Vanessa travels (well, not physically travels… or does she? Anyway…) to Hong Kong 1896 in this week's episode of Van Helsing. We spoke with Neil LaBute about bringing this stunning period piece to life.
SPOILERS AHEAD for Van Helsing Season 3, Episode 3: "I Alive."
Kelly Overton got to do a lot more comedy with this episode, and right off the bat, too, with her muttering "Damn robe" to physical gags like not quite knowing how to pick up and eat the food during her meeting with Agnes. Did she welcome the chance to spread Vanessa's wings a little with this episode?
Neil LaBute: Thanks again for noticing the comedy in this episode — Jonathan Walker wrote a really fun episode that took us to an exotic place, gave us new creatures to deal with along with some additional family history and some comedy to play as well (with the classic "fish out of water" trope for Kelly to play with). I think it worked out very well, with great thanks to our director and producer Michael Nankin. Kelly also had a few co-stars (too many to name here but worth looking up in the credits) who really helped her along, playing straight man and/or women to her very out-of-sorts Vanessa. It was nice to see Kelly let her hair down (literally and figuratively) and go in a completely different direction on this episode. She had talked about doing something "new," and I think this felt very much like that to her.
This feels strange to say in the context of an apocalyptic vampire tale, but I think my favorite sets so far on the show are Hong Kong, circa 1896. Such beautiful and large-scale work, with subtle hints of the gothic influence we saw in Episode 2. Was this indeed a "bigger" episode to tackle than usual?
The scope and practical concerns of pulling this off was a real concern, but we tackled it with our amazing design, camera, and costume teams. We found a few great spots in Vancouver to help us along and then also began to employ some wonderfully old-fashioned matte paintings to give us size and scope to the city.
Michael did a great job of giving us a real sense of period (I met him working on the AMC series Hell on Wheels and he was always great at bringing authenticity to that show). We put our money in the right place, and Jonathan created a fun story that will hopefully keep audiences entertained up until the last few moments.
Lots of great new characters in this episode, from Master Tsui to Yang Shih to, of course, the B'ah. Anything you want to share about the three terrific actors who played these roles?
I think these three are just more examples of the great pool of actors that we've been lucky enough to pull from during our three seasons, thanks to the Vancouver acting community and the wonderful casting director Jackie Lind. We have consistently been given the opportunity to work with really dynamite actors who work hard at creating new and exciting characters (and this is the kind of show that gives them that sort of opportunity as well — you don't always get to play a vampire or vampire hunter or that sort of thing).
I don't want to single out one actor here, because there are many new featured actors in this episode, but I will say this: One actor in the episode is a repeater from our first season, and I'm certain there's no way you would realize that without being given the clue. This is something I love — bringing people back to play additional characters on a series — and we hope to do more of it.
Honestly, I can't say enough about the cast of this episode; everyone really stepped up and gave us a rich gallery of characters for this period episode… we got very lucky once again.
Vanessa's cranky anachronisms were a lot of fun in this episode, from references to Yoda to "Wax On, Wax Off" to "a bad kung fu movie." Were there any others that didn't make the cut?
All of those little moments were fun for Kelly and certainly fun for us as well — Jonathan found many in his script, and the rest of us in the writing room threw others out as well — some wanted and some unwanted — but I think most of them made the cut. Kelly was great at finding that delicate balance of believability in occasionally giving off a period flourish of words or an elegant gesture, but then being able to go back and give us the Vanessa we've grown to love as well: ass-kicking vampire killer on the loose.
It's a real balance because it's great to have Kelly show her comic abilities and her romantic abilities and all the things she's capable of as an actress, but in the end we are also obligated to give her plenty of action and unleash the inner demon so that we fully fulfill the genre tropes that we've become known for as well. I think we all love watching Vanessa on her journey, but we get really excited when she pulls out her weapons and goes to work killing vampires.
Damn, I'm gonna miss Susan/The Elder, but I suppose her/his demise was inevitable. Can you give us any hints as to where (or, rather, who) Hilary Jardine might be headed next?
We all miss Susan on the show, and we all miss Hilary on set — a tragic loss to the show but a necessary one to the logic of this unforgiving apocalypse that the characters are caught in the middle of. She was a necessary casualty. I don't want to say too much more about the possibility of Hilary being back on the show, but there is a very special episode coming up that is a real tour de force for Kelly Overton and will also have a few wonderful surprises in terms of cast members, both present and former. I predict that this particular episode will hook you from the very beginning and hold you there for the entire running time, it's just that weird and wonderful.