Interview: The cast of Hemlock Grove Pt. 2
While the ratings for Netflix’s second original series, like all the other data they collect, can and may be hidden, skewed, or simply ignored, what Hemlock Grove has completed is still unique in the entertainment landscape.
Six months of shooting in Canada featuring an international ensemble cast, some proven actors and some rising stars, resulted in what is ostensibly a 13-hour genre-bending movie that will be made available to stream in its entirety come Friday, April 19th.
“I was really interested in what Netflix was doing, there was this freedom for the writers and directors,” says Lili Taylor, one of the few (seemingly) positive maternal figure in the dark, dramatic series. She plays Lynda, a woman whose son Peter happens to be a werewolf. She and much of the rest of the cast and crew returned to Toronto for its premiere, and reflecting on the entire experience.“It felt like an independent film, like mom and dad weren’t around. It was liberating.”
Based on the book by Brian McGreevy, Hemlock Grove as a series offered an opportunity to expand upon the mythology and world he created, one that centers upon the murder of a young girl in small town and slowly starts to reveal the figurative and literal monsters that exist all around. Netflix allowed for the inclusion of previously dropped storylines, and let McGreevy, his writing partner Lee Shipman, executive producers Mark Verheiden and Deran Sarafian, and the entire cast to flesh out characters as shooting progressed.
There were no rehearsals, and there is no need in having to worry of filming a pilot in hoping it will get picked up. There were only the book and few discussions from which to start, so as much as the audiences begins to learn more about the characters as each episode goes by, so too does some of the cast.
“One of the amazing things about doing the show like this is that you plan and prepare as much as you can creatively and individually, but nothing really happens until you all get together and put those ideas you have into action,” says Joel de La Fuente, whose character Dr. Johann Pryce is a modern twist on the mad scientist stereotype. He, along with Canadians Kandyse McClure and Aaron Douglas (who worked together on Battlestar Galactica)¸not only make up a part of the show’s more seasoned TV and film actors, but play three characters who aren’t as prominent in the book.
“They watched what we were doing in the first few episodes, and then they have ideas,” says Douglas of the writers. “It’s about discussions, about us getting their help what the character is, what’s going on, and it sends off a little light bulb in their head.”
Like Taylor, Dougray Scott found the opportunity liberating. “You don’t want to be doing stuff that is familiar or safe,” he says. “There are risks involved with choices you make being an actor, so why not take that risk with a new kind of genre and a new way of producing genre for an audience?”
For some of the younger actors, especially those were aren’t local, working continuously for six months helped them stay in character and become that person.
“Here we lived the show. We didn’t know anyone, so you talk the show and you never stop working,” says Bill Skarsgård, the striking 23-year-old Swede who comes from an acting family. Shooting in Toronto for six straight months allowed Skarsgård to become Roman Godfrey, the thoughtful, disenchanted well-off son who begins an unlikely friendship with Peter.
Australian actress Penelope Mitchell, who had only recently moved to the United States and who plays Roman’s cousin Letha, found herself become surer each step of the way. The time spent being Letha allowed her to add a woman’s touch to a script and show shaped predominantly by men. “Playing a character dealing what she was dealing with on a physically level,” begins Mitchell, alluding to an incident in episode two, “I started to realize that a femininity I never seemed to have started coming out. I would say, ‘no, no, this is how she is feeling.’ It was so fascinating.”
“You can never envisage the way 13 hours are going to go and how it starts to evolve, it was cool to be given freedom and expand and go with it.”
For 19-year-old Australian actress Freya Tingley and her role as curious novelist Christina Wendell, she found herself writing often in a diary and even talking in her sleep to perfect her American accent
Canadian Landon Liboiron of Degrassi fame recounts a brief discussion with executive producer Eli Roth about the characters.”Then the first day you show up and you’re finding it as you go.”
The same goes for the audience. It would seem that just watching a few episodes is not a worthy sample size – after all, it’s not how it was created and not how it was intended to watch. Strangely though, de la Fuente didn’t seem to mind going in a different direction.
While much of the cast is looking forward to watching Hemlock Grove in its entirety the way it was meant, one cast member recalls happening upon the viewing by the editors of the finale.
“It wasn’t quite finished, and as it was started I asked myself, ‘do you really want your first experience to be the last episode?’”
“Yes I do!”
Well, that makes one of us.