Creating a horror television show is a tricky feat. It requires balancing the right amount of shock-and-gore along with compelling characters to keep fans clamoring for more – and Netflix’s HEMLOCK GROVE delivers on both. Helmed by horror master Eli Roth and based on the terrifying world created in Brian McGreevly’s book, HEMLOCK GROVE weaves together characters that raise the hair on the back of your neck yet draw you in deeper and deeper into a supernatural mystery story.
When a young teenage girl is found mauled to death, fear and suspicions abound as a gypsy boy (Landon Liboiron) is rumored to be a werewolf. Peter and his mother (Lili Taylor) had recently moved to Hemlock Grove in hopes of settling there after his uncle’s death; but their heritage makes them unwelcome in a community that seeks to keep its deep, dark secrets buried. Reigning over the town is the ultra rich Godfrey family, who prey on the unsuspecting populace. Everyone feels a slight unease with the Godfrey family, who despite their glamor remain aloof; not to mention they own a medical facility that is thought to house untold scientific experiments.
Just who or what is stalking their youth, and how do the Godfreys and the gypsies figure into the lurking sense of unnaturalness surrounding them, those are the mysteries that slowly unfold throughout the 13-episode horror series.
During press interviews at WonderCon in Anaheim, executive producers Eli Roth, Mark Verheiden, Lee Shipman, along with director Deran Sarafian and author Brian McGreevy, and stars Landon Liboiron, Freya Tingley, Bill Skarsgard, Penelope Mitchell, Dougray Scott, Famke Janssen, Aaron Douglas and Kandyse McClure provided some insight into murder, mystery and intrigue that layer HEMLOCK GROVE.
Executive producer Eli Roth & director Deran Sarafian
How did the HEMLOCK GROVE series come together?
ELI: It was a crazy, fun, exciting thing to shoot. I’ve been wanting to get into television for a while and there was always an inherent problem that I could never quite solve, which was that what makes horror great is that any one can die at any second, and what makes television great is it has characters that you love and come back to see week after week. Then as things started evolving in television, you have THE WALKING DEAD and GAME OF THRONES and BOARDWALK EMPIRE and you see these very violent stories playing out over long periods of time, you could feel the medium was evolving — and of course what Ryan Murphy did with AMERICAN HORROR STORY was terrific. But it was producer Eric Newman who did THE LAST EXORCISM who brought me the novel and manuscript for HEMLOCK GROVE and we read it and we thought, “This is it.” This could be a like a very monstrous TWIN PEAKS. It’s a murder mystery. It’s about something rising from the ashes of steel town America. And we pitched it to Netflix and they were so excited to go for it and we loved the idea of doing something new that was bold and different and having every episode really available for you and really approaching it like a 13-hour movie. Then working with someone like Deran, we have someone who is so experienced in television and in feature films. So when we talked about the werewolf transformation or the attacks or the kills, we knew that he was going to photograph the dramatic stuff and it would look beautiful. He cared about the horror scenes the way I did. He was just a perfect partner.
DERAN: I’ve been a big fan of Eli’s before this started, but when we started this, Eli said, “What I want to do is I want to do something that is reminiscent of great horror, but I want to twist it.” And he brought up David Lynch and people we all aspire to ’cause it’s like looking at a Picasso. We want to be like that. So we got into this with the mindset that we need to twist this and make it different, and one thing Eli told me early on, which became the thing we kept, he said, “Look at a rock. We’re going to film that. But don’t film the rock; film what’s underneath the rock. There’s a whole world going on under there.” Which I thought was brilliant. We get more under that rock as the series goes on.
ELI: I was so impressed with Brian’s research. In particular, the research about the root mythology of what Bram Stoker based DRACULA on. Upiers and vargules and all that. It’s literally the original folklore that the novels were based on. But setting it in this world where biotech has risen out of the ashes and these new monsters are being created — and using that as a metaphor for teenagers. It was a very dark, twisted novel, unapologetically so, but fascinating and strange.
The series takes a lot of risks, in particular by allowing your two male characters to work together so quickly, where normally they’d be protagonist and antagonist. So to see them work together and bond made it seem more interesting.
ELI: I love it when you play out long-term mythology, like in the early X-MEN movies where they are working together and you’re like, “That’s so cool! Magneto and Xavier, they were friends and they worked together” and you want to see the moment where they split apart. Of course it’s fun. You want to have somewhere to go in Season 2 and 3. If you start them off as enemies then you can go from there; but starting them off as friends who work together, these other sides of them can come out. That’s the nice thing about a story like this — you can play with the design.
