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'Ripley' Cast and Creator on the Art-House Mystique of Netflix's Noir Hit

Why black and white? Series creator Steve Zaillian and stars Andrew Scott and Johnny Flynn discuss the creative choices that make Ripley so unique.

Aaron Pruner
Aaron Pruner is a writer at CNET. He covers what's exciting and new in the world of home entertainment and streaming TV. Previously, he wrote about entertainment for places like Rotten Tomatoes, Inverse, TheWrap, and The Hollywood Reporter. Aaron is also an actor and stay-at-home dad, which means coffee is his friend.
Aaron Pruner
4 min read

To say that Netflix's Ripley is different doesn't do the show justice. The eight-episode series from writer-director Steve Zaillian stars Andrew Scott as the titular con-man, Johnny Flynn as dilettante Dickie Greenleaf and Dakota Fanning as his girlfriend Marge. It gives a new, brooding perspective on grifter Tom Ripley, the antihero originated in Patricia Highsmith's bestselling book series.

In an era of colorful, quick-moving, CGI-filled thrillers, Ripley charts its own path: It's a scaled-down, black-and-white exploration of a con artist out of his depths, doing his best not to drown. And to me, it's the most beautiful thing Netflix has ever put on screen.

Netflix offered select press members an opportunity to discuss Ripley with the cast and creator in multiple press conferences promoting the series. CNET attended these chats, where the creator and cast members discussed the program's unique narrative and offered further insight into the creative choices that brought the arthouse-style series to life.

"The book [The Talented Mr. Ripley] was written in 1955," Zaillian said. "It really is a kind of noir story, sort of the narrative version, or the novelistic version of film noir, and that means shoot in black-and-white."

Instead of retreading the 1999 movie, directed by Anthony Minghella and starring Matt Damon, Jude Law and Gwyneth Paltrow, Zaillian explained why he leaned into the noir of it all.

"I felt that it would be distinctive in black and white because it wouldn't be like some sunny postcard of a story, which I don't think the book was," he continued. "It was rather dark and foreboding, and I wanted to shoot in Italy in the winter to get this kind of shadowy film noir feel for Italy. So black-and-white lent itself to that."

When audiences think of Italy, a vacation locale mostly comes to mind. We envision romantic gondola rides and sun-soaked beaches encapsulated in a cobblestone-laden old-world locale. Going against the grain, Zaillian placed the story (and, subsequently, the cast and crew) in beautiful Italian destinations like the Amalfi Coast, Naples, Palermo, Rome and Venice. But he did so during the off-season, revealing a colder, starker side to the tourist spots.

andrew scott as tom ripley in ripley on netflix

Andrew Scott as Tom Ripley.


"Steve's idea, which is true in the book, as opposed to other versions of the story, was that none of the warmth of Italy we know about is really represented," Flynn said. "It's kind of out of season. I mean, [Dickie and Marge] are the only people on the beach when Tom finds them, which I love the framing of that. And we were really there in these incredibly beautiful places that people go on holiday as the seasons changed, and the only people left were the local fishermen."

When the tourists leave, Italy's beauty remains. But in the absence of all the crowds, Ripley reveals itself as the antithesis of "a sunny postcard of a story," as Zaillian mentioned earlier.

"In terms of the atmosphere that we felt, there's a darkness especially on the Amalfi Coast," Flynn added. "It's incredibly beautiful. Crumbling villages right on the sea; and then there are mountains, so there are huge shadows, and there are these strange caverns and stairways. All of that, I think, is what makes the atmosphere of the story have that, kind of, Gothic noir quality that's very beautiful, but also quite eerie."

The series paces itself on its terms. Calling to mind the patient tone of cinematic classics like Federico Fellini's 8 1/2 or even Jim Jarmusch's Dead Man, Ripley doesn't rush. Removing the color spectrum from the visual palette of the show signifies that this is a cinematic program operating by the narrative rules of, say, Alfred Hitchcock. It kicks to the curb the overproduced, oversaturated entertainment trends we've become accustomed to in recent decades.

Zaillian used the camera like a paintbrush, keeping its position fixed throughout every episode.

andrew scott as tom ripley in ripley on netflix

Andrew Scott in Ripley.


"I did want everything in this to be like you could stop on any frame and say yes, that's a nice photo or that's a nice painting," he continued. "I didn't move the camera around a lot. I would make [the cast] move in the camera, in the frame, again because I just felt that for this story, I wanted to be rather, I don't know, sort of perfectly composed. Everything's kind of like almost like you're in a museum. And, you know, it takes time, but it's important to me. So, you know, we took the time to do it."
Ripley takes advantage of its surroundings, but also taps into the talent of local Italian actors and crew members. This further helps bring to life the country's old-world cultural minutiae in a way few other pieces of recent entertainment have done.

When asked about the intricate narrative elements that define Ripley, series star Andrew Scott drew a compelling comparison. He likened the experience of watching Ripley to the act of reading a piece of literature, inviting the audience to immerse themselves in the show's depth and richness.

"I think the black-and-white and the visuals really matched with the tone and the pacing of the show because we're taught how to watch it," the actor said. "We're invited to sort of be mesmerized by the way the story unfolds in the same way that we are in a novel. Steve said something interesting, which is that, of course, if Patricia Highsmith was writing at the time, and she was thinking about it as a film, she would be thinking about it in black-and-white, in that sense, and I think that's a very interesting way to look at it."

Further encapsulating this point, Scott concluded: "Steve, he read the novel, and it had a black-and-white cover on it, and I love that that can ignite something completely different in different filmmakers. I love the fact that another artist can ignite the imagination of another artist, and I hope our series can ignite the imagination of artists who might watch this, too."

Ripley is now streaming on Netflix.