Through the Weeds of Hemlock Grove
Famke Janssen, Landon Liboiron talk going off-book for season two
By Richard Whittaker, 7:00AM, Fri. Jul. 11
When Famke Janssen wrapped up season one of Hemlock Grove, her situation looked dire. Her character Olivia, the monstrous head of the Godfrey family, was in a body bag, presumed dead, with her tongue ripped out by her own son. Janssen conceded, "That leaves you in a precarious position."
But the second season of the dark supernatural drama debuting today on Netflix, it seems that Olivia's indomitable spirit is enough to fend off death and mutilation. For Landon Liboiron, who plays gypsy werewolf Peter Rumancek, that's just part of the show's sinister appeal. He said, "Going into it, we knew that we wanted to go big, and make it dark."
Behind the camera, the big addition this season is Charles "Chic" Eglee as the new executive producer. His TV resume is near matchless: Since cutting his writing teeth on St. Elsewhere, he's written and produced for Moonlighting, The Walking Dead, Dexter, Dark Angel, NYPD Blue, and the criminally under-rated corrupt cop drama The Shield. He called the work done to establish the Pennsylvania horror "very evocative. Season one, everyone set the table so beautifully. It was such an inviting tableau to be invited into." As the newest addition to the production team, he described his job as the fun part. "The framing of the house is all there, and I got to pick the wall paper."
"More than that," interjected Janssen. "Chic's amazing contribution is that he's really focused on character development. We really go through the journey of the people of Hemlock Grove, understand them better, understand their inter-relationships better."
Eglee has a slightly different take. "The thing I like to do is dig a deep, deep hole, throw the characters in, and watch them crawl out."
Dark as many of his other shows have been, Hemlock Grove may allow Eglee to dig his deepest pit yet. His long career has stretched from conventional broadcast shows to cable game changers like The Walking Dead. Even with the growth of horror shows, it's hard to imagine that a series like Hemlock Grove could ever have made it on the big four. He said, "There's a difference between broadcast journalism and the standards and practices that are applied there, and then cable TV and the sorts of stories and content you can tell there, and then premium cable and Netflix has a lot more freedom in terms of language and situation." When it came to dealing with the blood and guts of this show, "Netflix has created an environment where none of us feel like we're getting away with anything. They've just allowed us all the support to tell the stories that we want to tell."
For Janssen, that meant a lot more freedom for Eglee, not just to spray the walls with blood, but to extend the characters, including Olivia. She said, "He really ran with that, and said, 'Well, this gives us the opportunity to make her multidimensional." The end result, she said, is a bloodstained matriarch who is "very different from the Olivia we got to know in season one." And that inevitably includes some sort of reunion with Roman (Bill Skarsgård), the scion of the Godfrey family, the one responsible for her seeming demise. Janssen smiled. "Frankly, I think she's more forgiving than she should have been, considering what transpired."
Less happy to see Roman's return may be Peter, his friend and shapeshifting nemesis. Liboiron said, "The first season, I think (producer Eli Roth) has been calling it a warm-up. You got a lot more people talking. In season two, it's a lot more action and a lot more of the gore. But it's never used intentionally for the gore factor. It's always lending to the plot. Like with Bill. It's not like they're just having this upir make everybody gush. It's seeing him struggle with that."
If Eglee is the big addition behind the camera, then in front it's Madeline Brewer. A NetFlix veteran as the cornrowed and doomed Tricia on Orange is the New Black, now she is Miranda, a young woman heading to LA who gets diverted to Hemlock Grove, and finds herself caught in the arcane forces that bind and divide the Godfrey and Rumancek boys. That said, she already knew Liboiron from his breakthrough role on DeGrassi: The Next Generation as Declan Coyne. "I used to play a DeGrassi drinking game with my brother," she said. "We would drink every time someone would say sowrry. Because we were trying to get drunk fast."
While Miranda is less gloom and doom than most residents of the Grove, Brewer knows that the attrition rate for characters is pretty high – and they don't all get to come back from the grave like Olivia. "There were definitely many instances when I went, 'They're doing it, it's happening, she's gone.'" However, her last NetFlix gig toughened her up to the risks. "When I was working on Orange is the New Black, my mom would joke, 'Don't get shanked today.' Next thing we know, I have an email from (series creator) Jenji Kohan and we both go, 'What just happened?'"
But death isn't necessarily the worst thing that can happen to a character, as Peter finds out when he first shifts from man to wolf. Liboiron said, "It's a relaxing, beautiful, tranquil moment." Actually, he clarified, "It's a terrifying thing to do. You're naked and you're covered in blood, and there are people everywhere."
Both he and Eglee warn to see more of that kind of trauma, as the series starts digging fresh dirt. After all, season one was a fairly faithful adaptation of the original novel by Brian McGreevy (see Portrait of the Artist, April 6, 2012), but now the story has to take flight on its own black wings. Liboiron said, "The book was a gift, because you had a backbone to fall on. With this season, we'd have no idea what's happening. We'd get the script two weeks before shooting, and say, 'Oh, I didn't know that's my character's type of thing.'"
When Eglee came on board, he decided to treat the series, not the printed word, as his source material. "I've never read the book, and I don't until I've finished working on the show. I never read Dexter, either. I just want to have the pure sensory experience of feeling what the show is about, and letting the show tell me what it wants to be, rather than be predisposed to outcome or story because of what's in the book."
"It's become its own beast," concurred Janssen.
Eglee has been in the situation of going beyond the source material before. "I remember working on Dexter after the first two seasons. One of the producers was sort of in a panic. 'We've used up all the book, what are we going to do? What stories are we going to tell?' I was puzzled by that reaction, and said, 'You do what every writer does. You make shit up.'"
Hemlock Grove season two debuts on Netflix on July 11.