FX Networks took over the Hollywood Athletic Club on Wednesday night for the star-studded premiere of its limited series, Under the Banner of Heaven. Premiering exclusively on Hulu, the gritty seriesis inspired by Jon Krakauer’s true crime bestselling novel which details the events that led to the 1984 murder of Brenda Wright Lafferty (Daisy Edgar-Jones) and her baby daughter in a suburb in the Salt Lake Valley, Utah.
As Detective Jeb Pyre (Andrew Garfield) investigates the events that transpired within the Lafferty family, he uncovers buried truths about the origins of the LDS religion and the violent consequences of unyielding faith.
Oscar winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black (Milk) serves as writer, producer, and showrunner on the FX series. Black cast an incredible ensemble that includes two-time Oscar nominee Andrew Garfield, Sam Worthington, Daisy Edgar-Jones, Gil Birmingham, Wyatt Russell, Seth Numrich, and Rory Culkin.
Oscar winning producers Brian Grazer and Ron Howard of Imagine Entertainment shepherded the series for many years until it ultimately found its home at FX. “I love all kinds of stories in every genre and Krakauer’s book blew me away,” Howard says. “When we decided to move to long-form storytelling… envisioning this as a series, that’s what led to this moment with this incredible cast.”
Howard finds the series to be an engrossing mystery that equally serves as a cautionary tale for the audience. “This answers the question of how fundamentalism creeps into peoples’ lives,” Howard says. “It takes something as beneficial as one’s faith and suddenly it becomes an engine of tragedy.”
Rising star Wyatt Russell (The Falcon and The Winter Soldier) plays Dan Lafferty, the favored brother of the Lafferty clan despite Sam Worthington’s Ron Lafferty being the eldest. “I grew up going to Jesuit and Episcopal schools and have a unique perspective coming into the project,” Russell shares. “Learning about religion academically is a very different approach compared to how the Lafferty family sees religion.”
For actor Sam Worthington, the evening is a rare break from working on the Avatar sequels with Oscar winning director James Cameron. Worthington reflected on his career defining relationship with Cameron. “I love Jim, he’s basically given me my American career as far back as recommending me for Terminator Salvation after casting me in Avatar,” Worthington shares.
The actor was drawn to the series after reading the Dustin Lance Black’s scripts and learning more about this national tragedy. “It’s a true story of a young girl and her baby who got murdered,” Worthington says. “You have to tell that tale properly out of respect for the family that are still alive. The show is not an expose on Mormonism, it’s about the radicalization of faith and how it goes wrong.”
In the series, Gil Birmingham (Hell or High Water, Wind River) plays a crusty alcoholic detective who partners with Garfield’s Jeb Pryor on the grizzly murder case of Brenda Lafferty and her daughter. “Andrew and I have some really powerful moments in the series,” Birmingham shares. “You never know if those moments will get there emotionally, and when they do you’re just so grateful as actors.”
For Seth Numrich, inhabiting Robin Lafferty was a very intense process. “A lot of this piece, I wouldn’t say that it’s enjoyable,” Numrich says. “There’s a family at the center of this and there’s so much darkness.”
The actor and several co-stars were given rare access to Mormon church rituals during filming. “There’s a scene where we get to see a Mormon church ceremony that’s very private, and it’s been controversial that we’re showing it on screen,” Numrich says. “It is a strange sequence and we’re all wearing white… it felt like a weird dream to shoot that.”
Once inside the Hollywood Athletic Club, FX Chairman John Landgraf introduced showrunner Dustin Lance Blackto the crowd. “Ron Howard started this journey with me ten years ago and it’s a real honor to be here with him tonight,” Black shared to the packed audience. The Oscar winner then went on to share personal details about his upbringing within the LDS faith and what drew him to tell Brenda Lafferty’s story.
FX partnered with Swisher Productions on the premiere with the overarching goal to bring the beautiful landscapes of the show to life, leaning into the ethereal scenery with pampas and long grasses, moody portraits, and neutral tones.
The FX original limited series Under the Banner of Heaven premieres April 28th, exclusively on Hulu. The premiere will feature the first two episodes, with a new episode available in each of the following five weeks.