Vanessa's hanging on a hook and facing her (literal) demons. Just another day in the world of Van Helsing.
We spoke with Neil LaBute about Season 3, Episode 10: "Outside World." MAJOR SPOILERS BELOW.
Nice hearing the recording of "New World in My View" over the opening (and briefly again later). This season hasn't had as many songs on the soundtrack as previous seasons — is there a particular reason for that, or has it just been part of the show's overall changing/evolving?
Yes, the music in Van Helsing has taken a turn — not evolving or devolving — and has been used less than previously but quite strategically. Some current tunes have been used for effect over slow-motion fights or, as in this episode, in a dreamy way (by being played at an off speed) to create some disorientation. It's a process, like anything, and this season I have applied music to the process in a different way.
In Season 1 and Season 2, the music was almost an ironic comment at the end of episodes, a throwback to another time when things were different and perhaps easier and happier, and some tunes would act as the button to the show (for instance, Zager and Evans' song "In the Year 2025" in Season 1 didn't really tell us what year it was or anything about the episode, but it had a feeling or a flavor that felt right for the moment). As a creator (filmmaker and now showrunner), I'm not one to want to overuse music, and I'll sometimes ask to quiet or lose a piece of score (music created by our very great composer, Mr. Rich Walters) because I don't want the music telling us what the scene means or how I should feel watching it, and I've never gone over budget on our source music (songs that we purchase through our brilliant music supervisor, Ms. Natasha Duprey). We use it when it's right, and that's the only way I can ever imagine using music — in the case of this episode, our director (first-time director and one of our wonderful writers, Ms. Jackie May) had really wanted the Johnny Cash version of the song, but it was far too cost-prohibitive for us, but Natasha found this great cover of the tune by the band Sister Gertrude Morgan and then it was tweaked into an eerie place during the episode by Rich and our sound team during the post-production mix.
Shooting the Mohamad/Vanessa struggle through windows and from a low angle was especially cool, as was the payoff of Vanessa getting hung on the hook. What were the challenges of shooting that sequence?
This idea was not on the page of the script — also written by Ms. Jackie May — but was discovered and developed by Jackie and her team during location scouts. I actually was the one who suggested the space that was used by remembering it from some previous work we had done in that building in another season, and when Jackie and her DP (Mr. Ron Richard) and her stunt coordinator (Mr. Kimani Smith) saw the building they also saw the potential for a very unique sequence: an action scene shot from inside and exclusively through windows.
I loved the idea and they went about building it, complete with dust falling that was done by VFX and an elaborate section that included stunts, SFX and VFX (along with almost every other department on the show) to make us believe that Vanessa fell through that ceiling panel and became stuck on that terrifying meat hook. Of course we're going for a bit of an homage to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre here (and the various rip-offs since then), but Jackie inverted the paradigm and turned it into a kind of contained but epic hero's journey for Vanessa.
Once we had the concept I fell in love with it and knew it would be a tour-de-force acting piece for Ms. Kelly Overton as well (and I think it definitely turned out to be that — in fact, I can't think of very many episodes of television that have their protagonist trapped in such a way for almost the entire length of its running time). I'm very proud of this one, as you can tell, and I think Jackie did a wonderful job with the episode and Kelly really outdid herself with the range of emotions she brought to her character in this rather insane situation that she finds herself in.
Holy crap! John! He seemed especially pleased to have Vanessa hanging on a hook, and he provided a fun "Oh yeah, those scenes!" recap of some key events from Season 1. How was it having David Cubitt back on set?
I don't believe there's such a thing as "enough of David Cubitt" — that's the same as saying "I think I've had enough of this Thanksgiving meal." This guy is such fun to work with and is such a wonderful performer that I was just broadly smiling throughout the time that he was back on set with us.
David's John character was one of my early favorites (he was such a tough character to like, but that's what made him so wonderfully human), and he died too soon for my taste (and in such a brutal way). He was a perfect person to come back and "haunt" Vanessa as she becomes delirious on the hook, losing blood and going in and out of consciousness. He represents one of those people that she's had to kill for "the greater good of the cause," and those deaths are always pretty fascinating because they ask the big moral questions: Is it okay to do whatever it takes to get to something that is important or right or whatever (and who judges what is actually "important" or "right" or anything like that)? Also, because of the aggression that David can play, there was a nice tension in the air as he and Kelly went back and forth with their dialogue.
I've worked with David since he died on the show, and he's just a really fine person and a terrific actor to collaborate with — I hope we get a few more chances to do some TV, film or stage work (or hell, even radio would do!).
