‘NOS4A2’ Cast Interview – Inside AMC’s New Vampire Series Based on Joe Hill’s Book

If you sound out the letters of NOS4A2, you understand how it’s a vampire show. It sounds like Nosferatu. Based on Joe Hill’s book, Zachary Quinto plays the vampire Charlie Manx who kidnaps children to help keep him young. Jami O’Brien adapted Hill’s book.

Vic McQueen (Ashleigh Cummings) is a teenager on the outs with her parents (Ebon Moss-Bachrach and Virginia Kull) who develops supernatural powers that connect her to Manx. The cast of NOS4A2 was at WonderCon for a panel and premiere of the pilot epiosde. Afterwards Quinto, Cummings, Moss-Bachrach, Ólafur Darri Ólafsson and Jahkara Smith spoke with reporters in the press room.

NOS4A2 premieres June 2, 2019 on AMC.

How did it feel to see the audience react to the trailer?

Jahkara Smith: “It just makes me hyped because I know there’s so much more. This is so, so good but if you guys like this, you have no idea what’s coming. So it just makes me more and more hyped to see how the rest of the season develops in your guys’ opinion.”

Zachary Quinto: “It’s always good when you’re making a first season show and you do it in a vacuum. So it’s always a great part of the process to finally be able to share it with people. For a show like this to have a premiere at WonderCon and share it with the fans is always really exciting, so I think we all were encouraged and we felt welcomed and it was cool.”

What is your take on Charlie’s relationship with his car, The Wraith?

Zachary Quinto: “Well, they’re sort of inextricable tied. Charlie’s an extension of The Wraith and The Wraith is an extension of Charlie. So that plays out through the narrative of the first season in a lot of interesting ways. It was really fun for me to get to learn how to drive it and to have my own relationship with the car as an actor. Darri and I spend a lot of time in that car together.”

Ólafur Darri Ólafsson: “He’s good at driving that car. You were backing it up all over the place.”

Zachary Quinto: “It’s fun. It’s really cool. Between takes I’d reset the car. The car is definitely a character on the show, so I’m excited to be able to continue that relationship and the car has relationships with other characters on the show as well. So it’s definitely a big part of the world. It’s a big part of the world that Joe created and I think we’ve been able to make it a part of our show in a really interesting and cinematic way which is exciting.”

Ashleigh Cummings: “And he did incredible work from the acting perspective. I remember the first time being on set and hearing him breathe and the wheezing sounded like a car engine. The first take we did, I actually thought it was some kind of sound effects, but it was him. He did it all.”

Zachary Quinto: “There’s some wheezing going on, it’s true.”

Ashleigh Cummings: “Strong wheezing. He needed a ventilator.”

What brought you to the project?

Ebon Moss-Bachrach: “For me, what I’m always trying to look for when I’m approaching something and looking at scripts of things is, I guess it changes. Right now I’ve been thinking a lot about love and connections between people and how simple and complicated the most basic emotion is. I was really interested in this man who would do anything for his daughter, who adores her but he would say and do anything for her but at the same time there are things he is, in a way, incapable of doing. That conflict and that sort of vibration between these two instincts or drives is a really human thing that I’m fascinated by.”

How do you see Vic rising to the occasion?

Ashleigh Cummings: “It’s interesting, kind of in answer to that question as well, what I really loved and appreciated about both the book and the script and what drew me to Vic was the fact that in this day and age, we’ve seen this rise of female heroines, often superheroes that are women. And it’s been super empowering to see these on our screens. What I have noticed is there is a lot of emphasis placed on external strength or an unwavering emotional fortitude.

What I loved about Vic and what we discussed with Jami early on was that she’s terrified when she shows up. She’s courageous and that is her strength. Her heart is her strongest muscle. Her super powers are her creativity, her intuition, her vulnerability, her empathy and all of these typically feminine traits are coming to the forefront and is what she utilizes to take on this force of evil. He’s a wounded man. But yeah, I think that was also what initially drew me to the script as well.”

