Eli Roth and Landon Liboiron discuss new horror series Hemlock Grove
'It takes all those gothic characters and rips them open which makes them a lot more raw and real'
Hemlock Grove is the new TV series form horror maestro Eli Roth (the twisted mind that gave us Cabin Fever and Hostel). It’s also one of the first original productions form streaming site Netflix. We caught up with Roth and star Landon Liboiron to find out more.
Eli, this is the first thing you’ve directed that you didn’t also write – how was that experience for you?
Eli Roth: It was a great experience. It’s also my first time working in television and I was very interested to see how I responded to the material. I wouldn’t have done it unless I really loved the material. I think Brian McGreevy wrote a superb novel and it was exciting for me to get to create a world. I had a fantastic cast to work with; certainly Landon, Bill Skarsgård, Famke Janssen – everybody. It was a terrific experience. I would certainly do it again, but only if it was something that I really felt passionate about.
Could you tell us a bit more about what you liked about the novel Hemlock Grove?
ER: It was actually the producer, Eric Newman [who co-produced The Last Exorcism and The Man with the Iron Fists with Roth], who brought it to me. We were looking for a television project, which is something that I’ve always wanted to do. People had been asking me to do a horror series and the conflict I came up against was that first of all, I’d never get to do it with the level of intensity or violence that I wanted, but also, what makes horror great is that you can kill characters at any time, and what makes television work is that you have characters that come back week after week. Watching recent television like Game of Thrones and Boardwalk Empire really showed me how you can have something that plays much more like a long movie, rather than a week after week television series.
I read the novel and it really reminded me of some sort of monstrous Twin Peaks. It was very much about the death of old steel town America and what rose from the ashes was this biotech world. I liked the way that Brian McGreevy went to the root mythology of every monster. He really researched upír, which is the root mythology of where vampires come from, and varghulf, which is where werewolves come from. He understood what Mary Shelley and Bram Stoker based their writing on. He was writing at that root level, weaving it into a terrific, fun mystery. I also loved the characters, Roman [played by Skarsgård] and Peter [Liboiron]. Landon is such a terrific actor and he got to show so many different sides with this character of Peter. It was just a fantastic world to dive into.
Do you think that Netflix not having the demand of network executives meant you could be a little more extreme with what you were going for?
ER: With Netflix, they adhere to the same ratings of their movies, so I knew going in that I wasn’t going to be able to have incredible graphic violence, but it wasn’t completely necessary in a lot of the scenes. We knew right off the bat what we were signing up for. What was exciting was the idea that every episode comes on at once. You don’t have to worry about getting the audience back next week and making sure there’s a cliff hanger. It really affected the way we could tell the story and it was fun. We didn’t have to worry about necessarily setting everything up right away because we knew people were going to be digesting it in blocks. Someone might want to watch the whole thing in one day – which is fine, it’s up to them – but it really freed us creatively.
Landon Liboiron: I agree. The thing that I definitely didn’t miss about shooting for regular TV is that when you’re reading the script, you’re not ramping up for each commercial break; each episode flowed exactly the way it needed to onto the next. It was very liberating to be able to treat the material almost like a very long play. That was pretty cool.
Did you enjoy working in the longer multiple episode format rather than the two hours a movie offers? Did it give you more time to explore character and story?
LL: It really was like shooting a very long 13-hour movie. What was really cool about shooting the season of Hemlock Grove was that we got to explore each character from the book in more depth than the book itself. Each character has more energy and life to them, and you can develop the back-story and learn more about each and every character as the season progresses. Shooting it that way was awesome because it’s such a great ensemble cast – each character has so much to bring to the story. I thought that part was really cool.
ER: When you’re making a television show, it’s very much about the story and the arc of the show. It’s not about any one particular episode or any one director. We had a terrific team – Deran Serafian and the other directors we worked with, and of course Brian McGreevy and Lee Shipman [writer], Mark Verheiden the creative overseer. It was interesting that you could direct something in one episode, but later in episode seven, you realise that something’s not clear because you didn’t set it up properly in episode two, so you go back and add it in. You’re really making this collaborative effort – the trick is to maintain one tone and one creative voice, but of course, things evolve and you discover new things as you’re shooting. You find yourself saying: ‘Oh! I wish we had done that in episode one.’ But because the show’s not aired yet, you can actually go back and change something. We went back and made minor Band-Aid repairs and alterations to the earlier episodes – it was a really fun way of making the show.
How do you feel about the ‘Twilightification’ of horror? Do you think the success of those movies has made it easier to find an audience for a show like Hemlock Grove?
