The Inverse Interview

Amazon’s Fallout Comes Out of the Vault

Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy’s video game adaptation is just the beginning.

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The Inverse Interview

Jonathan Nolan isn’t aware of any video game curse. At least, he’s not familiar with the term, which describes the series of failed attempts to turn beloved video games into Hollywood blockbusters.

“I didn't know there was a curse,” Nolan tells Inverse with a laugh. “Hopefully we’ll duck it.”

“It felt like kind of the greatest of all possible worlds.”

But maybe that’s the secret to pulling off a great video game adaptation: ignore any external pressures one might get from fans, studios, or mythical “curses.” Nolan, who created Amazon’s Fallout series with his wife and Westworld co-creator, Lisa Joy, simply fell in love with the games after playing Fallout 3 for the first time.

“I’d never experienced anything quite like the tone of these games,” Nolan says. “They’re so dark, violent, but also funny, almost goofy in places. Because each of the games features different characters and different moments from this larger universe, for us, it felt like kind of the greatest of all possible worlds.”

And what Nolan saw in that wild, retrofuturistic universe was the potential for a franchise where he could build his own story — one that might become even bigger than Westworld if the showrunner and his collaborators get their way.

“You have this incredibly beloved, delicious universe, but within it, each of the entries in the franchise is its own self-contained story,” Nolan says. “So for us, that was the opportunity to create our own story within this larger universe, and one that hopefully respects and connects to all the other different pieces.”

An Open World of Possibilities

The Fallout TV series shifts the focus on the characters instead of on the expansive world.

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Based on the beloved video game franchise created by Interplay Entertainment (and later acquired by Bethesda Softworks), Amazon’s Fallout is an original story set hundreds of years after nuclear fallout renders the world a radiation-riddled wasteland. A select few members of humanity have fled into fallout bunkers known as Vaults, waiting for the time when the surface world will be safe enough to venture out. But when the Vault where naive Lucy Maclean (Ella Purnell) lives is attacked by surface dwellers, she ventures outside on a mission to rescue her kidnapped father (Kyle MacLachlan). Out in the Wastelands, Lucy crosses paths with the idealistic squire of the Brotherhood of Steel named Maximus (Aaron Moten) and a ruthless, mutated bounty hunter known only as The Ghoul (Walton Goggins), who may have somehow been alive when the world fell to nuclear annihilation more than 200 years earlier…

“So many spinoffs you want to puke.”

By telling an original story, the Amazon series allows itself to exist alongside all the other Fallout games and their separate stories. (Each entry in the open-world series takes place in a different region and era of the post-apocalypse.) But it’s that particular open world, and all the potential it offers, that makes Fallout uniquely suited to TV adaptation, according to executive producer and writer Graham Wagner.

“You could try to do it in a movie, but you wouldn’t be able to have time for all the delicious side quests that the whole game is built around,” Wagner says. “And we have an eight-episode season of TV, so there was never a question of, like, ‘Oh, do we have enough to fill?’ It was the other way.”

Ella Purnell’s Lucy is on a mission.

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Over the course of its four main-console games and many spinoffs, Fallout has managed to build a dense lore. There’s its unique retrofuturistic setting, owing to its alternate history version of Earth. There’s the Vaults, which, in the games, hold more ominous things than just the descendants of humans who could afford a place in a bunker. And there’s the ghouls, which in the games are the de facto monsters that players fight against. But in creating their version of Fallout, Nolan, Joy, and executive producers and writers Wagner and Geneva Robertson-Dworet sought to simplify things for new audiences. And they did that by focusing on their characters.

“With adaptations, there’s always a trade-off,” Nolan says. “With a video game, you’re losing a moral dimension for the audience. One of the challenges with this was, in the game, you get to decide whether your character is good, bad, or somewhere in between. So Geneva and Graham’s response [was] to make this an ensemble story, [which] I thought was brilliant.”

“We wrote the show hoping to get Walton Goggins.”

At first, Purnell’s Lucy appears to be Fallout’s main character, thanks to her unfamiliarity with the surface world and her fish-out-of-water story arc — an approach that helps audiences get to know the world of the Wastelands alongside Lucy. Her journey, as she ventures deeper into the Wastelands in search of her father, provides the clear throughline by which the first season is structured (and an easy hero to root for).

“What I loved about Lucy was that even though she’s innocent and naive and lacks experience, she’s not afraid,” Purnell tells Inverse.

