A few things you need to know about brand new Netflix Original Series Hemlock Grove: 1) It’s perhaps more a 13-hour Movie than it is say, a Mini-Series 2) It’s neither exclusively a Horror about Werewolves nor Vampires 3) It’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen.
Upon hearing news of Eli Roth being attached to the Toronto-based Production last Summer, I rummaged the Internet for details and learned vaguely about the Novel which it is based on. After Binge-Watching (a mini-Binge if you will) Hemlock Grove‘s first three episodes this past weekend, I learned that it actually is nothing like what I was expecting. Its tone is unique in that yes, obviously it is a Horror due to its graphic, gory nature, but it actually reads more like a Drama which focuses on the odd, intense relationships between the Residents of Hemlock Grove, changed forever after a brutal killing of a Girl is discovered. At the center of it all are two young Men from opposite sides of the tracks, privileged Heir Roman Godfrey and Werewolf/Gypsy Peter Rumancek, brought together to solve the mystery behind the Murder.
The Team and Cast behind Hemlock Grove reunited this week in the City where it all began, Production having taken place here between last June and December. I had the opportunity of sitting down with its Writers Brian McGreevy (Author of Novel) & Lee Shipman, Director/Producer Deran Sarafian &Mark Verheiden and of course, its Stars: Kandyse McClure, Joel de la Fuente, Aaron Douglas, Lili Taylor, Freya Tingley, Landon Liboiron, Bill Skarsgard, Penelope Mitchell, Dougray Scott and Famke Janssen.
With a vast amount of Mythology behind the Series, one might wonder just how much research went into preparing for these roles. Kandyse McClure who stars as Dr. Clementine Chasseur, an Animal Expert who is called upon to assist in solving the Murder(s), admits “It took three hours for Brian to get-out all his ideas about Chasseur‘s world. There was a lot of random, odd research, but not about Werewolves or Vampires.”. Aaron Douglas, who worked with McClure previously on Battlestar Galactica in Vancouver says, “It’s more for me about the dramatic Human Interaction, how people are to each other and here they do some horribly awful things to one another.”. He stars as the pensive Sherriff Tom Sworn, teaming together with Dr. Chasseur.
Joel de la Fuente stars as the feared Dr. Johann Pryce, who might hold the key to the answer haunting everyone in Hemlock Grove stating “We actually were given scripts as we went”, hinting at the perpetual element of surprise as none too much was given away by Series Writers at any point. Even to this day, de la Fuente reveals that he is the only member of the Cast to have seen the Series’ final episode and that only happened out of necessity, completing some ADR (Dubbing) work recently.
With Internet-based Television being such a new thing with few Benchmarks established, I had asked Writers Brian McGreevy & Lee Shipman what they would consider a success for Hemlock Grove. McGreevy already is happy with the recognition this 13-hour Movie/Series has received telling me “I was invited to speak at Howl Con, so as far as I’m concerned it’s already a success! I think when you’re doing something creative, the only Benchmark is whether the Show resonates with your Audience”. He adds, ” How Netflix plans to quantify that, that’s a mystery to us.”.
With such a unique Story Line, curiosity lingers about McGreevy‘s creative inspirations. He says, “I grew-up in an economically-depressed community, but a very Liberal household. The Town of Hemlock Grove is a re-fractured version of what I grew-up with.”. In fact while filming in Hamilton, Ontario, he could not help but feel an odd sense of familiarity with its Geography – as if he knew his way around. “I took Monsters, Werewolves and Dracula and put them in High School as if to resolve feelings about my own adolescence.”.
Lili Taylor certifiably is a Cinematic Veteran (who could forget her in Mystic Pizza?) and Executive Producer Roth has not been shy about his admiration of her Work. On getting involved with the Project she recalls, “I was really interested in what Netflix was doing. It reminded me of the ’70s and Robert Evans (Chinatown, The Godfather) – the freedom Writers and Directors were having.”. “This almost felt like an Independent Film… like Mom and Dad weren’t around, but in a positive way – not in a way we get messed-up. Netflix got out of our way and let us do our thing and that was liberating.”. Taylor plays the Lynda, the Mother of LandonLiboiron‘s Peter, a deeply loving and maternal Woman living the Gypsy lifestyle with her Son.
