Fatal Attraction, the 1987 thriller film, introduced a female character (played by Glenn Close) who has a fling with a married man (played by Michael Douglas) and then obsesses and stalks him and his family after he tries to end it. Close’s character entered a new label for women – “bunny boiler”– into pop culture lexicon.
A Paramount+ TV series is based on the movie but attempts to make both Dan and Alex — played by Joshua Jackson and Lizzy Caplan — accountable for their actions. Amanda Peet plays Dan’s wife Beth. The story unfolds over two timelines, following Dan, Alex and Beth at the time of the affair and years later, when Dan and Beth’s daughter Ellen (Alyssa Jirrels) is an adult.
When Caplan was approached to play Alex, it was not an immediate yes, and she wondered if the world needed another Fatal Attraction. Although she enjoyed the film, the depiction of Alex disturbed her.
“I re-watched the film and I found it very difficult to watch in the spirit in which I assume it was made,” Caplan said. “I couldn’t see it as, ‘Alex is an evil person who’s trying to destroy this really kind man.’”
Joshua Jackson, who plays Dan in the series, agrees that the original character is portrayed as almost blameless, even though he is married.
“The lack of consequence or even like acceptance of guilt or culpability on Dan’s part is shocking from the lens of 2023,” he said. “We don’t have to dance around it. There’s a underlying misogyny to the film that is just part of the time that it came out of. The sympathy of the story is with the man in this case. It very much paints the Alex character as the villain.”
Caplan and Jackson agreed to sign on when they read the scripts and saw they kept the thrills and shock value of the film, but also got into the “why” of the affair, which there was time to do in eight episodes.
“There’s a lot more space to get into each of the characters’ perspectives,” said Jackson. “We also see what repercussions look like for Dan. We get into his life and see that these things don’t — no matter how much you want them to — go away.”
This angle is exactly what Alexandra Cunningham and Kevin J. Hynes, who developed this new take, had in mind.
After watching the 1987 film, Cunningham liked the idea of a future timeline for Dan and his family. She was left with questions about what happened next — particularly with Dan’s marriage to Beth and what became of their young daughter Ellen.
“The movie ends with just the camera panning over to a photo of a perfect family,” said Cunningham. “And it’s like, ‘Everything will be fine now that woman’s gone.’”
Cunningham wondered, ‘Is this child going to get any psychiatric help? Are they going to go to marriage counselling? Is Dan going to spend any time thinking about why this might have happened? Will he make this mistake again?’
The TV version also gives Alex a past and touches upon her mental heath, which somewhat explains her behaviour. Caplan wants to be clear though that “this is not a straight up examination of mental illness. It’s ‘Fatal Attraction’, which is a very fun ride… What it is a full take on is how we as audience members have changed. I think this is the way we can hold a mirror up to ourselves and be like, ‘This was only this many years ago’… there’s no place for that version of this story in today’s world.”
There is one scene in the final episode that Jackson says was triggering for him emotionally. In the scene, Dan speaks to Ellen, who is now an adult, and takes some accountability for his actions.
“Shooting that scene absolutely sucked,” said Jackson. “I’m a father now, and I’m also the child of a man who didn’t want to be in my life, and to be at the crossroads of that conversation, playing this scene… was impactful for me in a way that I wasn’t expecting on that day. It was quite an intense experience shooting that scene.”