Netflix’s new horror/thriller Hemlock Grove will soon make its debut. Based on Brian McGreevy’s novel, the supernatural murder mystery stars Famke Janssen, Dougray Scott, Lili Taylor, Bill Skarsgard, Landon Liboiron, Penelope Mitchell, Freya Tingley, Kandyse McClure, and Aaron Douglas. The story begins with the brutal murder of a young girl. The two likely suspects, Peter Rumancek (Liboiron), a Gypsy trailer trash teen rumored to be a werewolf, and Roman (Skarsgård), the heir to the Godfrey estate, decide to hunt down the killer. In this roundtable interview, the cast talk about their characters and how they prepared for the riveting new series.
What attracted you to your roles?
Famke: There is a scene in the pilot episode, where Olivia asks her son if he wants to go shopping, and she gets her way by putting her cigarette out on his jeans. So I thought, “well, that’s kind of an interesting character to play.” I wonder what else they have up their sleeve. And I wanted to work with Dougray Scott my whole life.
Dougray: I really wanted to work with Famke. To be honest with you, that was a big attraction for me. I also read the novel before agreeing to the series, and I found the character of Norman to be fascinating and interesting, I liked who he was–very intelligent. And I liked the euphoric and tumultuous relationship with Olivia.
Did you both read the book once you knew you had the role?
Penelope: Yes. It’s amazing. The book is a total blessing for us because with a project like this, you have a trajectory. So if you know where your character is headed, you have to pace yourself and find variation in your performance. The book is like a blueprint. When we collaborated with the writers, we were allowed to develop our characters and take them on different journeys.
Bill: I’d read the book before. I did an audition and took a meeting with the writer. When I read the pilot, I completely fell in love with it. Brian (McGreevy) gave me a copy of the book before I knew I’d gotten the part. And when I read the book, I thought, I need to do this. It’s also good to have a book to know where the season and characters are going. I’d never done TV before and I thought that a book was reassuring to have. If we do season two, we won’t have a book, so every new script will be, “well, I hope I don’t die.” We have 13 hours to tell the story, so the series goes deeper and explores each character more than what’s in the book.
Do you see the developing relationship between Peter and Roman as positive or potentially dangerous?
Bill: I don’t want to reveal that, but it’s kind of critical to their relationship. You don’t know where it’s going to end up. When Roman and Peter meet, they both instantly know that this relationship is really important for some reason. But they don’t know if it’s for something great or terrible to happen.
Are you allowed to do some improv work as far as dialog goes?
Bill: We were allowed to but the scripts were so well written.
Penelope: The characters were so well developed and innate within the writers. I know it sounds peculiar, but the writers really had our voices down. It was really quite remarkable. There were very few occasions where I kind of not felt comfortable about what I was saying.
Bill: I’m Swedish, so I had to work on the accent a bit and I wouldn’t feel comfortable improv’ing—not with this character. We didn’t need to. This show is so well crafted, I wouldn’t want to go in and touch it too much.
Do you like the way your characters are arcing?
Bill: It’s good to have the book to know where we’re going. Because you can plant seeds in episode two that you know will have significant meaning in episode six. TV shows are definitely a writer’s medium. And you’ll ask a writer, “Why am I saying this?” and they go, “You’ll find out.” All our characters go through so many tense changes. It’s super intense. It’s such a cool project to be part of.
Did you watch Twin Peaks for inspiration?
Landon: It was really cool watching Twin Peaks to help get inspired by all the similarities: the small town, the idiosyncrasies, the strangeness. Ours is a lot darker and more vicious. There’s still a lot of humor in our show and there’s a lot of room for it.
What attracted you to your roles?
Freya: It was my first pilot season from Australia. It was something that I auditioned for and I wanted every role that was going for. This project was different from all the age stereotypes. It was real three-dimensional characters going through what real people go through. And I think that’s what most actors are drawn to.
Landon: When I first read the book, I thought, I don’t know. When you’re reading it, you don’t really know what these creatures are, what these people are or their past. It’s all kind of mysterious and dark and twisted. And the writing is such a page-turner. I remember when I read the first script; I wanted to know what was going to happen. But when I finished it, I was still saying, what’s going to happen? And that’s the most interesting thing about it. Each episode ends with you wanting to know what’s going to happen—pretty much like a punch in the face. It’s an investigation—the entire season—with all the characters, their past and their secrets.
Have you watched the sequence of your transformation, yet?
Landon: Yeah. I was terrified even before watching it. I didn’t know what something like that was going to look like. But I was happy with it. It’s something very different.
In preparing for the role, did you immerse yourself more in the book or the script?
Freya: When I landed the role, I read the book several times and didn’t really understand it, but the show’s writers did a great job turning this great piece of literature into a classically gothic work for television.
Landon: I read the book as soon as it came out and I had the same thing happen to me. I had to stop and re-read sections. Brain uses such specific language, but in translating it to the show, the language is pretty much there. What’s unique about Brian’s writing is that he has such a unique way of conveying emotion, or someone’s torment or happiness.
Will viewers be confused in going from the book to the series?
Landon: What’s great about the series is that it leaves room to explore the characters in a more in-depth way than the book does. There’s still a lot of backstory in the season that isn’t necessarily explained in the book. I used the book as a backbone to work off, then I interpreted things for myself while staying pretty close to the book.
Freya: The TV series expands on the book. In your typical movie, things are left out that are in the book. Here, it’s just the opposite, there’s humor and character development that you may not find in the book.
In researching for the role, did you watch other werewolf movies?
Landon: No, I didn’t want to watch other werewolf films. What’s special about Peter’s werewolf, it’s not a curse and it’s not a manwolf. You turn into a wolf. I also think that’s what’s so ingenious about using the gypsy culture. Some people actually believed them to be like cannibals and monsters. But to Peter and to actual gypsies, their culture is a beautiful, poetic thing. Peter’s grandfather was a werewolf who taught Peter how to hunt and be content as a werewolf. So I researched how wolves hunt and behave in packs.
Hemlock Grove premieres April 19, 2013.