‘NOS4A2’ – Joe Hill and Jami O’Brien Interview on Vampires, Adaptations, and Zachary Quinto

NOS4A2 Joe Hill and Jami O'Brien
Zachary Quinto as Charlie Manx in ‘NOS4A2’ season 1 episode 3 (Photo Credit: Zach Dilgard / AMC)

Joe Hill looks exactly like his father, Stephen King. Joe’s wearing a bushy beard at the moment, but we’ve seen Stephen with the scruff too. Joe is also hilarious, so maybe he should have a career in comedy. At least for now he uses his macabre humor in books like NOS4A2.

NOS4A2 is coming to television courtesy of executive producer Jami O’Brien. Zachary Quinto plays Hill’s vampire Charlie Manx, and young Vic McQueen (Ashleigh Cummings) is discovering her psychic powers. NOS4A2 will premiere June 2, 2019 on AMC and Hill and O’Brien gave a press conference at WonderCon to preview the series adaptation.

Were there any visual images you had in your mind you wanted to keep from the book?

Jami O’Brien: “Obviously the bridge we wanted to be pretty spectacular because it’s pretty spectacular in the book.”

Joe Hill: “I love the bridge.”

Jami O’Brien: “The bridge is miraculous, I think. So that was probably the biggest challenge for production to make sure that we got right.

It’s interesting, the bridge is actually, there were three pieces of the bridge that are practical and a lot of it, the interior of it, which this is a testament to our VFX team, is VFX. I was like, ‘You guys aren’t gonna get any props for this because no one’s going to know because that’s how good it is.’ That’s why I’m telling you all.

The bridge was a big one and then in terms of Charlie Manx, that was a collaboration between the book, myself, Zach, our first block director Kari Spogland and Joel Harlow who did the special effects makeup. And the big conversation that we had about it early on, and the conversation that Joe and I had had, is that Charlie Manx is a man first and foremost. So he’s not actually a vampire in the way that we typically think about vampires. He doesn’t have pointy ears. He’s not nonhuman.”

Joe Hill: “He’s not upset by garlic.”

Jami O’Brien: “He can go out in the sun. So anything that looks horrific about him really comes from being 135 years old.”

Joe Hill: “I suspect his breath is not very good. Now, Zach’s breath is great but I think because the 19th century hygiene thing, the only reason when he was a kid, the only reason Charlie Manx would’ve gone to a dentist was for an amputation. They didn’t really.”

Jami O’Brien: “So the teeth are bad.”

Joe Hill: “They’re real bad.”

Jami O’Brien: “But they’re not fangs. They’re 19th century 135-year-old man teeth.”

Joe Hill: “I think one of Charlie’s biggest advantages over the heroes is he does have 135 years of experience. He’s good at not getting caught. He’s good at getting away with it.”

What made you to do a TV series vs. a movie?

Joe Hill: “Well, I think you respond to who’s got the passion. Who connects with the material and feels like they can do something exciting. So in some ways, the format is almost secondary. I do think that we’re living in this really remarkable period of television and genre television.

And so much of horror depends on empathy. So much of it depends on compassion. The way great horror works is you fall in love with some characters and then you see them put through the ringer, put through the meat grinder, sometimes literally. On TV, you have 10 hours to fall in love with a character. You have so much more to explore whereas in a movie, you really only got a few minutes to start to care about someone before you’ve moved on to Leatherface. So I kinda like that we have a little more room to breathe in a TV show. I think that that’s special. And of course, we’re in this era when we can take risks in TV like you couldn’t even imagine taking 10 years ago.”

Are you in the writers room with Jami?

Joe Hill: “Well, no. I read Jami’s pilot script probably, what, about two years ago now. And I thought it was the best single episode of anything I had ever read in my life. She has such a deft touch and reveals so much. It’s not an ironic statement. She has such a deft touch. There were little things she was able to reveal in just like a paragraph or just a line of dialogue. And so then, after I read what you did, I wanted to be careful not to f*ck it up. So I tried not to get underfoot too much and to be available when she had questions, but then otherwise cheer her on to tell her version of the story from the sidelines.”

