‘Harlan Coben’s Shelter’ Cast on Keeping the High-School Thriller Real



At the Monte-Carlo Television Festival, the cast of “Harlan Coben’s Shelter” – which debuts on Prime Video on Aug. 18 – spoke about how the show rings true when it comes to presenting a true representation of the country’s diversity, and delivering an authentic depiction of teenage life in the U.S.

At the press conference for the show, which followed its world premiere at the festival, were Jaden Michael, Constance Zimmer, Adrian Greensmith and Abby Corrigan, alongside Edward Ornelas, one of the show’s executive producers and directors.

Michael, who plays Mickey Bolitar in the teen thriller, said: “When I was growing up, there was one movie I watched religiously. It was called ‘Imagine That’ with Eddie Murphy, Nicole Ari Parker and Yara Shahidi – it was one of her first projects. And I watched that movie on repeat daily, because it was the only movie where I saw someone who looked like me.

“Even in 2009, it was the only movie that I saw with a young person my age who felt and looked like me, not completely, but I could resonate with them deeply. It was the film that inspired me to be an actor, to be deeply passionate about it.

“And so, for me, it’s just always a goal with every script that I read: Does this show, does this film have the ability to inspire my young version, the five-year-old me? Is a five, six or seven year old going to be inspired by seeing themselves on the screen, and find something within themselves that they love?”

The pilot contains a scene where Mickey faces discrimination by the police because he is a person of color. Michael praised the show for getting the tone of such scenes right.

“I think that’s what makes ‘Shelter’ so incredible,” he told Variety after the press conference. “There are a lot of teen dramas, there are a lot of high school dramas, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a show quite like ‘Shelter.’ And I mean that genuinely. It’s one of those shows where it’s so incredibly complex, and the characters are very, very diverse. And it can be difficult because you have to remember, you’re telling a story for young people, but I’m a young person, and I understand what’s going on. So, I know other people my age will understand. And a lot of it is letting go of the stigma that kids can’t understand this, teenagers can’t understand this, and no, I understand this, I’m a kid, I’m a teenager. I know my friends know what’s going on here, and the subtext.

“Specifically in that scene with the police officer, I can draw from some personal experiences where I’ve been unjustly characterized by the police, by people. And I live in New York City, which is one of the most diverse places in the world, yet even still it exists.”


Another issue that the show deals with is that of loss and grief, as Mickey’s parents die at the start of the series, and Michael can relate to that too on a visceral level, while also distinguishing between Mickey’s experience and his own.

“Something I was really going into and helped me a lot in my personal life was really going and breaking down the levels of grief,” he said. “There are seven layers – some people say nine – but there are layers to the grief. And people have collected these feelings into groups, and into a theory, but in reality, everyone who I’ve spoken to, and how I felt during grief, personally … it’s never linear. Those feelings never happen in a specific line. But you always feel those feelings, and so sometimes you feel guilty, sometimes you feel horror and anger, and Harlan did such an impeccable job at orchestrating why we feel a certain way and creating such complex characters that way.”

He explained why he could relate to Mickey’s grief. “I lost my father when I was nine. So, in many ways, I could connect to Mickey. But it’s something that I never feel like I got a lot of help with. So, I didn’t want to use that for Mickey, because Mickey grows, Mickey overcomes it eventually, and that’s his arc. And I haven’t, so I didn’t want to impose my feelings, my lack of mental health on Mickey. Maybe early on, in the first couple of episodes, but later on, it’s not healthy for Mickey. So, I spoke to a lot of people and friends who have lost someone and have gotten over it because that was the key part … that Mickey overcomes his struggle.”

When asked about the roles he’d like to take on in the future, Michael said he would love to play Miles Morales, but he also has a personal project he’s developing, “90 Miles,” which is the distance between Cuba and the Florida Keys, he explained.

“I love ‘Spider-Man,’ and I would love to play Miles Morales. That’s maybe my dream role… But, I don’t know. I’m always trying to find stories that feel authentic, and ‘Shelter’ does that.

“I’m working right now on a project … it’s about a Cuban defector. He’s a baseball player, and people think it’s a baseball story, but it’s not, it’s a story about being an immigrant to the country you’re going to, and also being ostracized from the country you come from, which is a very specific relationship with your home.

“It’s one of those stories where the idea is that someone’s journey is to become a successful baseball player, but in the end, it’s about being an immigrant and surviving.”

In the press conference in Monte-Carlo, Corrigan, who plays Ema Winslow in “Shelter,” also spoke about the show’s inclusive and diverse casting. “Ema in this adaptation is queer, and I am also queer. And I think it’s a really magical thing to have representation, especially at this time.

“It’s interesting because I feel like she’s searching in many other ways, but in this way, she’s actually very, very intent and knows who she is, which is an amazing thing to see because generally we don’t see that I think on television.”

Later, she came back to this point, saying: “Queer representation is really important, and it is becoming more and more so, especially in the younger community. It’s so important at this time for queer people to be seen on the screen, and also to be seen in environments where they are in their integrity, not just like, ‘What am I? What am I doing?’ People being seen for: ‘I am who I am, and that is what I am. And I don’t have to answer any other questions.’”

Earlier, Corrigan had explained that her character was based on someone very close to Harlan Coben, the author of the series of novels on which the show is based, and the co-showrunner. “My character is roughly based off of Harlan’s daughter [Charlotte Coben], and so I talked a lot with Charlotte, and I read the books and just absorbed them as much as I could. And I think that’s what’s special about the show: It’s very, very different from the books, but I believe all the characters’ hearts are the same.”

Greensmith, who plays Arthur “Spoon” Spindell, spoke about how he had approached the books, when preparing for the show: “I read the books after getting the part, and I remember having a phone call with Harlan about ‘Just what are we doing? Like, what is this? In terms of like, are we doing the books or is this different?’ And he was very clear about it: ‘Forget the books, we’re making something new. This is a whole new product.’”

He added: “I agree with Abby about the heart of the books. But it was also very freeing, I think, to almost treat it as a blank slate, with the inspiration being a bit more abstract, rather than having like real specific plot points and characterizations to go on. So, I find that quite freeing and inspiring at the same time.”

The show is set and was shot in Coben’s home state, New Jersey, including at his alma mater, Livingston High School, which is the school that the teenagers attend in the show. Ornelas said: “Something that struck me about the books and the project is that I think they are deceptively personal for Harlan, and I got that sense when I was with him, and that was a big part of wanting to understand who this person is, because once Harlan was on my radar, I saw his books everywhere. I couldn’t go anywhere on the planet without seeing his books, and so there’s this kind of mystique about this incredibly successful author. But inside of that all these words come and all these ideas and stories, and this one I felt was different.”


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