TCA 19: ‘NOS4A2’ Promises ‘Good Bloody Entertainment’

NOS4A2

AMC is adding to its horror lineup with NOS4A2, a supernatural suspense series adapted from the novel by bestselling author Joe Hill, that the president of Original Programming for AMC calls “good bloody entertainment.” NOS4A2, which is slated to premiere sometime in June, will be paired with Fear the Walking Dead to tap into AMC’s already thriving horror demographic. Zachary Quinto (Star Trek, American Horror Story) stars as Charlie Manx, the sinister, immortal being who kidnaps children to feed off their souls, trapping them in his lair that he calls “Christmasland.” Vic McQueen, played by Ashleigh Cummings (Gallipoli, The Goldfinch), is the reluctant heroine who sets out to find Manx and rescue the children without becoming a victim herself. The 10-episode season is directed by Emmy award winning director Kari Skogland and aims to also appeal to audiences who love female-driven narratives. Jami O’Brien, who serves as executive producer and showrunner of NOS4A2, joined actors Zachary Quinto and Ashleigh Cummings to discuss the series at the TCAs.

Getting into character was no easy feat for Zachary Quinto, whose villainous Charlie Manx has a story arc that spans a lifetime of 135 years. He spoke about both the challenges of portraying an immortal character and what drew him to this unique role.

“You know, I had been looking for a project and a character that would give me the opportunity to really transform and into whom I could disappear. So that was one of the aspects of this experience that were – that was really magnetizing for me. I was a little resistant to be honest at first about the horror nature of the show and the kind of archetypal villain that I’d be playing. But as I read the scripts, as I connected with Jami [O’Brien] and Kari [Skogland], you know, it seemed to me that there was a real depth and an emotional grounding in these characters, and an incredible collaborative spirit around the project itself,” Quinto explains.

NOS4A2

“And so, those things – combined with this opportunity to really dive into who this immortal character was – made it really irresistible for me in the end. And one of the first things I said to Jami and to the producers was, ‘You know, one of the only ways I think this can work is if we can get Joel Harlow,’ the incredible special effects makeup artist who I’ve worked with in the past on the Star Trek movies. And by a kind of miracle, he was available and interested. And so, he came on-board and really helped us shape who this guy is aesthetically and create this incredible look, through which my choices as an actor were still able to live and be shared. So, all in all, it was a really incredible journey. Sometimes four hours of a journey in the makeup chair but, you know, you gotta put in the time to get the goods.”

Fellow actor Ashleigh Cummings had nothing but praise for Quinto’s work on NOS4A2. “I remember the first time I kind of did a scene with Zach, and I was really astonished at both the physical and vocal transformations that really added to the character, alongside the prosthetics, and the way [he] kind of integrated the car into [his] breathing and this idea of the engine and so on, and I just…it’s been really inspiring to watch that transformation.”

Vic McQueen is shown riding a motorcycle throughout the series, an iconic aspect of her character that plays a pivotal role in the story. Although Cummings isn’t the one riding it herself, she admires her stunt double, Kelsey Abbott, and Abbott’s skill as a dirt bike rider that helped bring that particular character detail to life.

NOS4A2

Cummings also found herself drawn to the psychological elements of NOS4A2. “Usually, I kind of love creating a character arc and a journey and so on, but with this, it was just taking each event as it came. I didn’t really know what was gonna happen. I kind of would get two episodes at a time usually. And just remaining present to what was unfolding. And I think that was a really genius choice by [Jami’s] and Kari’s guidance.”

Executive producer/showrunner Jami O’Brien discussed the process of adapting NOS4A2 for television from its novel format, two totally different storytelling mediums, each with their own merits and challenges. “You know, the book was so great and gave us so many wonderful characters and themes to explore that, really, what the adaptation process for me was about was trying to honor the spirit of the book as best we can in television. So, you know, we’re all huge fans of the book. It’s a different medium. And so, basically, every kind of decision that we made to depart from the book was really about trying to best portray the book on television, if that makes sense.”

O’Brien highlighted one of the changes made in Vic’s story when translating the narrative to a format suitable for television. “I always kind of give the example, the kind of first big departure from the book is that in the book, when we first meet Vic McQueen, the first time she encounters her bridge, she’s a child. I think she’s seven, eight, or nine. Maybe eight. […] And I love that portion of the book so much that I wanted to be able to dramatize it with our actress, who is Vic, rather than show it in a flashback with a child actor. And so, I made the decision to change the book in order to show more of the book if that makes sense.”

NOS4A2

The question came up of whether the title would deter some people from checking the show out. NOS4A2, which is the license plate on the vintage car that Manx drives, is obviously a clever nod to the story’s vampire-esque mythology.

“I think the title itself, you know, Manx talks about it deeper in the book than we get in the first season, but it’s a joke. And it’s also a puzzle. And I think both of those things speak to the humor of the book and the humor of the character and is kind of a fun twist on the vampire genre, you know?” O’Brien elaborates. “Charlie Manx is a kind of vampire, but he’s not any kind of vampire that we’ve seen before. He doesn’t suck blood. He sucks souls. […] I’m glad that we have it because I think it’s a lot of fun.”

While the central conflict of the series is that Manx kidnaps children who then need to be saved, the core focus is really on Manx and Vic. It’s their opposing characters who drive much of the story. “For me, it really is a show about Vic and Charlie. And Charlie’s interest in Vic, I think, has to do with the fact that she’s extraordinarily powerful, and therefore, both interesting and potentially dangerous. And Vic’s interest in Charlie definitely has to do with the children, the lost children of Christmasland,” O’Brien says. “I think, you know, in the second episode she meets Maggie Leigh, who has a personal connection to a child that’s been taken by Charlie Manx, and Maggie immediately tries to enlist Vic’s help to help her find these kids. […] Vic is initially reluctant, but I think that ultimately what drives her towards Manx is, at least on the surface level, is a need to find these kids and save these kids.”

O’Brien elaborated on Christmasland, the twisted amusement park where Manx keeps the children. When every day is Christmas and unhappiness is outlawed, it creates conditions for these children to become “demonic.” Cummings added that many stories like this in fables and mythology often include cautionary tales where children are involved. NOS4A2, which leans more heavily into the horror aspect, isn’t too much different.

NOS4A2

“I think it’s a really important thing to look at because what we see throughout the season is we kind of dip into certain backstories of Manx, of Bing Partridge—who is another character—and of Vic, and all these other children that Manx is saving,” Cummings says. “And I think a big theme is this idea of loss of innocence, and what we need to do with our world, which is look at each individual maybe as children, and how do we nurture them, how do we, you know, look after them in the best way so that they don’t – their psychology isn’t damaged and wounded, so we don’t end up with people like Charles Manx?”

Quinto agreed. “Well, that’s one of the origins of Manx’s journey, you know. I mean, he manipulates and exploits the vulnerabilities of these children because he himself was abused, and neglected, and exploited in horrible ways as a child, which you learn through the book and through the companion graphic novel to NOS4A2 called Wraith, which really dives in-depth into Charlie Manx’s backstory. And so, understanding the origins of trauma…and how if it goes unexamined and unprocessed, it can lead to this kind of warped and twisted manipulation is really interesting.”

NOS4A2 will premiere on AMC in June. Check out the teaser trailer below!