The foreboding front face of Sowden House sneaks up on you as you drive down the busy Los Angeles street on which it sits.
The Loz Feliz neighborhood that surrounds it is so ordinary, after sundown, it’s easy to drive right past the museum-like structure that was once home to notorious Black Dahlia murder suspect Dr. George Hodel.
On this night, there’s no better venue for an event celebrating TNT suspense-thriller “I Am the Night,” about a woman (India Eisley) who was given away at birth and as an adult discovers a past with ties to Hodel. (TNT, like CNN, is part of WarnerMedia.)
The story, inspired by the real-life story of Fauna Hodel, reunites “Wonder Woman” director Patty Jenkins with actor Chris Pine, who appeared in the first film and will reprise his role in the upcoming sequel.
“I Am the Night” is the darkest material they’ve tackled together. It is, after all, a show that starts off with a grotesque murder. But Pine, who succumbed to a big yawn after a busy day of press as our conversation began, seems to enjoy keeping things light on set and off.
At one point, I ask Jenkins half-jokingly if Pine is her muse. To this, he puts his hands together underneath his chin and bats his almost too-blue eyes, striking a pose more suited for a baby posing for Anne Geddes than a Hollywood leading man with a number of commercial successes under his belt.
“He’s definitely…he definitely sets my mind on fire with great things that he could do, as long as he keeps doing that,” she says, pausing every few words to laugh at Pine.
“Some people get off on friction and the yelling and the [idea that] creating has to be this sort of chaotic, angry, aggressive thing. That is where I, basically, completely shut down,” Pine says. “I like to basically experience as much joy as humanly possible, even in the dark stuff.”
Working with Jenkins, he says, “we just tend to laugh a lot.”
If there is any moments of lightness while watching “I Am the Night,” they come in the form of Pine’s character, Jay Singletary, a former Marine who turns to making a living as a tabloid reporter.
“Jay, for all of his complete inadequacies as a human being and his flailing about, is really…he’s just funny,” Pine says. “He’s just kind of ridiculous and tragic. So a lot of the times, [work involved] just making Patty laugh and that’s kind of what I like to do.”
The television series, which aired as a special preview on TNT after the SAG Awards but premieres at its regular time on Monday, marks Pine’s first time as an executive producer. (CNN and TNT share parent company WarnerMedia.)
The finer points of story structure came naturally to him, he says. The nuances of budgeting, less so.
“We had an ongoing joke about him cutting chairs and saving $20 in the back room,” Jenkins says, laughing along with Pine.
The giggles stop, though, when Pine talks about what he feels are his responsibilities going forward as an executive producer, especially at a time when gender parity and inclusivity in Hollywood are in the spotlight.
“I grew up in a family of very strong women, so I would like to say that going forward I would just kind of naturally do that. What I also know is that there is a limited pool – now a growing pool – of people of color, of different sexual and gender backgrounds, women, etc. But that pool is growing and that in order to create parity, one might have to intentionally seek that out,” he says.
That’s something Pine is willing to do.
“I think that’s necessary,” he says.
For Jenkins, her personal goal with “I Am the Night” was doing the story of Fauna Hodel, whom she’d known for years before her 2017 death, justice.
“Just telling a series of events, you’d be better doing it in a documentary,” Jenkins says. “What was special about Fauna was she was, like the rest of us, someone who wanted to be somebody in the world, someone who wanted to be somebody who had an identity that defined them in a positive way.”
It, of course, did not work out quite the way Fauna Hodel expected, but in that, Jenkins found inspiration.
“Every single thing she discovered was worse, and yet, when she was sitting across from me telling me her story, she was like a ray of light and completely happy in the world despite the fact she wasn’t famous and she wasn’t rich,” Jenkins says. “She hadn’t found those things, but she had found inner peace.”