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TV Goodness Q&A: Netflix’s Hemlock Grove [INTERVIEW] 



We hope you like your horror with some serious kink, because that’s what you’re going to get with Hemlock Grove. Not that we mind. As even executive producer Eli Roth says, “normally ‘restrained’ is not the word associated with me.'” From Brian McGreevy’s novel, Hemlock Grove is a murder-mystery set in the heart of Steeltown USA. Whereas the mill used to be the life’s blood of this blue-collar Pennsylvania town, now biotech is king. What (if anything) explains the presence of all these supernatural creatures set loose in this town? Through the course of the murder investigation, many secrets will be revealed. 

Famke Janssen on ‘Olivia Godfrey’

Olivia’s a highly manipulative person, somebody with an agenda and is clear about what sacrifices she’s willing to make to get there. She’s mysterious and unpredictable and has a wry sense of humor, which makes her that much more interesting to play. 

Bill Skarsgard on ‘Roman Godfrey’

Roman Godfrey is a troubled teenager to say the least. He’s battling a lot of demons and believes that if he can solve the town’s murders, he can redeem and save himself from his own darkness.

Landon Liboiron on ‘Peter Rumancek’
Peter is a free bird; an observer who sees the love and beauty in things that a lot of other people don’t — maybe because he’s moved around so much… He’s morally secure but still finding his way through the world. 

Dougray Scott on ‘Norman Godfrey’ 

Norman is a man of great contradictions. He didn’t want to be the one counting money in the big house at the top of the hill looking down on the small town below, and yet he deceives with the best of them.

Penelope Mitchell on ‘Letha Godfrey’

Letha is a delicate and virtuous person who’s going through a lot of emotion to do with her spirituality, her family and her sexuality. I feel shivers when I read her lines because she’s so fragile, and love that she gets stronger through experience.

Freya Tingley on ‘Christina Wendall’

Christina is a curious and inquisitive young novelist who’s intrigued when she hears there’s a gypsy in town. He’s different. She’s a bit of an outsider herself, and she admires Peter’s freedom with who he is. 

Aaron Douglas on ‘Sheriff Tom Sworn’

Tom Sworn is the guy that’s holding on to all the kite strings in a hurricane and trying to keep everything together. 

Joel De La Fuente on ‘Dr. Pryce’ 

Dr. Pryce is a visionary – a mad scientist – whose soul purpose in life is to show the world that he can create life from death. He will go as far as it takes, and since he puts on emotion the way other people do clothes, that’s a long way.

Lili Taylor on ‘Lynda Rumancek’

Lynda is a protective mother, a gypsy and an outsider.

Photo Credit: Netflix
Photo Credit: David Schulze/Netflix

Executive producers Brian McGreevy, Lee Shipman and Mark Verheiden discuss the series.

There’s a supernatural element to the series and characters that inhabit the town. 

Brian McGreevy: “There’s no shortage of monsters on the show, and they tend to fall into a couple of different varieties, which is the main theme of the show. It’s sort of asking the question what separates a human from a monster.  The show is significantly supernatural. The series kicks off when a young high school girl is murdered in the town of Hemlock Grove, which is a southwestern Pennsylvania former steel community. There’s this sort of assembly of very odd characters, many of whom are harboring some kind of secret or agenda, who all have varying reasons for getting caught up within it.”

Lee Shipman: “This murder happens at the same time as this new gypsy kid moves into town.”

McGreevy: “Played by Mr. Liboiron.”

Shipman: “Liboiron has some weird unspoken connection he feels with Bill Skarsgard, who is the son of the wealthy family that runs the town.  It’s these two guys on either side of the tracks that come together.”

What was the challenge of putting episodes together knowing that the entire series is going to unroll at once?  Did it affect how you wrote cliffhangers into each installment? 

McGreevy: “When we were shopping around this project, it was based on a novel I had written.  One of the reasons Netflix was so attractive to us was because we knew that they had this straight-through series model. When we were looking at the architecture of the overall season, on the one hand, when you’re writing a pilot and trying to get the pilot sold, you approach the story differently than you would when you’re looking at the entire thing as essentially a 13-hour movie adaptation of a novel.  That said, the hope is that there’s wildly interesting things happening on a regular basis.”

Why did you choose to shoot the series in Toronto? 

Mark Verheiden: “Toronto is a great location and it has a wonderful steeltown sort of feel to it.  We originally were thinking of shooting elsewhere but ended up in Toronto, and I think it ended up being a good thing for the show because beyond the steel town, there’s just this wild variety of great locations.  We’re shooting in a fantastic mansion that we found all sorts of interesting places to go in there.”

McGreevy: “It’s actually the mansion from Billy Madison so it has quite a cinematic legacy.

Shipman: “Spoiler alert.”

Were there discussions with Netflix about what would conventionally be called broadcast standards?  Did they say, “This amount of sex, that amount of violence”?  Or is it NC17?  

