The Strain Series Premiere Preview [VIDEO and PHOTOS + Guillermo del Toro and Carlton Cuse INTERVIEW]
Warning: Spoilers Ahead
I rarely get excited anymore over new television series, and I can actually count on one hand the number of shows I watch consistently and on a regular basis. But, The Strain is a very rare exception. I have screened the first 4 episodes and I can honestly say that I haven’t been this pumped over a new show since I was introduced to The Walking Dead nearly three years ago. But, everyone can watch and see for themselves because the highly-anticipated horror drama premieres this Sunday.
The series is based upon a book trilogy written by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan, and the story begins when an airplane with 210 passengers lands at JFK from Berlin with all but 4 dead — or apparently so. No indicators of terrorism. No signs of trauma. No nothing. A virus or some kind of contagion is their best guess and so the CDC is called in to investigate. But, what they find is far worse than any disease they have ever seen and far more sinister. The series stars Corey Stoll (House of Cards) as Dr. Ephraim Goodweather, Mia Maestro as Dr. Nora Martinez, Jonathan Hyde as Eldritch Palmer, Sean Astin (Lord of the Rings) as Jim Kent, Kevin Durand (Lost) as Vasily Fet and David Bradley (Game of Thrones) as Professor Abraham Setrakian.
We were able to catch up with Guillermo del Toro, Executive Producer and Co-Creater, and Carlton Cuse (Lost, Bates Motel), Executive Producer and Showrunner, to get the goods on the process of developing the books for television, what to expect in season 1 and beyond, how this show is like nothing else currently on television and lots of other great stuff that only confirmed that this is going to be one of the best new series of the season.
On why Carlton Cuse was very excited about collaborating with Guillermo del Toro on bringing The Strain trilogy to the small screen.
Carlton Cuse: “I had the initial meeting with Guillermo and I basically decided to get involved for two reasons. First, I had a lot of respect for Guillermo as a filmmaker and I thought that particularly in a monster show like this, he’s one of the most imaginative guys out there in terms of creating creatures and worlds. But, I also thought it was the perfect opportunity to up-end the world of the vampire genre. The vampire genre kind of has been overrun by romance and that we’ve had our fill of vampires we’re feeling sorry for because they had romantic problems. It was time to go back to the conception of vampires as really scary and dangerous creatures, to make a genre show that would be completely different from anything out there currently on the TV landscape.”
On how doing a cable show has opened up doors on what they can do creatively.
Carlton:Â “It has absolutely opened up doors. This show really represents Guillermo and my version of the story and it’s completely unadulterated. Sure, we can’t go around dropping F-bombs, but that’s about it. We’ve been able to do everything we wanted to do and FX has been amazingly supportive. And they seem to be very aware that when you’re competing with film and paid-cable, you don’t want to find yourself in a situation of doing an adulterated version of the story. This is something we were very conscious of and concerned about and FX has really given us the latitude to tell the full story. It’s got some pretty extreme moments, but I think that’s part of what gives the show its octane.”
On how closely the mythology will resemble that of the book and how the books will be split across the seasons.
Carlton: “Book 1 is pretty much season 1. The plan is for the show to run anywhere between 3 and 5 seasons and as we work out the mythology and the storytelling for season 2, we’ll have a better idea of exactly how long our journey will take, but it won’t be more than 5 seasons. I think audiences are starting to embrace series that have a beginning, middle and end. But, there’s also a lot that’s going to be added because the television show is its own experience and there are new characters and new situations and different dramatic developments. So, the show and the book can each be separately enjoyed. The goal is not to just literally translate the book, you want to take the book as a source of inspiration and then, make the best possible television show that you can make.”
Guillermo del Toro: “From the beginning, we talked about the milestones and we want the milestones and the characters in the book to be hit, but with that it became very malleable. Carlton decided very wisely in retrospect to, for example, leave the origins of the Master that we opened Book 1 with to be explored in season 2. AnotherÂ example, bringing a set piece from Book 2 to bookend the story of one character in season 1.
So, it’s a very elastic relationship the series has with the book but by that same token, there’s very respectful and mindful of the things that will not alienate someone who likes the books.”
On some of the things Guillermo and Carlton did to prepare to turn The Strain trilogy into a television series.
Guillermo:Â “One of the first things I asked for was a very long pre-production period so that I could really plan out the make-up effects, the creature effects, the visual effects, all of which I have big experience with, while staying on a fiscally responsible budget. Like with the pilot, I didn’t want to have to go back and say, ‘Can I have one day more?’ I put in many extra hours, I wanted to fit in the sandbox what I was hoping for, a big pilot for a big series and that pre-planning was crucial. Adjusting the way I staged, the way I approach storytelling, and yet not sacrificing anything.”
