There’s a lot of Christian iconography in the series, such as Simone washing Damien’s feet in episode 10; how much of that element did you have in mind going into the series? Were they ideas developed in the writers’ room or images you had as part of the show’s development?
There were certain images that I had – the staging of the last scene, a lot of that was worked out – and obviously it becomes clearer as you start to work on it and you start to develop it. It’s amazing how that last scene was pretty much sketched out – I won’t say it was drawn out completely. Then you start to inhabit the world and start to know what the show feels like, so as you go on, the washing of the feet, for example, is very consistent with who Simone is. We had that opportunity so it made sense to do that.
It made sense in the moment when we were writing those scenes, but it’s not like we ever said anywhere before we got to the actual scene, “we need to have her wash his feet”. Those moments came out organically. The idea of Damien being tied down with thorns and then the vines raping Veronica in episode 9, the washing of the feet; a lot of images came together when we were writing, but when you step back and look at it, you say, “Oh there must have been some magic happening, something within us as writers that was leading us.”
There’s got to be some part of our brains that’s working overtime, because for Sister Greta to be introduced performing an exorcism where she’s above a grave, and then at the end she’s in a grave episodes later feels by design. It also feels like a fortuitous accident to some degree.
Damien’s 666 is bleeding at the end of episode 1; it’s bleeding at the end of episode 10. We knew we needed to do it, then we forgot about it, and then we came back to it. Amani tells a story about how he met Damien, how he was laid out in a mass grave and he was going to be executed – look where he ends up in the end.
All these things, you have your colour palette and you keep drawing from it and hopefully it will all make sense. I think a lot of credit goes to the actors and the writers – we had two different sets of writers, but everybody was really focused on tone and consistency. It was really lovely to work with incredibly talented people.
Yeah – but two of the writers were on both sets. My number two is Mark Kruger, a big horror fan and horror writer, so he was with me throughout the whole process. Then there was this other writer, K.C. Perry, who wrote episode 5 and co-wrote episode 9: she’s just brilliant. She was there for both sets. Then [for the second half] I had two more experienced writers, because I was now writing while I was in production. The rest of the writers were staff writers in the first half, but once you start production, and deadlines are tighter, there’s just different needs, so I brought in Richard Hatem and Sara Thorp, who I had worked with. They could not have done the work if the first team had not done all the heavy lifting.
It was a bizarre process, very unique, but exciting because like the show itself, working on the show you never know what you’re going to get. Every day was different – it felt like we were on a tightrope – and somehow that energy got into the creative process and ended up on screen in some way.
We also had great editors, and the whole post department. A lot of the show came together in post in a way that I haven’t experienced on other shows. Making Damien was very different than anything I had done before, but I would say it was the most relaxed, the most fun, the most comfortable I’ve ever been.
Maybe it feels like two seasons in one – I don’t know how to describe it. It really changed a lot of how I look at who I am as a writer, as a producer, how I approach my job. I think the experience of putting the show out there [was different]. I said this in my Twitter Q and A earlier – you’re dealing with supernatural forces, you’re dealing with a mythology referencing a forty year old film. There were a lot of questions and I resisted every step of the way giving any obvious answers. I did not want the show to do anything that was expected. I did not want the show to spoon-feed the audience in any way. I won’t say I made the show obtuse or confusing, but I did not want the show to be dumbed down for a TV audience, and I resisted a lot of those notes. I feel like the audience responded.
Whether or not the ratings are there, that doesn’t make a difference to me, to be honest – I hope obviously that I get a season 2, but the people who connected with the show got it. They got what we were trying to say, and they appreciated it. That’s incredibly rewarding. You do this to connect with people on an emotional level, and people did: it wasn’t just [them saying] “I didn’t see that shocking twist coming”, people really were affected by the show in an emotional way. That’s something I don’t take lightly – it’s really special.
You commented in the Q&A that the opening scene in episode 1 was originally meant to be in Jerusalem, and the execs got cold feet; were there many changes like that? We talked about episode 5 last time, but across the board were there a lot of things you had to fight for?
After episodes 6 and 7, pretty much no; the studio and network were happy with what they were seeing, they were happy with the material. I did not have to fight. Once in a while they would give notes, or ask to clarify things, but people were then comfortable with the show creatively, so there was no digging in. All of those discussions were up front, which I think is fair. They’re investing a lot of money and manpower and talent and any questions you ask the creator of a show forces that creator to either sharpen their material, or defend it, or justify it or explain it. I think that’s a valuable part of the process. They always trusted me; they may not agree, but they understood that I understood the show, that I had something in mind that I was going for.
I like to try out a lot of different things. I think flexibility is key – really experimenting with material and trying it out. Maybe it doesn’t work or it leads to a better idea. I need my writers and directors and editors and executives to be as fluid as possible. You can see how the show is mercurial. The show changes a lot. That’s what I want to do as a writer, and as a filmmaker. I demand a lot from people to be able to put up with a lot of different versions of things until we settle on it.
