Some kinda living nightmares called 'skinners' wrecking havoc to and fro. Adorable moppets living in the woods. Sam becoming somehow even more terrifying. And, heartbreakingly, Dylan is still dead.
We spoke with Neil LaBute about Van Helsing Season 2, Episode 4: "A Home."
1. Vanessa seems to be moving a bit differently this season in the fight scenes - a little harder, more street fighter, complete with the occasional sucker punch to the face (Mohamad in Episode 1, Julius in this episode). How does this reflect her emotional journey?
You're right about Vanessa heading in a different direction — and she's about to head off in a new one starting with episode 204. Last season we saw someone who was coming out of a fog (her long-term coma) and slowly coming to terms with big life changes: the loss of her daughter, a massive change to the world and grappling with her newfound skills as a fighter and hunter of vampires. Lots to deal with! However, she was still working through all the personal loss and the transition from who she was before The Rising and who she is now. This season, she is battled-hardened, a bit more jaded and, after the loss of her daughter, even more embittered and angry at the world (and vampires in particular). So yes, she is a far different person than she was 16 episodes ago and I hope that's the case 16 episodes from now, as characters need to change if they are going to continue engaging an audience on a weekly basis — they don't have to grow, but they need to change and remain interesting and I think Vanessa (and by extension, Kelly Overton, the actress playing her) is doing that very well at this point.
2. Skinners! Awesome. What inspired these horrible beasts?
Well, we have a writers room full of genre geeks who love their work and wake up each morning with a smile, knowing that they get to push things as far as they can. And so they do. I don't remember individually whose idea it was, but as soon as we heard the word 'skinners' I know that we collectively started salivating and throwing out fantastical ideas about who they were and what they did and what they looked like. A vampire apocalypse lives or dies by the various and horrible things that we can throw at our heroes and 'skinners' just had a real ring to it. Our costume designer, Farnaz Khaki-Sadigh, was once again very instrumental in helping us create the look of these creatures but the writers of this episode, Jeremy Smith and Matt Venables, really ran with the outline we gave them and created the foundations of their blood camp and the nasty shenanigans that follow once Vanessa and Julius are captured.
3. Well, it's official: Sam is now the show's most terrifying villain. Having him set up shop in an empty pool is a nice touch - what led to choosing that location for him?
Chris Heyerdahl is just someone very special — lots of people are good actors but the commitment to his craft that this guy has is pretty breathtaking. Vanity goes out the window when Chris is working and he goes to a really unique place is search of the truth that fits his character. He asks great questions, he makes great suggestions and he does it in a timely fashion (well before we start shooting) so that all our resources can go into realizing the best version of what we're trying to create together. He's a rare breed but if you watch his work then you already know that. I worked with him first as a director on Hell on Wheels and felt the same way — I was so thankful to get him on this show as well. As for the swimming pool, that was the luck of the location that we chose; it was there in the old juvenile detention center that we were shooting in and the director, Jason Stone, was smart enough and forceful enough to persuade us to change the scenes as written and make them work in this pool area. We got a lot of production value out of that space and it also helped create a really sickening backdrop for Sam's antics.
4. We talked earlier about Axel and Doc switching roles, so to speak, in this season. I'm getting the same kind of vibe from Sam and Julius (or at least the gentle giant Sam appeared to be before he revealed his true colors). Am I on the right track?
I think you're reading those tea leaves pretty accurately — as I said earlier, characters (and entire shows as well) thrive on change: location, temperature (of the drama or the comedy), actors, etc. Just like in life, our TV characters need to keep having unique experiences so as to not appear stuck in a rut or spinning their wheels. We like asking our actors to push their characters and themselves to extremes and that is really helped by those who have gone from being human to vampire or vice versa. Watching Julius deal with his guilt and the pain and ecstasy of being human again makes for a great Season 2 for Aleks Paunovic, in the same way that watching Jonathan Scarfe (as Axel) fight his turning into a vampire with every fiber of his being is very cathartic (and a tour de force for the actor). To fulfill the demands of the genre, we throw buckets of blood at the screen but we're also always fighting to make characters believable and give the actors a reason to want to stand around in a dark forest and get rained on.
5. "We're the Johnsons" is my favorite line of the episode. What can you tell us about this community? There's gotta be something fishy going on, yes?
I love the Johnson family — a really rag-tag group of people living together, made up of two fathers (men who have started up a romantic relationship since The Rising) and a huge bunch of lost children that they've found along the way. They are gentle survivalists who have made a kind of paradise in the trees, what would look like a fun place for kids to grow up but, unfortunately, they're still in the midst of a chaotic world and so people also get killed there and suffer there and that's what keeps them from being silly or just a storybook family. We named the fathers Chad and Mike after our two producers, Chad Oakes and Mike Frislev, and they're played by Phil Burke and Donny Lucas. I first met Phil on Hell on Wheels as well (along with a few other cast members) and have remained friends with him since; we've also worked together in the theatre and on film as well. The Johnsons are very fun additions to our story and it was nice to see some kids running around the woods and having fun in this pretty grim world that we've created. I can't tell you what is going to happen to them... but it's not all fun and games, that much I can promise you.
6. What was your favorite scene to film in this episode, and why?
Lots to chose from this week but I would have to say it was the final moment of the episode, when Vanessa walks into that empty pool setting and sees Sam for the first time in a long time. It's only a short beat, but it carries a lot of weight and it's a great set-up for the next episode and a perfect way to go out of 204. I feel like just another fan of the show, even though I know what's coming — I still follow the story and can't wait for various things to happen or fall into place or pay off and this is one of those moments — two characters that I've been waiting to run into each other again. I've loved the Mills Brothers song that we use in this episode for a long time as well ("You Always Hurt the One You Love") and I was really glad that we got a chance to use it here. This was a new block of shows for us to shoot after the first three and we were lucky to have Jason Stone at the helm and a wonderful new editor named Lara Mazur putting the pieces together.