ER: I think Twilight obviously appeals to a massive amount of fans for a very particular reason. It’s the evolution of the genre. I think it’s great. There’s always going to be someone coming up with a new spin or twist – whether it’s Paranormal Activity re-inventing the haunted house movie or Twilight re-inventing the vampire genre, mixing it with a romance novel. It’s funny to me when I see people complaining, going: ‘Vampires can’t be out in the day!’ It’s like an older generation. I actually go to those movies at midnight on their opening night, and it’s an incredible experience. Those theatres are packed with teenage girls and married women who’ve escaped the husband for the night. I went with my girlfriend to see Twilight, I was like, ‘I want to understand what this is’. Every single screen in the multiplex was completely sold out. It was a frenzy. People were going crazy. You just felt the energy and I thought, how can you not love this? You also feel that now, four, five years on, those fans are starting to grow up. They’re going to want to see stories with similar themes – not just werewolves and vampires – all kinds of monsters. But done in an adult way. Those kids are going to grow up and they’re going to want something much harder.
LL: I went to an opening of Twilight too and it was what I could imagine a Beatles concert to be like. They were going absolutely crazy. But what I love so much about Hemlock Grove is that, of course, it was a vampire/werewolf thing – it had to be really cool, unique material for it to be something new and interesting. I think that’s what Hemlock Grove is. It takes all those gothic, folklore characters and rips them open which makes them a lot more raw and real. That’s what really drew me to the project.
Do you think that TV is providing a new way for young writers/directors to get noticed as opposed to creating their own budget film, as you did with Cabin Fever?
ER: Yeah, I think that there’s a great deal of freedom in how you can tell a story and what you can do with a show like Hemlock Grove that you didn’t have before in traditional network television. Netflix is presenting this fantastic alternative to television and it does feel like there’s a sea-change now in the content that’s being made and the way it’s being digested and the demand for what people want. It feels like 10-15 years from now we’ll look back at this time as the moment when things really turned. I mean, it’s still hard now to get a movie that comes out in 2000 theatres, but now you have a show and it’s available in 30million homes.
What was it like working with Bill Skarsgård?
LL: Bill was actually one of the most fun actors that I’ve ever had the chance to work with in my age range. He’s an extremely talented and dedicated actor. He was always very prepared and he cared so much about the story and the characters. There was no fooling around with Bill; he definitely did all his work. He’s also one of those actors who you work with and feel excited to be able to watch the rest of his career as it goes on because you just know it’s going to be something great. We had so much fun rehearsing together, working with Eli and everyone else – it was such a creative collaboration on set and it was great fun working with Bill.
ER: I agree with everything Landon just said. And, by the way, everything I’m about to say about Bill could also apply to Landon as well. I couldn’t have gotten any luckier than to have two guys that were so dedicated, and yet so cool and so much fun. Right from the beginning, before we were even on set they were right into preparing their characters and bringing all kinds of great, crazy ideas. We would say that Bill was like the James Dean and Landon was like the Johnny Depp-type nut. It was just fantastic. They had such great respect for each other as actors. It’s wonderful when the actors are smart and get that the more you support the other actor the better everyone’s going to look. It was so easy to work with them because they gave everything to the role. No matter what was on the page, they always came to the set with a hundred new little ideas and ways to make it more interesting. It was terrific.
The idea of releasing something as a Netflix exclusive has been almost un-tried and un-tested, so what drew you to this method over the conventional TV route?
ER: I’m always excited to pioneer a new way of doing things. I remember when Cabin Fever was bought, Lionsgate had never done a wide-release horror movie, they only did four wide-releases a year. But they were so into it and so excited that I was much more inclined to go with them and it wound up being the right decision. The same thing happened with Netflix – they were really passionate about the material, and they wanted to go right to series. They have these incredible algorithms where they know exactly how many people are watching or renting your movies. I was on their radar of people who they wanted to get involved with. But what makes Netflix different - other than creatively, the fact that you can do the whole show, every episode comes out at once and you can watch it like a 13-hour movie – I love the interactivity of Netflix where you watch a show and at the end of an episode right away it’ll say: ‘If you liked this you can watch Cabin Fever or Hostel.’ I remember talking to the actors, basically saying that at the end of an episode of this show it will link to all of their other movies on Netflix. Which is great for people like Famke Janssen who has such an incredible back catalogue of movies. It’s a great way of expanding your fan base. There’s going to be a lot of people watching this show who have never seen my other films. So now, if they like the show they can just press a button and have it right there. It really combines the viewing experience and the interactivity. That’s how you really grow your fanbase.
LL: There’s been a lot of this vampire/werewolf thing going around lately, it’s very popular. When I first read the storyline, my first reaction was to ask myself whether it would be dangerous to do a werewolf/vampire film. But once I started reading it, it was such a page-turner. The script is so well-written and the characters are so incredibly deep and important. The story is very, very cool and it just made you want to know more and keep going. I agree that Netflix are choosing very good stories. That’s obviously true about House of Cards [another Netflix exclusive series starring Kevin Spacey]. It’s also cool because you can have the story without breaks. You can watch it as long as you want. So it was really cool to be able to work on a project like that.
Hemlock Grove is available on Netflix from Fri 19 Apr.