Based on the best-selling novel by Joe Hill, AMC’s horror/fantasy series NOS4A2 premieres on Sunday, June 2. The title is taken from the license plate on a vintage Rolls-Royce Wraith owned by Charlie Manx, who is played by Zachary Quinto. Charlie isn’t a nosferatu, or vampire, in the traditional sense. Instead, Charlie is an immortal who keeps himself young by feeding on the souls of children, who he keeps in a secret place he calls Christmasland. Charlie finds himself challenged by Vic McQueen, played by Ashleigh Cummings, a young woman with some unusual abilities of her own.
Executive producer Jami O’Brien adapted NOS4A2 for television, and serves as the series’ show runner. She has previously been a writer/producer for AMC on FEAR THE WALKING DEAD and HELL ON WHEELS, as well as Starz’s FLESH AND BONE. O’Brien sits down with a small group of journalists to talk her latest gig.
ASSIGNMENT X: Did AMC come to you with NOS4A2, or did you come to AMC with it?
JAMI O’BRIEN: AMC came to me with it. It was when I was finishing working on HELL ON WHEELS, actually. I was at some kind of event for HELL ON WHEELS, and we were all in the airport. Our AMC executive on that show is a lovely woman named Emma Miller, who is super-creative and awesome, and she asked me if I had ever read NOS4A2. And I said, “No, I haven’t.” I was a fan of Joe Hill’s LOCKE AND KEY series, but I didn’t know the book. So she said, “How about you read it, and let us know what you think?” So I picked it up that weekend, read it in a weekend. This is about a kid from Haverhill, Massachusetts. I’m from a town called Billerica, Massachusetts, which is literally twenty miles away, and I was like, “How crazy is it that this is about a kid from Haverhill?” And loved it immediately, became completely engrossed in the family drama, became completely fascinated by the villain, and said to AMC, “I’m in.”
AX: What did you see in the novel that you really wanted to make sure that you were able to translate to the show?
O’BRIEN: Again, the stuff in the novel that I responded to the most were the characters. Vic I think is an incredibly compelling character. Charlie is an incredibly complex, fun, complicated villain. And Bing [played by Olaf Darri Olafsson] is a really complicated character that is, how do you feel about this guy? I feel all kinds of things about that guy. And so there are a lot of really cool characters that I’m excited for people to see. I also was really drawn to the family drama in the center of the book. Vic is from a town, like I said, that I can really relate to, that part of the world, and folks who have come from those circumstances. She comes from a home that’s loving, but there’s alcoholism in the home, there’s economic instability in the home, and I don’t think that we see a lot of that on television, but I think it’s a lot of people’s experience. So I’m excited about that. And then the supernatural part of the show I think is just so awesome. I mean, it’s peopled by these characters who have extraordinary gifts, but every character who has a gift, every gift comes with a cost, I should say. Charlie Manx is immortal, but the cost of his gift is his soul. Vic can find lost things, but the cost of that gift may be her mind, if she’s not careful. So I think that’s kind of a metaphor for creativity in some way, right? [laughs] It exacts something from you, and I think that that’s interesting.
AX: In adapting NOS4A2 as a television series, how much did you change, either for artistic considerations or production considerations?
O’BRIEN: I, like I said, love the book. That said, it’s a book, and we’re a television show. And so, just by the nature of adaptation, you need to make some changes in order for it to be an ongoing series. That said, every decision that we made to depart from the book was in service of the book, or in service of the spirit of the book. I’ll give an example. When you meet Vic McQueen in the book, I think she’s either eight or nine years old. She’s a kid. When you meet her in our series, she’s eighteen. And the reason I made that decision is because I love all the stuff that happens in the book up until she’s an adult, and I didn’t want to lose that part of the book. So I just said, “You know what? What if she discovers the bridge [when she’s] a little older? That way, we can see all of this, and not have to play it as a flashback. It becomes baked into her character, and the Vic that we are watching and rooting for, instead of one [older] Vic, and then a different child Vic.”
AX: What kinds of conversations, if any, did you have with Joe Hill about changes to the source material?
O’BRIEN: Really, most of the time what I did is, I would write a script, and then cross my fingers and be like, “I hope he likes it.” And he’s been nothing but supportive. I think it’s been fun for him to see the adjustments that we’ve made, and all of the writers in that room are huge fans of the book. So even when we deviate from it, it’s always in the spirit of the book.
AX: Can you talk about the casting process for finding the right Vic and the right Charlie?
O’BRIEN: It was a lot of conversations. Our casting director is a woman named Tiffany Canfield, and she’s amazing. I’m proud of all aspects of the show. I think our cast is phenomenal. In terms of Vic, we saw a lot of really talented young ladies for the role. All of them were wonderful. The challenge with that role, I think, is that, when we meet her, she is coming from a difficult home situation, she isn’t really sure of herself yet, so she has to have a kind of vulnerability to her. At the same time, we have to believe that she can go toe to toe with Charlie Manx, as played by Zachary Quinto. So she’s also got to be a badass. And I think that most of the young ladies that we saw were somewhere on that scale of vulnerable to tough. And when Ashleigh Cummings walked in, I feel like she was like, “Here’s my heart, don’t mess with me.” She has this wonderful mix of both. She just got it. She’s really strong, but it’s not an outward strength, it’s an inward strength that comes from creativity and vulnerability.
And Zachary was a suggestion from our casting director, who, when she said, “What do you think about Zachary Quinto?”, I was like, “Are you kidding me? Do you think he’d do it?” I was totally on board right away, because he’s just so phenomenal, such a focused, physical, verbally acrobatic actor. He’s so talented and so great. I was like, “We’d be so lucky.” So I’m thrilled that he’s involved.