How did you get the accent?

Ashleigh Cummings: “We had an amazing dialect coach, Amanda Quaid, and I know you guys worked with her as well. I think we had a generational divide as well in terms of the accents. Originally I think we went in thinking that I would have a strong Massachusetts accent but then doing the research and seeing young people at poetry slams and stuff like that, I noticed that the accent was actually present and for young girls trying to escape that environment, assimilation of the accent into the standard American accent felt more appropriate. So I think it creates that dynamic between the older generation that kind of want to stay or are trapped in the environment that they exist in and Vic who is trying to escape it.”

NOS4A2 starring Zachary Quinto
Zachary Quinto as Charlie Manx in ‘NOS4A2’ season 1, Episode 5 (Photo Credit: Zach Dilgard / AMC)

How did you approach the theme of children being failed by their parents?

Zachary Quinto: “I think the more you learn about Manx, the more you realize how failed he was as a child and how much trauma he experienced at a very young age and how the lack of resolution of that trauma and the inability to examine it is actually what evolves him into this kind of monster. So building on what Ebon was saying, the idea of where is the love and how do you love a character that’s so evil and doing such reprehensible things? For me, it’s been about going back to the source of that trauma. And I think what we were trying to build is the idea that Manx actually really thinks he’s doing good on some level, saving these kids from their neglectful and selfish, thoughtless parents.

He doesn’t really give so much thought or consideration to the cost. But that was important for me to really understand that monsters are created through trauma and abuse and neglect. Manx is no exception to that so how do we integrate that to make him a little bit more multi-dimensional, a little bit more complex and not so one thing. I think that’s an important part of making the show compelling and drawing audiences in to the multiple levels of complexity that exist in him and in the world.”

Jahkara Smith: “I think the crazy thing is, like you said, all the characters in a way have been these failed children. So you sort of see the results. The cool thing about the TV show is that the characters and their backstories are so expanded and you see so much more of what it’s like to be them. You sort of see the aftermath of what happens when kids are neglected and they’re not taken care of properly and you’re faced with the fragility of kids as a whole because on one hand you do have someone who thinks he’s rescuing them and saving them from these awful situations. And it’s something that we can all agree needs to happen; these kids can’t be in these situations.

But I think it makes you take a look at yourself in the real world as well because you’re also faced with what it means to actually handle those situations as they’re supposed to be, which sometimes means separation from parents. In some of the characters that have had to do that for themselves, you see even the aftermath of that. So it’s kind of this terrifying thing in a sense where you have this supernatural stuff going on but you also have the very real consequences of reality and the way that we affect each other in family relationships and friend relationships. I think for all of us, it was kind of having to take a deep breath and reflect on that within ourselves in our own lives and our realities and tap into that to give it an authenticity that it deserved.”

What were you excited to explore between Vic and her parents who each want different things for her?

Ashleigh Cummings: “Gosh, it’s an incredible observation. That was something I really, again, enjoyed about the source material, about Jami’s scripts was the idea that things were one thing isn’t actually a reality. I think there’s a line later on that Linda says, and I’m paraphrasing here because I can’t entirely remember it, but it was that people can be good and bad at the same time. I really appreciate that multi-dimensionality and the contradictions that exist within a single human being, because we are multi-faceted souls and that was something I really leant into. Vic as well, the contradictions, the pulls and the pushes within her. It was really exciting to play and I’m looking forward to digging in a little further for season two, hopefully.”

Tell us about the makeup.

Zachary Quinto: “I’m not wearing any makeup. [Laughter] Yeah, the makeup was really important. I had been interested in the idea of really being able to disappear into a character and transform myself in significant ways. So that was one of the things that drew me to this role and to this project. And it was really important that we found truly the best people for the job.