Jami O’Brien: “It’s funny, I’ll tell a quick story. Joe came to the table read for I think episode two. I remember while we were doing the table read, this was on set in Rhode Island, he had the script and he had a pen in his hand and I was sitting next to him and he kept going… I was like, ‘Oh my God, he hates it. What’s happening?’ Having a panic attack. And then at the end of it, he said, ‘Jami, I just have a couple of thoughts.’ And I was like, ‘Oh, he hates it.’ Then he was like, ‘Here I think it would be great, Charlie Manx has an older way of speaking. Could he, instead of saying my child, say my joy?’ And I was like, yes. Yes, he could do that.”

Joe Hill: “I was drawing smiley faces. This was me drawing little smiley faces in the margins.”

Jami O’Brien: “This is all a way of saying whenever I would hear from Joe, he’s always been super generous and always had great suggestions and we try to incorporate them, unless they come in too late. And then sometimes the horse is out of the barn.”

What was the process of bringing Charlie from paper to screen?

Jami O’Brien: “It really was about working closely with the director, Zach, and our special effects makeup guy, Joel Harlow, and Joe too. I was sending Joe pictures of Manx, again hoping that he’d be like awesome and not like go back to the drawing board which Joel Harlow really is a genius. And so I wasn’t surprised that it was a pretty easy collaboration. He just presented us…he’s, I think, a fan of Joe’s anyway too…so he just immediately was like, ‘Love the book, yes. Sign me up.’ Then the next day was like, ‘Here are five looks. What do you guys think?’

Then it was really about making Zach comfortable and making sure that the makeup was something that wouldn’t obscure his acting. I don’t know, it was a trip.”

Did you want it to be more of a sense of dread than jump scares?

Jami O’Brien: “I think that that sense of dread permeates the whole book. Those are my favorite kinds of scares is the kind of tension of what is on the other end of the bridge? Where does this highway go? What’s waiting for Daniel when he gets out of the car? The book, I say all the time, one of the things I loved about it is it has a great sense of humor and it also unfolds in a way that you’re never ahead of it. As you learn more and more about the characters, for me, the tension is ratcheted up so we wanted to be faithful to that.”

Joe Hill: “For myself, I’m not above a good jump scare. I think there’s plenty of room for that but they are kind of cheap and weak. If someone drops a stack of frying pans behind you, you’re like, ‘Agh!’ But that’s not great horror. That’s just a loud noise.

I think you get more mileage out of suspense, and suspense is about one thing. It’s about taking a character you care about and putting them out on a ledge 10 stories above the street to rescue a cat. And then they’re crawling out to get the cat and they get to it and the cat scratches them in the face. That’s hard to look away from and is a lot more interesting than just someone’s walking down a dark hallway and then the soundtrack goes WAAAAAAAA which of course is going to make you jump but is kind of gimmicky, a little weak.”

Will there be any deviations from the book?

Jami O’Brien: “I’ll speak to that a little bit. I think that where I started from when I set out to adapt this book is a place of loving the book. So my process, just in terms of thinking about it and how we thought about it in the writers room, has always been how can we tell this story and get as much of the book actually into our show as we can?

For those of you who’ve read the book, you know it jumps around in time. We’re in different places. It starts in the present but then goes back to the past which is complicated for a television show, especially if you’re trying to follow a main character, Vic McQueen. So most of the deviations that we’ve made from the book have been about showing more of the book. They’ve all been decisions about how to manage the timelines and manage the characters in such a way that our actors can play them.”

Will we get to see Christmasland?

Jami O’Brien: “Tune in.”

Joe Hill: “Only very good people, very special people get to go to Christmasland, so that’s really more about you.”

How protective were you of these words?

Joe Hill: “Well, I don’t know that I have to be protective of the words. If NOS4A2 comes out, is a huge hit, everyone loves it, it won’t make a single word of my book better. If someone takes a story and makes a bad film out of it, it won’t really make a single word of my book worse. I told my version of this story and one of the reasons I tried not to be too much underfoot with Jami is this is her version of the story.

I think in some ways, there are some themes in the book and some aspects of the characters that she was able to connect with more strongly than I could when I worked on the book. I’m very lucky she wanted to take it on.”

How much of the novel does season one cover?

Jami O’Brien: “About 1/3.”

So three seasons at least?

Jami O’Brien: “Talk to AMC.”

Joe Hill: “I was thinking more six seasons and a movie, but we could start with three seasons.”

