LOCKE & KEY, the comic created by Joe Hill and illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez, has been through the wringer as far as adaptation stories go. The fantasy and horror series was passed from Fox to MTV to Hulu, before finally finding a home at Netflix.
Now that it has finally found a home – Hill, who is the son of prolific horror writer Stephen King, joked that if they don’t score a second season of LOCKE & KEY on Netflix, “We are going to be using the house as an Airbnb. So look for that.”
Thankfully, that’s not an issue quite yet, as Netflix is still fully in celebration mode as far as LOCKE & KEY is concerned. In fact, we were able to attend a special press event at Netflix HQ, where Hill, Rodriguez, and showrunners Carlton Cuse and Meredith Averill opened up about how this wildly imaginative series got made.
What made LOCKE & KEY catch your attention, to begin with?
Carlton Cuse: One of the things that I think attracted both of us was it was this kind of cross-genre storytelling. There was a murder mystery. There was a family drama. There was a coming of age story. There’s horror. There’s fantasy. So for Meredith and I, it was about putting all of those together in a way that makes sense.
You said, similar to The Haunting of Hill House that this has fantasy elements, but it really is a family drama. Is that something that drew you to Locke & Key?
Meredith Averill: I was contacted about this opportunity almost two years ago, and I hadn’t read the comic before, and to be honest, I hadn’t read many comics prior to this experience at all… But when I read LOCKE & KEY, it was just so visually and emotionally compelling.
As far as adapting this show, both narratively and visually, what sort of conversations did you have with Carlton and Meredith?
Gabriel Rodriguez: Something that we discussed is that we understand that when you tell a story in a different media, you have to play with different rules, different logic, [and] with different storytelling tools. It’s like working in a different language… From the get-go, we were very open to letting them play with this universe and mythology in the way they think better fit the vision they had for the show.
Were there also benefits to the jump from the medium of comic book to the screen?
Joe Hill: There are things you can only do on TV, like discover particular moments of human chemistry. And one of the things that I really think shines about the TV show, is this tremendous sense of fun that the actors are having… because the characters click so well together.
How about working with Netflix specifically?
Joe Hill: It’s all killer and no filler… When you do a TV show for network TV, it has to run a certain length, with a certain number of ad beats. But with Netflix, if you’ve got the perfect story, and it’s 35 minutes instead of 45. You don’t need to make it 45 minutes. You don’t need to find 10 minutes of filler to keep it going. You can actually tell the perfect story, at the perfect length.
Were you worried at all about honoring the story for the original fans of the comic?
Joe Hill: You want people who read and loved the comic to enjoy the show on its own terms, and to feel like the comic was honored and… all the good stuff from the comic is there. But you don’t want the complacency of feeling like they know what’s going to happen, ‘cause that’s just not fun.
Gabriel Rodriguez: I haven’t seen a team of actors working so well since The Sopranos. At that level, I think – this family feels real, and is real… and when [someone] is not there, you feel their absence.
For this iteration of LOCKE & KEY, you moved more toward fantasy than horror elements. What else did you take away from the other iterations – Fox to MTV to Hulu – before it ended up on Netflix?
Carlton Cuse: I think there’s this fear that, if you tell a story about kids that it’s exclusionary, and only kids are going to watch it. But that’s just so disproved from everything from E.T. to Frozen to Harry Potter. I think Netflix certainly felt confident that we could tell a story about kids that would be a broad appeal show. And that was great.
Talk about bringing something like the famous head key panel scene from [Locke & Key Vol. 2] Head Games to life.
Carlton Cuse: We identified that early on as one of the biggest challenges because Gabriel had drawn this incredible splash panel of Bode’s (Jackson Robert Scott) head. And in a comic, you literally can open someone’s head like the hood of a car, you look inside – and that just felt –
Meredith Averill Horrifying.
Carlton Cuse: – really gruesome and impossible to do in a TV show. So we had to figure out how to translate that. We came up with this idea that we would have these doors that would lead into, sort of metaphoric interpretations of what each character’s head looked like inside… We were inspired a little bit by Inception, which was a movie about worlds within worlds.
Meredith Averill: Creatively, it’s been one of the most fun things in the room – when we get to have a day that’s like, okay, let’s talk about what Kinsey’s head looks like.
What went into designing Kinsey’s fear monster?
Meredith Averill: Well, we actually cast this dancer as the double, because we wanted the way that she moves to be very fluid and creepy.
Carlton Cuse: Working with Guillermo Del Toro on The Strain, I had an opportunity to learn how he went about creature creation… She [the fear monster] was a dancer, who looked kind of like Kinsey. Then, we took face molds from Emilia [Jones], the actress who plays Kinsey, and we applied those to this dancer double. We modified it additionally in post-production. We repainted aspects of the character’s face, frame by frame, in visual effects. It was very complicated.
Did you ever play around with the idea of making [Kinsey’s fear monster] small enough to trap in a Coke bottle?
Meredith Averill: We felt like that worked so well in the comic, but I think for our purposes, we liked that she was sort of life-size, so she could have these battles with our kids.
Carlton Cuse: We were worried if she was too small, it would be jokey, and not actually emotionally affecting.
Can you talk about how the keys work differently for the kids and adults?
Meredith Averill: We have this theme throughout LOCKE & KEY that adults and kids don’t see the world in the same way, and aren’t communicating to each other about the things that are going on. And if they can only communicate, and get on the same page, life would be better.
So we love the idea that when Tyler (Connor Jessup) goes into the mirror with Nina (Darby Stanchfield), their eyes are tricking them, and they have to listen to the sound of their voices and communicate in order to save each other.
Talk about what you wanted to achieve with the Key House?
Joe Hill: Gabe is an architect by training.
Gabriel Rodriguez: When I got the chance to work on the story and Joe pitched this idea – we knew from the get-go that Key House was going to be a full-rendered character in the story. I faced it as an architectural project challenge.
I designed a house, started with building a 3D model that I used as a reference. I had this very unpractical idea of making the house as uneven and asymmetrical as possible, from every point of view. Then I did the entire blueprint of the house, as an actual architectural project. So we could have this highly detailed battleground from all of the action that was going to happen in the comic.
New generations are becoming harder to scare. What’s different about writing scary stories today?
Joe Hill: Is anything different? Isn’t it always about, you know, you get some characters that you love, and then you back ‘em into the dark basement, and see if they can fight their way out? It’s always about that. That’s not good horror fiction. That’s just good fiction.
Gabriel Rodriguez: I can’t think of something scarier than growing up, and I think that’s something so universal and so visceral and so real for everyone… The creepiest moment in my life, as a child, was when I realized that adults don’t behave like adults.
Joe Hill: The two weapons you can use to push back against fear is a sense of wonder and a sense of curiosity. And I think those are things the show really leans into.
Carlton Cuse: In a world that is scary and alienating, it’s great to escape into a story where you have characters you care about and who care about each other. The essence of the story is really, in the face of these things that are horrifying and scary, watching characters who rely on each other to find their way out of problems. That’s very reassuring.
Escape into the first [and hopefully not last] season of LOCKE & KEY, streaming on Netflix now! Curious about our thoughts? Check out our review of the series here.