Degrassi Fans fondly will recall Liboiron, but may be in for a surprise as he takes his share of risks in Hemlock Grove. His Defining Moment, which will have Horror and Sci-Fi Fans alike in awe comes late in Episode Two, where we see his mesmerizing Transformation as a Werewolf. He reveals, “They tried to make it as organic as possible. I don’t think the CGI was used as a crutch. They actually used raw pig flesh, skin and prosthetics. They completed it over series of months, doing inserts as they needed. They definitely took their time with it.”.
Much of the Series centers on Peter‘s unlikely Alliance with wealthy Roman and in making that fraternal bond believable he says, “We rehearsed a bunch of times, got it down and just started talking about love, relationships and some really personal shit. There was no barrier. Creatively, we saw eye to eye and I think it showed in the Screen Test. Bill is an incredible Co-Star.”.
Bill Skarsgård is a Descendant in a Line of Swedish Acting Royalty which boasts Father Stellan and Brother Alexander and hegets a proper North American introduction in Hemlock Grove. And a daring one I might add. He does admit having filmed scenes with Nudity prior and actually filmed his first Sex Scene at the age of 16. I questioned why it is his Roman is so drawn to Liboiron‘s Character Peter, seemingly being such polar opposites. “It’s kind of an unspoken connection and understanding. It’s almost like falling in love with someone, but it’s Supernatural, which is funny but I can relate to that.”, he tells me.
Porcelain-skinned Australian Actress Freya Tingley plays young Novelist Christina Wendall, and like Roman is drawn to Peter. “She’s intrigued by him. He has something in himself that she aspires to have in herself also. He’s this free Character who’s comfortable with who he is”, she believes. We learned also that in mastering her perfect American accent, she would speak it non-stop and apparently even dreamed in it according to others.
One interesting dynamic about the Series is the element of underlying Sexual Ambiguity. At times the Characters are involved so intensely with their Family members that there might even be a feeling of incestuousness. A bookish (she majored in Literature) and well-spoken Penelope Mitchell, who like Tingley is an Australian Export to Los Angeles, plays the role of Letha, Roman‘s Cousin. She becomes an Obsession of sorts to him. On their relationship, she sums it up, “It’s one of those relationships that you don’t want to discuss too much because it kills the magic. There’s so much ambiguity and tension about a Teenager. Those boundaries are so blurred here and that’s what makes this Show so fascinating.”.
Bringing much Star Power to Hemlock Grove are major Stars Famke Janssen (for once and for all, it’s pronounced “Fem-ka Yen-sen“) and Dougray Scott (pronounced “Doo-gray“) who play Sister and Brother-in-Law Olivia and Norman Godfrey, whom for several years have engaged in a passionate Affair. The devastatingly-commanding Janssen jokes, they are the “Sexual Anchors” of the Story. I ask her whether or not she feels her manipulative Olivia is in fact a Monster. She replies, “Who isn’t a Monster, really? I mean well, other than Mother Theresa.”. She adds, “Norman at first glance would seem like a good Person, but is a conflicted Person who does things that are seen as bad also, which is interesting to me when I look back at others I’ve become Friends with over time. Some people you judge at first glance and can be spot-on, but sometimes you can be totally wrong. Most of the time you have to give people a chance.”.
I asked Scott also what he feels would be deemed a success for the Series and he says, “That is a great question. What do you regard as being a ‘Success’ because they don’t have the history of Networks? We are very unique if you think about it. I mean you have House of Cards which is based on a British TV Series, so you’re gonna get some people who watch that Series and also Arrested Development, picked-up from another Network. This is the first truly original Series Netflix has done in this Format. The first ever in the World!”.
One of the Series’ six Directors Deran Sarafian consistently is credited by the Cast as having been their “Rock” throughout the entire duration of Production and he talks to the challenge of making an Internet-based Television Series. “You can set things up and not pay them off for a while. It’s not like Network Television where you have a Killer and have to explain who he is at the end of the episode”, he reveals. “If you’re Binge-Watching, you would remember that happened just four hours ago. We didn’t have to play to those expectations in making the Show, to simplify it so that you could remember what the hell is going on.”.
It was learned that Sarafian prior had worked closely with acclaimed Filmmaker Roman Polanski and still calls him on occasion for advice. To bond with his Cast, he would throw parties at his Home, playing Films of Polanski‘s such as Rosemary’s Baby. He recalls one unforgettable piece of advice Polanski gave him as Director, “If you’re gonna do something scary, make sure you can laugh at it. That was his thing and maybe the best advice I’ve ever gotten.”.
Listen to excerpts from my Chat below (contains Explicit Language):
Netflix releases all 13 episodes of ground-breaking Series Hemlock GroveFriday, April 19, 2013.