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'The Stranger': Why the Netflix Series Made Big Changes From the Harlan Coben Novel

The Stranger on Netflix is an adaptation of Harlan Coben's 2015 novel of the same name, but some big changes have been made on the way from page to streaming service. Most noticeably, The Stranger has been turned from a male character into a female one, played by Ant-Man and the Wasp's Hannah John-Kamen, and the story has been moved from New Jersey to a British town (the series was filmed in and around Manchester in the north of England).

At a press screening of The Stranger, Coben said of the process of adapting his book to a 10-episode TV show: "I don't like an adaptation that keeps slavishly devoted to the text. I think that's boring and weird, just read the f***ing book if you want the experience of the book.

"I love the idea that we changed things around and modernized it and had different characters, so for me moving it to a new destination is fun and it was exhilarating and gives me extra energy to help retell the story."

According to the thriller writer, the decision to change the gender of The Stranger was down to the power of Kamen's audition: "I first had the idea of making The Stranger in this case female... as soon as we realized Hannah could do it. She's just The Stranger. I can't believe I ever wrote it for someone other than Hannah now.

the stranger netflix book
The Stranger (right) is female in the Netflix version of the Harlan Coben story Netflix

"We did have a lot of auditions and it wasn't really working, we tried with guys and then Hannah was there and it was like 'bam.'"

As to why he decided to change the location, Coben spoke of his desire to change up his stories when they get made into series and films. He said, "I've had stuff made in other countries, the first I did we took a real New Jersey story and set it in Paris and I like that hybrid thing." However, the location change may also be partly down to the fact that The Stranger is made by British production company Red, which has filmed many of its series, like HBO's Years and Years, Logo's Cucumber and the original Queer as Folk, in Manchester.

Compared to the book, Netflix's The Stranger is more condensed in its location, which may have also been a cost-cutting decision on the part of the production company. Coben said: "We condensed the world. In the book, The Stranger is dropping bombs all over the country, here The Stranger is dropping the bombs in one community."

Producer Danny Brocklehurst revealed that this location change led to a few more plot changes from the novel, like the lack of guns in the U.K. compared to in the U.S. He said: "Culturally it's difficult as people have got access to weapons much more easily in America than in the U.K., so we're forever having this discussion. As the plot moves through Harlan's books, inevitably someone pulls out a gun, which is not, even now, that common for people to have in the U.K., so it does become tricky."

The cultural differences between the two countries also had to be worked out over the course of the writing process. Coben said of this, "There were a few things like that but we usually discuss those. Every once in a while I say 'that may be too British' and they'll tease me, and [they'll say] 'that may be too American' and we figure it out."

This is something that is even referenced in the series. In Episode 7, Wesley (Kadiff Kirwan), a character who was invented for the Netflix show, offers Johanna (Siobhan Finneran) a hug during an emotional time and she replies: "Let's not get all American."

The Stranger is streaming now on Netflix.

'The Stranger': Why the Netflix Series Made Big Changes From the Harlan Coben Novel | Culture