Wow. So, a lot went down in Van Helsing Season 2, Episode 2: "In Redemption." Unexpected deaths, unexpected reunions, unexpected transformations ... the shocks and surprises were fast and furious.
We spoke with Neil LaBute about the second chapter of the second season.
1. Let's talk about the score! I've liked it over Season 1 but especially enjoyed it in this episode. Always both menacing and melancholy. What went into its development?
The score for Van Helsing has been created by the same composer over our two seasons — his name is Rich Walters and he is a very talented individual. It's been a great process working with him, and he's given us a wonderful variety of music that he generates from his studio and we listen to, make notes about, then add to our final mix during the post-production phase. One of our producers, Mike Frislev, is also very into music, and the entire sound mix phase and has been helpful in guiding the direction of the score as well. I've also mentioned our music supervisor, Natasha Duprey, who has continually provided us with a series of unexpected songs that have played over many of the final scenes in our episodes. It's been a wonderful team to work with, and I'm very happy with the direction that our music has taken us over the course of these two seasons.
2. I love Vampire Axel, and love the role reversal between him and Doc as compared to the beginning of Season 1. They seem to be deeply connected, for better and worse. What can you tell us about where they're going this season?
I'm glad you've enjoyed what's happening there between Doc and Axel — the writers all felt that this was a natural and perfect kind of reversal from where we started with these two characters, and I feel good about it. Jonathan Scarfe, who plays Axel, is great at conveying the pain (physical and emotional) that his character is going through as he struggles not to fully change into a vampire, which is something I've never seen played out in a "vampire" show. Usually, you get bitten and you're a vampire. Instead, we decided that the change comes on a character the more they give in to it, the more blood (and the kind of blood) they drink. So in the case of Axel, he fights it, resists it, and would rather starve to death than become a thing that he despises. That's fun for an actor — not fun to play, perhaps, and Jonathan had his days where he hated the make-up and the monster he was becoming, but I think it pushed him as an actor to terrific new heights. Rukiya Bernard as Doc, on the other hand, is thrust into a new role by having to become a leader and working to help someone rather than just running away from the problem (as her character is probably more likely to do or at least want to do). I can't tell you a lot about their journey together — that would spoil the fun — but I really loved watching their dynamic throughout the early episodes of Season 2.
3. Doc fighting off the feral with the cooler was actually rather funny … until the thing got a hold of the blood supply. Meanwhile, Dylan can't go very long without feeding, either. Hunger and starvation seems to be shaping up as a major theme of the season -- will this be explored even more?
You're right about hunger being a theme throughout the show, and on many levels, but it was a natural one and something that all the writers felt worked for us: In any kind of catastrophic event, hunger on the most basic level would become an issue for most people, and with a population of hungry vampires out there searching for blood, the problem only deepened. All along we've wanted the desire for blood, the desire to feed, once you're a vampire to be almost overwhelming. Only a person with an iron will (like Axel) can fight the urge, but most give in and think of nothing else but feeding themselves. That kind of inner ticking clock makes for a great dramatic device and works across the board for everybody that you're writing about and can also easily be understood by any member of our audience. It's such a simple, basic need in our own lives — imagine what it would be like to be a human struggling to find food in a wasteland or a vampire being driven mad by your lust for blood.
4. Ah, mothers and daughters … one minute they're discussing flowers, the next minute they're drawing blood. Were there any particular influences that went into what's becoming Season 2's most dysfunctional relationship (Vanessa and Dylan)?
I think we wanted to make the relationship between Dylan and Vanessa as "normal" as possible, given the outlandish circumstances. Dylan coming of age as a teenager was enough to give Vanessa problems, but coupled with the fact that she's now a vampire and has abandonment issues and trouble with rage, it made for very fertile storytelling ground. Kelly Overton and Hannah Cheramy had a very nice chemistry as mother and daughter from day one, and they continued that this season. Kelly is a very intuitive actress, but she's also a mother, so she was able to bring that understanding to her scenes with Hannah, and I don't think you can fake that kind of thing; she knows what it's like to have a child and to care for someone and to want to protect them. You can see it in her work throughout both seasons, and it just elevates the material to a new level, and Hannah really blossomed as a person and an actress in Season 2. I also give a lot of credit to the director of these early episodes, Michael Nankin, who really takes time on set to work with the actors and not just move them from camera position to camera position. He is a master at eliciting strong performances from his cast.
5. Holy crap -- Vanessa bit Julius! And he's happy about it! This is quite a contrast to his early moments in Season 1, when we saw him reveling in mass murder during the first day of the Rising. What can you tell us about his Season 2 journey?
Season 2 for Julius is all about redemption and a reversal from where we began with him — again, about his hunger to be human again and to regain what he thought he'd lost many years ago. Aleks Paunovic is an absolute joy to work with, and he has created a really beautifully layered character in the middle of this crazy vampire show. Last season he was eating babies and spewing carnage, and this year we watch a man gain back his humanity while being brave, scared, funny, sweet, etc. It's a lot of fun to watch him work and to write these things for him. I spent most of Season 2 terrorizing Aleks -- pretending that we were going to kill him off in an upcoming episode – and I think that helped him as well, since he never knew if he was going to be in the following storylines or not.
6. What was your favorite scene to film in this episode, and why?
I think Episode 202 is crammed to the brim with a lot of fun stuff, including the return of Callie (I love the fact that this little girl somehow keeps showing up unharmed in the middle of this vampire apocalypse … it actually became a kind of running joke with the writers), but I think our "blood bath" sequence is my personal favorite in this one. It's an amazingly lurid and ghoulish extension of the vampire universe (a vat of blood that rejuvenates a vampire), and it's an idea that we had been toying with even in Season 1 but were only able to pull off in the second season. Kudos to the entire production team for making it work (production design by James Hazell and cinematography by Brendan Uegama), and many thanks to the actors Paul Johansson and Gia Croatian for braving the freezing cold room and the lukewarm (at best) "blood" and still making the scene feel fun and fresh. Their openly incestuous relationship (brother and sister vampires who nibble on each other for pleasure) has been a hoot and a welcome jolt of weirdness in an already out-there universe, and that's thanks to a room full of clever and crazy writers and two very adventuresome, fearless actors playing those parts.