But as Lucy adapts to the ruthless world of the Wastelands, she, as well as the audience, uncovers various mysteries. Who is The Ghoul and how is his past tied to the Vaults? Why did a band of surface dwellers kidnap Lucy’s father and Vault overseer Hank? Those mysteries unfold over the course of the season, enriching a fairly straightforward rescue story.

“He’s a man with a secret,” MacLachlan says of Hank. “He has a past that we’ll learn about. I said, ‘I know how to play that.’”

Walton Goggins lends a new layer of depth to The Ghoul.

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Maximus and The Ghoul hold just as much weight in the show as Lucy, moreso as the story unfolds over its eight-episode first season. The Ghoul, played with a magnetic, tortured charisma by Goggins, feels like a particularly intriguing enigma for the show, with the first episode opening with a human version of The Ghoul 200 years before the events of the rest of the series. And Wagner confirms that the writers only had Goggins in mind when they started crafting the ensemble.

“We wrote the show hoping to get Walton Goggins,” Wagner tells Inverse. “He said yes before he read a script, which is really crazy and cool, and that’s who Walton is. Finding our Lucy and our Maximuses was a long process, and when we found them again, it clicked again. We just kept winning the lottery in terms of who we got. Getting Kyle MacLachlan to play the overseer, I just felt like we couldn’t stop winning on the casting front.”

“I just fell in love with the words on the page,” Goggins tells Inverse. “I read the first two [scripts], and I couldn’t believe what I was reading. I laughed out loud multiple times, and I cried a couple, two, or three times. I thought, ‘My God, if this is doing this on the page, if we get this right, what would this be like? What kind of a visual experience would this be?’”

The Western of the Future

Fallout leans into its Western influences.

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Visually, Fallout is impressive (and it should be, considering the $153 million budget Amazon poured into it). The Vaults are immaculately designed — aa atompunk paradise full of winding corridors and bright pastel colors. But the old-school Western frontiers of Wastelands are where Nolan and Joy’s expertise comes in, the duo having deeply familiarized themselves with the genre for four seasons on HBO’s Westworld.

“One of the things that we knew from the very beginning that we had to hold onto in common with Westworld was the grand practical scale of the production,” Nolan says. “These games are beautiful, and you’re not going to win in a computer graphics battle with Bethesda. The one thing that we felt like we could bring to the table was reality. So that commitment to practical on-location photography, slightly old-school, slightly new techniques with some old-school ideas, and that kind of grand palette and that grand scale was something that, frankly, has always worked for us.”

“One of the things I loved about Fallout is it is complicated, it is sophisticated.”

The series shot partially in Utah and Namibia on the Skeleton Coast, the latter of which provided the kind of old-school Western look that Nolan, who directs the first three episodes, is intimately familiar with. Fallout’s apocalyptic setting lent itself perfectly to what Nolan considers one of the strengths of the Western genre.

“There is no higher authority that’s telling you how to behave,” Nolan says. “One of the things I loved about Fallout is it is complicated, it is sophisticated, but at its core, there’s this essential premise of ‘What if the slate was wiped clean? What if you and the world around you had no rules, no limitations?’ And this is kind of the essential appeal of the Western.”

Goggins is also no stranger to the Western genre. The actor was happy to be back in the genre after iconic roles in Western shows like Justified and says he never felt worried about being typecast.

“It’s a genre that I love, and I’m a fan of, and it’s comforting to me,” Goggins says. “This is just one that came along, and it’s a science fiction, a movie with a Western element to it. The Western element is built in organically into the story.”

A Fallout Cinematic Universe?

If it succeeds, Fallout could be the beginning of a new TV franchise.

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The limitless possibilities extend beyond the Western genre that Fallout is embedded in. Wagner and Robertson-Dworet are looking to expand this first Fallout series into a whole TV universe.

“There’s absolutely potential for this to become a massive franchise,” Wagner says, adding dryly: “So many spinoffs you want to puke.”

But Wagner points out that there’s already a blueprint for a massive Fallout TV franchise in the games themselves. “Every little nook and corner of this world is interesting to me,” Wagner says. “And if [Fallout is] a success, sure.”

For now, Wagner and Nolan are operating under one guiding principle: a passion for the Fallout games.

“Regardless of what you’re adapting, the guide for me is work on material that you really love, that you really believe in,” Nolan says. “And I just love these games.”

Fallout premieres with all eight episodes of Season 1 on April 10 on Prime Video.

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