It was a total blast having Vampire Julius back for a visit. How did Aleks Paunovic take to returning to his bad-guy persona after almost two seasons of playing the big lug with the big heart?
It was so much fun to see Mr. Aleks Paunovic back in his vampire fineries (and it was fun to make fun of him, too) and to see him rebuild the character for us. I think he got a kick out of it as well, trying to find that particular beast again. Of course, having a human head to drink blood out of helps, but he got back to that spot pretty damn quickly and had a blast while it lasted. It was like a high school reunion for a few days on set, seeing so many wonderful faces from the Van Helsing Hall of Fame.
Aleks has a really vast range as an actor — he's one of those people who really becomes the part they play, so now he just feels right as the big, lovable pugilist known as Julius, but "Vampire Julius" was pretty amazing, and it was spooky to hear that voice again and to watch the different subtle ways that Aleks used his physicality to differentiate the characters. I've seen this guy do comedy, action, drama, suspense, and a variety of other tones now, and I'm happy to say that he's not just fun to be around but he's also a really fine actor and I respect him a lot (please don't tell him that or I'll have to kill him off the show immediately!).
If SYFY does renew Van Helsing, I think there are some interesting new bumps ahead in his road, and I can't wait to see how Aleks will handle them and how his character will change and grow (or revert) during the process. There... is that mysterious enough?
And then Dylan shows up … followed by one of my favorite characters, Susan. It's the Vanessa roast! I love the stage play approach to this episode, though was Kelly Overton in a certain amount of physical discomfort during filming? Her hanging on the hook looks … pretty real at times.
Yes, that's maybe better than "high school reunion" — it was like a roast, everybody telling Vanessa her failings and taking verbal potshots at her (including even "Human Sam"). Kelly took it like a champ and gave back as good as she got (even while hanging in midair). Ms. Hilary Jardine is practically still a regular on the show with the number of times we find ways to bring her back on the program, but it was a treat to see so many great actors making one more loop around the proverbial track.
As for Kelly, I think there was indeed a bit of physical discomfort at times during the shoot, and I'm sorry to say that — as showrunner I should've realized earlier that we needed to get the finest kind of equipment possible (meaning a "harness") for her, since she would be in it so much of the time during this episode. In fact, I believe that we tried to get some sort of high-end contraption from Las Vegas for this episode, but there was a mix-up and eventually we had to settle for a regular stunt harness (which does the trick, but it was definitely not designed for comfort). Thank God Kelly has a strong constitution and an iron will and a good sense of humor, and so she did as much time in the rig as she could, and it really made a big difference to the episode — she has a brilliant and indestructible stunt double (named Holly Raczynski), but you can often tell when it's the actual actor in a given situation or not: Kelly is there on the hook much of the time, and it looks frighteningly believable.
Speaking of the hook, that too was a real issue: We had to have a safety cable connected to the actor or stunt actor at all times, and eventually that had to be digitally painted out, which took a lot of personnel hours. Little things you'd never think of unless you're faced with them, but so many details went into making even such a contained episode (and FYI: an episode that takes place in a limited number of locations with a small number of cast members is often known as a "bottle episode").
Dylan really does look like a mini-Vanessa, and I like the idea that she's alive and growing up as a human, at least somewhere in Vanessa's mind. Not so "mini," though — how much has Hannah Cheramy grown since her last appearance on the show? It seems like at least four feet.
Yes, that's a nice idea — that Dylan is alive in some other place and waiting for her mother to join her one day; it's probably not true, but it's a lovely thought. Anyway, it's been nice to have Ms. Hannah Cheramy show up again in an episode again, but you're right: Kids grow and suddenly Hannah has turned into a young woman. It still works and in a way makes a kind of sci-fi sense (that she's continuing to grow in a parallel universe), but it was surprising to have her show up on set and be many inches taller and all that goes with that. She was a pro and gave a lovely performance, as did everybody who showed up during "Old Home Week."
The end of the episode took a nice turn with the return of Mohamad and his helping save Vanessa while subsequently being turned back into a human. Mr. Trezzo Mahoro did some real acrobatics in this episode, such as hanging upside down by a wire and a few other semi-spectacular feats of daring (including the fight on the rooftop). He's such a gifted physical performer, and it was great to have him and Vanessa back together again and both of them happy and smiling, if only for a moment… but who knows for how long?
Actually I know for exactly how long, but that would be cheating if I told you, and trust me, following the journey for the next few weeks will be well worth it: There is a virtual maze of secrets still to come in the last three episodes of the season.