she didn’t listen to me and promptly sent me this. She’s like, “You’re gonna want to read this. This is incredible.” And I was like, “OK, she’s brilliant, and I trust her.” I read — honest to God, I bet it was the first 10 pages — and I was like, “I love these characters. I love the story. I love what Liane Moriarty is doing with this.” And I knew I wanted in.

I want to talk about some of the specific changes you made for the screen. There are a couple of added storylines, like the affair with Savannah and Brooke. And then some storylines in the book are given less attention in the show, like Savannah’s eating disorder and her relationship with her mother. How did you go about deciding what parts of the book to change for the screen?

A lot of the things regarding the kids was really almost delineating each of those kids by their birth order. And then being very clear which child had what kind of experience with their parents and how that informed how they saw Stan’s potential guilt, what he was capable of, what the reality of the family is, what the reality of their parents’ marriage was. Each child has a different experience of their parents, and each child has a different experience of their childhood. It was really important writing-wise in terms of translating this to TV to have this almost schematic clarity about where each kid starts the show, given their birth order, given their experience of the parents, and then charting how they transform and travel in the course of the show.

They were raised by extremely competitive people in an extremely competitive environment. And none of them quite knows how to love or be loved. And that’s why none of them, when we find them, are really able to sustain anything. The Savannah-Brooke thing is really Brooke’s need to blow up her life. She can’t quite manage this happiness. She can’t quite manage this stable next phase of her career, and I think none of the kids are really great at being loved. One of Savannah’s gifts is an almost X-ray vision in her ability to see what somebody’s weaknesses are. She avails herself to Brooke and Brooke’s particular weakness to undermine the fabric of the family, and definitely to blow up Brooke’s life.

And then in terms of how much to reveal in Savannah’s backstory regarding her mom, there were just some really brutal choices that had to be made in terms of serving the forward momentum of the show. What served the forward momentum of the show was the story of the Delaneys. When we came out of that to look at Savannah’s life, it felt a little a bit like a side trip. What worked was to put her story into the Delaneys’ story, so that’s why we get the revelations about her life through clues about Joy or through the family trying to solve the mystery of Joy. We piece Savannah’s backstory together in the course of the investigation. That felt like her backstory served the forward movement of the show versus added something. It was hard, because I would have loved to have just done Savannah. She’s fascinating and amazing, but there were certain choices that had to be made to serve that motor.

That’s related to another question I had. The book ends with Savannah, but the show ends on this very touching sequence of the family. Why did you want to end the series on that note?

That ending went through many rewrites, and it did go longer. It did at one point encompass more. It dawned on me one day when I was doing a rewrite on the finale: It would just all end that night. The only thing that matters is to us, the viewers, in the experience of the Delaney family is, “We thought mom was dead. Mom just walked through the front door.” This isn’t going to stretch on for weeks. These kids, given who they are, are gonna say, “What the hell happened? How could you?”

This isn’t a family of wallflowers. They’re gonna hold her accountable. It just felt like energy-wise, story-wise, and in terms of the immediacy of the storytelling and the emotional impact, it had to all roll out that night and early the next morning. In the versions that went later, it felt that the emotional impact had already been spent. The story was already done.

When you’re making some of these changes for the screen, how did you work with Liane Moriarty?

She was great. She gave us carte blanche. She was there if I needed her, but otherwise, she was like, “Do what you have to do, and call me if you need me.”

Were there any other aspects of the book that were especially difficult to translate to the screen?

Anytime you’re juggling points of view, different timelines, versions of the truth, that is all tricky to juggle. The other thing that’s tricky is the book has such incredible wit, it’s so funny, but trying to make sure that the show is funny — yet not in a way that ever undercuts the seriousness of what is happening to Joy. How can they live side by side without undercutting each other? That was really fun to figure out, but it made the work very rigorous. Sometimes in the room, we looked at something like, “Oh, that’s actually too funny around something that’s really serious,” and we cut back. Or sometimes things felt too serious, and we were like, “No, we got to Apples it up. We got to bring in some Apples.” It was always trying to balance a kind of wit with a very harrowing story.

You started as a playwright and then moved into TV. How did your background in theater help with this adaptation?

