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An Interview with “Damien” Executive Producer Glen Mazzara

damienGlen Mazzara, the former Executive Producer of The Walking Dead, is a massive horror fan. So when the opportunity to develop Damien arose, he jumped at the chance. I had the opportunity to participate in a conference call with Glen to discuss his new series which premieres tonight at 10/9c pm on A&E.

Follow Glen on Twitter:@glenmazzara

Follow Damien on Twitter: @DamienAETV .

You worked with Scott Wilson (The Walking Dead) on this project. What’s it like to work with Scott again? Do you have any plans to bring other Walking Dead actors onto Damien?

That’s a great question. Scott and I loved working together on Walking Dead, and I think he’s just a huge talent. One of the best nights of my career was just talking to him late one night while filming a barn-burning scene. Norman Reedus was riding around on his motorcycle, shooting zombies, and Scott was telling me Dennis Hopper stories. He’s become a good friend. I wanted him to be part of Damien and be a power broker. Then one day he told me his character was killed off on Walking Dead, and I said, “I’m sorry, but that’s great news, because now you can be on my new show.” We created a character specifically for him and brought him on board. As far as other actors, I worked with a lot of talented people on not just Walking Dead, but The Shield and Crash, so it’s really just a matter of writing something fun and interesting that would be appropriate for the right actor. I do create roles with people in mind. I am interested in bringing in people who I’ve worked with. I like doing that.

How heavy will the special effects of demons/angels/supernatural elements be?

I really wanted to stick close to the iconography of the original film. There were no images of demons or angels in the 1976 film. It was all just a sense of evil, a very threatening tone. That’s tough to do on a weekly basis, and it’s a challenge we’ve set for ourselves. We might throw an image in to keep the audience on their toes, but my intention is to keep the show grounded and avoid special effects.

What was it about the Damien story specifically that made you pursue a TV series? What is it about the story that you think can go the distance being multi-episodes and not just a feature film?

Well I think Damien has a journey to make, to explore his humanity. In order to do that, we deliberately had to ignore the sequels and the attempt at a pilot. We’re ignoring those and just relying on the original film. In that one, you’re not really sure what’s going on with the little boy. We know he has this nature within him, but we never fully know what’s going on. So I wanted that something in him, his knowledge that he has a cross to bear, but I also wanted to make him fully human and attempt to wrestle with this. If we just had a man who knew he was evil and wanted to expand his power, eliminate threats, I think audiences would get bored with that. But a man who is kicking and screaming all the way to Hell and fighting his destiny, I’m not sure where that will go which is what makes it interesting.

As the anti-Christ, Damien’s inherently evil and audiences don’t usually want to cheer for somebody that doesn’t have a conscience. Were there any challenges you faced when you writing the character?

The challenge is that you have to service both masters. I would say that he has evil in him. We all do. But he explores his morality, too. There are people who commit evil acts and convince themselves they’re doing good. As I said, if he’s only evil, he’s basically a one-note character and not interesting or complex. But if he’s only good, people are going to get upset because that’s clearly not the same Damien from the movie. The actor playing Damien, Bradley James, can play both sides and hopefully audiences will find it to be a sophisticated character drama. The challenge is sort of having your cake and eating it too.

I just wanted to know, as you’re sure I’m aware, there’s also an Exorcist television show coming out. Are you concerned about any inevitable comparisons the two shows might have?

No, I actually love the movie The Exorcist and I hope they make a good show. I’ll watch that show. To me, The Omen is its own horror story, and there are a lot of exciting horror shows on TV right now. I’m lucky we’re able to draw on an iconic film but still tell our own story. I watch a lot of these shows, wish them luck, and I think they’ll have their show and we’ll have ours. They both have the Catholic Church and the presence of the devil, and I’m interested in seeing what they’re able to do. I wish them luck. I hope it goes well and I think they’ll be their show and we’ll be our show with our characters and people, I’m sure, will have a different experience while they’re watching our show.

Okay, and I agree with that completely. I think they’re both going to be great. I just know because they’re both made from 1970s horror films that they’re going to be grouped together.

They might be, certainly. There’s a lot of the Catholic church in them and obviously the presence of the devil. I’m interested in seeing what they do. I’m proud of what our team was able to do on our show and I wish them luck.

Damien is front and center in the story, but how much do we get to learn about the back stories of other characters like Barbara Hershey or Scott Wilson, and how they came into this whole world?

Great question, no one’s asked that question. We will learn that. I think there’s all these layers to still be peeled back. In season one, we reveal the basic relationship, how people know each other. But as we go on, secrets will be revealed and we’ll peel the onion back. Barbara is a great actress and she’s made her character very complex. I really want to dive into some of that, because I think there are a lot more stories to tell.