I had worked with Joel Harlow before and so when I signed onto the project and I was meeting with Jami and Kari, I said, ‘I really feel like we’ve got to try to get Joel. I know it’s a tall order,’ but luckily he was available and interested and came on board and was such an amazing ally and collaborator for all of us. We really worked on what’s important about the look of this guy and how do we represent and honor the character that Joe wrote and bring him to life in a cinematic visual way. And Joel did an amazing job, did amazing renderings and sculptures and built the prosthetics from that.

One of the other things we all did was identify the stages of Manx’s aging process. So we came up with five looks that then we assigned throughout the season based on where he was in his story. So it became a bit of a formula for us to understand exactly what look it was, and then I was able to go off and develop physicality and vocal choices for each one of the phases so that when I showed up to work every day, we knew exactly what we were doing and I knew exactly which version of the character I had to step into that day.

So, it was a unique process. It involved a lot of planning and a lot of everybody getting on the same page, but once we got into production, I had sometimes four and a half hours to sit in the makeup chair and think about what I was doing that day and that was good. It was cool. It’s interesting to have that be a part of my job, to show up four and a half hours before everybody else. It really does put me in a specific mindset for the day which is nice, to get to adopt and drop into that version of the character and apply him, layer by layer.

Every day, Joel and Ritchie Alonzo and Cheryl Daniels who does the wigs, the three of them and me were together sometimes from the crack of dawn, or before actually, and really putting it on. It was a cool experience. I think it really informs who Charlie Manx is to the audience.”

Do we see stage 5 in the pilot?

Zachary Quinto: “You don’t see stage five yet. In the pilot, all you see is up to four. You meet him in four and then he ages backwards, obviously, as he takes the kid to Christmasland and that becomes the routine. Then we save five. You’ll see it later.”

Did you base Charlie on an actual person?

Zachary Quinto: “Well, it was all really based on the source material. As Ashleigh said, we were really lucky to have this book.

One of the best things about this show was that all the scripts were pretty well written before we started shooting, so we knew where we were going and we were able to have conversations with Jami about the journeys of our characters throughout the season. That’s a real gift. When you’re doing a television show, any time you have the opportunity to work on something that’s already written is such a blessing because otherwise you’re figuring things out as you go and things can change and then you can fall behind. It can be a real challenge.

For me, it was really about the book. It was really about reading and going back over passages in the book to understand the psychology of the character. And then physically it was about just me personally adopting – there’s a movement coach who I know and I worked with before. So we got together a couple of times. It was really just about saying, ‘Okay, where does this kind of atrophy live in the human body and where does this kind of unprocessed trauma look for manifestation physically?’

Manx is somebody that’s always grabbing, always reaching for things, so there was a lot with the hands that I thought was important as he got older. These sort of claws and the nails and all of that, the hunched-over aspect of it so that was just about me dropping into my physical body and figuring out where he lives in me. I didn’t really use any other kind of derivative source material. I thought there was enough there between the conversations that I was having with Jami and her scripts that she wrote with her team and Joe’s book.”

Ólafur Darri Ólafsson: “When you guys were taking about the hands or the fingers, it reminded me of the old Nosferatu. The most famous image from that is he has a very similar kind of hand. Is that coincidence?”

Zachary Quinto: “That’s a coincidence. It must be a part of the lineage of the character.”

Talk about Bing’s journey becoming Manx’s familiar.

Ólafur Darri Ólafsson: “What I loved about what Jami did was that I think Jami really helped with Bing’s journey. She really did. By making Bing, by giving him access to Ashleigh’s character Vic, it sort of brings him much more into the story so it becomes much harder for us to see him slowly being dragged over to Charlie Manx and over to his cause. Charlie really does everything he can to make sure that Bing believes in the cause. Like you said before, at the heart of it, Charlie Manx says that he’s trying to save children from bad parents. I think most of us could agree we would all be willing to take part in that but not in the way he would.

