Van Helsing has returned for its third season and the blood is already flowing as Vanessa's on a roaring red-eyed rampage of revenge! We spoke with Neil LaBute about the many shocks and surprises within the Season 3 premiere.
We're back! How's production on Season 3 going? Are you still shooting or is it all wrapped?
NEIL LaBUTE: It feels like we never wrap — all in all it's almost a year-long process, from the writing to production to the post-production, which is where we are right now. All the actors and writers and the production crew are gone, but lots of artists are still hard at work, from the great editors to the VFX artists to the sound and music designers. Credit is also due to the fantastic tag-team couple of Todd and Sheila Giroux, who have tirelessly managed our post production for three years and have pulled off many miracles for us in that time. We still have a few more episodes to color time and listen to the mix on and see the visual effects for — but yes, we're almost done!
So, as soon as the Elder transformed into Susan, I wrote down "Susan cameo!" But she ended up being much more than a cameo! It's great to have Hilary Jardine back, albeit playing a much different character, which she seems to be enjoying. Was it always the plan to have the Elder take this friendly form?
Early on the writers had some idea that the Elders would be able to shift shapes and become different people if necessary and that was coupled with our desire to have Hilary Jardine back as Susan (as we all love her work and felt that we lost her from the cast way too soon for our taste… but not for our story). It was a blast to have her back on set but creating a new vibe with her take on the elderly vampire in a new form. And you're right, she has much more than a cameo and, in fact, appears in more than just this first episode of the season. Also must thank the masterful creature performer and actor Keith Arbuthnot for his amazing work as the untransformed Elder for two seasons now.
This was one of the more darkly funny episodes, with much of the macabre humor coming from the sudden acts of violence, such as poor Theo getting his neck snapped by Sam after his rousing speech and Harrison getting beheaded by Scarlett (a cheer-worthy moment, for sure).
However, all these sudden and unexpected deaths have me now worried about little Callie. Is it a possibility that her incredible luck might run out or at least take a sour turn?
Thank you for noticing the pitch black humor that we try to employ along the way — I think there are indeed some good, rich bits of macabre humor in this particular episode. We love to clean house at the beginning of a season (take another look at the start of Season 2 if you don't believe me) and losing Harrison was necessary and fun and the actor John Reardon was kind enough to come and reprise the role. He really made a meal of the good doctor this time around and he has some delicious fun with it before he goes. Theo, too, was a masterstroke — and I have to take full credit for this death — but I thought it would be so amazing to show Theo again, let the audience think "Oh great, the good-looking vampire killer guy is back…" and then kill him an instant later — which also made a great intro for our resident scare master, Christopher Heyerdahl as Sam. Christopher Russell, who played Theo, was also cool enough to embrace the idea of tantalizing people with Theo, only to snatch him away and I thank him for his being a good sport, a great actor and a cool guy. As for Callie, well, you just wait and see...
I loved the "I need you" joke between Axel and Scarlett in the woods. If I remember correctly, that wasn't in the shooting script? Was that an ad-lib from Mr. Scarfe or something that was discovered on set?
The joke was actually on the page and it's one that I fought to keep in the scene as it was a hard day of shooting and we had to move fast so we didn't lose the light, but in general that playfulness between Scarlett and Axel was one of those things that the two actors — Missy Peregrym and Jonathan Scarfe — worked on together; they also instantly had a great rapport and were happy to be left to find things like that between them: lots of little glances, private jokes, elbows to the ribs and the like. It felt natural and perfect; two strong people who found a little bit of tenderness in the middle of an apocalypse. We definitely embraced it, especially since Jonathan was also the director of that particular episode so he was more than willing to try and make the first scene of the season between those two characters as sweet as possible, even with a number of nasty, slobbering vampires in the background. I think that looseness and improvisation aspect of their relationship was a big part of what makes them work as a couple and they played into it throughout the season. More to come, I hope...
Another change from the script I really liked was Scab bringing Ivory a freaking mountain lion instead of a deer. So bizarre, so very Scab. How did this change come about?
