‘One Of Us Is Lying’ Author Karen M. McManus on Seeing Her Story Onscreen

One Of Us Is Lying - Season 1
Q&A
Nicola Dove/Peacock

Peacock’s murder mystery One of Us Is Lying is currently underway, with one more week between now and the anticipated big reveal about the death of About That creator Simon (Mark McKenna). And is it just us or are the Bayview Four — students Bronwyn (Marianly Tejada), Nate (Cooper Van Grootel), Cooper (Chibuikem Uche) and Addy (Annalisa Cochrane) — looking even guiltier?! Fingers crossed they solve this mystery, ASAP!

But first, we sat down to chat with author Karen M. McManus who penned the young adult novel of the same name that the series is based on. Below, McManus talks about her experiences as a consultant for the drama, and what she was most surprised by when watching the show’s pilot shoot.

What was your level of involvement with OOUIL?

Karen M. McManus: I wasn’t involved in setting the creative direction or outlining the series, but I did have the opportunity to read the scripts and provide notes.

It feels very true to your text in watching it, which feels like any author’s dream to see your story truly realized.

Yeah, of course, there’s always going to be changes — what works on the page won’t necessarily work in a visual medium. My primary goal was always that the emotional core of my characters remains intact, and I think that happened.

ONE OF US IS LYING — “One Of Us Is Not Like The Other” Episode 103 — Pictured: (l-r) Chibuikem Uche as Cooper, Zenia Marshall as Keely — (Photo by: Nicola Dove/Peacock)

What are some of the changes onscreen that excited you?

The nice thing about an eight-episode series is that it does give you room to expand in some areas, and there are characters who were side characters within the book, and they’re still side characters in the show — we are focused on our main four — but they have more opportunity to become part of the plot and part of the story, and that was fun to watch.

ONE OF US IS LYING — “One Of Us Is Not Like The Other” Episode 103 — Pictured: Barrett Carnahan as Jake — (Photo by: Nicola Dove/Peacock)

Did you get to work with the cast at all in developing their characters?

Not so much in that respect, I did get to meet most of them when I went to the pilot shoot in Vancouver [Canada]. I was really happy I got to go to that because shortly after, the world changed with the pandemic and when they were filming in New Zealand I was not able to go because of quarantine restrictions and my schedule, it just wasn’t feasible. But I did get a chance to stay connected with the cast on social media.

Did anything from that pilot shoot jump out at you and excite you for the series?

What’s kind of wild is that it took most of the day to shoot one scene. I had no idea how long everything takes. They’re shooting from different angles and different line readings and so that was really just so interesting to watch, but there’s a great moment, something new that was added to the show, a great moment of suspense that closes out Episode 1, and I thought that was really cool and fun to watch.

Was there anybody that when you saw them, you were like, ‘this is exactly who I pictured when I wrote this character’?

Yeah, and it’s so interesting when that happens because you don’t necessarily expect that people are going to look the way you pictured them, and that’s fine, they just need to embody the character. But when the character of Jake, the actor who plays Jake [Barrett Carnahan], I saw that audition tape and I was like, ‘What?! You pulled him straight out of my brain!’ It was the most surreal thing. He really does look exactly how I pictured Jake.

Was there any element in the book you were particularly worried about a TV show being able to pull off onscreen?

It was mostly just making sure the characters stayed true to who they were and that the bond between them was conveyed. I think that’s the heart of the book and why people respond to it the way that they do. The characters feel real to them, and they feel like they’re part of this friend group and they want to be part of this friend group and know more about them. So that was my primary focus. It’s not like I was worried that it could be pulled off, it was more like, that was definitely what I was looking for. And I do see it. I see it between the cast offscreen and I also see it onscreen.

There is one obvious reference, The Breakfast Club, that was a clear inspiration for the book. Can you talk a bit more about that and what else might’ve inspired you while writing the source material?

It’s a very clear memory to me. I was driving to work and the theme song from The Breakfast Club came on, and I turned it up because I love that song. And I started thinking about how that narrative structure of bringing people together who seem like they have nothing in common but are forced to interact and they realize they’re not so different after all, is really timeless and it can go in a lot of different directions. And I thought, what if it took a dark twist? I spent the rest of my commute thinking about what that might be, and then I couldn’t stop thinking about it for the rest of the day, and when I got home I started writing.

And it’s not always like that, with some books I remember where a kernel of the idea happened, but it’s not always that clear. That was definitely a moment that changed my life.

Now, you also wrote a follow-up novel, One of Us Is Next. Is there any plan to get that onscreen as well?

I don’t know! We’ll have to see. There’s a lot of things that would have to happen for that to work. That book is maybe a little more challenging as a Season 2 because there is a time jump and there are also some different characters, but we’ll have to see.

One of Us Is Lying, Thursdays, Peacock