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Van Helsing Showrunner Q&A: Season 2, Episode 13: 'Black Days'

Contributed by
Jan 5, 2018

That's a wrap for Season 2 of Van Helsing ... and not everyone made it out alive! In fact, some people didn't make it out alive in the most gruesome way possible...

We spoke with Neil LaBute about Season 2, Episode 13: "Black Days."

Let's talk about The Boss! I remember Andee Frizzell from her awesome turn as the Wraith Queen on Stargate Atlantis. What made her the right choice to play the long-lost Mama Van Helsing (that is, if she REALLY IS Mama Van Helsing)?

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Andee Frizzell was a great and lucky choice for us as the real Mother Van Helsing and I'll tell you why — she originally came in to audition for another part and I immediately spotted her in the room and thought, 'sure, she could play this part but I think she'd actually be great for this…' So already I was kind of cancelling her out for the first part and she was good for that, too, so you have to take a chance because you're not ready yet to hire someone for the second part that you're thinking about and so you run the risk of losing that actor to another show or not being available for the time slot you want them for or that type of thing. Occasionally I've been a really brave and smart director and told an actor 'hey, I want to cast you right now, before you leave the room,' which producers and casting directors and studios hate — they always want to discuss s*** first — but a few times I just knew that I shouldn't let that person out of the room without hiring them on the spot. I felt that way with Catherine Keener years ago (for Your Friends & Neighbors) and Rachel Weisz (for The Shape of Things) and Matthew Fox (for In a Forest, Dark and Deep) and I felt the same way about Andee Frizzell. She just had the goods: strength, beauty, intelligence, wit. We cast two amazing women to play her daughters so we had to have a mom that we believed those two sisters came from.

So many great supporting players/cameos in this episode: Keith Arbuthnot as the Elder, Alex Rose as the Marquis de Sade, Jesse Stanley as the Oracle, and many others. Did you have a favorite?

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No favorites... everybody did a wonderful job in this episode and throughout the series, too. We've been extremely blessed with great casting all along the way, thanks to Jackie Lind and her associates. Jesse Stanley was a real find as The Oracle and Alex Rose gave a very nice reading of a young Marquis de Sade. Kind of creepy and kind of romantic. Keith Arbuthnot, however, has been a real pro and — along with Roland Pidlubny as Scab — has also been a great help in generally defining the look and movement of most of our vampires. Keith has played a variety of characters on the series already and I hope he comes back for more. It's been a pleasure getting to know the acting community in Vancouver and the surrounding area — there is a deep, deep talent pool there and I think that's part of what keeps a lot of American television shooting there (that and the fact that the tax credit is a big help and nobody likes to save money like Americans like to save money!).

I love that Dmitri's origin involves the Marquis de Sade. Was it always planned that Dmitri's transformation into a vampire would involve him, or at least involve some other notorious historical figure?

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Yeah, I really liked that origin story, too, and at one point we were going to see how Dmitri went home and turned his sister, Antanasia, as well but that ultimately became too much story to tell in the finale. The Marquis wasn't a story point that existed when we first started imagining the universe of the show but when we got to the Season 2 finale we suddenly loved the idea that this cavern they entered would play with their senses and, because of that, we'd get the chance to see Scab, Ivory and Dmitri as human and in these vulnerable states before they were vampires… which turned out to be a lot of fun. I love seeing Ivory in the religious setting that we placed her in and Scab at the mercy of his co-workers and how our director (Jonathan Scarfe) and director of photography (Brendan Uegama) crafted different looks for each of those sections with color and light. They did tons of clever things with little time and resources and using red for Dmitri and the Marquis made the most sense — those scenes are lurid and great fun, kind of like the best of Roger Corman and his historical horror films.

I really liked the locations in this episode, particularly the cave/catacombs leading to the crypt - an Indiana Jones/Tomb Raider kind of vibe. Where did you shoot those sequences?

