Horror is coming back to primetime TV with Fear Itself, a new series from the creators of the Masters of Horror, which will premiere on NBC on Thursday, June 5 at 10 PM ET. I was in on a conference call with the stars of the first two episodes, Eric Roberts and Jesse Plemons and producers Keith Addis and Andrew Deane. Here's what this group had to say.
Hey, Jesse, as it comes out this role, this seems to fit you so well, the character here has some of the same characteristics of the Friday Night Lights. He's one of these guys who kind of scrambles verbally in some ways. I was wondering if that was coincidence or do you add little touches like that after you get a script or what?
Jesse Plemons: I don't know, that was - I kind of pictured him as a similar type of guy as Landry on Friday Night Lights. He - there's a dialogue in the script, it just seemed like he is one of those kids that didn't quite fit in. The relationship with him and his brother was obviously strained and it just always seemed like he was trying to impress his brother especially with this deal that he made that went wrong. But, yeah, I don't know. I think a lot of times my mind gets working too fast and I just jumble some of the lines together, so I don't know if a lot of that's on purpose or just by accident.
There's been a few incarnations of The Twilight Zone type shows over the past few years, and I wanted to know what you guys feel sets this one apart from those shows.
Keith Addis: Thanks for the question. One of the cool things about an anthology is that every one of these films is completely separate and unique from all the others. And that's something we enjoy the most about this form. Some of the episodes have more of a The Twilight Zone feel and dwell in the realm of psychological thrillers. Others are at the very opposite end of the spectrum of the genre and are much more down the center, down the bull's eye of what the genre offers most frequently. So I really think you'll see an incredibly broad cross section of different kinds of storytelling and its own over this life of the 13 episodes.
What makes you want to be a champion for this format?
Keith Addis: This has always been always been, since I remember going to the movies in the late 50s a genre that's been entertaining, delighting, frightening audiences, providing a catharsis during challenging times, and we've obviously watched the different spikes that have taken place in interest in the genre over the years, and it seems to us in a non-scientific way that there is a correlation between audience interests in these shows and the kind of general unease in the zeitgeist culturally and to the extent that this provides a safe escape from some of the challenges and anxieties of modern-day society, we hope it's a great entertainment and a little refuge from the storm in a way.
Andrew Deane: I think what also makes it exciting and fun to do is to give the writers, directors, and the performers all an opportunity to do something with a little more freedom than they would ordinarily have and I think the results reflect that.
Of the first three episodes that we got on disc, they all seem to have a bit of a twist ending. Do the other ten episodes also have a bit of a twist ending?
Andrew Deane: Some do and some don't but that's coincidental as to the order of them that these first three happen to have that.
Keith Addis: There was no conversation about creating a thematic through line, we really went to the filmmakers and encouraged them to find and develop the stories that they were the most excited about telling. And if there are any coincidences that are - or any thematic through lines, they're completely a function of coincidence.
Fear Itself is somewhat unusual in that the episodes are standalone anthology. Does it feel more like working on a short indie or being a guest star on a TV show?
Eric Roberts: It's like working on an independent film, exactly. Or at least my experience was with Brad Anderson because he does him homework and he directs like a movie director and it was like making a movie.
Jesse Plemons: For me it did, it felt like a really, really fast movie. I mean, we filmed for eight days and it was a pretty hectic schedule as I'm sure most of the other episodes were. But, yeah it did have a sort of independent feel to it because we are - we shot it in Edmonton and it is kind of away from, you know, away from Hollywood and all of that. So it did have a sort of independent feel, and you got the, you know, the local, you know, Edmonton crew there that was really great to work with. Yeah.
Jesse, I was wondering what can you tell me about the three women that you end up being trapped with?
Jesse Plemons: They're beautiful. This is Jesse, sorry. Yeah, there a - they are these three woman who basically have lived at this fort for their entire lives and we really don't know anything about any of these characters. And basically they kind of one-by-one start to pick us off.
I'm just curious as to whether you've considered having any kind of narrator on this or if that just made it feel too 50s or 60s?
Keith Addis: Of course it was discussed particularly because of the tradition that exists in anthology with some of the iconic posts that we've seen in the past including Rod Serling and Alfred Hitchcock and the extent to which the Outer Limited main title sequence really served that function. I think we decided that it was a fresher approach to use the time to dive right into the story telling itself. But it was discussed and everyone agreed that this was the right approach under these circumstances. There are only 43 and odd minutes to tell these stories in a network hour, and we wanted to make sure that that directors had as much of that time as we could possibly give them.
Have you guys done much horror before and do you enjoy it, do you particularly find the genres fun, do you get to stretch your wings and really scream a lot?
Jesse Plemons: No, I - this is actually my first horror project that I've done and it was something that I always wanted to do. I mean, I've read a lot of scripts, but honestly this was - it was a well written story which really got me excited. And, I don't know, I think the main thing that I kind of took out of it was just how, I don't know, I got a new-found respect for actors and, well, just everyone involved in horror because there's just so much that goes into it - time, energy, you know, it's just - it's not an easy process, you know, I mean, and this was eight days. I can't imagine doing a movie where you're screaming and being freaked out the whole time, but it was a lot of fun though.
Eric Roberts: My interest was piqued because of Mr. Addis and Mr. Anderson, my commitment came through because of the script itself. It was just juicy. And I get offered a lot of pointlessly crazy people to play, and this guy was kind of a normal a-hole who becomes possessed basically by this experience. And I knew I had a really great, great director behind me because of his past work I was aware of. So I knew I could put myself in his lap and he would steer me correctly because it's hard to cry and die in almost every scene of a project and not get boring. And - but Mr. Anderson, you know, really took good care of that and kept it interesting.
