Just like the rest of us, David Hoflin vaguely remembers reading The Great Gatsby as a high school student. But before landing the role of its famous author, he didn’t know much about the lavish, tumultuous life of F. Scott Fitzgerald or his wife, Zelda. The new Amazon Prime series Z: The Beginning of Everything zeroes in on the early stages of the couple’s relationship, depicting their first meeting in Zelda’s hometown of Montgomery, AL and their rise to fame in New York City after the publication of Fitzgerald’s first novel This Side of Paradise. Watching Christina Ricci’s portrayal of sassy, larger-than-life Zelda and Hoflin’s volatile F. Scott, it’s clear why popular culture continues to become more and more obsessed with these two—they rival the reality stars of today, only they do it all to a soundtrack of jazz and with illegal cocktails in hand.
Did you know anything about F. Scott Fitzgerald and his life before this show?
If someone came up to me and said, “Who was F. Scott Fitzgerald?” I would say he was a famous American novelist who wrote The Great Gatsby. Beyond that thought, I wouldn’t really know much about him. We studied him at school in Australia, but again.
What did you think of it as a teen in Australia?
To be honest, when I was reading it at 15 or 16 years old, I wasn’t really that interested in The Great Gatsby. It kind of went over my head, but funnily enough, I remember it, and I don’t really remember a lot from that time period.
You hear that so often—that people didn’t pay much attention to it in high school, and then love reading the book later in life.
I don’t think it’s an accident that The Great Gatsby got so huge, but unfortunately [F. Scott Fitzgerald] never really got to experience that success. I think for us in Australia, from what I can remember, I best remember the characters more than the scenery. I remember New York, I remember, was it the Hamptons? They went to a beach house, but I didn’t know much about the geography of New York at the time, so it might as well have been a magical land. I think when I read it now I can read it with a whole different outlook because I know New York a lot better than I did before. I just remember we had to do essays on it and questions and all that kind of stuff. Back in those times, I looked at it as work. I don’t think I was old enough to really appreciate his writing.
What did you read to prepare for the role?
I read his book This Side of Paradise, which is what propelled him into fame. So I read that as quickly as I could, because the main character in This Side of Paradise was heavily based on what F. Scott thought of himself. Rather than read up on what other people described F. Scott as, I wanted to see if I could get an idea of who he thought he was. I read some short stories as well, but I haven’t, on purpose, read anything further, because I didn’t want to preempt anything that happened later on. This first season only deals with the first few years of their relationship, so I didn’t want to get into his other novels. I certainly didn’t want to read Gatsby. I didn’t want to read his life moving forward, because I wanted to be in that moment in time.
That’s interesting. I was wondering if you’d found any newspaper articles or anything like that about him from that time period.
There is a lot around. Even stemming from reviews of his books and writing. Rejection letters he got from Scribner. The letters he wrote to Zelda. Those Zelda wrote back. Letters he wrote to H.L. Mencken. I think you could go crazy reading up on his life, and you’re going to get so many different opinions on the same occurrence. I didn’t read a lot of reviews on his books and things like that. I do know—well I don’t know, but I think—that F. Scott had quite a large ego and he was very much affected by the reviews of his books. I don’t think he’s very good at taking on people’s opinions. I think he really struggled with that for his whole life.
How did you make such a famous character your own?
We tried to make these characters as realistic as possible, because I think a lot of the time in the 1920 period dramas or films, they don’t feel like they’re real. They are kind of a caricature of the time. I think what we mostly put across was that they were two very young people. They got married very early, they got married before they were really knew each other, and they basically had a relationship of passion that had a lot of upsides and also a lot of torment.