Now that was an episode! Sam and Mohamad took center stage in one of the freakiest, wildest and most heartbreaking chapters of Van Helsing yet. Oh, Mohamad! Oh, Sam!
We spoke with Neil LaBute about Van Helsing Season 2, Episode 11: "Be True."
1. This is one of my top five favorite episodes to date. Truly horrific throughout, then heartbreaking, then even more heartbreaking with that final twist. What were some of the inspirations behind this Sam/Mohamad-centric episode, including the campground setting?
Neil LaBute: Thanks for the high praise, very glad you liked this one! I really like it, too, it's one of my favorites of the series so far. We really wanted to spend some time featuring Sam and Mohamad this season but because the story has splintered and the characters have gone off in various directions, it's sometimes hard to service all the cast equally. It's been a few episodes since we had much interaction with Sam and Mohamad — even when we saw them this year they weren't together — so we wanted this to be special. Jackie May did a great job of creating a tense and somewhat sickening showcase for Sam, one that even featured some backstory so we get a glimpse into his earlier life as well as how he and Mohamad first met. Answering your question, there wasn't so much any one inspiration for this episode so much as a desire on the part of the writers to really let Chris Heyderdahl [as Sam] go for broke on this one and to take Mohamad to a new level as well. I think we did a pretty good job of it.
2. We've talked before about how amazing Christopher Heyerdahl is as Sam. He brings his usual excellent physicality and intensity to the role in this episode as well as a pretty hefty amount of dialogue, which is unusual for him. What's his work process like? I imagine it's difficult to stay in a zone like that, especially in-between takes.
Chris Heyerdahl is simply amazing — he's got training and instinct and he can make a meal out of the smallest scraps (artistically speaking). He had much less dialogue the first season as Sam was human and profoundly deaf and so he spoke much less often — this year, however, he's had some wonderful passages of dialogue; I particularly liked him when he was hiding in the school gym and taunting Vanessa. This episode, though, allows him to really showcase his talents and I was blown away by the places that he is willing to drag his character to. On top of that, he's an actor and all that comes with that — he works well and fast but doesn't want to be hurried, and he can come out of the moment and be a 'normal' person, talking and joking with cast and crew but always ready to give you another take if you need it. Chris is a pure pleasure to work with, and I hope we find a way to use him intelligently for seasons to come.
3. Trezzo Mahoro was also excellent in this episode - I love the moment in which he actually starts punching through the floorboards. What does he bring to the set, and what do you like best about what he brings to Mohamad?
Trezzo brings that 'x' factor that each actor has and that is… there is no one else in the world exactly like him. He is such an interesting mix of actor and instinctual performer and athlete and so many other things. What he lacks in actual experience he makes up for in exuberance and hard work and the result is this wonderful hybrid of a character that is lovable and interesting and funny and weak and strong… all of it filtered through a person who is growing and evolving on the set each day. Trezzo has worked really hard to become one of our (cast and crew) and the audiences' favorite characters and I'm really excited to see where Trezzo takes the character of Mohamad now that he's joined the ranks of the vampires.
4. Sam and Mohamad definitely have one of the most intimate relationships in the entire series, as dysfunctional as it is. Thankfully, Christopher and Trezzo have great chemistry — what's their off-screen relationship like? Are they friends? Bitter rivals? ; )
You're right about that — Chris and Trezzo are wonderful together and you can't fake that sort of thing (well, some actors can and some do but if you're watching carefully I think it becomes obvious which actors really work well together and actually like and enjoy each other). Chris has been a strong mentor to Trezzo (along with others in the cast) and he has listened and learned and become a terrific performer in his own right. He is a bundle of energy and is always ready to try something new on set; Chris likes to think things out and make sure each moment works and the combination of the two of them has really gelled into an enjoyable pair. I love where these two guys are headed as characters and I look forward to continuing to help them craft their journey.
5. I really liked Emily Haine as Cara - a wonderfully tragic one-shot character (well, I'm assuming a one-shot). She seemed right at home in this mad world. Anything you can tell us about Emily?
Emily was a fantastic find — she actually came into casting earlier and read for a part that we ultimately didn't hire her for but I remembered her and suggested her to Jackie almost immediately after reading her script. Emily was cast and she gave a fantastic performance, really subtle and sad and yet still living with a shred of hope. Emily worked incredibly well with Chris and Trezzo, and outside of a few other minor characters, that was our entire cast for this episode so we really needed them to have sparks (and they definitely did). I think Emily is also a singer and musician and she has serious performance skills, but as an actor she has great subtlety as well and I was really moved by all the layers she brought to this character. I really wish she wasn't with us for just one episode, but I'm so thankful we got the chance to work with her on a very cool episode.
6. The brief flashbacks to Sam's childhood made for one of my favorite moments in the episode. Did you have his backstory figured out way back in Season 1 or did details like him having a preacher father come later?
I really like those moments of Sam as well — most of them came when we were figuring out this episode for Sam and why he is the way he is (although we may never know all of that) and where did he grow up and who was his father and how he become deaf and, you know, just the work you do to create a character. Actually, we had another flashback idea in Season 1 that showed us why he takes people's fingers as trophies but we never filmed it; we now have plans to show something like this (but a new idea) in Season 3. All of these things — character and story strands — are very fluid and continue to ebb and flow as we work on them. As a living person, my ideas and likes and concerns change all the time and that's the way it should be with fictional people as well, so as we write them they should continue to take shape or reshape themselves during the process. People are messy and sometimes unpredictable and our creative work should reflect that.
7. I can't believe it's taken me this long to ask this: What's the blood made out of? Christopher gobbles it up with such enthusiasm, I figure it has to be something that at least sort of tastes good …
Ha! Good question! We use many kinds of blood and for various reasons. We need blood for show (a pool of blood on the floor) and another kind for someone to consume (usually a mix of corn syrup and food coloring) and still other kinds for a situation like the 'blood bath' this season that Dmitri and Antanasia bathed in. We also have one type of blood for vampires and one type of blood for humans as well, along with digital blood that we add in various situations throughout the production (to enhance a bullet wound or a sword thrust or that type of thing). This is a series that relies on buckets of blood so our great and gifted team of VFX artists and SFX artists help us out continually with new and exciting ways to show blood on screen. For the record, I never once saw Chris complain about any of the blood that he consumed… he always just smiled. It was usually a scary smile, but still... a smile.
8. What was your favorite scene in this episode, and why?
I thought this was an exceptional good "previously on…" this time around. I'm kidding! Actually the "previously on…" was pretty good but I do adore this episode and so there's lots to choose from. That said, I think my favorite bit is the very last few moments, inside the outdoor chapel with Sam cutting off his own finger, being sad about Mohamad and going to kill himself and then watching Mohamad wake up as a vampire. The look on Sam's face in those last few beats is priceless. I also love the music and the look of the scene and that great location and… as you can see, I liked that part of the episode a lot. Really good stuff.