I was hoping you could talk some about the - first of all the level of gore in the series and how you - what it is and how you do the balance between having it be sort of gory enough to be modern and yet not gory enough to trigger complaints and run afoul of the network?
Keith Addis: We were anxious in the transition from the show we had done at Showtime to the commercially - the commercial environment of NBC and the impact that would have on the filmmakers and the writers in the process of telling these stories. But we were totally surprised when we began talking to the writers and the directors, how intrigued they were about this challenge. It was a really great unintended consequence of the switch from the show we had done at Showtime to this different but related show we're doing for NBC. And I think there was a consensus, certainly it wasn't unanimous but there was a strong consensus that most of the elements that caused these episodes of Masters of Horror to be what you would call R-rated, basically the graphic gore and a lot of the sexual violence had been played out as far as they could be in the movies, on cable shows, and that these restrictions, these guidelines that obviously exist in the commercial broadcast environment really motivated the writers and directors to think much more imaginatively and much more creatively about the devices they'd use to get audiences pushed just as far but in more imaginative ways. One of the things that Andrew has said before that I think is very smart and may be obvious to you guys too, is it's so often much scarier not to see than to see graphically what's going on, and that's a great advantage of telling these stories in television. And frankly for the audience that expects more, there will be more to see on the home video version of these shows than there will be on the broadcast version, and I think that will satisfy that different kind of audience.
Have you ever been in a place that you may have thought was haunted or felt like it was haunted?
Eric Roberts: Well, the problem with that answer is it can then become (insane). I'm going to avoid it.
Keith Addis: I would just like to digress for a second to the question that Andrew was asked, and I appreciate how Andrew is committed to and attached to these shows and completely get that. I particularly like the first two that have been scheduled collectively by us all for the first two episodes. I think they are a really great opportunity for the audience to get diverse tastes of what the show will offer downstream and I think it was an excellent choice and love those first two shows.
This is a question for both Eric and Jesse, I was wondering if you could tell me what perhaps some of the acting challenges you found stepping into your respective roles on Fear Itself.
Jesse Plemons: I guess for me the most challenging thing was just the endurance of it all, I mean, for most of the show, well at least the last, you know, 20, 30 minutes of it, it's all really, really high intensity, high emotion, like, you know, he's scared out of his mind. So it was - that was something that was kind of challenging was just keeping that same intensity throughout, you know, throughout the show. So that was something that was a challenge, but, yeah.
Eric Roberts: Eric Roberts speaking. The biggest challenge for me as an actor and a person was this story peaked in about ten minutes, and that peak maintains itself up to the very, very end. And it doesn't ever come down from that peak level. And as an actor if I didn't have a truly great, great director, I would have been panicked. I would have come across as cheating and being repetitive as were Brad Anderson, you know, kept it interesting and every scene was a different level of peaked hysteria. But I was actually frightened of the fact that if I hit this this early can I maintain this, and if I do maintain it, is it going to come across as just - as repetition? And, but, I was in a great director's hands. I know I sound repetitive, but I just can't say that enough.
I enjoyed what I saw and the production values were very - were top shelf and I'm curious to know more about your below the line crew, are they consistent - I know that the directors change, but do you - like your art department specifically, do you keep your same production designer and art director and set decorator for each episode and they just sort of tackle a new story.
Andrew Deane: We rotate - each episode's an entirely a different director, entirely new casts, but we rotate the - our directors of photography from episode to episode. So while one is shooting the next is prepping and vice versa.
Eric Roberts: Can I say something about the crew? I've worked all over the world, I've done A, B, C, D, F movies, I've done everything possible and they - this experience was one of my three favorite crews I've ever worked with in my whole career, they were all there because they wanted to be there and they all had fun and they all had a lot of humor and there was no cast system with this crew, you know, there was no, you know, like, like star, you know, like the supporting actor crew. Everybody was the same. And it was really great. It was like being at a really hard, hard camp and it was really fun, and it was all thanks really to the crew because they are there every week and they know what they're doing and they know why they're doing it, and they have fun doing so. And it was just - it was such a pleasure every day to arrive on the set. It really was. I can't emphasize that enough with this crew.
Shows like this are designed to give people the creeps, so is this - I was just curious, how do you feel "Spooked" achieved that?
Eric Roberts: How do I feel "Spooked" achieved that? I mean, it's a story that - this is Eric Roberts speaking, it's a story that comes across as a kind of ordinary tale, and then it dips into what is in the supernatural and it like dips in there, or for my money, unexpectedly. So even though by the title and by the series you know, you know what it's going to do for you or hopefully do for you, this - I felt did it in a way that was - not to sound to out of words here - but that was spooky. And it just - it was like you're ordinary old cop story like, made his mistakes and becomes a PI and kind of ordinary story that we see in episodic TV every day. And then it turns into a monster and it was so much fun to read, that with the package of Anderson, you know, being involved, I just had to go running to it.
For the producers, do you foresee this as an ongoing annual event? Might you do it as a series for Lionsgate if NBC doesn't - I mean, are there other options for further seasons if NBC elects not to broadcast the second season?
Keith Addis: Clearly we're focused on this partnership with Lionsgate and NBC; and in answer to the first part of your question, of course we'd love to do this for as many seasons as we can, intrigue and provoke and entertain the audience to the extent that we all hope we can, and we'll see what happens. And we really haven't thought about life beyond this current partnership, I think, because we're all so committed to making it work.
But I mean, might it turn up on USA or SciFi with slightly more relaxed broadcast standards?
Keith Addis: Candidly it hasn't been discussed. I guess anything's possible. If someone had told us 18 months ago that what we were doing could theoretically morph into a network show, I'm not sure we would have had a different answer then. So clearly there are all kinds of possibilities. We just really have been focused on making this one work for the time being.
Fear Itself premieres on NBC on Thursday June 5 at 10 PM ET.