Previewing The Watchful Eye with Amy Acker, Warren Christie, and Emily Fox
[Warning: General spoilers ahead.]
Here at TV Goodness, we have our ride or dies and Warren Christie is on that list. If you have a wander back through our archives (please do!), you’ll see that from our very first year online, we were covering his Syfy ensemble series, Alphas. He’s been on our screens since way before that through today, appearing in series and movies, and becoming a recurring staple on Hallmark. Occasionally he goes back to his early oeuvre, playing guys who may or may not be seriously sketchy (or, as in the case of Eyewitness, a straight-up killer).
Monday night, he’s on Freeform, as part of the cast of the new ten-episode drama series, The Watchful Eye, a Hitchcockian puzzle set in a New York apartment building cut from the same granite as the titular high rise in Only Murders in the Building. Here, the building is the Greyson, and Christie’s character, Matthew, is part of that monied family by marriage.
As the series begins, Matthew is six months out from the (presumed) suicide of his wife, Allie (Emily Tennant), and interviewing prospective live-in nannies to help him with his young son, Jasper (Henry Joseph Samiri). Elena (Mariel Molino), the woman who lands the job and is our point of entry into their wealthy world, isn’t quite what she seems and comes into the role with an ulterior motive that plays out in the premiere and then cascades across the season.
The rest of the cast includes Amy Acker as Matthew’s sister-in-law, Tory, who’s hyperfocused on what’s going on in Matthew and Jasper’s apartment so she doesn’t have to focus on her own, and Kelly Bishop as Mrs. Ivey, the Greybourne’s grand dame, a lifelong resident of the building who wields her wealth to keep people in line.
Jon Ecker is Scott, an NYC detective who’s more attentive to the building than he should be; Aliyah Royale plays Elena’s fellow nanny, Ginny, who lives next door on the top-floor corridor reserved for the help; and Lex Lumpkin is Elliott, a teenager who escapes his tonier existence by hanging out upstairs.
During the recent press day, I spoke with Christie, Acker, and executive producer and showrunner Emily Fox about the new series. Much like the aforementioned OMITB, the Greybourne is a character unto itself, and Fox enjoyed carefully crafting its aesthetic.
“We took a lot of inspiration from Rosemary’s Baby and The Shining and even Downton Abbey, where it’s not just the building itself, but it’s the layers of the building, the upstairs and the downstairs,” she explains.
“In this case, the above ground part of it is beautiful and majestic. And then the basement, the underbelly of it, is terrifying and mystifying and potentially haunted. It’s such a great metaphor for the American dream or the human condition. All this beauty is built upon struggle or pain or something that is not as beautiful as it looks.”
“Building the space was so much fun because it’s like, ‘Can we just build my dream apartment that I will probably never have in real life?’ It’s like the ultimate Barbie dream house for those of us who dreamed of having a Barbie classic six on West End Avenue.”
“It was really a great credit to our production designer and the lighting and the way it was lensed [to] make these big, almost forbiddingly big, spaces also feel claustrophobic. And that was such an important part of the storytelling for us. This looks like a fortress. It looks like a castle. It looks like the dream, but in fact it’s sort of a gilded cage.”
For Christie and Acker, playing two of the people trapped in that cage was a fun opportunity for the longtime friends to work together in a series. As Christie and I talked about in 2021, the pair have co-starred in series and films going back two decades. The twist here is that Matthew and Tory do not get along when we first meet them, so the actors got to play up snarking on each other a little bit.
“I don’t think Amy had any problems acting as if she didn’t like me. I think it was pretty easy. She just can’t get away from me, no matter how hard. Trust me, she tries,” Christie laughs. “Amy was attached first. and we talked about it. It came around [right after we did Crashing Through the Snow].”
“I’ve known her for almost 20 years. I’m probably one of the biggest Amy Acker fans out there. So when the opportunity came to work together [I jumped at it]. Amy can bring depth to every single thing, whether it’s comedy, drama, or all this different stuff. She’s got great taste. And I knew if Amy was involved, she would bring such an immense depth to her character. It was exciting to be a part of it.”
Acker enjoyed the dance between their characters. “I don’t know that Tory doesn’t like Matthew as much as Matthew doesn’t like Tory. Maybe that was my own self-projection. I’m finding it very easy to be jealous of Elena [getting more scenes] with him,” she says.
“It was fun, because as the season progresses, you find out that Matthew and Tory have a bit of a history and that it goes back even further than [her sister]. I feel like Tory has such a different relationship with Matthew than anyone else, where she actually kind of becomes who she wishes she was going to be when she’s with him. Not always, but at certain points of time.”
“I just love working with Warren anyway, so having that built-in history with each other and being able to do those scenes together, there’s a comfortability that I don’t know that I have with another actor. And we basically spent all of last year together.”
One of the things the show also portrays with their relationship is how differently the two characters navigate their shared grief. “Especially in the beginning. I think Matthew’s sole purpose is his son. And I always imagine he grieves quietly in his own room, briefly takes a breath, and goes about his day because he has to protect his son, he has to have him heal,” Christie shares.
“And that’s why Elena coming is so great. But as the season goes along and we start to learn more about all the characters and all the past relationships, they’ve shared this incredible tragedy together and they have a long history and they’re in each other’s lives whether they like it or not.”
“It’s neat to get to see how two people are responding to the same event and it really humanizes the characters and adds these details and layers that the writers were able to [build on],” Acker adds. “That makes these people feel real and not just like archetype rich people.”
Fox led her writers room over Zoom, and says that it was sometimes difficult keeping all the narratives straight without everyone in the same physical room with a murder board and Post-Its, but they got it done. “There were definitely moments where we were like, ‘I hope someone left a trail of pebbles because I am not sure where we are now and how to get back to where we started,’” she laughs.
“Doing that virtually is effective, but it’s not as much fun. I will not lie. It’s hard to build out a world with this much complexity and this many twists and turns. But we did it and we held each other accountable and had a lot of brilliant, beautiful minds in the room who could help us keep everything connected.”
The Watchful Eye premieres its first two episodes Monday, January 30th, at 9 pm ET/8c on Freeform, with subsequent episodes airing at 10 pm ET. Each episode will stream on Hulu the day after its linear premiere. Here are a few sneak peeks.
Photos and video courtesy of ABC.
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