Here’s the thing: I’m not one of those writers who goes off and broods and broods and broods and then comes out with the answer. I like to write a script this way, and then we try it that way, and I’m constantly rewriting – so much so that it’s exhausting when I’m putting out three or four versions of a script every day with different scenes. After a while people can’t keep up with what we’re shooting but I have in my mind what I’m going for, and it might take me multiple drafts to get there. They have to trust that my process is going to work.
My process is a bit chaotic or frightening to people who have to adhere to schedules and budgets and all that. But we came in on schedule and on budget – this all comes from my training in an emergency room. You need to be as flexible as possible.
We talked last time about how Bradley became involved with the show. How much discussion did you have with him through the season about how much Damien is balancing his humanity and the Power around him?
It was interesting. I spent a lot of time with Bradley early on in the process, defining his character and I would check in with him, if he had questions on a particular script. He went through his process and I would tell him what he needed to have at that time. I never gave him the full arc, didn’t tell him where he was going to until very very late – during episode 9 I think I told him what was going to happen in episode 10. That was the one time that I had done that. He wanted to arc the ending of the season.
It’s a really complex role: he had to create the baggage for this iconic character, grow up off screen. He had to find his way, play many things and find a process for what he was dealing with in the season: withdrawal, researching, fighting, lashing back, attempting suicide, seeking treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. He goes to see his therapist and she ends up killing somebody. The guy can’t catch a break! He really did have a very complex job.
We would talk when he felt that there were production issues. He never called me and said he was lost with his character; I think he always understood the script but he would call and say “this doesn’t feel right”, or “Is this what we’re going for? Why is this happening on set? Why is this director saying this? Why does the set look this way?” Most of my time was spent in Los Angeles with the writers, so I saw him as a leader on set [in Toronto]. He would call and we would talk things through.
It was amazing how much work he put into his character, how well he understood the character and how he shaped Damien. Because a lot of his work is so subtle, I think a lot of critics missed it. They didn’t understand it and didn’t see what he was doing. He gave a really incredible performance because, think about it: this is an Anti-Christ who in our finale ends up committing mass murder and promising his soul to the Devil to commit even more mass murder… and your heart is breaking for him. That is just unbelievable that he could get you on his side. I think he deserves a lot of credit and I think his performance is totally outstanding.
Without his and Barbara Hershey’s performances as the two lynchpins, the show could have become slightly shlocky very easily…
I always saw the show as a cable character drama. That’s what grounded the show and I think what put us in that territory, rather than just jump scares and shlock and something that was hyperviolent without any ramifications. There were a lot of traps here and I think I was very lucky to find the right people to come in – the writers, the directors, the actors, everybody. Everybody came into the process and everybody embraced the show and the tone and the risk-taking of the storytelling. People collaborated and challenged each other in a professional way. As the showrunner I get credit – or blame, whatever you want to give me – but there are a tremendous amount of unsung heroes involved with a show and I think what you’re seeing is the fact that people were comfortable enough to ask questions and look for answers together as we tried to make a very difficult show.
I believe I read you’ve written a five season bible for the show…
That’s what I originally wrote in our series bible.
Is that laid out in terms of signposts to hit along the way or is it very detailed?
It’s surprisingly detailed. It’s more detailed than any show that I’ve worked on that’s not based on pre-existing material – in the sense we’re in new story, so there’s no Damien novels that were adapted or comic books or anything like that. It’s pretty detailed, and I would say it’s very detailed according to the emotional sign points.
Plot can change. There’s always a better idea. But the way you approach a story is through the emotional development of the characters, and that I have a good sense of and have shared that with the writers. We know how we want all of these characters to affect each other. And obviously there are new characters we want to bring in and obviously anything can change at any moment, but Damien is on a very clear emotional journey.
Do you have any idea when you may know about the future?
I think it may take a few weeks. I will say this: viewing patterns have changed. People watch things when the show airs and obviously on DVR and On Demand and streaming off the website and off the app and iTunes. We’re launching in Latin America this month. There are a lot of different ways that people view the shows and I think that the studios and networks are in a transitional period where they’re not really sure how to track all that. These are big conglomerates that have a lot of big divisions. They have to haul all this information together and crunch numbers and budget and blah blah blah – it’s a business.
I do know creatively A&E and Fox love the show; they had a good experience making it, and I did, obviously. So I’m very hopeful. I hope things happen. Our ratings have not been exactly where anybody would like them to be, but the online enthusiasm and the buzz that we’re receiving from websites like yours and others, and the Twitter feed – that adds value as well, so the entire picture needs to be put together.
That’s true for any young show – it’s not just Damien. Maybe I’m the one showrunner talking about it! It’s tricky, and so I don’t know if there’s quite an existing model that properly evaluates the success of any show right now. There’s just so many different bits of information.
I hope everything adds up. I would love those numbers to add up to 666….
Damien can be accessed in the US via the A&E website and the app
Follow the hashtag #RenewDamien for news on the show’s future