THE WATCHFUL EYE, Freeform’s new contemporary gothic drama, premieres with a double episode on Monday, January 30, and runs Mondays thereafter, available the next day on Hulu.
Created by Julie Durk, THE WATCHFUL EYE centers on Elena Santos, played by Mariel Molino, who accepts a job as a nanny to young Jasper Ward (Henry Joseph Samiri) six months after his mother Allie committed suicide. Jasper’s father, Matthew Ward, played by Warren Christie (APOLLO 18, ALPHAS, BATWOMAN), married into the fabulously wealthy Greybourne family. Father and son live in the Greybourne enclave in an enormous, old and possibly haunted Greybourne apartment building in Manhattan, where Elena is given a room in the attic.
Other residents of the building include Allie’s sister Tory, played by Amy Acker (ANGEL, PERSON OF INTEREST, THE GIFTED), who lives with her husband Dick (Christopher Redman) and his two teen daughters from a previous marriage. Tory and Matthew seem to clash on just about everything, from Elena’s employment to the proper way to mourn Allie’s death. But everybody has their own secrets, which are revealed over the course of the season.
Emily Fox, who is one of THE WATCHFUL EYE’s executive producers (other credits include ZOEY’S EXTRAORDINARY PLAYLIST, DAYBREAK, and IN THE DARK) along with creator Durk and Ryan Seacrest, is present on a Q&A panel for the series with cast members who include Acker and Christie. The panel is held at the Langham Hotel in Pasadena, California, hosted by Freeform for the 2023 Winter Television Critics Association (TCA) press tour.
Later, Fox, Christie and Acker get on an exclusive Zoom call for Assignment X to further discuss THE WATCHFUL EYE. This article combines quotes from both.
Fox says of THE WATCHFUL EYE’s origins, “I think the intention was always to create a mystery that feels contemporary, that feels familiar, but has a little twist on it. And I think the big twist in this show is that you have a classic Hitchcockian backdrop, these beautiful sets and this world of the haves, that’s elegant, and where the cinematography is very sweeping and arresting.”
What does Fox mean by “Hitchcockian”? “It’s got a puzzle in it. It’s not just a whodunit. All the different pieces need to be assembled over the course of the series. And it’s a chess game, it has a lot of different moving parts. And I think that’s what feels most Hitchcockian. And it’s got that little bit of glamour and sheen to it that also feels like Hitchcock.”
Additionally, Fox notes, “At the center of it, you have [Elena], this very empowered, very active female character, who has an axe to grind, and has an agenda, and who’s clever enough and quick-witted enough to get herself here. but then, she is going to meet her match in several different directions. So, I think, as this show is for Freeform, we wanted to make sure that it spoke specifically to their audience, but also would bring in a little something for everyone. Because everybody can watch this. It’s got the supernatural elements, it’s got big-time romance and passion, it’s got all the real estate [appeal] you could want, it’s got the mystery, and it’s got humor. The idea was to create something that felt familiar, but also really fresh and original.”
Warren gives kudos to Molino in the central role. “Just to rave about Mariel for a second, that’s a big responsibility that she’s the eyes of the audience, right? She’s bringing everyone into this world of the uber-rich, and then she has to toe the line between the haves and have-nots, and how she carries through the whole thing, she’s the one who is bringing the audience along, and she does this incredibly beautiful job with it to make sure that they see clearly the divide between these different people. “
Should the audience read anything into the Meso-American motifs seen in some of the rooms in the Greybourne, and in THE WATCHFUL EYE advertising?
Fox laughs. “Yes. You should. It was a play on art deco, [nineteenth-century wallpaper designer] William Morris, the classic patterns that you would see as backdrops when this fictional building would have been built, but then also to add something that felt a little jagged, a little bit more muscular. Every single design element was considered and went through the full judge and jury process of making it to the screen. We had a magnificent production designer, terrific wardrobe people. Everything is placed for a reason.”
Has the relationship between in-laws Matthew and Tory always been this adversarial, or has it worsened since Allie’s death?
Christie says, “I think the whole thing starts off with this tragic event that sets everything on course, specifically for us, and how it fits in. But as the season goes along, they handle it in two very different ways, which is important. They’re both grieving in their own way, and how they want to handle it, and it will come out down the road.
