On my flight down to New Orleans to visit the set of the forthcoming The Purge TV series, I was thinking about fried oysters, beignets, and all the glasses I might check the bottoms of for signs of the ghosts the French Quarter is supposedly so full of.
But I was also thinking about what, for me, is the question to ask of anyone involved with anything set within The Purge universe: is The Purge still scarier than the world we are presently living in?
And because the cast gamely answered that grim question, I also asked them something very dumb so we could think about something ridiculous and completely unrelated to the state of the world.
The real world and its endless political and cultural skirmishes is definitely on the cast and crew's minds, though. Without really being prodded very much, executive producer Thomas Kelly dove right into discussing that aspect of that show. "Through the characters explorations of the day, whether it's race or class, we define what the reality becomes when a really small percentage of people get a hold of power. How does that affect the way we live our lives?"
Kelly added, "For us, this is going to work best as the audience feels like this could happen ten minutes from now, ten yards away. Despite the fact that in Purge mythology we are set in 2027, we made no concessions to anything futuristic. So it feels very of the moment. It's very purposeful."
The Purge TV series is set to try and strike a balance between telling a 12-hour story in 10 episodes while also utilizing flashbacks to help us better understand who the characters are. Kelly was quick to acknowledge that flashbacks are sometimes utilized because a main story is lacking.
But there wasn't a desire to utilize the style of something like 24, where it's a constant ticking clock. Kelly explains that "It's really hard if the only time you see a character is in a moment of stress." He adds, "You learn a lot about them, but you learn a lot more if you could see how they were before the stress."
And one mildly spoilery piece of news is that each episode will be somewhat character-focused, especially insofar as the flashbacks go. The first episode will be about Rick (Colin Woodell) and Jenna (Hannah Emily Anderson). Episode 2 has Jake flashbacks. Episode three has Miguel (Gabriel Chavarria) flashbacks.
And we'll talk about who those characters are momentarily.
But it's important to get a grasp of the style of the TV show version of this universe. What's the same? What is expanding? And the aspect I thought that exemplified both best was the masks.
If you're a The Purge fan, you know that people participating in the Purge tend to wear costumes and masks that, in some way, express who the character is. Or the mask is just there to be scary.
One thing we were told about were these paper masks with the faces of famous serial killers. There will be a bunch of these showing at a party full of wealthy people who love, but are largely safe from, The Purge. Because they don't want to look like weird monsters since they're wealthy and wearing formal attire. But serial killers -- totally fine! That feels very on brand for the world of The Purge.
But obviously, there are much uglier masks. There's an evil scientist, a devil mask, a bunny with fingers coming out of the mouth, a pig, and, of course, a creepy nun.
All of these will appear in the show, some maybe even prominently. But, obviously, the most prominent part of the show that we'll see is the characters. Probably one of the biggest pushes of the tour of the set wasn't over the aesthetic of the TV version of The Purge but over how a serialized show can give us a more character-driven narrative.
Which brings us to the actors. We met them in the set for a sanctuary bar where, kinda like Lorne's from the Angel TV series, there's no killing allowed. I sat at the table with the bottle of Bud (it was empty, which is terrible) and waited to talk with everyone.
I started with Colin Woodell and Hannah Anderson who are playing husband and wife, Rick and Jenna, respectively. Jenna, to give you the blurb, is anti-Purge as the story begins and Rick is sort of in a position where cozying up to people who are pro-Purge might be beneficial to him. They are both well off.
According to Colin, "Throughout our whole 20s, we've been indoors, locked in and I think personally, I mean I know for sure I [Colin, not Rick] would either leave the country or I would be barricaded in, but tonight is a night where opportunity presents itself for both of us [Rick and Jenna] and we both know that you have to make certain sacrifices, in order to get what you want."
Lili Simmons's character, Lila, is in a similar boat from a wealthy family who doesn't want to be part of the Purge crowd. "She grew up in that world, but I think then she kind of realized she wanted to equal out the good and evil," says Simmons. "And so in her adult life she is, trying to help the world in other ways."
