Interview: The cast of Hemlock Grove Pt. 1
Unrestrained, dark, and definitely nothing like the chaste tween werewolf and vampire soap opera, the Netflix original series Hemlock Grove is rooted in Gothic mystery and drama. This is especially clear from the lurid cold open, featuring nudity, gore, and the surreal. A young man cuts himself while having sex in a car with a prostitute, rubbing blood over both of them. Not too long after, following a scene where a young student arranges liaison with her attractive female teacher, the promiscuous teen is chased through the woods by an unseen presence, slowly succumbing to the mysterious, growling being in bloody fashion.
Based on the novel by Brian McGreevy, and with executive producer Eli Roth, Hemlock Grove tells the story of a string of bizarre deaths and explores the murder of a teenager while exploring the strange and supernatural characters that comprise this eerie Pennsylvanian hamlet.
“The genesis of the novel came from a very simple premise,” explains McGreevy, who, along with much of the cast and crew returned to Toronto four months after wrapping up the six-month shoot. “I wanted to take the major archetypal monsters of the modern era – Dracula, Frankenstein, and Wolfman – and put them in my high school.”
“For me, resolving my feelings about monstrosity and resolving my feelings about adolescence, is the same thing.”
While the book centers upon an unlikely friendship between two young male characters, the rich and disenchanted Roman (Bill Skarsgård) and the Gypsy outcast Peter (Landon Liboiron), the translation into a television program, one that is more akin to a 13-hour movie, fosters an ensemble cast approach.
“It evolved,” says McGreevy of his book, begun in 2006 and far removed from any Stephanie Meyer influence. “We are able to reinstate some of the plot stuff and expand roles,” such as Peter’s loving mother (Lily Taylor), the local Sherriff (Aaron Douglas), an investigative wildlife expert (Kandyse McClure), and a mysterious scientist (Joel de la Fuente).
Also in the cast of characters is Roman’s sister Shelley (an intentional allusion), a girl whose inner voice is dulcet, but whose physical deformities allow for only grunting, and make her an instant outcast. “Shelley is this incredibly deformed hulk-sized sweetheart,” says co-writer Lee Shipman, who added that she was one of the many character who metamorphosed from book to script.
As much as it is being promoted as a piece of work from the horror genre (the poster shows a hand coming out of the mouth of a wolf), something done clearly to gain fans, the show is as much a drama as anything else, delving into complicated relationships between siblings, friends, and most notably, parents and their children.
“What attracted me to the characters, and what I think the strength of the novel and script, is that nobody is a caricature, there is good and bad, but it’s all mixed in,” says Famke Janssen, one of the principal leads. She is Roman’s mother Olivia, and carries with her a sinister aura and imposing stare, and for the first three episodes at least, her long, dark hair contrasts sharply with an all-white wardrobe.
“I think we’re doing it a disservice by calling it a horror show,” continues Janssen. “[McGreevy] is inspired by a specific genre, he is going to the roots rather than how people are portraying vampires and werewolves these days. It’s its own kind of unique voice.”
One reason the show can expand on the mythology and the characters of the novel is that there aren’t that many limits to creating a show for television. As the second original Netflix series, Hemlock Grove unloads 13 hours of entertainment on the viewer all at once, and it does not have to censor violence, sex, or language, and can take time to flesh out different story lines.
“We are dealing with the duality of human beings,” says Deran Sarafian, a director of several episodes and executive producer of the series. “It’s not a horror, but it has elements of horror. ‘The Monster Is Within’ is a great tagline.”
“At its core it’s about dysfunctional families,” adds fellow executive producer Mark Verheiden. He described the two leads as “young men who have never been able to have friends, that come from the opposite side of the tracks, and who find friendship through the most horrific thing.”
“There are supernatural elements as well, but at the spine of it, we’re trying to solve a mystery while these people try to figure out their lives.”
Hemlock Grove will be released on Friday, April 19th for all Netflix subscribers, and you can watch as you please, in any combination of 13 hours, be it all day long, or across a dark and stormy night.