What can viewers expect from HEMLOCK GROVE?
DERAN: We want to be the shark under the water. We really do. That’s the whole idea. The ad campaign is so right on: “The monster within.” We didn’t want it just to be a big monster show. This is a story more about what David Lynch did so well, was to get into the duality of who people are, what they are all about.
ELI: Nobody is what it seems. There was also that cold sterility of an isolated wealthy world, where these people with money in these gorgeous old houses have the saddest, most upsetting lives. Like Roman’s house feels like a sterile, strange museum. We didn’t want it just to be a gory show; we wanted to create an really cool, interesting, creative world.
Executive producers Mark Verheiden and Lee Shipman and writer Brian McGreevy
Will this first season be a bookended story, meaning will the mystery of who is killing all these girls be resolved?
LEE: It will be completely satisfying.
MARK: Basically at the end of the season it will have a satisfying conclusion.
BRIAN: I think it is a mistake to stretch your narrative story that much. So in writing the book and writing this season, that was absolutely something we had in mind.
In adapting the book to the series, were significant changes required?
BRIAN: Not really. The show adheres structurally to the book pretty closely, which is one of the main reasons why Netflix bought it. ‘Cause if you look at their first wave of shows, they are all either adaptations or in the case of ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT, it’s just a new season of an existing project. So they were pretty specific in purchasing projects with built in architecture.
So at what point do the book and the show diverge?
BRIAN: After the end of Season 1.
MARK: Season 2.
LEE: I can say that there’s plenty of expansion of the book that will surprise fans of the book as well.
MARK: We started with a great set of material and then were able to elaborate on that some, so there are surprises in it for those who have read the novel. A couple big surprises.
You have added an extra layer of mystery to the series by having Roman (Bill Skarsgard) not even be aware of his supernatural identity yet. What was the reasoning for that decision?
BRIAN: He’s more in denial of it in the same way that he’s also capable of pretty dark and violent mood swings, that he is equally in denial of in the light of day. That to me is fairly representative of human beings as a whole.
He’s not even just in denial, he chose right away the role, “I’m going to be the hero of this story.”
BRIAN: That itself is a kind of denial. Basically he is establishing his own identity through negation. “I am not . . .”
MARK: Everyone is the hero of their own story. So I think that’s Roman. He doesn’t want to believe that he’s this dark character. He wants to believe there is good in him.
BRIAN: The idea behind that character is that fundamentally he’s pretty good-hearted. But there’s also another side to him that is a complicating factor.
What can you share about the inclusion of the Godfrey Institute storyline?
LEE: There is a pretty fascinating intersection between the supernatural and science. In the series there is a biomedical facility and it was not constructed by accident. There is something special about this place. What is happening there is not by accident.
Landon Liboiron & Freya Tingley
(Landon portrays the gypsy boy who has just moved into town and Freya portrays Christina, the girl next door who suspects he is a werewolf.)
Your characters Peter and Christina seem to be hiding their own dark sides. Do you feel that is true?
FREYA: Our characters start off going from perfect strangers to becoming really good friends. But it’s sad the way over the summer something happened and they are no longer the friends they used to be — their relationship as friends and as kindred spirits. I think my character really looks up to Peter and sees something in him that she aspires to be like and in that there is a certain darkness that is later revealed. So, yeah, she does have a dark-side. I think every character in HEMLOCK GROVE has a dark-side.
LANDON: Definitely, every character has their secret.
Christina was pretty quick to out Peter as a werewolf, which was interesting, ’cause we were under the impression that they were friends.
FREYA: I think it was a devastating thing for her that she thinks Peter is the werewolf killer; and to find out that your best friend is a killer of young girls, that’s devastating. It was devastating for her to think that.
LANDON: Christina encompasses that whole vibe of girl-turning-into-woman and high school. So everything is so devastating for that kind of mentality and Peter is more of a free-spirit.
FREYA: Their relationship is established more towards the end, but I can’t share too much about that yet.
That werewolf transformation scene at the end of the second episode is quite something. What was it like to film something like that?
LANDON: I was terrified. I was also terrified to see it ’cause when you’re doing it, you don’t know what you’re doing. You don’t know if you’re doing it right. You don’t know if you’re looking phony doing it. Sometimes you have to just put your trust into the CGI guy and the prosthetic guys. So you just have to take the leap, I guess. I was very nervous about it, but now I’ve seen it as well and I was like, “Okay.” (Laughs) That one took a lot to do. We didn’t even film it all once.
