Much of the fun of watching Netflix’s original series “Lupin,” inspired by the Maurice Leblanc books, is in anticipating what cleverness and charm Assane Diop (played by Omar Sy) will deploy to meet his goals. Fans of the famous French novels are looking for nods to the stories, while those who have never heard of the “gentleman thief” Arsène Lupin are simply engrossed in the thrill of watching Assane, say, steal Marie Antoinette’s jewels from the Louvre.
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With the anticipated premiere of part two of the story on Friday, series creator and showrunner George Kay continues to thread that needle as Assane rushes to save his son Raoul (Etan Simon) from the clutches of one of Hubert Pellegrini’s henchmen and prove Pellegrini’s guilt in framing Assane’s father.
“With my script editor, Joe Williams, I often say, ‘We need to break into a building. How are we going to do it? What buildings can we use from the books? What ways to break in can we use? What tricks? OK we need to do this — but what if we took that idea from that story, and we used it in a different way to break in somewhere?’” Kay says of the writing process. “If we were an Arsène Lupin devotee, what little Easter eggs can we drop into the show? At all times we’re representing the fanbase both on screen and in the writing.”
In the series, Assane is an enormous fan of the books, having been gifted a copy from Pellegrini’s library as a child. That consequently means Kay is careful not to adapt any heists or tricks directly from the novels, since the literature exists within the framework of the show.
“We’ve got to be careful about where fiction within our fictional show exists, where that line crosses over into just our show,” he says. “Once we set up that grammar, we have to cherry-pick and be knowing in our references — that’s why Assane choosing and acknowledging his inspiration when he’s referencing it.”
Outside of France, Arsène Lupin is not a household name. But that is quickly changing. In February, Netflix said that after the premiere of “Lupin,” Leblanc’s original 1907 novel began picking up steam in Italy, Spain, the U.S., the U.K. and Korea, “with sales reaching the equivalent of one year’s worth in just 15 days.”
Kay uses the novels alternately as a shorthand, an inspiration and a “get-out-of-jail free card when I’m stuck in a situation.”
“We constantly feed the hungry monster of Lupin fans by dropping references to it,” he adds. “For example, in Episode 7, the hotel room door that Pellegrini is in is 813, which is a famous Arsène Lupin novel. In Fabienne Beriot’s flat in Episode 4 in Part 1, there’s a seven of hearts [playing card] that’s most prominent on the table — that’s also a famous Lupin story.”
That will all go over the heads of viewers new to the world of Lupin, of course. But there are also contextual clues that can help them connect the dots. At one point, Assane calls detective Youssef Guedira (played by Soufiane Guerrab) “Ganimard,” the name of the detective in Leblanc’s novels, with the understanding that the two characters have a shared love of the books.
Part 2 kicks off with a car chase as Assane frantically looks for his son, and Guedira, posing as a passerby, offers his help to a seemingly unknowing Assane. Even as the stakes escalate and the tone is more urgent and less playful, it was important to Kay to keep the series’ signature sleight of hand in play.
“[Assane] keeps Guedira locked in the car just when Guedira thinks he’s his friend. He already knows Guedira is a cop, but he needed his help as well,” explains Kay. “But you start also to see Assane failing, or feeling like he’s failing. He doesn’t get Raoul [back] in Episode 5. The wheels start to come off slightly, and you see a story about a father here, rather than a Lupin-inspired thief. It’s not until we’re back in Paris that things get back on track, and it’s a great leveler for him. He’s back in his playground.”
After Part 2 ends — and with Part 3 already confirmed — what can viewers expect from the adventures of Assane Diop?
Kay plans to “create a new adventure that will run forward form there and further unsettle Assane,” he reveals. He doesn’t intend for the show to leave Paris, and will keep mining Assane’s past to heighten the emotional stakes. Expect new characters and more thrilling complications, and primarily, “the story of this family man who just happens to be a kind of superhero in his spare time.”
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