Well into the latter half of its first season, we’ve seen amazing characters and plot develop on A&E’s Damien, a series centered around the professed antichrist Damien Thorn from The Omen series. Now that we have lived in Damien’s world a bit, Talk Nerdy sat down with showrunner Glen Mazzara again to ask a few detailed questions about what we’ve seen so far and what we may see in the future in regards to The Beast!
I understand getting Damien from mind to page to screen has been close to a three-year process – how does it feel to see the payoff for this ambitious project?
I’m very happy with it! It’s a story I was excited to tell, and I think that the extra time gave us the chance to design the season in a way that answers all the questions, sets up more questions, pushes in and develops characters. It just allowed us to look at the entire season as a whole and continue to add layers to both the character’s journey and the surrounding mythology. So I was grateful to have that much time to work on it.
Many have found the pacing of the series to be favorable, but there have also been comments of it being a bit of a ‘slow burn’ until things start to heat up. What were your intentions with how quickly the story progressed and are we seeing it how you envisioned it?
The pacing of the season is very deliberate. I wanted to be careful and not overload the audience with a lot of backstory, exposition, and a complicated mythology right off the bat. We took our time to introduce Damien and his dilemma, and then we slowly started adding strands to the fabric.
We added Barbara Hershey’s character, Ann Rutledge. We added David Meunier’s character, Detective Shay. Then by the third episode, we add John Lyons, who’s played by Scott Wilson and we started weaving those things together. We also set up Robin Weigert’s character, Sister Greta and she doesn’t get to New York until episode seven! We really wanted to thread these things together in a careful way so that it all comes together at the end, it all pays off at the end.
The design was more of a classic horror film in ten parts than the typical format of TV where you have all your elements introduced in a pilot and then you constantly shuffle those pieces around episode by episode. There’s no way you can tell what the entire “whole” is just from an episode. You have to stand back and look at the entire piece at the end of the season. You have to stand back in a way that you would have to look at some of the paintings.
The medieval paintings Damien’s looking at in episode one – that was the intention, that there was sort of a mosaic and that you have to stand back and really see the whole picture clearly at the end. That’s very different! I think it threw some people, because it’s not how TV is usually made, but I really wanted to make this a different experience. I wanted it to be a cinematic experience and full horror. Part of horror is you’re never fully aware of what’s going on. We really designed it with those issues in mind.
Do you have a favorite homage from The Omen that’s made it into Damien so far?
It will be in the finale!
How did conceptualization of Armitage Global, this white-collar entity with a darker purpose come to be?
I don’t think you have to stretch your imagination too far to see how a company like Armitage Global could exist. One of the things we really wanted to look at is to make sure that the evil in the show feels real and grounded. I wanted it to feel like a recognizable world. I did not want it to feel like a world taken over by the supernatural. I wanted the audience to realize what Damien realizes; that there is evil in the world.
There are misunderstandings, there are different agendas and a powerful multinational corporation like Armitage Global who’s pulling all the strings – that is a science fiction trope. Not necessarily a horror trope. The name “Armitage” comes from William Gibson’s Neuromancer – that’s something I’ve never told anybody before! (laughs). We’re definitely embracing a classic science fiction, cyberpunk trope by having an evil multinational corporation.
Ann as a character is quite unique in that her infatuation with Damien seems to run somewhere between maternal and romantic. Will we learn more about how these feelings for Damien came to be?
Ann’s a character with a lot of layers, and I do think it’s a very complicated relationship. In this particular season, we don’t necessarily go into her backstory as much. We don’t explain where she came to be. I don’t want to overload the audience with too much of the mythology, especially this late in the season – we just had our episode seven. Hopefully, we’ll have future seasons, because I do have her backstory in mind and I have some ideas for a season two to really flesh those out.
What’s been great about Barbara’s performance is that she gives you so much to play with and it is a fully realized character. I think what was important for me in season one is watching her conflict. She has this larger agenda to bring Damien around to embrace his role as the antichrist, but she sees that that’s taking a personal toll on her, and her relationship with him is humanizing her in some way – which is a surprise to her. She’s caught between her evil plan and her own complicated feelings for him. So that’s really where the drama’s coming from for that character.
There have been some fantastic directors on board – such as Ernest Dickerson and Guillermo Navarro; were these directors you wanted to make sure you worked with for Damien or were you contacted by directors in hopes of working on the show?
We reached out to all our directors. Ernest and I have a relationship from The Walking Dead and we’ve done some very complicated episodes together. He really can read my mind like nobody else, so it’s always a pleasure to work with him! I consider him a friend and a great artist and any show I do I would always have a spot for Ernest Dickerson.