Sometimes the gods bring you gifts… and you don't laugh in their faces when they do. Turns out it was easier to find a fake mountain lion than a deer and so we embraced it when we heard about it. Scab and Ivory — the very fearless and dedicated Rowland Pidlubny and Jennifer Cheon — really made a meal of their growing relationship this season and it was a blast to write and to watch… you might be surprised how far Scab will go for the love and respect of Ivory. I must say, that mountain lion was a very real looking 'stuffie' and it made the scene both absurd and kind of heartbreaking. Can't say enough about these two actors — both came into the Van Helsing universe as day players and we loved their individual work so much that they've both been asked to stay on for multiple episodes.
I really liked the dreamy look of Another Place, where Abby meets her end. Where was that shot?
That was a set, built by our wonderful production design team (lead by the clever and resilient Grant Pearse) who found enough space for it in a local hockey rink at the fairgrounds in Vancouver. We wanted to create some kind of otherworldly spot, like something from a Mayfield Parrish painting, and have it feel like it was outside as well. A tall order for foam rocks and red sand and a few flowers because that kind of thing, if you're not really careful, can end up looking like on of those 'outdoor' sets that were so silly and charming on the original Star Trek or a show like that — I personally love them but realistic they're not! Grant and his team of builders and painters and visual artists hand-crafted a space that we not only used once but twice in the show (watch for it later in the season as it's meant to kind of 'mirror' the first set that you see).
Holy crap. FLESH! That was a major surprise, and now he's even more miserable than we've ever seen him before (which is saying something). Was it always the plan to bring him back or did Vincent Gale pitch the idea of "You know, what if I didn't blow up…?"
Ha! Every actor on the show who has passed away, in some way or another, seem to have pitched the 'What if I didn't die?' or the 'What if I came back?' scenario to me along the way — probably because they've seen so many of their colleagues die and then magically come back to life. In fact, I taunt Aleks Paunovic (Julius) with it every year, over and over, just for fun. In the case of Flesh, I told Vincent that he would die but then come back to life at the end of Season 2. We shot it that way but I didn't like the way it looked so I just kept him dead — when he saw it he was a little concerned but I promised him, 'Don't get worried, we'll take care of it next season… if there is a next season.' Thankfully there was and, as promised, we brought him back to life. From that resurrection grew a wonderful running gag of him being constantly put in jeopardy, even up to death, and then coming back to life.
Wow, that shoot-out/swordfight/beautiful chaos at Crooked Falls. Amazing choreography and pyrotechnics in that sequence. What was the process of putting that together?
That was the brainchild of the director Jonathan Scarfe, who also plays Axel, and pulled off by a great stunt team (lead by Kimani Smith), the cinematographer Ron Richard and his team, the VFX team and all the actors who had to really be there and pull off some complicated moves as well. In the end it was worth it but it's not easy to choreograph that sort of thing in the time we have and with the money we spend but we decided to do as many little artful pieces like that as we could this season. This one was our flagship moment and I think it worked out quite well — we also wanted to use an AC/DC track for the music but that ended up being too expensive; in the end, a substitute rock band stepped up for the honors and helped us go in a new direction with our music (instead of just using the oldies).
Any tidbit/clue/riddle about Season 3 you'd like to share, just to further whet our appetites?
Lots of name-dropping from the original source novel this time around, so listen for those little tidbits along the way, and know that the Dark One is getting ever closer. At least one character will take a truly startling step toward embracing their inner darkness and tragedy lurks around every building, tree and rock. You will see one good person walk on water (perhaps) and many cowards cower in fear. You will hear some laughter, see the spilling of many tears and much blood and even witness the birth of a child. Season 3 is a real 's*** show at the f*** factory' (to steal a phrase from an excellent new show on HBO called Succession) and we couldn't be prouder. I hope there are many seasons to come but at least one more, so that at least the full story of Vanessa Van Helsing can be told. In fact, it's never too early to write to SYFY or NBC and tell them to go ahead and make that happen!