When former Washington resident Stephanie Land was selling the film/TV rights to her 2019 bestselling memoir, “Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive,” she met with representatives from 10 production companies.
“A lot of them wanted to do a movie and to keep it very tightly focused on the book and make it a true adaptation and that just didn’t sound great to me,” Land says by phone from her Missoula, Montana, home in mid-September. “I kept hearing that [movie trailer] guy’s voice: ‘One white woman’s dip into poverty and how she got herself out.’ That was the worst-case scenario for me.”
On her 10th meeting — with TV writer/director John Wells (“ER,” “The West Wing,” “Shameless”) and Margot Robbie (the actor has her own production company, Lucky Chap) — Land liked what she heard.
“They offered to fictionalize the story and I really appreciate that because my story is tightly focused on me,” says Land, whose memoir focuses on two years during which she worked as a housecleaner, earning $9 an hour. “It’s a memoir, so you’re limited to your own experience and mine was one of loneliness and desolation, so I didn’t really interact with a lot of people and they talked about bringing in the characters of my social worker and my boss.”
That also met another one of Land’s goals for a filmed version of “Maid.”
“I felt very strongly about the show looking like how the world looks so it brought a lot of diversity to the cast,” she says. “And I really wanted that because it’s not a white person’s story; 90% of domestic workers are people of color.”
When the package deal — “Maid,” made by Lucky Chap, John Wells Productions and Warner Bros. Television — sold to Netflix, Land was especially pleased.
“Even when I was at my most broke, I could always afford Netflix,” Land says. “I want poor people to be able to access this. I want them to be able to see themselves in an authentic way. The show definitely does that.”
Adapted for Netflix by playwright-turned-TV-writer Molly Smith Metzler (“Orange is the New Black,” “Shameless”) with four of the 10 episodes directed by Wells, the “Maid” series, which premieres Oct. 1, fictionalizes all the characters and locations from Land’s book. Port Townsend is now Port Hampstead.
“I don’t do a very good job at all of disguising that it’s Port Townsend,” Metzler says. “You’ll see in the show the houses all have a little Victorian bent and it’s clearly on the water with a lot of boats and harbors. And it’s a very artistic community. Alex’s mother is an artist. It’s a real homage.”
The series, filmed in Victoria, B.C., begins as Alex (Margaret Qualley) leaves Sean (Seattle native Nick Robinson, “Love, Simon”), her emotionally abusive boyfriend, taking daughter Maddy (Rylea Nevaeh Whittet) with her. Alex’s undiagnosed bipolar hippie-artist mother (Andie MacDowell, who is Qualley’s mother in real life) is of little help, so it’s not long before Alex is looking for work and finds a job cleaning houses.
“There are so many ways to present poverty that perpetuates stigmas and you can do it wrong so easily, so before I watched the series I was kind of nervous about that,” Land says. “I didn’t think they were going to be able to visibly show what it’s like to have two bucks in your pocket and fear and trauma and insecurity of losing everything and they did it so well. They also showed that relationships you can fall into can be incredibly toxic and abusive but don’t leave any physical evidence and how traumatizing it can be.”
Metzler says she was tapped to create a series inspired by Land’s memoir probably because of her play “Cried Out,” about new mothers from different class strata.
In addition to the setting, two of the show’s stars have regional ties. Metzler says she was interested in casting Seattle native Robinson against type after seeing him on Broadway in “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
“He brought a great perspective about the class divide in cities like Seattle, and the big expansion between high and low,” Metzler says, “but how there’s also a kind of Northwest pride about things, that people are suffering invisibly but in plain sight. I think he captured that Pacific Northwest pride.”
Bellingham native Billy Burke plays Alex’s father.
“He was always talking to us about a beer from the Pacific Northwest and encouraged us to use it as a prop,” Metzler says, chuckling.
Although Land, who gets an executive producer credit on the Netflix series, did not give notes on scripts, Metzler says the author was “a wonderful resource for all of us in the production from day one.” Metzler would go to Land with questions, and even before scripting on the series began, Land met Metzler and Wells in Seattle to take them on what Metzler dubbed “the trauma tour” of places Land lived and cleaned in Port Townsend.
“It was just pouring [rain] the whole time and I have this memory of Stephanie Land standing in the middle of a park alone, and just these trees, how tall and huge they were and how dark it was to be her, and how they just dwarfed her, this little woman with these huge trees,” Metzler recalls. “I went home very inspired to capture that.”