The other directors were all people I had worked with for the first time, and I was really lucky! Shekhar Kapur came in and we hit it off and became close friends. He sort of helped me establish the tone of the show. Nick Copus was instrumental; he came in as a director-producer in the back-half of the season. He helped me look at the existing material and then shape it and brought us episode six and he did the finale, which I think is fantastic. Bronwen Hughes was somebody I had wanted to work with and I thought it was her episode that really put a lot of pieces into place in a way that I could point and say, “That’s the episode she did.”
It was funny because some of these directors – I just hit it off with them on the phone. They went and shot in Toronto, and I still haven’t met them! (laughs). We developed such a good relationship and I was able to trust them with my baby, and they just banged it out of the park. I really was very, very lucky with directors this year because it’s always difficult when you’re trying to find the material for a season one and then to have such collaborative visionaries come in and help me was a real gift.
The episode “Seven Curses,” where we see Damien speak with the family of the boy he saved from the subway tracks was undoubtedly one of the heaviest episodes yet. What sparked bringing these taboos to light on-screen?
Well, “Seven Curses” was a very complicated script to get out of the gate. It really made a lot of the executives very nervous – I had to fight for that script. What you’re seeing was exactly my vision for the show, and it’s a show that takes on social issues. It’s a show that says there are people trapped in a kind of hell now, there are people who are hopeless, there are lost souls. I used to work in a hospital, so that’s a very personal story to me, and we spent a lot of time researching the tales of veterans who have returned home and are sort of forgotten. It’s easier not to look at them as they face their battles on the home front and try to survive and keep their families together. That was something I felt we really had to tackle and do in a respectful manner.
Now we also dovetailed it with an increase in the type of horror that we were doing. We really pushed the boundary. I think the idea of a spirit inhabiting seven wounded soldiers at once – some sort of supernatural experience. That’s something I had not seen in a horror movie before. That’s something that I thought we were pushing – the horror, which we take very seriously on the show. We really look at the history of horror in cinema and really enjoy being a part of that conversation because we’re fans of that.
Third, we really tried to deepen the audience’s sympathy for Damien, and it’s a big risk to have your lead character attempt suicide in episode five! There’s not a lot of shows that would take that on. Issues of suicide, disability, war – all of this stuff! Plus there are clues in all of those visions that have to do with the series at-large.
It was a really complicated episode, and I had a terrific writer named K.C. Perry who worked on that script. That was her first television script, ever. I had an experienced director, Mikael Salomon who I worked with a little bit in the past. He like Ernest Dickerson and Guillermo Navarro is a former DP (director-producer) so we really looked at the photography and the film-making for that episode. Then I brought in one of my favorite actors, Jose Cantillo who is somebody I’ve worked with – this is the fourth show we’ve done! And I was the guy who brought him on to The Walking Dead and he’s just fantastic.
So that all came together, but because it was so dark and challenging, it did rattle cages. I’m really proud of the way it came together and I feel like that’s really where the show lives. That it pushes the boundaries of horror but it also shows that we will take on social issues, because it’s ultimately a character drama at the end of the day.
Should we be fortunate enough to see a second season of Damien, is there anything you would do differently than in the current season?
I think that we would have different character arcs, we would just continue their stories. I guess if I could do one thing differently, I would just continue the pace you’ll see in the back-half of the season. I think the show really comes to life when you get a lot of the exposition out of the way. Obviously, when you’re setting up a season, you have that. We’re no longer referencing the original film – we’ve told that story, people know who he is. It’s all about what’s happening now and what’s Damien gonna do. We needed a few episodes to sort of set things up but once you’re in, you’re in and so I would just continue that pace.
Sometimes when I’ve done second seasons, you sort of have to re-orientate the audience or spell things out for a newer audience joining you for the first time – that’s kind of standard TV fare. This is a show that doesn’t do anything it’s supposed to. This is a show that knows what the rules are and we keep trying to break those rules. So I would just say we’re going to keep throwing character moments and story and twists at the audience and continue to trust the audience. They’ll catch up, or they’ll stay with you. I think that’s one thing that’s satisfying about the show. Things we weren’t sure of – “Oh is this gonna play, is this gonna make sense?” The audience is right there with us!
They do not seem lost or anything, and they’re enjoying the twists and really have an appetite for seeing what comes next.
Damien’s fate still hangs in the balance – you can see how he and those around him will fair Mondays on A&E at 9c/10P! Also, be sure to follow Glen Mazzara on Twitter!