AX: Because Charlie goes onscreen from young to old and back again, was there ever a conversation about maybe using a younger actor and an older actor to share the role?
O’BRIEN: There was. In our initial conversations, we were talking a lot about elder statesmen actors, a lot of really wonderful folks. But I just thought, this is a character that goes from being a thirty-five-year-old man to being a hundred-and-thirty-five years old. I think we need somebody who can do all of it. And Zachary’s that guy, and he’s a younger guy. So there you go.
AX: In terms of the relationship between Vic and Charlie, is that pretty much the same as in the book, or did anything change because of the cast, or because of any other factors?
O’BRIEN: Another way in which the show deviates from the book is, she meets him sooner. And so their relationship is more extended. But one of the ways in which I would still describe the first season is kind of cat and mouse between Vic and Charlie.
AX: Can you talk about the production aesthetic NOS4A2? AMC did THE TERROR, which is set in an icy wilderness, but most of the network’s series have been in warmer climes. NOS4A2 is set New England, so that seems like it might be something a little different …
O’BRIEN: I think we were really lucky to shoot in Rhode Island. The book is set in New England, so when that was presented as an opportunity, I was like, “Fantastic. We can shoot the New England show in New England.” And I think there’s a quality to New England – it’s steeped in a lot of horror/ghost story [lore]. There are a lot of woods there still, which are kind of creepy [laughs]. And so yeah, I think that it looks like where it is [set], which is what you want.
AX: Modern New England horror is now largely associated with the work of Stephen King, who is Joe Hill’s father. Do you lean into that, or away from that?
O’BRIEN: It’s funny. I guess we just approached the material, do you know what I mean? And the material is definitely standing on the shoulders of Stephen King. So to a certain degree, there’s no avoiding it. So you don’t even have to think about it, it’s kind of baked in, if that makes sense. When I read the book, [Hill] definitely has his own voice, and he definitely has a kind of reverence and irreverence for his father’s work. And I think that all of that is great. There’s kind of a tradition there that he both embraces and then kind of flips and has a little fun with, which we do as well.
AX: What was creating Christmasland like? Was there anything new for you in that process?
O’BRIEN: There was a lot new for me in the process. It was a lot of conversations. This show, the kind of VFX world of it, has been a learning curve for me, and a really exciting part of the creative process, because, “What does a magical bridge look like?” is a fun conversation to have. “What does Christmasland, which is a place that exists in Charlie Manx’s imagination, look like?” is a fun conversation to have. “It needs to appeal to kids, but does it appeal to them with souls, or without souls?” That’s a fun conversation to have. And so it’s been great. We’ve been working with a lot of wonderful, creative folks. John Bruno is our VFX supervisor. He’s amazing. Joel Harlow is our special effects makeup person, who designs Manx’s various looks. He’s amazing. And so I’ve learned a lot, it’s been exciting, and it’s been really humbling to really watch these geniuses and artisans work and create these worlds and these characters.
AX: How do you make Christmas scary?
O’BRIEN: By having it in the summertime [laughs]. The first conversation I ever had with Joe Hill, one of the things he said to me was, “There’s nothing scarier than a candy cane in July.” And I was like, “You know what? That’s pretty good. I’m going to hold onto that, Joe Hill.”
AX: What about Charlie’s car? Was it difficult to find a Rolls-Royce Wraith?
O’BRIEN: Well, there were only four hundred and ninety-something ever made, and they’re all handmade, and we have two of them. We found one in Canada, and then we found one in Massachusetts. And then we found parts to another one, which we then glued to I think a Ford, which we call our stunt Wraith, so that it does the dirty work. Any time it has to smash into something, or take off, we have our stunt Wraith do it, rather than our antique cars, which look pretty cool driving down the street, but we try not to tax them too much, because they’re eighty years old.
AX: Where exactly does the NOS4A2 title come from? I mean, is it very much an homage to Max Schreck in the silent movie, or is Charlie going with just the use of the word and the cool license plate?
O’BRIEN: It’s a joke, the vanity plate – Charlie Manx describes it as a joke that his wife played on him. Because he’s an immortal person, he’s been around for a long time. In his back story, ages ago, he was at NOSFERATU the movie, and his wife said to him, “That guy reminds me of you.” And so that’s why he got the vanity plate NOS4A2.
AX: Did you find that somebody already had that NOS4A2 license plate?
O’BRIEN: There are a lot of people with that license plate, it turns out. In fact, since I’ve started working on the show, all my friends, whenever they see one, take a picture of it and text it to me.
AX: Are they spelled differently?
O’BRIEN: Sometimes it’s with an A and sometimes it’s with an R.
AX: Is there room for NOS4A2 to continue as a series once you’ve reached the end of the material in the book?
O’BRIEN: What’s really wonderful about the book is that it sets up this idea of strong Creatives [people with abilities] and inscapes [pocket realms]. All of those, as far as I’m concerned, could be a season. So the show is peopled from top to bottom with these strong Creatives. And the meat of the book is really about Manx, and Manx is amazing. And I think that there’s a world in which Vic meets other people who might also get up to no good.
AX: And what would you most like people to know about NOS4A2?
O’BRIEN: That it’s a lot of fun. I think the show is a lot of fun. The characters are great, and it’s a weird world that I think people will enjoy hanging out in, suspenseful and fun.
This interview was conducted during AMC’s portion of the Winter 2019 Television Critics Association (TCA) press tour.
Article Source: Assignment X
Article: NOS4A2: Exclusive interview with executive producer and showrunner Jami O’Brien on the new AMC horror series