C.H. Newell talks with producer Heather Buckley about THE RANGER, plus lots more interesting stuff.
C.H. Newell chats with filmmaker Larry Fessenden about his new film, DEPRAVED, Mary Shelley, the state of America, and more.
I was lucky enough to have been invited by FOX to attend a screening of Damien’s Season 1 finale, “Ave Satani” – sadly, I couldn’t make it to Los Angeles. However, their publicity department sent me a personal finale screener. Incredibly impressed, I got to watch the episode several days before its premiere. Lucky me, right?
Well I only got luckier. Later I received another bit of correspondence asking if any of us critics who were given the screener might want to conduct an interview, either with Executive Producer Glen Mazzara or any of the actors. Naturally, I jumped at the chance to interview Glen specifically. From The Shield (on the top of my list for Best Series Ever; wrote many of my favourite episodes like “The Spread”, “Strays”, & “On Tilt”) onward everything he’s involved in I usually try and seek out. So then a conference call was set. Another unexpected turn; I figured the interview would likely be via e-mail.
And the hits just kept on coming: not only would I get the chance to ask Glen questions, but star of the show Bradley James was also slated to hop on the line with us. Anybody who doesn’t already know Bradley will certainly know him after Damien. He’s already got a built in fan club, though. As if women fawning over him weren’t enough, there’s the fact he played a pre-King Arthur Arthur on BBC One’s The Adventures of Merlin, he turned up in an episode of Homeland, as well as a handful of iZombie episodes.
Seriously, though – I get to talk with these guys?
I’ve never done any interviews for this site before. But my involvement on social media, coupled with the recaps and reviews I do weekly by episode, got me on the line with these two for almost an hour (half hour each). Between myself and a couple other media outlets, we asked Glen and Bradley some questions. Here’s some of their answers.
SPOILER ALERT: This article contains minor and major spoilers in regards to the May 9th season finale of A&E’s Damien. The areas which contain spoilers have further been marked as such.
Immediately, things turned to Season 2, as we’d all seen the finale that day. Glen told us he’s already mapped it out. For those of us curious how the show is put together, you can see Mazzara likes to think ahead. Not only that, he has specific episodes and ideas ready in terms of the the cast and characters, of whom he speaks highly. He made clear it’s enjoyable working with and writing for them. He told us there’s no mindset about not getting renewed either; he’s operating as if they’re full steam ahead. A confident approach as showrunner.
I asked Glen about the initial catalyst for why he felt Damien, as a series, was worth exploring. He told me he wanted to follow Damien as an Antichrist and to take that seriously. As in, Jesus is fully God and fully human, so the Antichrist should be fully human and fully devil. He hoped to explore the humanity of this situation. He likes the struggle of guessing what’s really going on. Mazzara says good horror makes us question: what is real and what is supernatural? It keeps you uncomfortable. Not only that, the human drama of Damien’s situation inflicts itself upon the other characters, which helps fill out the story and other arcs.
Mazzara first approached this series thinking of Jesus Christ – an unknown carpenter in a little backwater town in Galilee. How does that person start such a massive movement and change the world over two thousand years? He began powerless. In a contemporary version of such an ascent Mazzara knew people would expect an evil senator or similar character archetype. But he took aim at the meaning of religion with Damien as a young war photographer, not just some corrupt type of character that would make moves using the power of the Antichrist. Because where’s the fun in that? It wouldn’t provide much depth or development. First and foremost, Mazzara tried a completely different angle. Being raised Catholic and understanding the religion gave Mazzara his material. For him, the show is equal parts horror and religion. He considers his take not a subjective, judgemental view of religious faith, but rather an examination of that faith, what it means to people, and in turn how the opposite of faith in God (i.e. faith in Satan) would operate with that same devotion. And all through a wonderfully horrific lens.
“It’s hard for a messiah to get people to die for them,” Mazzara says. Also a line he hopes to toss in somewhere throughout Season 2.
Being a huge Barbara Hershey fan (all started due to her powerful performance in 1982’s The Entity), I asked Glen if we could look forward to more of her cutting and oddly masochistic behaviour, or at least an explanation (note: for those who don’t remember Ann cut a fresh 666 into her scarred inner thigh during Episode 3 “The Deliverer”). Being the massive horror fan I am, Mazzara is likely a bigger one. This moment comes from 666 on the inner thigh of the priest from the original film, which he revealed to Gregory Peck’s character before dying. Mazzara found it fun to consider possibly the priest was involved in the larger group watching Damien, somehow. Further than that, it ties into the Book of Revelations which states “his followers will be marked” also with the Number of the Beast. So Mazarra tied Ann into that larger conspiracy making her part of that secretive group watching over Damien, suggesting there’s an overarching connection to many of them with this branding. Even further, this also shows the devotion of Ann in a sick, twisted way to really elevate how dedicated to Damien, or better yet whoever The Antichrist would’ve been. The relationship between Ann & Damien, ultimately, is what Mazzara calls “the wicked heart of the show.”
“No one knows exactly how this is gonna come around,” Mazzara tells us re: the coming of the Antichrist. Ann feels there is a progression, but doesn’t know for sure. She’s there to nurture Damien’s potential. Mazzara claims she wants to be “first amongst his worshippers.” Ann is the Mother Mary figure: she loves Damien as a son, but knows he “belongs to history, he belongs to the world.”