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This was a fantastic standing set that existed outside Vancouver — the funny thing was, when we first scouted it our terrific production designer, James Hazell, didn't want to use it because he naturally wanted to build his own version of a catacomb and tombs and all that fun stuff. We had this discussion early in the year because we needed to shoot part of the crypt since the Elder made its first appearance in episode 204 (and James did create a wonderful section of its cell but we sadly never shot it as we got behind that day, then had to dismantle it to create the boxing ring for Julius — I think production design would be a heartbreaking job since I've watched people have to create, tear down and then recreate so many sets during my career and I would hate doing that if it was me) — but that was how it all began. As the year went on and our monies dwindled and our time got compromised and James was trying to finish this job with a little bit of sanity, we revisited the cavern set and he said 'Yeah, I think this could really work!' Amazing what a difference a few months can make! We also got lucky again with the clever Mr. Scarfe and clever Mr. Uegama, who took that set and turned it on its ear, shooting it from different angles and with different lighting and atmosphere effects and made me believe that it was many different chambers and hallways. Hats off to the creative people that this show has been lucky enough to have on board from day one.

Seeing Scab as a human was fantastic, and I loved his sickly greenish light as compared to Dmitri's red in his flashbacks. Did Rowland Pidlubny enjoy the break from Scab's extreme vampire physicality and vocal work? (Not that Scab as a human was an "easy" role in any way.)

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Yes, in the same way that 'red' made perfect sense for the world of Dmitri, 'green' seemed the logical and perfect choice for the world of Scab. I think Roland was excited to show a bit more of what he can do as an actor and he really embraced his 'human' scenes and I found his work very tragic and moving. He has done such amazing work as a vampire that it's easy to just rely on his for that and, like anything, I'm sure that can get old for an actor. Rowland, however, has always been 100% with us every day he's been on the set — first there and last to go and excited to do the work, so I think he's ready for a spin-off series if the call ever comes! That said, it was probably nice to not sit in make-up for one day and to let his bloody leather clothes dry out for once. He's a real trooper and a great advocate for the show and just a nice guy so I hope he sticks around for a while — the show has a habit of going through characters and particularly vampires at a fast clip so I would love to see the Elder and Ivory and Scab hang in there for a while and create a bit more havoc and mayhem.

Dmitri's dead! Holy crap, he got his head cracked open and torn apart! If indeed this is the last we'll see of Dmitri (at least for a while), what was it like on Paul Johansson's last day on set?

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As a vampire, Dmitri had a pretty good run of it and i think Paul Johansson enjoyed the ride — it was a fun character to develop and as writers it was really helpful to have the different levels of vampires to play with along the way. Not too many of Dmitri's kind left with Rebecca and Antanasia and now Dmitri gone, but new monsters will rise up and Sam and Mohamad seem poised to create a great deal of mischief next season, along with Ivory, Scab and Scarhead. Part of Paul's last day on the set was spent coughing because that was the nature of the set, covered in a thick coating of atmosphere smoke. We were all ready to get out of that cave by the time we finished! I feel like Paul is a real professional and would've gone whatever distance we required of that character but understood our policy of 'death comes unexpectedly in the world of Van Helsing' and embraced it when he knew it was his time — and I, for one, think he goes out pretty memorably in this final episode of Season 2 (although I could've used a few more moments of watching his head get crushed but that's just because the effects were fun and it's fascinating to see how that process is handled live on stage).

What was your favorite scene in this episode, and why?

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Wow, so many to choose from this time around but this time it's an easy choice. As much as I loved watching Scarlett fight and the Elder slink around its lair and Scab and Ivory get away in the end and the emotional beats that happened between mother and daughter, I have to say it was great to see Vanessa pop back into our lives with a vengeance. We knew it was a big gamble to have her off screen for a number of episodes this season but that's the way it worked out with the story and her pregnancy and a hundred different details. That's why the moment is so sweet for me and I feel like we pulled it off well; to see her being bitten by the Elder and wondering what that might do to her and then waiting for those beats before she wakes up… and then… wham! Her eyes flash open and we see her pupils fill up with blood. That seemed like a real showstopper to me and I'm quite pleased with it as a cliffhanger for next year. I hope audiences agree but either way, I'm excited to start writing episodes for a new, leaner, meaner Vanessa Van Helsing.

What can you tell us about Season 3?

I think it'll be more of the same and different — lots of greatest hits with new characters and adventures. Each character is at a place where they're about to embark on a new phase of their lives and stumble into a new type of adventure. Axel and Scarlett have lots of interesting places we could take them and that also goes for Doc and Jolene, for Julius and a few of the vampires as well. I'm always thrilled to see where Sam will go next and now that he has Mohamad with him, anything could happen (and probably will). Count on buckets and buckets of blood, strange twists and emotions touched on and played with. As for Vanessa, I think she has no choice but to go further into the darkness and the danger with that is that she too may have to become darker and darker to do battle with what lies ahead of her still.