Exclusive: Author Scott Turow Talks New ‘Presumed Innocent’ Adaptation to Series

Jake gyllenhall in Apple TV+ show Presumed Innocent
Courtesy of Apple TV+

If you were around in the 1980s & 1990s, and you liked courtroom dramas, then you probably know Scott Turow, lawyer and author of novels like The Burden of Proof, Pleading Guilty and Presumed Innocent, which was adapted into a film starring Harrison Ford in 1990 and will be available to watch again very soon, this time as an Apple TV+ series premiering June 12.

The new adaptation is definitely one to keep an eye on! David E. Kelley and J.J. Abrams join forces to retell this dark drama following the investigation of a horrific murder of an employee of Chicago’s district attorney’s office, after which one of their own is accused of the crime. The series takes a different approach that doesn’t necessarily follow its predecessor, with an assortment of new characters and storylines included and a real shroud of mystery surrounding who the murderer really is.

PRESUMED INNOCENT, from left: Kingston Rumi Southwick, Jake Gyllenhaal, Ruth Negga (front), Chase Infiniti, 'Bases Loaded', (Season 1, ep. 101, aired June 12, 2024). photo:

Apple TV+ /Courtesy Everett Collection

The show is fantastic, and so is the cast, which is a real family affair, with Jake Gyllenhaal playing lead protagonist Rusty Sabich and his brother-in-law Pete Sarsgaard portraying lead antagonist/fellow prosecutor Tommy Molto, who are directly at odds with one another for the entire series. (Real-life husband and wife Bill Camp and Elizabeth Marvel also portray the district attorney and his wife.)

It’s so compelling and so different from its source material that the showrunners even had author Scott Turow at the edge of his seat. We recently got to sit down and chat with him about the upcoming new series adaptation of his book.

How involved were you with the adaptation?

[It was] very limited. I’m one of those people who’s always believed that doing screenwriting based on your own work is a little like performing surgery on yourself, because there are going to be changes.

By the time I got to episode seven, I felt like I don’t know if this is going to follow in my footsteps, because it really departs substantially starting from what I wrote in episode seven. I wasn’t panicked about that when I had that feeling, because my own view of this is that the writer is well served when something good is made from his or her story.

PRESUMED INNOCENT, Jake Gyllenhaal, 'Bases Loaded', (Season 1, ep. 101, aired June 12, 2024). photo:

Apple TV+ /Courtesy Everett Collection

Now, I know not everybody feels that way, and some people want their work to be treated like holy scripture. But I always have recognized that we’re talking about two different mediums, and it’s unrealistic to expect that a book that’s as internal as Presumed Innocent is going to be fully represented.

How do you feel about the changes made to your story?

David said, “We’re going to have to change it.” I said, “Yeah, I know you’re going to have to change it.” Because when I wrote Presumed Innocent, there was no DNA. If you think back to the way the novel ended with today’s technology with DNA technology, Rusty would’ve had no choice but to plead guilty. And so there had to be a change.

For me, I’m watching it the same way you are. It’s all first impressions to me.

Are there changes you liked? Didn’t like?

One of the changes I liked best is that this becomes Barbara’s story almost as much as Rusty’s. And I certainly didn’t write that way. I don’t know what I would do today 35 years later, but that’s not the way I did it then. I think people will just be knocked out by Ruth Negga. And Peter [Sarsgaard], I was almost afraid Peter was going to completely steal the show.

Presumed Innocent on Apple TV+, 2024

Courtesy of Everett

It’s also going to be much longer than a film, being a limited series. Do you think that’s a better format?

Yeah. So it’s funny, when I arrived on the set of the movie version of Presumed Innocent, I met Brian Dennehy, the great screen and stage actor who became a dear friend of mine for the rest of his life. Brian said to me, Look, a movie based on a novel is going to be no better than an abridgment because we probably need eight hours to film everything in your book, and we’ll be lucky if the studio gives us two hours of running time.

PRESUMED INNOCENT, Brian Dennehy, Harrison Ford, 1990

Courtesy of Everett

The limited series has pretty much become the home of adaptations for novels. Much better than the two-hour format. I mean, to name drop in the extreme, I once met George Lucas and we were talking about exactly this process, and he said, people don’t realize it, but the movies are really a short story medium.

I know you’re also a lawyer. How realistic is it that a lawyer would defend himself like Jake Gyllenhaal’s character does?

Oh, I had cases where a lawyer defendant decided to defend himself. You wouldn’t say it went well because he was convicted, but he then became a fugitive. The old axiom that a lawyer represents himself has a fool for a client: generally, that’s born out.

That sounds like another novel right there!

I did have a character once who took off for foreign terrain after getting convicted. So I suppose that case had some impact on me.

I also had a tax protestor case while I was an assistant U.S. attorney, it wasn’t my trial, but it was a dear friend’s trial; he’s an airline pilot, and he chose to represent himself, and we were just stunned when the jury came back not guilty. So it can be done well.

Presumed Innocent premieres this Wednesday, June 12, on Apple TV+. Be sure to check it out!



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