In theater, you are working very closely with your actors. I learn to just trust collaborative and brilliant actors, and that’s who we had on this show. Really knowing that you have actors who can make these hairpin turns, who can really deftly handle the rollercoaster ride and make it still all seem really grounded, that was really helpful because it lets you take really big swings as a writer without worrying something is going to become melodramatic.

How did the actors add elements to their characters that weren’t necessarily on the page?

They all found something in the DNA of their characters that they deeply connected to, and I think it’s why the performances feels so authentic. What they brought to it was an actual family dynamic. That was really beautiful, and I hope that’s evident to viewers. They connected as human beings. They had this family text chain. And they truly loved each other. I would be just amazed watching them walk into a room with a certain kind of emotional cacophony that felt so true to a real family. When they came in the room as their characters, they came in carrying the history of the Delaneys. They didn’t just come in, and a scene started when the cameras are rolling. It felt just so lived in, so rich, so familiar. They animated the souls of these characters.

Each episode of the series is titled after one of the characters. Why did you decide to organize the story that way?

Something that’s very hard with adaptation, particularly with an ensemble, is how do you take an ensemble and still make each of their characters’ stories absolutely clear? Because if you try and do a little bit of everyone in every episode, it’s going to be a hot mess. You can’t keep track of it. Giving each character their episode was a way to manage the story and to make sure each character got their due, and that we’re able to go deep on each character.

Going into the episodes focused on their respective characters, did the actors have any suggestions or ideas that they came to you with?

Everybody was so smart and so generous. There were maybe some tweaks in the writing as we went, nothing major. Some, as they got more and more into their characters, were like, “Oh, this doesn’t feel quite right here. I feel like I would say this.” And they were always right. They were really spot on and so respectful. Because they each had an episode and because they’re such consummate professionals, they did deep work on their characters. I listened to them if they were like, “I feel like I would walk in the room and at least make this gesture. I feel like I would do X.” I’d be like, “You’re right, that’s a thread that I didn’t pick up. Let’s put it in here.” They just got to know their characters so deeply.

Going back to some of the specific changes in relation to the book’s big reveals, why did you decide to have Joy break the news that she told Harry to leave Stan? In the book, it’s Savannah.

I can tell you exactly why I did that. It’s the most powerful moment, and it had to be Joy’s. It had to be our lead character. She had to own that. She had to blow up the family, and she had to be accountable finally for what she did. That’s her arc. It’s Joy’s journey that we’re following. She’s gonna drop that bomb. She has to, because otherwise she doesn’t have the growth she needs to have.

In the book, Savannah’s true identity comes earlier, and the whole family finds out together. But in the show, Joy figures out her identity only after escaping with her. Could you talk about that change as well?

If we had deployed it early, some energy would have gone out. If you keep it a mystery, it charges everything. The investigation then winds up not just what happened to Joy. It’s also who’s Savannah, and they sort of dovetail around each other. It was really about how much more mystery can we mine from this great book and how can we tease it out and deploy it in the most effective way. It was a really fun thing to say, “Let’s play with this,” and reveal that at a time that serves the suspense of our story.

“Big Little Lies,” another Liane Moriarty adaptation, went on to have a Season 2 that was not based on the source novel. Do you see a possibility of extending the Delaneys’ story?

I feel that the Delaneys’ story has been told in full. Thanks to the chaos caused by Savannah, the necessary secrets have been revealed, and the essential healing has begun. Savannah served the story quite well, and she herself I hope is off to better adventures.

Reflecting on the series as a whole, what is something you want viewers to take away, whether they binge watch it or spread it out over time?

When they watch the show, I would love it for our audience to laugh, cry, clutch their pearls and at the end, call their mom. I would love it if people went on this journey. I hope they feel seen by it. I think the show was very honest about the complexities of love and long-term marriage and raising kids. A love story isn’t always just about love. It’s about many emotions. I hope that audiences say, “Yes, this is a very honest story about some very grownup things.” I also love that Liane’s book, and I hope we captured that in the show, talks about how often our parents go unappreciated and unseen, particularly mothers. And at the end of it, that people see that and call their moms.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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