Was there any significance to the scenes when Peter and Roman [Bill Skarsgard] share a cigarette?
LANDON: The characters didn’t just smoke because it was a cool thing to be doing; when they did smoke, it was for a reason. Like they were sharing information or to say, “oh my god, this is happening now.” I think that goes for all [Brian McGreevy's] writing, in general. I don’t think there’s a move that hasn’t been calculated. So as the season goes on you find these little characteristics that these characters have that will lead up to their big secret.
Did you know when you first started the season whether your characters would actually make it through the season?
FREYA: I think after reading the book you feel more confident. It stays pretty true to the book.
LANDON: It was pretty laid out. You kind of knew your fate ahead of time.
Penelope Mitchell & Bill Skarsgard
What can you share about your characters?
PENELOPE: Bill plays Roman Godfrey and I play Letha Godfrey.
BILL: We plays cousins. The Godfreys are the main wealthy family that owns this town, in its own way.
PENELOPE: Like they are Carnegie family of HEMLOCK GROVE. They are the central influential figures and massive philanthropists.
BILL: It’s a small town so their wealth empowers them very significantly for these two characters; especially Roman. He’s been raised like he is the prince of this small town. He’s the heir to the throne and he comes from a lot of money and he has this really arrogant tone to him and he doesn’t care about anything really.
PENELOPE: There’s a lot of undefined boundaries as well. I think particularly at that age where you’re a teenager and you’re discovering yourself, and you have all this wealth and power at your whim, it’s kind of hard to define where one should stand. I guess we’re polar opposites in that respect.
Do you see Roman as the polar opposite of Peter?
BILL: They are definitely opposites in that they come from such different backgrounds.
BILL: But they’ve found each other in their similarities, in a way. Like they have this supernatural connection, which will explored more throughout the season. But there’s this thing you can’t put a word on which they recognize each other and they feel a connection that’s very, very deep and supernatural in its own element.
PENELOPE: I wouldn’t say they are opposites, I’d say they are quite similar.
BILL: There are a lot of similarities and that’s why they become such close friends, and it leads to a really deep and really troubled relationship throughout this season.
Does the show ever get into the dream mythology and the fact that Roman and Peter may be having the same dreams?
BILL: They’re sharing dreams. It’s really weird. I think Brian [McGreevy] would answer that best, ’cause I think they’re linked. Later on in the season, you’ll see more of Roman and Peter and the dreams. It’s very complex and very convoluted. That’s the supernatural element of it. They’re connected and they have a feeling that they are supposed to meet, but for what reason, they don’t know yet and they think that it means finding out what’s going on with these murders.
PENELOPE: I think the cool thing about it and why the writing is so clever is Brian obviously has such an enormous wealth of knowledge. So there is a lot of stuff that thematically could be intertextual references. But a lot of it also like when you’re a teenager, things do seem so profound and fatalistic. So it’s kind cool like that.
How quickly will the story reveal what the Godfreys are?
BILL: It’s not the Godfreys. You’ll find out more about Olivia, who is not a Godfrey per se. She married a Godfrey and she’s the mom of Roman and Shelley. So you’ll find out more about that. It was interesting playing Roman ’cause Roman has this ability where he can look in someone’s eyes and make them do whatever he says — and that’s all you know about him. You know that he can do that.
He’s also freaky with blood.
BILL: (Laughs) Yeah, so he has that. He as these strange urges and he likes to do a lot of bad things, but as you see more, I don’t think Roman necessarily considers himself something else.
PENELOPE: Anymore than any teenager would. As a teenager you feel so messed up and no one understands you.
BILL: It’s more than a troubled teenager. It’s more extreme than that. You’ll find out more as Roman kind of does. Throughout the season, his search for who he is and a kind of a meaning, ’cause he’s trying to find his own destiny in a way. So as he finds out what he is or what he’s supposed to be, the audience will follow him through that journey to see what he is in terms of being a supernatural creature. It will be explained. But Peter being a werewolf is explained pretty quickly.
PENELOPE: That’s what makes this show so remarkable compared to a lot of the other vampire clichéd kind of things is that we’ve got psychological exploration so that it is about the human condition rather than just being just gratuitous violence and horror.
Like when Roman whips out that razor blade in the first episode, it totally doesn’t take you where you think that scene is headed.
