Wow. A lot happened in Van Helsing Episode 3. Sam's back, which is awesome (and terrifying). Julius is now just about the most lovable lunk you could ever meet. And Dylan ... yowza.
We spoke with Neil LaBute about this game-changing episode.
1. Love the flashback to 1936 to show the origins of Julius' connection to his mama. What were the biggest challenges in doing a period piece for the teaser?
Making the world feel authentic. Helping our actors play to another kind of reality (period) and making sure all the sets and props felt authentic. Director Michael Nankin — who is a huge cinephile — wanted to shoot this section much like a film from that era, with a different aspect ratio for the screen (more like a square than a rectangle) and in beautiful black & white. Ultimately we had to pull back on some of these effects (which is a nice way of saying we were told not to do it), but I still think a lot of what Jackie May (writer of the episode) put on the page is up there on the screen. Aleks Paunovic [Julius] and all the actors really added depth to the emotional side of the story, and I thought it was particularly clever to paint the Julius character a certain way for the entire season last year, only to make him rather sympathetic once you were aware of what happened to him before he was turned. It was a lot of fun to do the period work, and I hope the show does a lot more of it in the near future.
2. Was it always the plan to make Julius such a sympathetic and gentle soul? He started out as Season 1's arguably most brutal villain.
I can't say with certainty that any of the writers originally imagined this transformation when we first started work on Season 1, but the idea grew as we continued to write the Julius story and as we became aware of what Aleks could do as an actor. He’s an imposing figure — tall and strong and a boxer — but we saw a vulnerability there that felt worth exploring in an interesting way: What happens to these people when/if they are turned back and they can remember all the horrible things they’ve done in their quest for blood? Fascinating psychological stuff that I haven’t really seen explored in other genre shows, and so that kind of idea kept gnawing at us until we finally did something about it. Aleks, to his credit, took the character change and ran with it — he has created a really complex, funny, and sweet sort of gentle giant this year, kind of like Lenny in Of Mice and Men (but without the little animals in his pockets and the dead girl).
3. What are the technical aspects of creating the sound of a character's "vampire voice"? It's especially creepy with both Dylan and Axel.
This happens through a combination of things, starting with the actor themselves (where they place the character in their mouth or throat) and then is augmented in post-production by the editor, post-production supervisor and/or the many people who do the sound designing in the final mixing phase. We are blessed with a great team led by Todd Giroux and his wife, Sheila, who oversee all the steps that are required to finish the episodes and get them onto the TV screens of our viewers. They’ve been on the show since we started production, and we’re still finishing up the last few episodes, so you can imagine how much work it is — the vampire voices are just one of thousands of details that we carefully manufacture for each episode to give Van Helsing its own unique feel.
4. And the Mystery Ninja in the Woods is … Sam! (And he looks great, by the way!) What can you tell us about his Season 2 journey? Is Felix set to be his own personal Renfield?
Are you sure about that? There might be more than one "mystery ninja" out there, so keep your eyes open! As far as Sam goes, he is off on a new and horrific journey this season — even as a vampire we find that his obsessions still lie in murder and mayhem and Mohamad (I guess he likes words that begin with "m"). Sam is the opposite of Axel in that he is wholeheartedly embracing his descent into vampirism and letting his passion for bloodletting (something he had well before he was a vampire) run rampant. As for Felix, I wish I could say he was going to get off that easy — as Sam's version of Renfield — but what is about to happen to him is much darker and nefarious.
5. DYLAN!!! That was … unexpected. What inspired this shocking turn of events?
This was something that we had actually planned — we knew that once Vanessa had fulfilled her first-season goal of finding her daughter, even though having her daughter be a vampire created a nice dilemma for her, it was something that we could only sustain for so long (especially with her ability to be able to try to turn her back into a human again). In the end, Vanessa is a hero figure and has a larger role to play and greater challenges to face (which sounds weird for someone who is also a mother, but the world is not simple now or is perhaps terribly simple): In the apocalypse, Vanessa has work to do, and her daughter would only get in the way of this. So instead, we decided to do something really dramatic with the two of them and make Vanessa’s ultimate decision about her child (and its outcome) the most dramatic thing we could make of it. It ended up sounding like a perfect three-episode arc, and that’s what it became — Vanessa’s reaction to these events (and Kelly Overton’s brilliant emotional portrayal of it) becomes the catalyst for the rest of her actions throughout Season 2.
6. What was your favorite scene to film in this episode, and why?
Once again, there are so many fun scenes to pick from here — I love the introduction of Felix and what he’ll become in the next few episodes, and I'm so happy to have Sam back in the world, but my favorite scene was probably the day that we shot the boxing footage. It was just so fun to watch it being staged and to have the actors actually throwing punches (Aleks did all his own fighting with another stunt actor) and seeing it on the video monitor in beautiful black & white and in the proper aspect ratio … that was a real pleasure. We created a lot of atmosphere and a real sense of an old motion picture that day, and it was easy to imagine what it was like to make movies back in that Golden Age of Hollywood when a lot of the great boxing pictures were shot. Hats off again to director Michael Nankin and cinematographer Brendan Uegama (and a host of other artists as well) for their top-notch work.