Inside ‘Hemlock Grove’ with Bill Skarsgard and Penelope Mitchell

Bill Skarsgard in Hemlock Grove
Bill Skarsgard from Netflix’s “Hemlock Grove.” Credit: David Schulze for Netflix
Netflix scored big ratings with House of Cards, their first attempt at an original TV series, and up next to test the theory that audiences don’t want to wait three or four months – or even longer – to watch every episode of a series is Hemlock Grove. Executive produced by Eli Roth and based on Brian McGreevy’s book, Hemlock Grove is a 13 episode murder mystery featuring an interesting assortment of characters, some of whom are supernatural.
In support of the show’s premiere of all 13 one-hour episodes on April 19, 2013, Netflix brought the show’s stars, producers, and writers to the 2013 WonderCon in Anaheim, CA to discuss the series. Among the cast members on hand to talk about the series were Bill Skarsgard (brother of Alexander, True Blood‘s sexiest vampire) and Penelope Mitchell. Skarsgard plays a troubled teenager named Roman Godfrey who has dedicated himself to finding out who’s committed the murders in his small town. Mitchell plays Letha Godfrey, a character described as “delicate and virtuous.” But nothing is as it seems in Hemlock Grove

Bill Skarsgard and Penelope Mitchell Interview

When you read this first script, were you hooked immediately?
Bill Skarsgard: “Yes.”
What grabbed you?
Bill Skarsgard: “I got the script and my manager pitched it to me and was like, ‘You should read this pilot. It’s really cool. It’s about vampires and werewolves.’ I am like, ‘Oh….’ He said just read it, just give it a shot. You know, when you just hear that to me I was just like, ‘Oh no, we’ve seen this before. This has been done.’ But then I started reading it and I couldn’t stop reading it. I’m like, ‘What the hell is this? This is so strange, so appealing, and something so refreshing.’ I had no idea what I was reading. I was like, ‘What is this?’ This is so strange and mysterious and so appealing. When I finished reading it, I was just like, ‘I need to know more.’ There were so many questions that I had. I was super-hooked from the start, yeah. How about you?”
Penelope Mitchell: “Yeah, likewise, very much. Yeah, similarly I read it right at the end of pilot season where I felt like I had been reading the same porridge for the last few weeks. It is remarkably written, and I think obviously I am a massive genre nerd so I was like, ‘Yeah!’ The characters are so beautifully developed and I think the issues they’re going through are so universal and so delicate and nuanced and something that really spoke to me.
Similarly I was kind of like, ‘Oh man, the same kind of crap,’ but I think what I love about it is it kind of takes that paradigm that we’re so familiar with and subverts it completely in a way that you never expect so it’s double as shocking. As soon as I read it I was like, ‘This is just remarkable.’ There is nothing like it. It’s iconoclastic.”
By the 13th episode do we really get to know more about your character?
Penelope Mitchell: “Mine? Yeah, very much so, definitely by the 13th episode – as you do with all of them.”
Your biography says this is your first real starring role. Being from Australia, were you ever involved in Home and Away or any of those productions?
Penelope Mitchell: “No. I had a relatively unique trajectory, I guess. I was at university and at acting school and then I moved straight to America. I kind of had a couple of appearances in a few bits and pieces. But, no, I kind of just threw caution to the wind I guess. The Australian industry, tragically, there is just not a lot of work out there for us. Ultimately you have to make the jump over here and I figured I may as well just do it now. I was so lucky to find a piece of material that just spoke to me, and pretty much that was that.”
Were you hesitant at all about this new Netflix model of showing a TV show?
Bill Skarsgard: “No, quite the opposite. I was really intrigued by it. Brian [McGreevy] and Lee [Shipman], they were so eager on they really wanted to end up on Netflix. I think that they, as well as we, represent a younger generation that grew up with the internet and grew up with that way of streaming and watching whatever we want…”
Penelope Mitchell: “Instant gratification.”
Bill Skarsgard: “…whenever we want. Me, from growing up in Sweden, we obviously did not get the shows at the same time as you do over here and all of those things. So they kind of used the model that was so pre- the internet in a way. Because me growing up, I knew every airing date on every show that I wanted to watch, so we made sure to get it anyway using the magic of internet. And we got it because that was the only way for us to see it. Me and my friends we were as up-to-date on every cool cable show that was out here as people were over here.”
Penelope Mitchell: “That’s the reality of it now.”
Bill Skarsgard: “So growing up in my generation we always found a way to go around stuff that we could not get because the industry, they were using an old model. So for me Netflix is where the future is. That’s how we’re going to end up watching stuff. I am sure within the next five or 10 years we are not going to watch TV in the same way at all. I think everything is going to be on demand.”