“You have to understand,” Christie continues, “these are two people that have lived in each other’s space for a very long time, there’s a lot of history there, and that starts to peel back. We start to learn a little bit more about that as we go along. I always thought that Matthew was grieving in silence, and when he came out [of isolated mourning], he was like, ‘Okay, let’s go, life’s fine,’ for his son, to keep things going, and I think Tory wanted to do it in a different way, and we see that come out as the season goes along. More importantly, we find out who these two are in each other’s lives, and who they have been all along.”
Acker elaborates, “Maybe Emily can tell me if I’m wrong, but I felt like they’ve had a similar dynamic for a while. Maybe Allie’s death has given Matthew the chance to kind of stand up to Tory in a different way. But does that feel as much like when your husband says something about your mom, and you’re like, ‘Well, I can say something about my mom, but you can’t.’” Acker laughs. “Now that my sister’s not there to do that, maybe he’s taken off the gloves a little bit more. But yeah, I think Warren’s right. Theirs is a complex relationship, and as the season progresses, you learn more about their past, and I think that even though they have a lot of differences, they have a lot of things that are going to tie them together, and keep them together for a long time. So, it’s a really interesting relationship that to me feels very much like family, and feels very real, which I love.”
Is Tory aware of what a jerk her husband is? Acker laughs again. “He’s named Dick, so …”
“I think everybody is,” Christie confirms.
More seriously, Acker adds, “That relationship is really interesting as well, and as you get further in the season, you do start to learn more about them, and who they are. There’s a lot of pain, and there’s a lot of complexity with why they’re together, but I think Tory ultimately, desperately just wants to be loved. She wants that from Dick, but she wants it to be because someone loves her for who she is. I think she really has problems trusting people, and questions people’s motives, and maybe she’s right to do that, or maybe she’s causing damage by not allowing that to happen in her life.”
Christie observes of Matthew, “He’s a single dad dealing with something, and when he hires Elena as a nanny and she comes in, she has this instant connection with Jasper, which maybe makes him overlook some red flags that come along. But he sees this person, and she’s in this moment, in a world he’s trying to traverse himself, because he’s not of this uber-rich world. He married into it, and now he’s alone in it with his son, trying to figure it out. And when she comes along, she alleviates so much. She has such a connection with him that I think a lot of times we see what we want to see.”
One of the primary sources of both tension and bonding between Tory and Matthew is Jasper. Christie praises child actor Samiri. “He’s an exceptional young man, and he’s such a pro. But it doesn’t come at the cost of being a child. He’s a wonderful kid. He’s really sweet. He does have an amazing family, which is, I think, a big part of it. But he shows up every day and he wants to have fun and he wants to play and he wants to explore, as opposed to some child actors, who tend to show up prepared with something specific.”
What is the balance between human activity and the supernatural in THE WATCHFUL EYE?
Fox replies, “I would say that, to the degree that it is supernatural at all, I think what we really wanted to explore was the impossibility of knowing for real if what you are seeing is something you are really seeing, right? If you see a ghost, then you saw a ghost. But there’s no way to prove it, and there’s no way for you to even to prove it to yourself except that you saw it for your own eyes. But is your brain playing tricks on you, or is there an apparition there? What I loved about the way that this was constructed was that that’s always an open question, that there is always the possibility that Elena is seeing things, that this is her imagination, and I love leaving that open-ended.
“I think the mystery and the supernatural dovetail because it is all about whom can you trust, including yourself, including your own eyes, including your own mind, like when you venture into a world where you are seeing things that you know aren’t there, and yet you can see it. It’s hard. You are stuck in this argument with yourself. ‘It’s not there. It is there. It’s not there. It is there.” And I think that’s the tug of war inside the show. It is really about that question. It’s, well, is this supernatural? Is it a mystery? And it’s, yes, it’s everything. I love exploring the edges of consciousness and whether things are there or not. It’s maybe not for us to say.”
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Article: Exclusive Interview with THE WATCHFUL EYE executive producer and actors Amy Acker and Warren Christie