Even stars can be star-struck.
While discussing the new Netflix streaming series at a hotel bar in January, young actors Bill Skarsgard and Landon Liboiron became momentarily distracted when actor Giancarlo Esposito walked by.
I just saw the bad guy from Breaking Bad, Skarsgard said mid-interview. The chicken guy. Im so excited. He walked past and its just so funny it took me two seconds to realize. Hes an actor, obviously, but hes dressed the same way.
Good posture, Liboiron added.
Its the kind of reaction any actor hopes to achieve: Create a character so memorable that even fellow actors are in awe in your presence. Whether any of the cast in Hemlock Grove can manage something similar remains to be seen, but its clear that Netflixs streaming series aspire to achieve the same appreciation accorded to quality dramas like Breaking Bad.
Netflix debuted the streaming series House of Cards to generally positive reviews in February, and on May 26 the online service brings back a new, 15-episode season of the late Fox drama Arrested Development. In between theres Hemlock Grove, which debuted Friday. This 13-episode Gothic-horror series is based on a 2012 novel of the same name by Brian McGreevy. He and writing partner Lee Shipman wrote many of the Hemlock episodes, including the pilot, which was directed by Eli Roth (Hostel).
The show is set in Hemlock Grove, a former steel town outside Pittsburgh, where the Godfrey family has made its fortune over several decades. High-schooler Roman Godfrey (Skarsgard) often spars with his imperious mother, Olivia (Famke Janssen, Nip/Tuck), who is having an affair with her dead husbands brother, Norman (Dougray Scott). Gypsy teen Peter Rumancek (Liboiron) moves into Hemlock Grove at the same time 17-year-old Brooke Bluebell is murdered, raising suspicions. Eventually Roman and Peter form a friendship and begin a search for the killer. Oh, and werewolves and vampires may also come into play.
Hemlock had been slated to film in Western Pennsylvania, something McGreevy advocated for the shows production company, Gaumont International Television. A production office was even opened briefly in Pittsburgh last spring but the production pulled out in May 2012 due to what Gaumont chief operating officer Richard Frankie called a timing issue but what Pittsburgh Film Office director Dawn Keezer called a lack of understanding on the part of Gaumont management about how the Pennsylvania Film Tax Credit program works.
At the time, McGreevy said he was heartbroken by the turn of events that led the series to relocate to Toronto. But he did manage to get Pittsburgh into the show by sending a crew to Western Pennsylvania over several weekends last October.
We shot a lot of second unit (in Pittsburgh) because it was impossible to do the show without incorporating the Pittsburgh topography, McGreevy said.
At a January Netflix news conference, Hemlock executive producer Mark Verheiden, who was previously a writer/producer on Battlestar Galactica, Heroes and Falling Skies, said filming in Toronto worked out.
Toronto is a great location, has a wonderful steel-town sort of feel to it, he said. We originally were thinking of shooting elsewhere but ended up in Toronto, and I think it ended up being a good thing for the show because beyond the steel town, theres this wild variety of great locations.
Hamilton, southwest of Toronto, played the more industrial, downtrodden parts of Hemlock Grove, while Port Perry, northeast of Toronto, was cast as the towns more bucolic main street.
For Janssen, there were concerns the part she was offered in Hemlock would not deviate enough from a past role. Janssen worried that Olivia Godfrey might be too similar to her previous TV role as controlling Ava on FXs Nip/Tuck.
I thought I could be in territory where I could possibly repeat myself because there was something about this highly manipulative character whos also really put together that I felt was going in the direction of Ava, she said. So I made sure to speak with a different accent in this show, kind of a mid-Atlantic accent, the way a woman in a 1930s movie spoke with an affectation. Its not quite British, but not fully American. Its written in the book that she was an actress, and thats where I found the character, when I found that voice.
Janssen was sold on the part when she read the pilot script and came to a scene where Olivia wants to take Roman shopping. He doesnt want to go, so she puts her cigarette out on his jacket, burning a hole in it and forcing him to abide by her will.
I thought, that is a character I want to play, she said. I wanted it to have that kind of feel and humor to it. Ultimately, I would have liked to have seen more humor in it because its something I so love to do. ... It was so twisted and a unique way she goes about getting what she wants.
For the young leads of Hemlock, filming the series offered new experiences. For Skarsgard, it was the Swedish actors first film project in America. Hes the son of actor Stellan Skarsgard and brother of True Blood star Alexander Skarsgard (aka Eric Northman). For Liboiron, who starred last year in Foxs TerraNova, Hemlock offered an opportunity to be in a more character-driven story that still has its share of special effects.
The difference between TerraNova and Hemlock Grove is TerraNova had more running-away-from-things-that-were-not-there kind of acting, Liboiron said. Our show isnt about that. Peter and Norman are chasing the thing themselves. And the CGI wasnt as prominent on this show as on TerraNova because its more about what the characters are going through. Theyre such aberrants by nature and on the outside looking in to whats normal in society.
Despite the shows supernatural elements, producers say its ultimately about more grounded themes, including friendship and perverse family drama.
When it comes to doing a genre story, if you want to do something of quality, its really form follows function, McGreevy said. Its not, I want to do a sci-fi story or a horror story. Its I want this story thats dictated by these characters making these decisions.