Mazzara feels the show “did a good job” on the front of female characters, ones with actual developed stories affecting the plot/story. And that’s true: we start off with Kelly, she’s essentially the catalyst then for Damien really searching his soul, and of course Simone then becomes involved, then there’s Ann, Veronica, and you can’t forget Sister Greta (played by the ever wonderful Robin Weigert). As Mazzara mentions, a “large amount of story [is] driven by those women.” SPOILER AHEAD: This last sentence & following paragraph reveals several fairly major spoilers from the May 9th finale. Please skip ahead before you watch. Even in the finale, John Lyons (Scott Wilson) gets outplayed by Ann, who is a better player in the game than he is, and gets the last laugh, so to speak.
We also discussed further female character strengths, as well as religious connections. During “Ave Satani”, Simone washes Damien’s feet – right in the middle of a manhunt for him. She is a “religious player in this story,” explained Mazzara. She is also a bit of a Christ figure, as well. She is killed, revived, and she doesn’t have any evil side; a “force of good,” Mazzara calls her. In contrast to her, there’s lots of evil in the finale – suicide cops in the opening, nun execution before a mass grave, then two people get buried alive. Simone represents that incredibly opposite good side. She stepped forward to take the bullet for Damien in the end and effectively illustrates her pinnacle of goodness.
Mazzara believes that above all else Simone’s character is about “gaining her voice.” Everyone’s telling her to shut up, essentially. Even in the finale she finds insects flying out of her mouth, choking her. What’s most interesting is that the series starts out with most people expecting Simone to be a disposable character. Only along the line she becomes integral to Damien’s journey.
Warning: Ahead are some significant spoilers concerning the finale, “Ave Satani”, so if you’ve yet to see it please don’t read these next bits, or else be spoiled!
Mazzara confirms that Detective Shay has officially converted. He is now a believer, for better or worse, in the Antichrist after the finale’s events.
In addition, the last shot holds a great significance for the show’s DNA. Mazzara says that the last scene had been sketched out before they even sold the show. He knew at the end of the season Damien had to enter a “Faustian bargain”. Season 1 is Damien coming around, at the end is him essentially “sacrificing himself to commit evil”. Mazzara calls the season structure serpentine, in that it brings you back to the old film throughout the course of the season until in the finale’s final moment we are literally thrust back into 1976’s The Omen.
When asked how he manages to get himself into the dark space required for playing the character of Damien, we receive an honest answer: “I’m maybe not quite as dark and twisted as [certain] scenes would suggest.” However, he went on to tell us that many of the tougher scenes were a “cathartic experience”, which he got through using moments in his own life that he related to Damien’s own struggles. Mostly, he credits the crew for making him feel safe in their atmosphere, so much that he felt very comfortable getting into the skin of the character.
I asked Bradley specifically what the most interesting part about Damien as a character was for him. He said the world weariness of Damien intrigued him, as “a 30-year-old man carrying the pain of someone much older” who has seen so much yet manages to still carry on as a functional human being.
Bradley tells us he didn’t know the full arc of the Damien Thorn character. It wasn’t until shooting Episode 7 or 8 when he read the scripts, and afterwards asked Glen to tell him the “endgame.” Before that, not knowing allowed him “fresh eyes” to tackle the character up until the point where Mazzara laid out his plans.
Then, I ask a troubling question: who is his favourite actor to play off this season?
Most importantly, Bradley loves variety. He tells us how some actors are set in their way before even coming to the scene that day. Therefore, they’re not “alive in the scene at that moment.” In contrast, he went on to say everybody here provided a great atmosphere for a conduit towards their respective chemistry in various scenes. Being amongst a diverse cast, Bradley acknowledges each actor was different, making for good energy and even better scenes.
Morever, Bradley tells us he and Omid Abtahi (who plays Amani) are great friends now after shooting the show together. This helped the natural relationship between Damien and Amani onscreen, as they got closer offscreen.
He also made sure to add he loves Barbara’s presence as Ann Rutledge. He “felt very respected in [his] process.” Bradley also says there existed a mutual appreciation for and understanding of one another. Only too evident in the final product; their onscreen chemistry is undeniable.
Regarding particular scenes throughout the series, the grave burial/tree wrapping scene in Episode 9 (“The Devil You Know“) was very physical according to Bradley. Shot in Canada, in the woods at 3am, he claims he didn’t “have to work for” his uncomfortable attitude for the scene, as nature provided that. Even worse, the mosquitoes were “relentless” and so he continually “bathed in bugspray.” As a Canadian, from the farthest East Coast, I know the pain. But he also tells us that drama school “hammer[ed] it into [him] to find the truth.” So aside from the physicality of certain scenes, he dug deep into the well of human emotion to make a supernatural story feel more rooted in reality. He adds Glen also wrote very honestly. He says their fearless leader has a “warped mind”, but is someone truthful that can likewise find it in these characters.
Warning: Ahead is one final (minor) spoiler pertaining to the season finale, “Ave Satani”, so please do not read this last paragraph before watching.
Of course someone had to ask about the original 1976 film. Bradley tells us he rewatched The Omen at the start of production. Later, they all had to look at it again for the final scene in Episode 10, mainly for technical reasons; to make sure the shot was framed right and looking proper. That look is one of “inner peace,” says Bradley, as Damien has finally come to a realization in the season finale. Evil, but a realization nonetheless.
It was a pleasure to interview these two, an honour really. The series became much better as the episodes wore on, so hopefully Mazzara gets a Season 2 to give us more Antichrist fun, and more of Bradley James’ excellent talent.