McGreevy: “When we were shopping the show around, we definitely had excluded conventional broadcast networks because the jefe of the show was Eli Roth. I think we were looking to be roughly on par with the Showtime and HBO level, which happened to jive with at least what they seemed to be looking for.”

Please elaborate on the process of shopping the project to buyers. Also, how much is Eli Roth’s sensibility part of the project? 

McGreevy: “Eli is someone who’s actually a pretty fascinating and multitalented guy, who’s extremely interested in expanding his own brand.  He was actually a protégé of David Lynch’s.  For years, people were essentially trying to get him to do whatever version of Hostel the series, which he felt like creatively he’d been there and wasn’t interested in doing that. The way that he sees the world and that we, the writers, see the world, is that emotional violence and physical violence are not actually that unrelated, and we’re very attracted to both.  So that was a happy marriage.”

And the shopping process for Hemlock Grove?

McGreevy: “We ruled out pretty early on the conventional broadcast networks.  It’s funny.  We all came together shortly after the House Of Cards deal had been announced, and Lee and I looked at each other, like, ‘Okay.  Shoot.  That’s the future of the medium.’  We did go to some of the more conventional premium networks and actually had an auction within the first day, but we were holding out for Netflix because, for us, they were the most exciting partners.”

Can you comment on any differences making the show for Netflix? Was this experience any different from a producer standpoint to working with a network, linear network?  

Verheiden: “It was different in a few ways.  One, there was a great deal of freedom with Netflix, and some of that freedom is just in terms of how you’ve set up the show.  We don’t have to have commercial breaks.  There are no time limits. Just in that aspect, and in terms of language and standards, they’re more liberal than they were on the Syfy Channel.  I think the other thing we had on this that was different than a regular show is that we were working from Brian’s novel.  We knew for the show where we wanted to go from the minute we sat down to start breaking down the stories.  That’s kind of novel for television to actually have your beginning, middle, and end when you start out. We really embraced that. Finally, there’s the idea that you don’t have to catch up on every episode.  They’re releasing all 13 at once. You can watch all 13 at once, and it is like a long 13hour movie as opposed to episodic television, where you catch up every week and have to do those things to keep the audience involved.”

The show has a character that’s described as an 8 foot tall, massively deformed high school freshman.  How is that character realized onscreen?  CGI?  Prosthetics? 

Shipman: “A combination of both.”

Is doing a genre show more fun?  

McGreevy: “The conception behind the novel, and also the series, was that it was going to be a character drama first and then the genre elements were just going to be a metaphor for these people’s internal states.  So although we’re all genre enthusiasts and respect the genre very much, this is sort of like Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? with more people getting mauled literally.”

Since this is based on the novel, will there be a second season?  Or is the conclusion definitive?  

McGreevy: “We are absolutely hoping that we get a second season.”

Shipman: “In the pitching of this series, the first season is based on the novel, but we also pitched additional seasons and the kind of expansion of this world and where we go from there.”

Does doing 13 episodes at once protect you from unwanted notes? Normally, a network gauges the public’s reaction to the first couple of episodes and gives notes. 

McGreevy: “Notes are inherent to the process, and they’re not actually inherently unwanted.  I’d say, as Mark was saying, that we had an unusual amount of latitude because we chose Netflix.”

Brian McGreevy and Lee Shipman talk about adapting his book for television.

McGreevy: “It turns your brain into a Dali painting a little bit.  It’s extremely surreal. At a certain point, because, writing a novel, that book took six years to write. When you’re making a series, you have six months to produce 13 hours.  It’s just the logistics of it alone that are so overwhelming that you don’t really have time to think.  It’s sort of like riding a bicycle.  It’s like, okay, if I think about what I’m doing, then I’m going to end up massively injured.  So like ‘protosorially’ attacking the writing, everything was just moving so fast that you’d either pick it up or you don’t. Lee and I have been screenwriting partners since graduate school, so it was like having a voice right there that, if I was getting too close to too cavalier, and saying, ‘Oh, we can cut this’ or ‘We don’t need that character,’ et cetera, et cetera  Lee was someone whose voice I inherently trusted. He was like that external thing that I would have required.”

Shipman: “With the straight to series order and given all this room to work with, we were able to expand the world beyond the novel. I think for fans of the novel, there will be some really interesting, exciting surprises.”

McGreevy: “And the other thing that’s sort of delightful along the way is that, when you bring in a cast, especially a cast on the level that we have, as writers it’s like — I created these people six years ago.  It was, like, ‘Oh, wow, I’m learning things about these people from the people that we’ve brought on board.’  So that’s one of the things that’s actually, really cool and unique to this process as opposed to the solitary process of writing a novel.”

Edited for space and content.

Every episode of Hemlock Grove is available now on Netflix.

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