Early last month, BookCon 2019 held the highly anticipated panel for NOS4A2, the new AMC show based on the novel by Joe Hill. Joe Hill and showrunner Jami O’Brien wowed the crowd with clips and quips before letting the audience take over. The panel started off with the trailer for the exciting new series. Zachary Quinto is absolutely creepy as Charlie Manx, while Ashleigh Cummings has just the right combination of toughness and vulnerability.
Check out details from the panel here below.
Moderator: First day that you met Jami to talk about doing the show, what was the first thing that jumped out at you?
Joe Hill: It was a while before we physically met. The book came out in 2013, and a year or two afterward, AMC started fooling around with it as a possible TV show. And I wanna say it was in 2017. AMC has a methodical process. They know the game and they know how to do it. In 2017, we think we have a great opening script by Jami O’Brien, who we want to be the showrunner. I started reading, and early on we have Vic McQueen, and Vic is in this palatial bedroom and she’s looking through college brochures, the brochure for Yale, the brochure for Brown. And a friend walks in and says, “Vic! Oh my god, I haven’t seen you in 3 years!” And suddenly we realize that this isn’t Vic’s bedroom. She’s in there cleaning the place. She’s actually working as a housekeeper with her mother. The room represents all the things that Vic is never going to get to have. This is in the script and it’s about one paragraph long. It shows such a depth and power touch with character. I was instantly seized. Of course the rest of the script is brilliant and she pulled together a great writers room for the whole first season.
Moderator: Jami talk about some of the differences?
Jami O’Brien: Before I ever spoke with him, I wrote a script and sent it to AMC. It was kind of a job interview – the script. I remember so clearly that one of the things that Joe said to me was, “There’s nothing scarier than a candy cane in July.” We wrote it on top of one of the whiteboards on the first day.
Joe Hill: That quote I actually ripped that off from Lon Chaney’s “There’s nothing funny about a clown at midnight.” A lot of how good horror works is juxtaposition, by taking something that you find comforting and heartwarming, and then ripping the rug out from under it. Everyone loves Christmas music in December, but if you’re out in the woods in the middle of the summer, and you’re a little bit lost, and you come across a derelict shack and the windows are all boarded up and there’s flies buzzing around the place, and watery Christmas music coming from inside, you’re gonna turn around and walk the other way real quick.
Moderator: One of the big changes from the book, the book spans decades in the life of Vic. The show is initially gonna take place in one period of her life. Was that part of your script from the get go?
Jami O’Brien: Yes, the portion of the book that covers Vic’s childhood, I loved, because it sets off her family dynamic. It allows us to see her encountering her powers for the first time. It’s also the first time she encounters Charlie Manx and so it’s the first time that we see the thing I love most about her, which is her tremendous courage. I didn’t want to either lose that portion of the book, nor did I want to play it as a flashback with a child actor. I wanted to see our Vic play that portion of the story. The first time she sees the bridge, she’s 18. It’s still a similar situation. Something’s had to change because the age changed.
Next they showed us a clip – the scene where Vic goes across the bridge. The moderator explained that Vic is coming into a unique occult power. She is able to cross bridges between lost and found, so whatever she comes across, it’s always waiting for her across the bridge. She eventually goes across looking for trouble. The moderator read the same scene from the book and noted that Jami O’Brien replicated that.
Jami O’Brien: I can put that right on screen right away. It’s really easy to copy from book to script. Harder to convince 150 people. A magical bridge encased in static… everybody has a different idea of what that is. It was a lot of conversations with the production designer, the effects designer, etc. We were working on that fairly recently. We had a very talented sound designer. For her, it was an opportunity to be really creative, so she brought in some really wild stuff that sounded like outer space a little bit and had music playing. I just kept trying to steer everybody back to the book because I felt like it had to be on Earth.
Moderator: When you see that on screen, does it match?
Joe Hill: I grew up in Bangor, Maine in the 1980s. There was a bridge. My friends and I dared each other. It was a rickety thing that smelled like piss and full of bats. When you rode across, the whole bridge would shake, and you could see the river rushing underneath. One of the strangest things was stepping on that bridge was like stepping into my imagination, but stepping back in the past.
Hill and O’Brien went on to explain the complicated characters of Vic and Charlie. One of the differences between Vic and Charlie is Vic’s immense capacity for empathy and compassion. Charlie, when you hear his mission, he has spent 100 years cruising America’s backroads. In his view, he’s saving children from abusive monsters. Their innocence is eternally preserved. When you hear it that way, he’s the hero. Part of the problem is Charlie has this a loose definition of abuse. When Charlie looks at mothers, none are a decent person. Zachary Quinto was very interested in exploring that. He was very invested in Charlie’s mission as framed positively.
We watched the scary first 5 minutes of Episode 1. And then it was time for the audience to chime in.
Q: What made the 1938 Wraith such a perfect horror vehicle?
Joe Hill: It’s called a wraith. I lived in Seacoast, New Hampshire, in a small town that has a classic car show every weekend in the summer. And at some point I saw an old gray car and the license plate was some version of gray ghost and that’s scary. And it sort of stuck in my head and I think that eventually evolved into Charlie.
Geeks of Doom: As you mentioned, kids are creepy. As a kid who grew up in the ’80s, Salem’s Lot, the kid floating outside the window… as Stephen King’s son, growing up, was that scary thing for you, vampire-wise?
Joe Hill: Same thing. That kid floating outside the window f***ed me up.
Q: Any other books set in some other inscape in America share that theme?
Joe Hill: I have about 120 pages in a new novel, features several characters that have Vic and Charlie’s power. All the stories take place in the same universe except Full Throttle and You Are Released, because it was about the end of the world.
Q: The casting process… do you go into that with ideas? And how do you cast the children?
Jami O’Brien: We got really lucky with the kids. I don’t think there’s a dud in the bunch.
Joe Hill: There are 4 key children and all of them are really great.
Jami O’Brien: And that was just an audition process. We found some really fantastic kids. In terms of casting Manx… this is an ageless character. There are a lot of phenomenal older actors, we’ll have to Benjamin Button them down at some point. We needed a younger man to do it. Thankfully, Zach was available. We sent him a script. Casting Vic, we auditioned a lot of young ladies who were really talented. Ashleigh just knocked our socks off. She has to have badassness to her when we meet her vulnerability. Ash has great combo of both.
Joe Hill: We caught lightning in the bottle.
Joe Hill ended the panel by saying, “We all belong in Christmasland and you belong there too.”
NOS4A2 airs on Sunday nights at 10pm ET on AMC.
NOS4A2: ‘A Fight For Their Souls’ Season Premiere Official Trailer | New AMC Series
The cast and creators explore how the supernatural powers of Vic McQueen and Charlie Manx put the duo on a collision course and why our own imaginations are sometimes the most terrifying. Don’t miss the series premiere Sunday, June 2 at 10/9c.