Adapted from author John Green's beloved 2005 debut novel of the same name, Hulu's eight-episode series tells the story of Miles “Pudge” Halter (Charlie Plummer), as he enrolls in a sleep-away boarding school to try and gain a deeper perspective on life. There, he falls in love with the free-spirited Alaska Young (Kristine Froseth) and befriends a group of fellow classmates. After an unexpected tragedy, Miles and his friends attempt to make sense of what they’ve been through.
Developed by executive producers Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage (The O.C., Gossip Girl), who are fluent in teen speak, the series captures the youthful awkwardness and uncertainty that comes with living through those formative teenage years, when "firsts," failures and tragedies hold life-and-death stakes. It took a years for Looking for Alaska to come to fruition -- at one point, it was supposed to be turned into a movie -- but patience won out.
"John's voice, the way he writes about the world really resonated with me," Schwartz, 43, tells ET. "I identify with Miles in so many ways; I think everybody's had an Alaska in their lives, male or female, tragic or non-tragic. Somebody who's come into your life and changed your life with both joy and pain. The characters were smart and kind of nerdy but confident in their own world and their own way, and had their own secret handshakes, histories and inside jokes, and all of that reminded me of my friends growing up."
Instead of the typical interview set-up, ET asked Green -- whose own high school experiences inspired the book -- to ask the young Looking for Alaska cast questions of his own and the best-selling author delivered. Over the course of a wide-ranging 30-minute conversation, Plummer, Froseth, Denny Love (Chip "The Colonel" Martin)and Jay Lee (Takumi Hikohito) opened up about their first times reading the book, the difficult subject matter that the show covers, getting emotional over the ending and turned the tables on Green to ask their biggest burning questions from the book.
"When I was 15... I really felt like I connected with Pudge especially, probably to a fault even," Plummer, 20, tells Green of the first time he read the novel. "I really felt so connected to his thought process and what he wanted so much out of life at that moment in his life... I remember it so vividly. I remember reading the book in the front room of the house, putting it down and immediately being like, 'I gotta be a part of this.'"
Plummer wrote the author a touching personal letter about his connection to the character and he recently revisited it. "I read it when I got it a year ago now. It was really sad actually because that was what was going on in my life at the time," he shares. "It was so in line with what Pudge has going on when he starts his journey as well."
"It was a really personal letter. I appreciated very much that you were willing to share that with me," says Green, who also wrote The Fault in Our Stars and Paper Towns. "When you were cast, that was my first thought was, 'It's amazing that it was Charlie and he feels such a connection to Miles.' Really, I saw all of your audition tapes and there were so many great actors ... but you were all just perfect. You see that in the show. You see the sense of camaraderie. What I really wanted for the story was how much -- in an insular environment like that -- your friends become your family. And even seeing y'all on set together for the first time, I was like, 'They've got it! They're already there.'"
For Froseth, the first time she laid eyes on Green's novel was when she was a high school student. "I just really remember feeling so much less alone. I remember feeling like I could really relate, not only to Alaska but to each character," the 23-year-old actress recalls, before addressing Green. " feel like you really put those thoughts and feelings onto paper so well, going through struggles with growing [up] and I just felt like I could really relate." When Green asked if the thought ever crossed her mind that she could one day play the eponymous heroine, Froseth adorably answered, "No! Never ever would I ever... no!"
Co-stars Love and Lee both had not heard of the story until they landed auditions, but once they read through the book, they knew immediately how "special" the limited series would be. After Love told a friend that he had scored an audition for the small-screen adaptation, his pal's interest level immediately went up. "I went to Barnes & Noble, instantly bought the book, read it in like a day. At that point I was like, 'This story is unlike anything I ever read.' I knew I needed to be a part of it," he tells Green, confessing that not knowing the "weight of the project" proved to work in his favor because "I would've trashed the audition."
Lee, meanwhile, was directing a play in college while he was auditioning for the role of Miles and Alaska's friend, Takumi, and he shared a poignant story about how impactful Green's book has been to others. "One of the cast members who was a student... goes, 'I don't mean to weird you out by telling you this but I have a friend in high school and she went through a really difficult time and it was a scare for all of us and somehow, one way or another, she got a hold of this book and that's the book that really got her through -- that got her through that hard time,'" he shares, his anecdote having a noticeable effect on Green. "Hearing that firsthand from somebody... it really struck home for me . That's when I really realized we're really doing something that we're very fortunate to bringing back to life."
While Looking for Alaska explores typical coming-of-age issues that teenagers face, the story also navigates difficult subject matters, from grief to the search for meaning to death. When Green asked the cast how they handled filming the more emotionally raw scenes, Lee had a particularly illuminating answer.
"The journey of life is very repetitive and it's long. We ride high crests of good waves -- joy, camaraderie -- and we also have low crests, where we feel very alone. It's easy in those times to feel like this is the entirety of the rest of my life," he says. "I think if we can remember that the journey of life happens in this roller-coaster wave-like way, it's always been helpful to remind myself, 'This is just another one of those low waves.'"
"I also feel like, by the end of the story, people will feel like a huge amount of gratitude toward these characters and this story. That last day of shooting, I left feeling so hopeful especially after we had been shooting so much intense stuff," Love notes. "By that last episode, I was left feeling these characters and this world, everybody was going to be OK. People aren't going to be left feeling hopeless after they finish the series, which I think is the point of the series."
When the Looking for Alaska cast asked Green their biggest questions after reading the book and filming the series, the author admitted he was surprised no one asked the No. 1 question he's still asked to this day about the book: What happened in the car accident that turns the characters' lives upside down?
"I think that's such an important part of the story though, that you don't know. That's an important part of life. It's important to be honest about that and not go for the easy answer," Plummer says. "It's rare to find stories that are about not finding the answer. So much of the time we hear stories with a very clear question and at the end, you get that very satisfying answer that you've been looking for. Maybe it's the answer you weren't looking for, but there is that conclusion. I just feel like that's such an honest representation of things that I've experienced in life and so many people I know, of having that be that answer -- that there is no answer."
"One of the hardest things about adulthood for me or about life for me, for the last 20 years, has been living with big, difficult questions that deserve answers that will never be answered. It's hard and it's something that I still struggle with," Green says. "Sometimes, you don't get answers and you have to have to find a way to live anyway."
Things got emotional for the group when Green personally thanked them for their heartfelt performances on the show. "You all poured so much of yourselves into this and I felt that every minute of watching the show and every day of being on set with you and I am just so grateful," he says as members of the cast started tearing up. "I know that it was not easy and it just means the world to me, so thank you."