It's interesting what aspects of identity people feel they can show in a Purge world versus what they can't. For example, Simmons says, "She's layered with confidence and ability and so open with her sexuality. I just feel like she's kind of this open book," but then adds, "She's serious, but you don't really know what's going on inside of her unless you really truly know her."
Obviously, not everyone is going to come from a pro-Purge world. And, unsurprisingly, families against it are usually less financially prosperous. That's more the place Gabriel Chavarria's character, Miguel, is coming from. He's not interested in the Purge at all, but he gets involved in it after getting a weird letter from his sister. "He's on this mission to find her," says Chavarria, "and, Purge or no Purge, he doesn't care: he's going to find his sister. And he's that character. He's that guy where he doesn't give a damn what the holiday is."
And then there's Amanda Warren who plays Jane, whose Purge story revolves around working hard and not being able to get ahead in her professional life because of racism and sexism. The Purge movies have dealt with race a lot in recent iterations and it's not hard to see why. The Purge TV series will see Jane hiring a Purge assassin and, for Warren, it's almost "a relief knowing that all of these things are possible."
This is a side of The Purge I think people don't think about: that there is an opportunity in some cases for a kind of legal fighting that can't be found in the real world. You can't lawfully kill systemic oppression in the literal sense. But in the world of the Purge, anything is possible.
Which brings me back to my first question of what is actually scarier at this point: the world of the Purge or our world? And I will tell you that this was simultaneously the most and least popular question for reasons I think are obvious. But people answered. Chavarria sees both worlds as scary but in different ways. "You got senseless killing happening, school shootings all kinds of crazy stuff" in the real world, but, with the Purge "it's a law... that's a LAW. It's okay to go out there and Purge."
That was a common sentiment. Woodell also talked about the terror of the Purge stemming from the idea that it specifically is viewed as a holiday. "With the Purge, there is this sense of helplessness because the NFFA and the government just control absolutely everything." Anderson also pointed out, and this is sort of where my head was going in to the set visit that "...the laws are in place and it's kind of still happening."
Amanda Warren struck the strongest chord for me. "What's scary is that they, conceivably, can be one and the same. In this day and age, the realm of possibility for this kind of premise is there..."
So The Purge TV series, like the rest of the franchise, continues the duality where the Purge feels frighteningly familiar while, simultaneously, feeling like a release because it's also incredibly over the top.
But okay. You waded through the serious stuff to get to the most important question, one that sounds like it's straight out of Buzzfeed circa 2012: which character from Sex and the City would be best in the Purge. Every woman I asked on set answered this question like they had written a doctoral thesis on the topic and, honestly, that was the best part of my entire trip.
Anderson is positive Samantha would be best. "She's a survivor," according to Hannah. "She would be able to make alliances with the right people and she would also just be fabulous."
Lili also agreed that it would be Samantha, "because she's a ballbuster who's not afraid to get what she wants." So it is at this point in the conversation where, I think, if Samantha is going to be the popular answer to this question, I, as a journalist, must dig deeper.
I asked if she goes to the spa. "She landscapes the whole situation, she wants to look hot, says Simmons, a very smart person. We both agreed that Samantha has a mask, but, since she wants people to see her face, the mask is actually just a mask of her actual face.
Warren goes full galaxy brain on Samantha's Purge abilities. "I think going back to Lucy Liu with the Birkin bags," says Warren during what would be the greatest Ted Talk, "I think if a bitch needed a bag, a bitch would do what she has to."
So the consensus among the women in the cast is that Samantha is the queen of The Purge and that the third Sex and the City movie should be Purge and the City, which I, as a very powerful person in the world of television and film, sign off on.
For the record, though, Gabriel, who recently starred in War for the Planet of the Apes, was right in pointing out that Caeser would also be great at the Purge. "If Caeser's purging, we wouldn't have a chance. He'd learn how to fly a jet plane and just be dive bombing."
And Colin, too, pointed out that Dwight from The Office would bring his bobble head and his beets to the Purge and have a beard like it's A Quiet Place. That was such a good answer that, when the set visit was over and we all went to an after party, I allowed Colin to pick me up and, as you can see, he was thrilled.
The Purge TV series debuts on September 4 on USA.