Carlton: “You know, I had not done a show with creatures and to do a show with creatures with, in my opinion, the best out there in the world, it was just an incredible opportunity. We approached making the television show without a lot of things that go into making a feature. But, if you think about the network model and how when a show gets green-lit, you’re in production 6 weeks later, that would have been impossible for this show. We needed enough lead-time to do a significant amount of the writing so that we could plan and organize things because obviously we were working within certain fiscal limitations. But, with all of this planning time, I think we were able to bring something to television that you wouldn’t be able to do under normal circumstances.”
On why they decided to do a full-blown TV series instead of a mini-series or even a TV movie.
Guillermo:Â “I remember meeting Carlton for breakfast one fateful morning and he said that he loved how I began the first book debunking the spiritual mythical aspect of vampirism. Second book, you go into the sociological aspects and you come full circle in the third book creating a new spiritual dimension to the myth. We knew the journey was not achievable in a single swift movie or mini-series. We wanted each season to not only complete what you did in the previous season but evolve into a different hopefully increasingly more daring territory and I think in that sense, a series was the natural way to do that.”
On how The Creature — one of the most horrifying things you will ever see on television (The Walking Dead included) — was developed.
Guillermo:Â “I have been obsessed with vampires for a very long time. I was a very strange kid, you know. I read about vampire mythology worldwide and I familiarized myself with the Japanese, Filipino, Malaysian, Eastern European variations of the vampire.Â And I kept very detailed notes as a kid on where to go with the vampire myth in terms of brutality, social structure, biology, this and that, and some of those notes made it into my first feature, Cronos, some of them made it in Blade II, when I directed that, and most of them made it into The Strain.Â We knew when designing them that the Master need to be hidden for at least half the season or more, to not make him that accessible and I came up with the idea that this guy who’s been alive for centuries and essentially is an apex for the Dark Ages in a world where everybody has cell phones, iPads, all of that and in the middle of it is a 9 ft. hand-carved coffin with a creature that has been alive for centuries and is ancient. And the Master needed to look that age and so, we decided he was going to become his wardrobe. So, we designed the wardrobe, the cape, and the multiple layers of clothes to be falling apart, just a bunch of rags and then, out comes this appendage that drains the first victim.”
He also went on to describe one of the features that I feel completely sets these creatures apart from other variations on the vampire that we’ve seen in television and film — love and what humanity they have left are like beacons that guide them to their victims. When someone first turns, they immediately return to the people who love them, and because no one would turn away a family member or friend, this love eventually becomes their downfall. A very brilliant twist in a genre that has been overworked, over-done and re-done, especially over the past few years.
On casting and how they visioned Sean Astin as Jim Kent from the get-go.
Guillermo: “On at least three of the parts, we didn’t cast a wide net, we knew who we wanted. When meeting the actors we proceeded to offer them the role right there on the first meeting. Like in the case of Sean Astin. We said, ‘I think his character and the turn of his character is really feeding on his persona and his baggage in a great way, heâ€™s so reliable, so adorable, and his character has to do things that are ambivalent.’Â In the case of Corey, and almost more cases than I have ever seen in a project, [Carlton and I] were completely in sync in the casting.”
Edited for space and content.
For those who have been wondering if Jim Kent would meet the same fate as in the book, I think there’s your answer. Upside — it will be cool to see Sean Astin play out those scenes when he turns into a vampire.
Some additional tidbits
- Guillermo del Toro directed the pilot and does hope to return to direct the first episode of season 2, if there is one. But, television is a lot of work as he so well put it, “Doing television is a lot like doing cardio. And, if you look at me in a picture, you know I don’t do cardio. Each day on a television series feels like a week on a feature.”Â Love this guy, such a great sense of humor!
- The series has an extremely diverse writing staff: Chuck Hogan, who is also the co-writer of the books; David Weddle and Brad Thompson from Battlestar Galatica; andÂ Gennifer Hutchison from Breaking Bad.
- The show has a totally different stylistic look than other movies and series that deal with some outbreak or contagion. The norm is to use very dull, bleak colors and backgrounds, but The Strain does the total opposite. It is very bright, with the prominent colors being cyan and amber red, red being associated with the vampires. In fact, as an Easter Egg that Guillermo shared, you can tell which characters from season 1 will eventually turn because they will have a slight red hue about them.
- Be prepared to be scared out of your pants and totally grossed out. At the end of the day, it makes The Walking Dead look like a Saturday morning cartoon. The creatures in this series have 5+ ft. stingers that shoot out of their mouths to drain their victims, bleed caustic white blood because all of the red blood cells are gone and if you kill one of these things, you’d better back the hell up because their blood will release a whole slew of worms that will swarm you.
The StrainÂ premieres this Sunday at 10/9c on FX. You can also catch the cast and Executive Producers at San Diego Comic-Con in two weeks. Â There will be a Q&A Panel at 1:45 p.m on Sunday July 27th, followed by a screening of episode 3.
All photos credited toÂ Michael Gibson/FX.
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