BILL: There’s definitely a lot more from where that came from which makes for such an incredible character development. Like this young, super-troubled kid has these weird urges and it will be explained. They’re called Upiers, which is an old Romanian term for vampire. But that’s all that we know. Roman does not know what he is. But I think it is a very interesting thing having this character have these urges of doing stuff and he doesn’t know why and he knows that they are bad, so he doesn’t do them. There’s something with blood and sex and he hasn’t figured it out yet in terms of the creature that he might or might not become — and he’s trying to fight that throughout the season as well.
What is also interesting is that he thinks he’s the hero. He never for one second thinks, “I’m the bad guy.”
PENELOPE: That’s the beauty of it. It’s never that clearly defined, is it? The hero, the anti-hero. The moralistic interplay is somewhat fun.
BILL: For sure. He’s a warrior. He’s set out to solve all these murders. He wants to be a hero so desperately. If you have a psychological problem that you’re dealing with, if you can put it into physical form — like he has this battle with the darkness inside him and he puts it in physical form by saying, “By solving these murders, that will be my redemption.” That’s why he’s so keen on solving these murders; his life kind of depends on it.
Dougray Scott & Famke Janssen
(Dougray portrays Norman Godfrey, the brother-in-law to Famke’s Olivia, and their children Roman and Letha have become as close as siblings after the death of Olivia’s husband years before.)
What drew you to HEMLOCK GROVE?
DOUGRAY: I’m a fan of Famke and have wanted to work with her for quite some time. Then the writing was very different and quite good. I had read the novel before I agreed to do the series and just the multi-layers and the fact that it was adapted from a novel, that drew me. It was complicated and the relationships were complicated. You were never quite sure what was going to happen next. I also liked the idea of doing something new, as well. Netflix and that whole new media world, I think a lot of things are going that way and we were at the beginning.
You both play fascinating characters that are very strong, yet very broken at the same time. You can see that right away. It’s like watching a fractured mirror on screen. That must be interesting as an actor to take that character and realize you need to show some inner-strength and at the same time realize you can be too strong and you have look like you’re falling apart a little bit emotionally.
FAMKE: (Laughs) It feels to me like normal life. But there is something to that. They are very real. The characters are all flawed. They are all full of problems and there’s a certain thing projected to the outside world and another inner world going on — and I do believe that most of us are like that. We’re all programmed to be that way. The world’s just a complicated place, so it’s nice to be part of something where you can bring those kinds of complexities to the people that you play.
It seems like HEMLOCK GROVE has also allowed for richer storylines for the parental figures as well as the teenagers in the story.
DOUGRAY: I noticed that right from the beginning that there were non-teenager characters. You can go for the “Twilight” audience, but I think you open up bigger, wider audience if you tie into an audience who enjoy grown up relationships.
Those relationships shape all the younger characters’ relationships as well, without that you would not see the strings tying them all together.
DOUGRAY: They all certainly have their arc and their history.
How did it feel working on the show?
FAMKE: It was draining because I feel like I had to so many different things at the same time. So it ultimately became very draining. Thirteen episodes and six months filming somewhere else, it is very intense. So it does leave you a little bit drained, to a certain extent. We had some really heavy scenes.
DOUGRAY: I’m drawn to anything that is fractured and fucked-up. So I’ll sign my name to this forever. I’m just drawn to that type of character. I love comedy as well, and I’ve done a few comic stuff which I love. But I haven’t had much chance to explore it. The black humor, I love. The darker stuff.
FAMKE: We went more into that for this show because it was very ripe for dark humor.
One of the interesting things about Olivia is that she raised her children in an atmosphere of innocence. She doesn’t seem to be aware that they are really different and that’s remarkable for a mother whose protective as she is, you would thinks she would want to educate them about who they are a lot earlier so that they can be protective of themselves. Yet she kept them in this shadow where they think they are normal, which is an interesting tact to take.
FAMKE: She is definitely somebody who has some quirky ways at looking at life and her children and the upbringing of them and her relationships with men and that kind of stuff. That makes these characters fun to start exploring. You have to look at that when you sign on for something that could potentially — well, we don’t know — go for years. You really want to make sure that you feel that you can grow along with the character.
There is obviously a rich backstory of the relationship between Olivia and Norman. How much of that did you work out on your own to prepare for your scenes together?
DOUGRAY: We talked about it at the beginning a lot and a lot of it is in the novel so it already exists and it wasn’t something we had to make up. But a lot of our discussions were about how we wanted the relationship to be portrayed on the screen. We were both very comfortable and adamant that whatever direction their relationship took that there always had to be an underlying sense of love between the two.
Aaron Douglas & Kandyse McClure
Do you see your characters Sheriff Sworn and Dr. Chausseur as the bad guys on the show? They are investigating a beast attack and yet they have fixated on Peter pretty fast. What’s up with that?