Zachary Quinto as Charlie Manx in NOS4A2′ (Photo Credit: Zach Dilgard / AMC)

What was Jami’s take on Joe’s take on vampire mythology?

Jami O’Brien: “I don’t know how to talk about vampires generally, but I can talk about Charlie Manx a little bit. One of the things that I think that I loved in the book and that we really explore in the show is Manx’s connection to The Wraith, his car. The car itself, this sounds kind of cliche, but it’s really true, it is a character in the show and there are moments in the show, just me watching the cuts come in where I’ve thought to myself, ‘You know, the car is just as big of a villain in the show as Manx is, really.'”

Joe Hill: “I kind of hate mustache-twirling villains. I really believe that everyone views themselves as the hero of their own story. I do think in a weird twisted way, you could look at the decisions Charlie has made and see how he would view himself because in his mind, he’s rescuing children from lives of suffering and unhappiness. And then as he takes them to Christmasland, he gradually drains all their hate and regret and sorrow and grief. All that comes out of them and when Charlie is done with them, there’s nothing left but happiness, innocence and teeth.

In a way, when you think about childhood, you think shouldn’t that be enough? Happiness and innocence sounds great. The thing about a kid who is innocent, I think we over-idealize innocence in a lot of ways in our culture because an innocent child will rip the wings off a butterfly and laugh about it, set fire to ants and have no idea that he’s causing another living creature to suffer. It’s our regrets, our sorrows, our guilt that makes us complete functioning human beings. If you can’t feel sorrow and regret, you’re not an angel. You’re a sociopath. Charlie has this vision of saving children and bringing them to a place of complete never-ending happiness. From a certain point of view that does sound heroic but when you get close to it, actually it’s kinda monstrous.”

Jami O’Brien: “And it also allows him to live forever and stay young.”

Joe Hill: “Plus, he’s grafting off their spirits. In some basic way, he’s using them to recharge.”

Any plans for additional books?

Joe Hill: “It could go 30 seasons. By the last season, Vic could be in an electric scooter, cruising through the supermarket. I do kind of feel like all the books, except for The Fireman, sort of take place in the same universe. I sort of articulated an idea of the supernatural in NOS4A2 that I’ve revisited in other stories and will probably continue to revisit in the future. I don’t know about a formal sequel in terms of in print but we did talk about some stuff, some offshoots from the book that we might get into, that if we did get into I would consider canon. Like still, but can’t say too much about it because that’s so far downstream.”

Would you suggest someone read the book first?

Joe Hill: “I think the best thing you could do is you want to get the book and you want to get copies for your friends because you’re going to want to talk about it with them. But then I think the best thing you could do is watch the show as it comes out and then preorder the DVD. The thing is, the show is so fleeting. It’s over and done and you really almost want to be able to explore the scenes frame by frame. So that’s how I would begin. Begin with multiple copies of the book and then move on to multiple copies of the DVD.”

Are there others like Charlie?

Joe Hill: “Wait and see.”

Jami O’Brien: “Tune in.”

Is Vic his nemesis?

Jami O’Brien: “I don’t think that either Vic or Charlie would consider the other one their nemesis. I think that they are both people who have extraordinary gifts that come with costs. And their gifts ultimately put them in conflict. But just from a character standpoint, I don’t think Charlie Manx thinks that Vic McQueen is his nemesis. I think he thinks that she is intriguing and potentially dangerous.

And I think that Vic probably doesn’t see Manx as her nemesis either. I think that she sees him as definitely dangerous and someone she has to deal with.”

Joe Hill: “I feel like Manx feels like there’s one scenario where Vic could actually be of use to him and if she can’t be of use to him, she can be a speedbump.”

Jami O’Brien: “She has an extraordinary gift.”

Is there a meaning to all the overhead shots?

Jami O’Brien: “That was thanks to our director, Kari Scogland, and our director of photography for that episode, Martin Algren. I love those overhead shots because I really think that it sets a mood and gives us a sense of New England.

It’s funny, if you tune in, you’ll see that we come back to those shots as the series progresses and you will see the seasons change. Oddly, they seem to line up, which wasn’t our intention but it was a happy accident, they also seem to line up thematically with what’s going on with Vic in the story.”