Is there a God here after all?
We spoke with Neil LaBute about Van Helsing Season 3, Episode 12: "Christ Pose." MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD.
Loved the Cast Away nod, especially since the last person on Earth I would expect to have a "Wilson" is Scarlett. What was this "Wilson" made out of?
Glad you liked our little tribute to Mr. Tom Hanks, Mr. Robert Zemeckis, and a fun movie about being stuck on an island. It was a quick and easy way to get people into the idea -- through a cultural touchstone that everyone can relate to -- that Scarlett has been stuck and trying to get off the island for a long while.
The actual Wilson was made of natural products found in the area surrounding the lighthouse (if you recall, we shot at a beautiful historic sight around Victoria, BC), and these included driftwood, some shells, rocks, and seaweed. It was a great visual gag the production team crafted with Ms. Missy Peregrym, who played the moment with such confidence and filled with great swagger as she readied herself to leave the island, then walking back onto the beach, soaking wet (following a pan over to Wilson), and angry after her raft broke apart.
The button on the episode was pretty great, too (her throwing a book of sailing knots across the room, only to find an inflatable raft that has been sitting under the bed the entire time she's been marooned). Missy proved herself to be quite adept at playing comedy, which was a pleasant surprise given her resume (certainly more drama than comedy on that list). After working with her for two seasons, I'm not sure there is anything that she can't do in terms of acting — I expect her star to shine even more brightly in the years to come.
Jeff Kober! Always welcome company. The first thing I remember seeing him in is the Lou Diamond Phillips supernatural thriller The First Power (1990). Had you worked with him on anything before?
Always welcome company on the screen and great company in person is what I learned — what a lovely man and a real pro as an actor. He brought so much to his part and really had the command and the stillness to pull off a part like the one we gave him. That's an interesting word in terms of TV or film acting (especially when movies are often referred to as "motion pictures"), because the best actors I have worked with over the years in both mediums share many common abilities, and one of the main ones is the ability to be silent and still on camera while at the same time remaining so mesmerizing that you as a viewer don't want to look away.
Mr. Jeff Kober has that ability — no wasted movement or energy, which can make you nervous while watching him — and he's also a real, honest charmer of a person. He came to work to do a job and he did it beautifully and seemed to enjoy it as well, bringing a lot of gravitas to the situation. He also tells great stories of his years in the business; I just worked with another terrific actor on a different project, Mr. Bruce McGill, and he brought a similar vibe to the workplace: always prepared, always collaborative, always ready to tell brilliantly fun and wild tales of his time in the dream factory.
Some very poignant elements of religion and spirituality in this story. Was this indeed the first episode of Van Helsing to really explore the idea of a divine power amidst all this apocalyptic chaos?
I think it was the first episode to take on the idea of "religion" in any form in a more overt manner, which is interesting because so much of the original Dracula myth is tied up in that particular struggle: between the divine and the profane, the darkness and the light, etc. We as a creative team have decided to steer mostly clear of those shores with our characters (although we have a murderous order of vampire nuns known as The Sisterhood and some people have shown a certain spirituality along the way).
What I liked about Episode 312's story was following a character who lived a grace-filled life but one that could seem almost laughable to an outsider; this was very well illustrated through a scene in which Simon goes to get Axel some medicine out of an abandoned ambulance and after he steps inside a feral crawls out from under the chassis of the vehicle but is then killed by a watchful Scarlett. Simon returns triumphant and oblivious, giving all credit for his safety to a higher power.
I also love the yin and yang of the final images of his fishing, and the writers argued a good deal about the final image: Was it better to leave it with him "walking on water" (a nod I wanted to make to the wonderful director Mr. Hal Ashby and his withering political satire being there) or was it important to show just how this person was, in fact, able to "walk on water."
The episode had some specific Biblical nods as well: Axel being "struck down" by blindness; Flesh and Jolene being bound and chained together; Scarlett's "doubting Thomas" arc, and, of course, the final image of Simon fishing. Were there any that I missed mentioning here?
I think you made a very thorough and comprehensive list of our Biblical allusions through the episode, except for perhaps the title, which we made as a tribute to Mr. Chris Cornell and his seminal band Soundgarden. Once we decided to go for it with the study of spirituality and faith and blind luck in a vampire apocalypse, it seemed only right to pile on a few recognizable moments of straight-up allegory. Why not? These came in many ways, from the script itself and through rehearsals and staging, and all were welcomed and discussed.