AARON: My character doesn’t think there’s anything supernatural to these attacks. But Kandyse’s character comes at it differently. That’s a different story.
KANDYSE: For as long as it is necessary, she certainly plays along with that reasoning. She’s also certainly obsessive. She has her own ideas about things. She struggles with her own intuition, whether to believe it or whether to follow the status-quo line of reasoning. She’s a scientist on one hand and tortured on the other. I think that constantly interweaves in how she approaches this case and how she interacts with Sheriff Sworn.
What motivates her to come at this case so hard?
KANDYSE: I think she is a deeply troubled soul. I think she was somehow wronged in her life and she wants justice for everyone else and she thinks it’s her duty to simultaneously atone for the hurt she’s caused or the hurt that’s been caused her — and to make someone pay.
AARON: But there is also a very specific reason, that I’m not sure we’re allowed to talk about.
KANDYSE: (Laughs) I think “atone” is a good word.
How did you hear about and get involved with HEMLOCK GROVE?
AARON: Netflix/Gaumont, they could not be more supportive and more excited to do things out of the box. To start things off in their own way. I was excited to do this show, first of all because it’s Mark Verheiden (he ran the writer’s room for BATTLESTAR GALACTICA for the last few seasons, and he and I are really great friends), and he read the book and when they called him to do the show, he said, “Aaron, I read the book and I thought of you for the sheriff. So will you come and do the show?” And I said, “Absolutely.” What I love about it is this is how I consume TV. I’m a Netflix subscriber. My family all subscribes to Netflix. I watch things when they are done and I just power all the way through them. As I saw BATTLESTAR as a ground-floor show of how TV is made and consumed, this is going to be the same thing. Netflix is changing how TV is made and how it is consumed. So the idea of going and being a part of that, as opposed to going and working for the traditional network and waiting week to week and you’ve got 42 minutes to tell a story, but you’re not really telling anybody’s story, other than the story of the week. It is so much more compelling to be a part of this. I mean, what would you rather do: LAW & ORDER or THE SOPRANOS? For me, it’s that. DEADWOOD is the greatest show in the history of TV and to be able to build something that is serialized as a 75-hour movie is genius, and working with incredible people. It’s going to be a difficult show to watch in the sense that it’s going to be very challenging, and that is so much better than HAWAII Five-O. (Sorry, Grace!)
Have you read the book which the series is based on?
AARON: It’s the first thing I did after Mark called me ’cause I read a lot. So as soon as I rewired my brain on how to read — ’cause it’s like reading if Yoda wrote a book. So the first thing I did was read the book and then I called Mark and said, “That’s unbelievable. It should be a show.” And he said, “You know, we’re making a show, why don’t you come and do it with us.”
KANDYSE: I read the book as well. It was Mark again. He thought of me — I learned that afterwards. It came as a regular audition and I immediately fell in love with it. I was obsessed with the sides. I got them 4-5 days before the audition and I could not put them down. I think I was driving my boyfriend crazy ’cause I kept saying the monologue as I was in the shower and I was walking around. He was like, “What are you doing?” and I was like, “I love this woman. There’s something about her.” It’s a different kind of role for me as well. I’m always excited when it’s a person. She could be a “he.” It could be so many things, but she happens to be this doctor, this personality, this role in the group of players. That’s always interesting to me. And it’s not an opportunity I get all the time. I felt like there was room for quirkiness. And that’s what they were looking for.
AARON: For me, it’s Mark Verheiden and Deran Sarafian, who is really the reason the show looks the way it does. In terms of directing it was Fernando Arguelles. Together they built this unbelievably beautiful world.
Will we be seeing Dr. Chausseur and Sheriff Sworn interact with Dr. Pryce at the Institute?
KANDYSE: My character interacts with everyone. She gets under everyone’s skin. There isn’t a rock she leaves unturned or no nook and cranny she doesn’t look into.
For those who dare to watch, HEMLOCK GROVE promises to take its viewers down a very dark and twisted rabbit-hole where monsters lurk in the shadows and someone is viciously killing the nubile inhabitants of Hemlock Grove, so be sure to check out the premiere of HEMLOCK GROVE on Friday, April 19th. As a special treat, Netflix will simultaneously release all 13 episodes at the same time so fans can enjoy a full feast of the entire first season — for once you get a taste of HEMLOCK GROVE, you may find yourself wanting to indulge in a bit of “binge” viewing to satiate your darker appetite.
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