Things You Didn’t Know About ‘Expats’, Nicole Kidman’s New Amazon Series

Nicole Kidman’s latest TV project, ‘Expats’, has been creating quite a buzz ever since it was announced. This Amazon series delivers a gripping narrative set against the backdrop of Hong Kong in 2014, following the lives of a group of expats as they navigate the challenges and complexities of living life abroad.

With all episodes now available on Amazon Prime, we’ve found some behind-the-scenes details and facts that you might not know about the show.

It’s based on a book

‘Expats’ the show is based on ‘The Expatriates’, a novel by Janice Y.K. Lee. The novel was first published in 2016 and quickly became a bestseller. Lee is of Korean descent and was born and raised in Hong Kong, the setting for both the show and the book, before she moved to the US to attend school.

The New York Times reviewed the book as being “vibrant social satire” as well as handling dark matters. They also celebrated “Lee’s eye for the nuance and clash of culture, class, race and sex” as being “subtle and shrewd”. The LA Times praised “Lee’s acutely observed Hong Kong” and “her power of observation on uprooted lives and how they converge and intersect”.

It hasn’t been shown in Hong Kong

Although the series is set in Hong Kong and is shown on Amazon Prime as being available worldwide, it isn’t actually accessible to watch in Hong Kong. Viewers there receive a message stating that the “video is currently unavailable to watch in your location”.

It’s not clear whether Amazon Prime or the Hong Kong authorities made the decision to not show the series in the location where it was filmed. It’s thought that it may be due to the series portraying scenes of protestors and the Umbrella Movement.

The series is set in 2014, at the same time people in Hong Kong were protesting with sit-ins regarding recent changes to the Hong Kong electoral system. It became known as the Umbrella Movement, or Umbrella Revolution, due to protestors carrying umbrellas.

In 2021, Hong Kong passed a law banning films that were deemed to endanger the national security of China, although it’s been reported that Hong Kong authorities said this doesn’t apply to streaming services.

Nicole Kidman is an Executive Producer

Nicole Kidman not only stars in the series but is also significantly involved behind the scenes as an Executive Producer, with her production company Blossom Films.

Kidman has been a producer on a number of projects that she’s also acted in, including TV series ‘Big Little Lies’, also based on a novel, and ‘Lioness’ which starred Zoe Saldana but in which Kidman had a supporting role. For ‘Big Little Lies’, Kidman was nominated for Primetime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Lead Actress and for Outstanding Limited Series as a producer.

Kidman has also been a producer on popular shows which she hasn’t starred in, such as ‘Love & Death’, a mini-series starring Elizabeth Olsen based on a true story about a murder in a small town.

It’s directed by Lulu Wang, known for ‘The Farewell’

Director Lulu Wang takes the helm directing all six episodes of the show, as well as taking on the role as showrunner. Lulu Wang became well-known in 2019 when she wrote and directed the film ‘The Farewell’. Starring Awkwafina, it’s a semi-autobiographical story about a Chinese American woman attending a family gathering in China to visit her unwell grandmother.

Wang was born in Beijing before emigrating to Miami aged six with her family so her father could pursue a PhD. In an interview with The Guardian, Wang ruminated on the challenges of having a multicultural background, saying “When I go back to visit my family, I’m not Chinese anymore. Not really. But I look Chinese. I’m also not fully an American, but I’m not an immigrant, right?…And so I’m like, ‘Wait up. Am I an expat here?”. It’s thought that it’s this life experience that made Wang the ideal choice to direct ‘Expats’ which deals with issues around culture and immigration.

It faced production challenges filming in Hong Kong

The series was filmed in Hong Kong in 2021 when the world was still managing the Covid-19 pandemic. At the time, Hong Kong had a strict zero Covid policy and required people entering to have 21 days’ quarantine.

Nicole Kidman faced scrutiny when she arrived in Hong Kong, as she was reportedly seen out and about two days after she landed. Whilst some people were angry by the waiver, the Hong Kong Commerce and Economic Development Bureau did put out a statement saying that some restrictions were waived to allow people “to carry out designated professional work”.

When director Wang took a small crew to Hong Kong for location scouting and filming, they did all submit to the quarantine period. Wang took a lot of the same people that she worked with on her film ‘The Farewell’ but observed that the scale of the TV series was so much bigger than what they’d worked on before, saying that at the time it felt like the hardest thing she’ll ever do. Wang also noted that a lot of the crew who would have normally been on set couldn’t be there due to the pandemic.

It had an all-female writer’s room

Perhaps unusually for a lot of TV and film, ‘Expats’ had an all-female writer’s room, which included Janice Y.K. Lee, the author of the original novel.

In an interview with Vogue, Wang and Kidman note that the “driving force” behind the series is the three women who act as the main characters, although they do sometimes take a background role. This includes Margaret, played by Kidman, Hilary, played by Indian American actor Sarayi Blue, and Mercy, played by Korean American actor Ji-young Yoo. This may have been a factor in assembling a full writer’s room of women.

Wang jokes that they considered whether men would be needed in the writer’s room, before deciding that they weren’t. Even so, every writer made an effort to ensure all characters, men and women, were well-rounded and well-written. Although all female, the writers were diverse in background, ethnicity and life experience, which helped to produce complex and sympathetic characters.

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