Van Helsing Showrunner Q&A: Season 1, Episode 1
Rampaging fiends, ragtag survivors ... and one scantily-clad mystery woman.
Let the vampire apocalypse begin!
We spoke with showrunner Neil LaBute about the bloody, boisterous and brutal premiere episode of Van Helsing.
Did you draw inspiration from any of your previous work when writing the pilot for Van Helsing?
I actually adapted the novel Dracula years ago for the stage and I even turned the character of Van Helsing into a woman, so when I heard that this was the idea for the series, I felt like I was a good candidate for the job. I hadn't done a lot of work in this genre previous to this show so it was all a bit new, but I think my background in writing strong dramatic scenes for actors was a useful addition to the process. It was great to work in a true writer's room (with so many good and talented people in one place) — it was something I'd never done and it taught me a lot about breaking a story for one season of a series and it created a give-and-take with other writers that I have never had before in my career. I think this first season of Van Helsing is very strong and it's because so many strong, loud voices were working together in a positive way in our room.
Is there any significance to the series taking place in 2019? Why, specifically, do we begin three years into The Rising?
What made sense about the time frame to us was that it was close to now so a viewer could feel it was happening in a world that was familiar to them; it also created a sense that everyone you meet in the series has been dealing with this for a while and that they were true survivors. Everyone is a bit world-weary, seasoned and yet still afraid, still fighting to live and that creates great energy for the cast to play with.
What were the main inspirations in the design, physicality and behavior of the vampires?
Because so many people have pre-conceived ideas about vampires from many sources, we felt the need to be true to some of the original lore while staking a claim on other, newer ideas. Blood is still the strongest symbol of this universe and we bathe the screen in it — lots and lots of blood on both sides of the fence being spilled in this series. Older tropes, however, like bats and crosses and garlic and those kinds of things have been pushed aside; we've been more scientific about what has happened to these people rather than mythic. Physically we've tried to create a few levels of vampires — Ferals, Feeders and Elites — that have very individualized looks but still do what they must do to scare you as a viewer. That part is always important: creep the audience out whenever possible.
What was it about Kelly Overton that won her the part of Vanessa?
Sometimes when you're casting it's so close between a couple of actors that it comes down to a moment or someone's schedule or anything like that — for me, Kelly Overton had everything I could've wanted for this character and when I first met her in the room I knew she was the one. She still had to say 'Yes' but, for me, I was done once I met her. The physicality was amazing, yet she had a sense of vulnerability as well. I could believe her as a mother and that was very important. She was tough and ready to try anything (including the stunts), and she had great questions about the character. She wasn't afraid to push us to always make the scripts better and I love that about her. It's hugely important to have an actor in your lead who cares about her character even more than you do as a writer or producer.
What is it about Subway and Kit-Kats that inspired Axel's nostalgic opening speech?
All that just came out during the writing — I think people have strange and funny things that they get sentimental about when they've gone without them for a long time. I figured those two things would be easy for an audience to feel the same way as he did about them — people get funny when they haven't had chocolate for a long time, so it made sense that he might convey those sentiments about fast food or candy. I started the show with a monologue because it felt familiar to me, being a person who works a lot in the theatre.
What was your favorite scene in this episode, and why?
I love the full visceral punch of Vanessa waking up — our director Michael Nankin did a great job with all the action scenes in the pilot. Watching her snap awake after being bitten and ripping a few vampires to shreds was kind of a blast. However, I really like the shower scene that she shares with Axel because it was a really offbeat idea and it worked out very well. Our two actors were game and we created a scene that felt just right for an interaction between our two leads. I also thought it was visually a very strong scene, as well.