So I think what attracted me to the story was when I read the book, I remember I really enjoyed Bing’s character but when I got the scripts, I was really thankful for that, that I could really connect with him on an even deeper level, I think, through the scripts. It’s hard to, as you were talking about, play somebody who is basically a monster in many ways. We, as actors, don’t really get to, I don’t at least, I don’t feel I have the right to judge anyone so I have to approach any character through a way of trying to understand even when that’s really hard to do. And sort of try and dislocate myself and my own person and my own opinions from that of the characters.

I love Bing quite a bit and I feel for him very much. I think the right amount of how much I should feel for him, but I really look forward to – you only get one scene with him in the pilot but I really look forward to people seeing where it goes. I just remember having so much fun doing it, even as scary and as horrible as some of those days were at work. It’s still so much fun when you get to work with so many talented people and work on a beautiful, scary story. That’s exactly what NOS4A2 is. It is so beautiful but so terrifying at the same time.”

Ashleigh Cummings: “Can I quickly add that I was really interested in how you were going to play Bing and so on. I think what you did with the character, what existed in the book and what Jami brought to the script kind of epitomizes what we’ve been talking about in terms of this loss of innocence, the wounded child and how that manifests if the trauma isn’t dealt with. It really is quite – you can really see it in Bing’s character because you have this grown man who has this innocence and this childlike presence. Everyone has a gift and a shadow. It’s how those things are either nurtured and what you choose to engage and how you choose to wield those aspects of yourself. But in the case of children, a lot of that is taken out of their control.

I just think the dichotomy that you played with was just so brilliant and being on the receiving end of it was conflicting in and of itself. I was really passionate about that aspect of the storytelling and the characters, that they are so three dimensional and we aren’t just given these binaries and black and white people, good and evil, that kind of thing.”

Ólafur Darri Ólafsson: “Which I think is incredibly important, especially when you’re doing a story like this, is that it’s just so important that you’re not just able to pick a side and that’s it. You want to engage people to watch it and starting to second guess – I know that me and Jami, what we’re hoping is that you’ll constantly be conflicted about whom to support. Hopefully you’ll feel a little bit guilty for loving Bing. That’s what I’m hoping will happen is you’ll be moving back and forth because you realize that, and I think I can speak for all the characters, it’s not as simple as being good or bad. It is layers of everything. Like you said before, you can be good and bad at the same time.”

Were you allowed to bring any of yourselves into your characters?

Ashleigh Cummings: “I improv’d with you. You led the improv boat a little bit. He’s an incredible writer. He comes up with these little lines here and there that catch me off guard sometimes. I really enjoyed it. There would be times we would be doing a scene and it would be my coverage and Ebon would add something in to generate a different reaction in me that was unexpected. It was incredible to work like that.”

Ebon Moss-Bachrach: “To be clear, when the camera was on me, I would be saying the lines as written. When it was not on me and it wasn’t even going to matter what I said, I would improvise a little bit.”

Ashleigh Cummings: “Because it creates this organic…”

Zachary Quinto: “I would do that also with the kids because it was interesting to work with kids as much as I did on the show. To change it up for them a little bit and make it maybe a little scarier sometimes. They were such pros. They were impressive, Darby and Asher, all the kids on the show were.

I think also the show did a really good job of taking care of the kids, which I think is important when you’re telling stories as dark as these. I was very appreciative of the way that our producers really made sure that the well being of the kids psychologically and physically was the number one priority throughout and just making sure that everybody got taken care of. But throwing them some curveballs as well to just keep it spicy for the cameras. Yeah, that is a fun aspect of what we’re able to do is to kind of elicit different reactions from one another, and the more we get to know each other and the more we get to work with each other, the more fun that becomes.”

Ashleigh Cummings: “I definitely experienced that because I came in trying to create the Vic that was in the book. We had many conversations about how we actually had to create the arc of Vic from age six or eight through to the 18-year-old so that we’re not jumping in on 18-year-old Vic without exploring her character development. The setup director, Kari, really encouraged me to bring my own quirks and so on to the character which I was surprised about.”