Robert Towne reveals details about Chinatown prequel series with David Fincher

Headshot of Wenlei Ma
Wenlei Ma
The Nightly
Jack Nicholson in the original 1974 Chinatown.
Jack Nicholson in the original 1974 Chinatown. Credit: Paramount

“Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown” are five of the most memorable words in cinematic history, capturing the sense of defeatism in the face of greed, corruption and powerful institutions.

Directed by filmmaker and later convicted rapist Roman Polanski and starring Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, John Huston and Perry Lopez, Chinatown has long been considered one of the greatest films of all time.

The 1974 movie is a neo-noir set in 1930s Los Angeles, and follows Jake Gittes, a private detective hired by a woman to follow her husband, who she suspects of infidelity. Jake unravels a more complex scheme involving LA’s water supply, the city’s wealthy elite and a horrendous case of family abuse and violence.

Sign up to The Nightly's newsletters.

Get the first look at the digital newspaper, curated daily stories and breaking headlines delivered to your inbox.

Email Us
By continuing you agree to our Terms and Privacy Policy.

It was nominated for 11 Academy Awards, winning one Oscar for screenwriter Robert Towne.

Towne penned a sequel, The Two Jakes, which was released in 1990 with Jack Nicholson returning as star and taking on directing duties after a troubled and aborted earlier attempt to mount the film.

Jack Nicholson in the original 1974 Chinatown.
Faye Dunaway and Jack Nicholson were both Oscar-nominated for the 1974 film. Credit: Paramount

The Two Jakes was set a decade after Chinatown and it was a flop, losing millions at the box office and scrapping plans for a third film.

But that doesn’t mean that Towne was done with Chinatown. In 2019, Variety reported a Chinatown series was in development at Netflix with Towne co-writing the scripts with David Fincher who will direct.

There’s been scant updates on the project until this weekend, when Towne revealed the scripts are finished. He told Variety, “All I’m likely to say is yes, all the episodes have been written for Netflix. Working with a force of nature like David Fincher, tho’ occasionally humbling, is never less than enlightening.”

Fincher and Towne previously recorded a commentary track for Chinatown’s DVD release.

Fincher also has a long-standing relationship with Netflix, having made the chilling crime series Mindhunter for the streamer, as well as films Mank and The Killer. He was an executive producer on one of Netflix’s first originals, House of Cards, on which he also served as the set-up director.

According to Towne, the series is a prequel and will focus on a young Jake as a patrol cop in Chinatown, which was repeatedly referenced in the film. Jake even told Evelyn (Dunaway) that he did “as little as possible” when he worked there.

Jack Nicholson in the original 1974 Chinatown.
Jack Nicholson returned for 1990 sequel. Credit: Paramount

Towne said he liked the idea that the prequel will tell the story of a newly arrived in LA Jake, and that he’s drawn to this earlier version of the character made iconic by Nicholson. Towne had written Jake with Nicholson in mind.

“Because for all his bravado – his not playing by the rules, his penchant to be in charge – he controls events far less than events control.

“And by the time he figures it out, it’s much too late to do anything about it, which seems to me the plight of the very young and the very old.”

The story will also explore Jake’s relationship with Lou Escobar, a cop played by Lopez in the 1974 film.

“Chinatown, with all its implications for an evolving Los Angeles, is central to understanding the evolving Jake Gittes, as is his friendship with and dependence on his partner Lou Escobar.

“It was enlightening to delve into their backstory, Escobar’s in particular. Small details that are touched on in the film are given life and breadth in a way that surprised even me.”

Latest Edition

Friday 19 July The Nightly.

Latest Edition

Edition Edition 19 July 202419 July 2024

Airlines, banks, major companies fall victim to the very system designed to protect our cybersecurity.