If you’ve been keeping your eyes on the TV scape the past decade or so, you will probably recognize Elizabeth Marvel. She’s most known for playing Solicitor General Heather Dunbar on “House of Cards” and President Elizabeth Keane on “Homeland”. Like Marvel, Robert Wisdom is another TV regular and should immediately be recognizable to fans of “The Wire” and “Prison Break” for playing Howard “Bunny” Colvin and Norman “Lechero” St. John respectively. Now the two performers have come together to embrace their more supernatural side in Hulu’s HELSTROM.
For the release of HELSTROM, I got a chance to chat with Elizabeth Marvel and Robert Wisdom, where we discussed their familiarity with the source material, what it was like bringing their respective characters to life, and what they are excited for fans to see in the series.
Synopsis: In Hulu’s HELSTROM, Daimon and Ana Helstrom are the son and daughter of a mysterious and powerful serial killer. The siblings have a complicated dynamic as they track down the terrorizing worst of humanity – each with their attitude and skills.
Thank you both so much for taking the time to speak with me today. Prior to filming, were you familiar with the source material?
Elizabeth Marvel: I was. I have a 14-year-old son who’s been reading comics since he learned to read. So the moment I told him about HELSTROM, he pulled out Son of Satan and Ghost Rider and Dr. Strange and all of the branches of the universe and started schooling me, though I had already kind of been poking around and reading over his shoulder. I got deeply immersed.
Robert Wisdom: Yeah, I kind of jumped on a moving train. I had [unintelligible] out of heavy comic stuff and kind of dove into the world of magic, the occult, esoteric knowledge and so that’s kind of what I drew on more than the source material. It wasn’t easy for me to make my own connection with the source material, good and evil and the dark and light, so I just used that to feed me all this stuff that we saw in the Marvel Universe. The Sam Jackson character gave me enough of an understanding, as you see, then I could just do my thing and they wrote a great character for me.
Can you elaborate on your characters, Victoria and Caretaker, and how they relate to one another in HELSTROM?
Elizabeth Marvel: It’s interesting because we don’t cross paths very often in the show. But when we do, it’s pretty deep and I think it’s because Victoria and Caretaker are both caretakers; they both tend to others and oversee their wellbeing. Even though I’m locked away, I’m still deeply involved in overseeing my children and in a very nurturing manner, on one hand. [Victoria and Caretaker] are constantly playing with fire and navigating deep, deep caverns of darkness so they have a lot in common and a lot of sympathy. They’re both survivors of profound trauma, which unites them as well.
Robert Wisdom: The one thing you can count on in this show is that if you ever see a scene with two people, you’re actually seeing it with four people. You never know what battle lines are being drawn. You never know where intentions are meeting and where they go apart. So there’s always this kind of mushroom cloud of questions that come out of the encounters and what the [characters] get to project [unintelligible] look for clues and to see what’s actually happening or being said here. That was always fascinating for us as well.
Elizabeth, you play the matriarch of the Helstrom family who is plagued by demons. How was it playing a character that, at times, needed to be shown as possessed? Robert, when it comes to the role of Caretaker, what was your favorite part about bringing that character to life?
Elizabeth Marvel: I loved it. It’s true of all of us that we have a rainbow range of emotions and potentials. It’s just that in this embodiment of Victoria the volume gets turned up to 11, so that was fantastic. It’s really just two sides of the same coin that I’m playing which, as a woman, we don’t get that opportunity all the time. So I grabbed ahold of it when it came my way.
Robert Wisdom: I just found myself jumping in on the deep end and trying to figure out what not to reveal too quickly about Caretaker, and there’s a lot to hold back. I think that’s the thing that really made it interesting for me. To hold back a lot through seven, eight episodes and then start to get… But personally, what fascinated me were the objects I got to pay attention to during that time. My story is told through objects and so I just put my focus on that and then let the other psychological stuff follow its own course.
Lastly, what are you most excited about in terms of what fans are going to see with the show?
Elizabeth Marvel: I think just the whole new wing of Marvel horror is going to be awesome for fans to experience. I think people are hungry for it and it’s arriving at the right moment. But I also think that our take on horror is much more in the realm of like The Shining. It’s a domestic family story about a family that’s coming apart and when that family dynamic comes apart, it reaches out into the supernatural realm.
Robert Wisdom: I think that supernatural is a thing, I think that’s so potent and audiences love the supernatural. I mean, I got to testify to that on another show. I think that’s the hook [as well as] differing from a super-power show where you just see a lot of effects. Here it’s just like watching a detective show played by a fucked up family (laughs).