I was wondering, from the initial idea of bringing Damien to TV, how long was the process and how rewarding is it to see that it’s come to fruition?

This actually began in the summer of 2013, so by the time the finale of season one airs, I’ll have been on the project for three years. It really is like making a feature film. The concept was originated by one of our executive producers, Ross Fineman, and we brought it to Fox, because it’s their property. I was asked to seek out a writer to develop the idea, but I loved the film so much that I took on the writing myself. I worked on the script, we sold it to Lifetime. We had Shekhar Kapur direct. Lifetime was so excited about the first four days of shooting, they upgraded it from Lifetime to A&E and ordered four more episodes. They hadn’t even seen the episode, just the dailies, so I had never heard of such a thing happening. There was a lot of process, a lot of growing, and a big team. We started shooting in Toronto, then picked up some shots. We were given a lot of time, so it was like making a feature film in ten segments. Nothing was put into the show because we were pressed for time. Bear McCreary had plenty of time for the score, the sound guys had enough time. I’ve never had that kind of time before. Now, that doesn’t mean season two won’t be out until 2020…

Bear, actually, was the first call I made after I took the assignment. I was driving out of the studio, and called him up. I told him I was working on an “Omen” project and he said that Jerry Goldsmith’s score was his favorite score. He’s so busy, I wanted to book him. And I think he’s done some of his best work. Right now, I don’t think there have been discussions about a soundtrack. 

That’s fantastic, on that note, will there be a soundtrack?

I hope so. I’ll have to go up to A&E, right now I don’t believe there have been discussions, but hopefully the show will do well and there will be some fan interest and then they look at releasing a soundtrack. As of now, we haven’t had any conversations about that.

When you were casting Damien, what were you specifically looking for in terms of the character?

We looked as hundreds of actors, and when I saw Bradley’s take I knew there was something there. He had heart, intelligence and charm, but there was also something beneath it. I don’t know if it was threatening or menacing, but it was there. In the second episode, you’ll see a look that he gives a priest… to be playing both sides of a character, it’s a really challenging role. We also had to buy his life, that he had been to war, was raised in a boarding school. He has to be both youthful and an adult. Bradley was the complete package, he charmed me and swept me off my feet.

Will viewers need to know the previous source material to watch the series? Or can they watch it without knowing anything about the original movies/backstory?

Yeah, we designed it so people can jump right in. The story of his current dilemma picks up right away, and I don’t think the audience will be lost at all. We give them the information they need. If you’re a fan of the film, hopefully you’ll enjoy seeing how we pay homage to that original film. We reference props and lines from the original. We try to honor the film, but we have designed this show to build a new fan base and I don’t think anyone will be lost.

As the story goes on, will the power of good present itself to Damien? 

That’s a great question and to be honest, the good in Damien’s life comes from the relationships he has with other characters. Some of these characters rely on their faith. Damien may want those people around him because of their goodness, but his very presence puts them in danger. The entire creative team spent a lot of time talking about evils and dangers around the world. We don’t want the show to have horror segments, character-building segments… we want it to feel like the world has been punctured by Damien’s birth and is slowly filling up with evil. He encounters goodness through other characters, but will this good counterbalance the growing evil?

Glen, you’ve had a great run with the horror genre lately with both The Walking Dead, Overlook Hotel, and Damien. What’s it been like for you to work on these great character-centric horror stories?

What’s interesting is that the three works are all very cinematic to me. I think Frank Darabont created a very cinematic show in Walking Dead and when I was his number two I learned a lot from him about how that needs to play out. I was fortunate enough then to really learn there. And then I took some of that idea of horror being a cinematic experience and went right into Overlook Hotel. I really had to study Kubrick’s filmmaking there to understand the nature of tension and horror. If you look at The Shining, it’s an incredibly simple film. There’s not a tremendous amount of plot and yet it’s frightening as hell and it’s all tone. So that was a great learning experience.

And then to sort of apply that to another work that’s coming directly out of a classic film is kind of exciting. So I think I’ve really spent a lot of time paying attention to not only the character moments and the writing and all of that, but the rest of the filmmaking experience. That adds to the character and it makes me feel like I can take my time and we can be patient. If the characters are realistic and the world feels realistic, we can let the story develop organically. A lot of times on other shows that I’ve worked on it’s about pacing and, “Let’s get this information out.” TV can feel a little hurried and on certain shows like The Shield that’s what you want. You want a frenetic pace. Here the tone needs to play out. I feel like the characters here are incredibly deep. They’re a lot deeper than I’ve been able to write elsewhere.”

 

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