I love working this way, with a team who are all doing their best work and constantly collaborating. Too often the process can be hijacked by an individual — an executive, a director, an actor, etc. — who make too many decisions on their own and for selfish reasons, and that's when the process can be tainted and far less fun to be a part of. Our director, Ms. Leslie Hope, was very good about putting ideas on the table and letting people discuss, challenge, and work through big ideas like this; I think probably due to her time as an actor, she is sensitive to the input that each member of the team is afforded in the production and actively works to make sure that everyone is heard, whether their ideas are ultimately utilized or not. Leslie was a great person and a true collaborator throughout her block ("block" meaning the two episodes that she directed).
The "parting of the Day Walkers" was a terrific sequence. Where was that shot, and how much of it was practical vs. digital/green screen? It all looked pretty seamless.
This was an interesting idea on paper that we executed fairly well but, honestly, is one I'd love to go back and have another try at. Imaginations can afford to run wild, and in our writers' room we welcome that, sometimes even demand it. That said, it's hard and expensive and time-consuming to actually make some of our more fantastical ideas come to life.
Often it has to do with budget, and ironically, for a "vampire show" the most expensive and difficult thing for us to execute on a regular basis are vampires. Every time we have vampires in a scene throughout our first three seasons, I probably wanted more of them, but that takes lots of cash and lots of billable hours for a lot of technical artists; when we easily ask for a "legion" on paper, we often get seven or eight vampires and we try to add a few more using VFX (by shooting actors against a green screen in a technique known as "plating") and adding them to the others through technical means. Sometimes it works well and sometimes it's so-so, and I would probably always prefer to just have the requisite number of actors available on the shooting day.
Saying that, we did an okay job of making it seem like Simon, Scarlett, and Axel have found themselves in the middle of a mob of day walkers. We used many actual performers on the day, but again I wanted more, so we generated a bigger horde electronically, and it was a pretty seamless match (but as I said earlier, one I wouldn't mind taking another crack at).
Ha, who played the vampire that Scarlett caught and forced to bite Axel? I loved every single thing he did — a lot of near-slapstick comedy to go with the usual terrifying snarling and growling.
I tried to track down this information for you through casting, but the performer was unknown, meaning he either came from our stunt actors or through our extras casting (which has been wonderful for three seasons thanks to the casting director, Ms. Sara Brown). I agree with you about that performer, but what your question really illustrates is something I've mentioned several times in these Q&A sessions, and that is the depth of great actors living and working in Vancouver on every level of the process (from leads to character actors to stunt acting performers and right down to our background artists).
I hope you put a photo of the actor in this article and we hear back who that person was, because you're absolutely right — he makes a meal out of a small, mostly silent part. It's a good note for actors as well, to realize again or for the first time how much one can bring to what seems like a fairly insignificant part. I personally don't believe the old adage — "there are no small parts, only small actors" — because i know there are small parts, I've written some, in fact! However, a person can do a lot with a little when determined and talented and willing to go out on a limb for their art.
I've gotten to the point where if I see a gun and Flesh in the same scene, I'm assuming he's going to take a bullet (or three). Flesh has really been the human (-ish) punching bag this season … are we in for some sort of grand finale next week in the season finale?
Ha, how true! Merely seeing flesh these days usually means that something horrible is about to befall him or someone near him — I actually like that kind of tension, and it's fun to play with (or subvert the expectations as well, which is something we do). Mr. Vincent Gale has made quite a journey through our first three seasons — and he's one of the first images that you see in Episode 101 — and I hope we find lots of wonderful and offbeat things for him to do and experience in the future of the show. I know Vince will be up to it and can act out anything our crazy minds come up with (even with a new showrunner at the helm in Season 4, a man by the name of Mr. Jonathan Walker). I feel like Jonathan is going to push the envelope and create some amazing new worlds and creatures and love stories and deaths and all kinds of things with his writing team, which I will continue to be a part of.
I'll take this moment to say a big Thank You to everyone I've worked with getting us to this point — NBC Universal and all the folks at SYFY, my partners at Nomadic Pictures and a host of various others who often remain in the background but are hugely instrumental in helping to put this show together on a weekly basis. Thanks, everyone, and especially to the casual and hardcore fans (whom i jokingly call "fiends" online) who have made this journey so easy and fun and special for me as a writer, producer, and creator. Keep the faith, and see you next week for the blistering climax to Season 3!