Back in March, I had the immense pleasure of attending the press junket for NOS4A2 where I got to hear the cast and crew speak about bringing Joe Hill’s terrifying novel to life. The series centers around an immortal “vampire” named Charlie Manx (Zachary Quinto) who feeds off the souls of children but runs into trouble when a young woman named Vic (Ashleigh Cummings) discovers she has a dangerous gift that could threaten his entire existence. Speaking on the new adaptation was showrunner Jami O’Brien, along with author Joe Hill, where they discussed the challenges of adapting the novel to screen as well as what fans can expect when tuning in to the new series.
Translating a book to screen is never an easy task but in the case of NOS4A2, showrunner Jami O’Brien wanted to make sure certain elements from the book were presented properly. “Obviously we wanted the bridge to be pretty spectacular because it’s pretty spectacular in the book,” remarks O’Brien. “That was probably the biggest challenge for production, to make sure that we got right. There were three pieces of the bridge that are practical [including] a lot of the interior which is a testament to our VFX team. I told them they weren’t going to get any props for this because no one was gonna know.”
The other element that was even more important to get right was the character of Charlie Manx. “In terms of Charlie Manx that was a collaboration between the book, myself, Zachary [Quinto], our first block director Kari Skogland, and Joel Harlow, who did the special effects makeup” explained O’Brien. The big conversation that we all had about it early on was that Charlie Manx is a man first and foremost. He’s not actually a vampire in the way that we typically think about vampires. He doesn’t have pointy ears and he’s not non-human. So anything that looks horrific about him really comes from [him] being a hundred and thirty-five years old.” Bringing Manx to life wasn’t the easiest process considering all the special effect makeup that was required. “Joel Harlow is really a genius,” explains O’Brien. “He would give us different looks and then it was really about making Zachary [Quinto] comfortable so that the makeup wasn’t something that would obscure his acting.”
When it comes to NOS4A2, most fans would agree that not only is it Hill’s best work, but also the most relatable, especially in regards to the character of Vic. When talking about why this book was chosen for a television series as opposed to his other works, Joe stated, “I think we just responded to who had the passion and who connected with the material and felt like they could do something exciting.” Furthermore, he elaborated on why NOS4A2 was better suited for a series as opposed to a film stating, “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 and compassion. The way that great horror works is you fall in love with some of the characters and they get put through the ringer or the meat grinder – sometimes literally. On TV, you have ten hours to fall in love with the character, you have so much more to explore whereas in a movie you really only have a few minutes to start to care for someone before moving on to other things. I kind of like that we have a little more room to breathe on a TV show, I think that’s special. And of course, we are in this era where we can take risks on TV that you couldn’t imagine taking 10 years ago.”
For horror fans, one of the best aspects of the book, and now the series, is the sense of dread that builds from the moment the show starts, becoming a constant thread throughout the entire series. “I think that sense of dread, for me, is the whole book. Those are my favorite types of scares, the kind of tension of what is on the other side, or the other end of the bridge, or where does this highway go, or what’s waiting for Daniel when he gets out of the car,” explains O’Brien. “One of the things I love about the book is it also has this great sense of humor that unfolds in a way so that you’re never ahead of it. As you learn more and more about the characters, the tension is ratcheted up and we wanted to be faithful to that.”
As the person responsible for creating that palpable tension within the book, Joe was quick to agree with Jami’s sentiments. “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. 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 ten stories above the street to rescue a cat. And then they’re calling out to get the cat, and then they get to it and the cat scratches them in the face. That’s hard to look away from and it is a lot more interesting than just someone walking down a dark hallway [where something jumps out] which of course is going to make you jump.”
So what can fans of the book expect from the new series in terms of deviations from the original work? “I think that when I set out to adapt this book it was from a place of loving the book, so my process has always been how can we tell this story and get as much of the book actually into our show as we can,” explains O’Brien. “For those of you that have read the book, you know it jumps around in time and we are at 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 the main character. Most of the deviation that we’ve made from the book has 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.”
With NOS4A2, Joe Hill has completely taken on a new vampire mythology with Charlie Manx. Hearing Joe Hill speak on Manx, it’s apparent that he deeply cares about the character and the juxtaposition between the unspeakable acts he commits and the reasoning behind them. “I kind of hate moustache-twirling villains. I really believe that everyone views themselves as the hero to their own story. I do think in a twisted way when you look at the decisions Charlies has made in taking children from suffering and unhappiness to Christmasland, he believes he’s doing the right thing by gradually draining them of all their hate, regret, and sorrow. All that comes out of them and when Charlie is done with them there’s nothing left but happiness, innocence, and teeth.” Find out more about why Charlie Manx is a different kind of vampire each Sunday at 10/9c on AMC and make sure to check out our review of NOS4A2 here.