Penelope Mitchell in Hemlock Grove
Penelope Mitchell from Netflix’s “Hemlock Grove.” Credit: David Schulze for Netflix
Penelope Mitchell: “I think that’s the reality of it. Maybe it’s tragic or maybe it’s revolutionary, but I think it is really inspiring to be a part of something that is embracing rather than chastising and just going, ‘All right, let’s just go gung-ho and make the most of it.’ That was really cool and having that life-force behind the show definitely contributed to the atmosphere.”
Bill Skarsgard: “Yes. It is daring, it’s edgy. and it’s something new. It’s super cool to be a part of it.”
We hear it gets really dark in the later episodes. Were there any storylines that sort of pushed you?
Bill Skarsgard: “Oh yes.”
Penelope Mitchell: “Yeah, nothing that we could … I mean without elucidating too much I think those things definitely go on and take avenues that you would not have necessarily thought of initially.”
Bill Skarsgard: “The shocker and the ending of this show is something no one is going to ever expect.”
Will there be a cliff-hanger? Netflix’s House of Cards had a cliff-hanger?
Bill Skarsgard: “I mean I don’t want to spoil too much but I am telling you, no one is going to expect where the show is going. It’s so unpredictable, and I think that is one of the qualities of it is that it is so unpredictable.”
What was your reaction to reading that final season one script?
Bill Skarsgard: “Obviously we knew about it because of the book. And also what has been so fortunate for us is that we have been hanging out so much with Brian and Lee so much in Toronto as well that we became really close with him; we knew where the show was going. But even though we knew kind of where it was going, because we got the scripts maybe a week prior to when we started shooting it – when we were shooting the 4th episode, we got the 5th and 6th script a week before we started shooting those – so every time we got the new scripts, it’s still unexpected and blowing my mind, even though I knew what was going to happen. It was so bizarre.”
Penelope Mitchell: “It was fun. Every script day, everyone would be at home [looking feverishly through the script].”
Bill Skarsgard: “Yeah. It was so funny, me and Landon [Liboiron]…the actors got the scripts a little bit later when the scripts were finalized.”
Penelope Mitchell: “Yes, hair and makeup would have them.”
Bill Skarsgard: “Yeah, some departments had them already and me and Landon, we would go in and steal them. Landon was like, ‘I got them! I got them!'”
Is this the genre that you would have watched before you got this?
Penelope Mitchell: “Oh yes.”
Do you have any favorite vampire movies or shows?
Penelope Mitchell: “We were just talking about this before, actually. We were talking about American Werewolf.”
Bill Skarsgard: “American Werewolf in London.”
Penelope Mitchell: “And in Paris as well.”
Bill Skarsgard: “Oh yes, that’s the newer one. [Laughing] I didn’t like that one.”
Penelope Mitchell: “Yes, very much – Interview with a Vampire. I really love the old-school Nosferatu, the old black and white one.”
You’re not going to mention True Blood?
Penelope Mitchell: “Oh yes, definitely.”
Bill Skarsgard: “Of course True Blood. I’ve seen every episode.”
Penelope Mitchell: [Laughing] “That old show.”
Was that a concern at all going in that your brother already stars on a show with vampires and werewolves?
Bill Skarsgard: “That’s why it’s unexpected. This show is nothing like it, no. It’s really funny because I hope that people expect True Blood when they start watching this show, because they are going to get shocked. There’s no Fangtasia. It’s something else. True Blood is doing its thing and we’re doing something completely different. I think that’s really important. I told you just hearing about the show, I’m like, ‘You do realize that my brother is playing a vampire in this major hit show?’ But this is something completely different. I know on paper people are like, ‘Oh wolves,’ like associating these two shows.”
Penelope Mitchell: “It’s so reductive.”
Bill Skarsgard: “When the show is out there, people are going to be like it’s two completely different shows.”
Bill Skarsgard and Penelope Mitchell in Hemlock Grove
Bill Skarsgard and Penelope Mitchell in a scene from Netflix’s “Hemlock Grove.” Credit: Sophie Giraud for Netflix
Can you talk about the brand of vampires and werewolves and other supernatural creatures – if we meet them? Have we seen anything like them before?
Penelope Mitchell: “I think that in a sense in the classic kind of gothic form, they do obviously take root from the Romanian foundations of what vampire culture was based on. I think it’s a testament to the brilliant writing that they’ve taken so many liberties and created this other world.
One of the things to remember is that the show fundamentally is exploring the human psyche and the polarity that there are monsters in each of us. I think what is so beautiful and refreshing about the show is that it’s not just going after the shock in a gratuitous kind of spectacle element. It’s like how do these monsters reflect what is going on inside of us? I think that’s what makes it so organic and so heartbreaking as well. We all identify with it.”
Bill Skarsgard: “Yes, it is trying to answer all of the questions that you would have to a werewolf. It would be like, ‘Tell me a little bit about what’s going on. So you become a wolf? How is it growing up?'”
Penelope Mitchell: [Laughing] “It’s like Dr. Phil but with monsters.”
Bill Skarsgard: “Which makes it so much more interesting. Could you imagine becoming a werewolf every full moon?”
Penelope Mitchell: “It’s really painful. It’s uncomfortable, and you’re nude.”
Bill Skarsgard: “Yes. And also with the Upyrs that they’re calling the show, we are not calling them vampires at all…Upyr is an old term for vampire in Romanian. But it’s like every major society has had a mythology with blood-sucking demons or creatures, so we have this vampire myth that has been around as long as society’s existed. It’s always been there, and they are very different. Some are demons with wings, some just eat babies. [Laughing] It’s really happy stuff. But they all have this different mythology of it. Now what we’ve seen is the pop culture vampire is nothing near maybe the old mythology vampire that all of these kind of different cultures had. So, Brian has made his own mythology of this creature. You won’t really find out what they are about, not even in the first season. It’s kept super-secret and it’s kind of hinted at towards the end. And obviously, you know, Roman being one of them, he is finding out himself as well with the audience as well through his journey. It’s really interesting to see. This first season is so much more about werewolves.”
Penelope Mitchell: “Yeah, it’s just the beginning. It’s mind-blowing.”
Does Letha have any kind of transformation?
Penelope Mitchell: “Yes, very much. Slightly more humanistic, but yeah definitely she balloons into a women in a truer sense. And also her understanding of what was once an insular world is completely blown apart. Yeah, it is pretty full-on.”