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‘Sacred Lies,’ based on the novel by Spokane’s Stephanie Oakes, makes its debut on Facebook Watch

UPDATED: Thu., July 26, 2018

“Sacred Lies,” a new drama series from Facebook Watch, will drop its first three episodes at 6 p.m. Friday, and Spokane author Stephanie Oakes couldn’t be happier: The show is based on her debut novel, “The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly.”

Oakes’ 2015 novel, itself a take on the Brothers Grimm story “The Handless Maiden,” centers on a teenage girl, Minnow Bly, who lives in the Montana wilderness with her family in a cult headed by a self-proclaimed prophet. When the commune collapses, she finds herself having to navigate a world she barely recognizes.

Oakes has only seen bits and pieces of the footage, but she read all the scripts in advance and visited the set when filming began. She’ll be tuning in Friday to see how it’s come together. “I’m excited that it’s finally going to be out there and that people will get to see it,” she said.

The series fully tells the story in Oakes’ novel over 10, 30-minute episodes. After this week’s premiere, the remaining episodes will be released on a weekly basis.

“Sacred Lies” was created by writer-producer Raelle Tucker, whose credits include “True Blood,” “The Returned” and “Supernatural.” Tucker read Oakes’ novel and felt an instant connection to Minnow, she said. Like Minnow, Tucker was raised in a cult; she spent about 2 1/2 years living in a Rajneeshee commune in the Laurel Canyon neighborhood of Los Angeles. She remembers her community gathering to watch VHS tapes of Baghwan Shree Rajneesh speaking. People would cry and have these very intense connections to what they were hearing and seeing.

Tucker did not.

“I didn’t feel that. I would just think, ‘That’s an old Indian man who is saying some funny things,’ ” Tucker said. “What I was interested in was, how do you get people to believe in you? It became something I was always fascinated in. What sort of magic do you have to have to make people give up their whole lives to follow you?”

She has explored that question in several TV projects over her career, but “Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly” was the first book she’s read about cults that seemed very original and realistic.

“First of all, Stephanie Oakes is a beautiful writer, and it was a book that instantly touched me and felt so emotional and unique in its voice,” she said. “But Minnow was a character I so identified with, as her family brought her into this belief system that she didn’t choose and she grew up in this bubble outside of normal society.”

She added, “I felt like I could get into the experience of having to come out into the world and figure out who you are and what you believe in.”

The series stars Elena Kampouris (“My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2,” “Before I Fall”) as Minnow, Kevin Carroll (“Blindspotting,” “The Leftovers”) as Dr. Wilson, and Toby Huss (“Halt and Catch Fire”) as the Prophet.

One of the big challenges for Kampouris in playing Minnow is that – in line with the original fairy tale – her hands have been cut off. Tucker said it took five or six different prosthetic devices, some CGI wizardry in post-production and careful work with a consultant (who had lost a hand in the same place as Minnow and at the same age) to bring that part of the portrayal to the screen. Kampouris had her hands taped up for six months, Tucker said, and had to learn to do things like pick up a tray without them.

“It was really intensive work to pull this off,” Tucker said. “But the goal is you will watch this show and you will stop seeing that it is a show about a handless girl. You’ll be startled by this image and then you’ll come to see her as this beautiful, badass survivor.”

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