Vanessa's on the bench for the second episode in a row, but there's still plenty of vampire apocalypse drama going on. Axel and Scarlet got a little smoochy-smoochy, some of Scarlet's mysterious past was revealed, and ... oh man, did Julius buy the farm?
We spoke with Neil LaBute about Van Helsing Season 2, Episode 9: "Wakey, Wakey."
1. The show keeps outdoing itself with the awesome teasers. What can you tell us about the actor who played the "diner vampire" in this episode? His bit with the steak was amazing (as was his line reading of "Raaaaaawwwww.”).
Thanks for noticing our throwback teasers — jumping back in time to give viewers a bit of insight into how some characters became who they are (in this case Scarlet Harker). The actor you mention — Darren Moore as Raw Steak — came in for this single episode character and blew us away. He had a great walk and talk (some sort of sound, anyway) and he just went for it. When your role asks for you to squeeze the blood from a steak into a glass and then drink it as your introduction, you've basically been given license to chew the scenery (in this case, quite literally). Darren really created a good energy with his work and I think it helped all the actors he played off of in staying in character while pushing them to do their best work. He's a real hoot as this vampire, right down to his last moments on screen.
2. The opening nocturnal battle/siege/hunt was especially intense. What were some of the challenges in pulling off this extended sequence?
There are so many logistical things to deal in a sequence like this, along with all the usual aspects of production like actors, camera, make-up, etc. Often you're shooting something like this over more than one day so trying to get the weather to match (rain or clouds or clear sky) is daunting, along with moving from darkness into light. At what moment do you start to use your daytime shots instead of the nighttime ones? All this stuff is considered and discussed and it takes a very sure hand in the director's chair, which we thankfully had in David Winning. These two episodes that David directed played nicely together so I think that helps — two parts of a single main story rather than two completely separate scenarios — but David was great about moving the troops, making quick decisions and getting the job done efficiently but also artfully. He also delegated well, like all truly good directors know how to do.
3. It's been a while since we had an "appreciating food" scene on Van Helsing, so it was fun to see Julius geeking out over modern-day snacks. Anything Aleks actually wasn't too thrilled to eat?
That was an interesting scene and was part of something that happened to us throughout the shooting of Season 2 — we initially wrote episodes that timed out as too long so we then rewrote and began shooting. Once we were shooting — for various reasons — we found that the episodes were actually running short so we had to replace the material that we cut out or, more often, we wrote new scenes to plug into these episodes to make our necessary length; a show like Van Helsing is held to a precise time limit since the network must factor in how much story we can tell vs. how many commercials they can sell. 42 minutes and 30 seconds. It's an exact science in the case of cable TV, so this scene came out of that need and therefore we put together this scene that allows Aleks Paunovic and Rukiya Bernard to have a quiet, fun moment together. As for the food — personally, I didn't see anything on that set that Aleks wouldn't eat.
4. Axel and Scarlet hooking up was cute - Axel is especially long overdue for some romance. What can you tell us about where that relationship is going?
All I can say about 'the good ship Axelet' (their cute combined names) is that Jonathan Scarfe and Missy Peregrym could individually have chemistry with a grapefruit so it wasn't a surprise that when we put them together it was combustible. I think they both embraced the chance to play something a bit gentle and sexy and funny in a show that often has them covered in blood and fighting for their lives. I don't want to reveal more about it but they've gone pretty far pretty fast and yet I always felt a strong draw between Axel and Vanessa so I'll be curious to put them all together in one room and see what happens.
5. Oh man. Julius isn't really dead, is he? He can handle getting slammed into a tree and such, right?
Now what kind of showrunner would I be if I answered that question? He certainly looks dead but Julius is one tough son of a bitch and he's come back from the edge before. I know that I spent much of Season 2 taunting Aleks that I was going to kill off his character so he lived in a kind of good-natured ("he must be joking…") fear for much of the time he was on set. The one thing about Van Helsing that I'd never want to see get lost is its ability and willingness to kill off fun, interesting, loved characters because it's an apocalypse and people would just die. Often. Keep watching and you'll find out what happened to Julius but be on alert for everybody because that much I can tell you: no one is safe.
6. What was your favorite scene in this episode and why?
Lots of good scenes this time around — I want to see lots more of Ivory and her sisterhood — but my favorite was probably a section from the eating scene you mentioned earlier. I wrote a monologue for Aleks about a film that he saw right before he turned into a vampire. I chose a film that I love called Dodsworth and he speaks about it in loving terms and about the girl that went to the movies with him and it was a beautiful little valentine of a performance in the midst of all this blood and death. Sadly, thanks to that wonderful time limit we have to follow — 42 minutes and 30 seconds — I had to cut it out in the end. Those are the kind of choices that are not fun to make but someone has to and it usually comes down to the showrunner to do it. I guess, as some kind of payback, I'll take this moment to tell whoever reads this Q&A to do themselves a favor and see the film Dodsworth whenever they can — it's one of the great American movies that most people just don't know about.