Just a year after my first visit to the set of “Hemlock Grove” I touch down in Toronto to check out progress on the successful Netflix horror show’s second season. I figure it will basically be the same trip, but as I get in the van to take me into town I realize that nothing is the same. In December of 2012 we were staying an hour outside of the city in the middle of nowhere, now we’re put up right in the middle of the city. Production has moved from the small town of Oshawa to a studio in the city proper.
That’s not the only thing that’s changed. In fact, aside from the core cast and the general vibe of the show, everything has shifted somewhat. Of course, “Hemlock Grove” will still be very recognizable to fans of the property. The titular town is as weird as ever. The White Tower still looms over everything with nefarious mysteries lurking inside. Peter (Landon Liboiron), Roman (Bill Skarsgård), Olivia (Famke Janssen), Norman (Dougray Scott), Dr. Pryce (Joel de la Fuente) and the other denizens are still around, even if some alliances have died while others were forged.
But the people behind the curtain are different and thus, almost everything else is. That’s the central takeaway here – everything is not exactly as it was, and people who may not have loved the show’s first season are encouraged to come back and see if this suits them a bit better (I, for one, am encouraged). Author/creator Brian McGreevy and showrunner Lee Shipman are off to other endeavors and have been replaced with a whole new team. The new showrunner is Charles “Chic” Eglee (“Dexter”, “The Shield”) and accompanying him are a cadre of new writers. Season 1 fans aren’t getting left out in the cold, but things might be a bit more inclusive for people who like a more propulsive narrative with their atmosphere.
Bill Skarsgård gives a frank rundown on the changes. “Season 2 became something where they brought in all of these new people. So there was an adjustment period when we started when you’re like, “okay so these are your ideas and this is what we’re doing.” But after one or two episodes I was completely in with this new trajectory of the show. It’s been cool and we’ve had amazing directors this year too that come from feature films and music videos so it’s really visual. People that aren’t used to doing television… from what I’ve seen of the show this year, it looks really cool. At least visually. It’s quite a striking show this year and I can’t wait for it to come out.”
That’s not the only thing that’s changed for Skarsgård or his character, Roman. He’s moved out of Olivia’s stately home and into swank, modern new digs. We take a tour of his apartment, which is dominated by browns, blacks and a sparse decor. Sleek art. The bedroom of a true bachelor. Given Roman’s new Upir status I wonder about the jar full of sprouted garlic in the kitchen. Skarsgård says it doesn’t actually come into play, “No, I just saw that the other day!”
Olivia has also moved out of her old, stately home and has taken up residency in a smaller cottage. Famke Janssen explains that, “what happened to me at the end of last season. It didn’t end very well, I wasn’t in the best of shape so I needed to do some rehabilitation to come back to a more vibrant version of myself. So that took moving to another place for a temporary – a temporary move to another environment.” She’s also pining for her son, despite the fact that Roman wants nothing to do with her. She’s very upset. “I mean, she’s been a terrible mother but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t want to be a better one in the future.”
Landon Liboiron’s Peter Rumancek’s living situation hasn’t changed much. We walk through the set embodying the house where he’s staying with his cousin and it’s dank, dark and very “gypsy.” There is some warmth to it here, as the set designers have successfully indicated that poverty doesn’t necessarily smother the soul. Though it’s not like Peter even wants to be back in town at all. Liboiron explains, “ The main thing that brought him back was a situation with his Mom. He basically had no choice. It was kind of a life and death decision to come back. There’s also a force unbeknownst to him that keeps pulling him back.”
Though, when it comes to Peter, we know what you gorehounds are really thinking. Are they trying to top that amazing werewolf transformation from last year? “Oh yeah. If they used a slingshot last year they’re using a catapult this year. They really amped up the fun stuff.”
Visual effect artist Matt Whelan elaborates, “Last year was a really good example of things people haven’t seen before, specifically the idea of eating the skin and the transformation being cyclical. That lore has been worked out even a bit further and investigated in ways people won’t be used to seeing. I think in terms of visual effects and practical effects, it’s still the same kind of gags we’ve pulled but because of the freedom to do things a little cheaper and a little faster we’ve been able to do it in slightly more creative ways.” Even more encouraging? Their touchstone is (very rightfully) An American Werewolf In London, and they recognize it will take a lot of work to top it.
Werewolves aren’t the only creatures or effects in Hemlock Grove, where both CG and good old fashioned practical applications intermingle to create a disturbing array of stuff (what looks like a large hairy tumor about the size of my head sits next to my can of orange juice at the roundtable). Effects artist Patrick Baxter explains this thing that’s making lunch so difficult to eat, “Those two items actually have bladders and pulsate and do more than just sit there statically and be kind of gross.”
Throughout the day we move in shifts, rotating from interviews to trips down to set. Space is tight so journalists are split into separate teams to observe shooting. One of the most impressive spaces is the interior of the White Tower. Roman is now in charge of the Godfrey Institute, with an office at the top of the tower just underneath its large sign. The office, like his new apartment, is opulent yet somehow spartan. It’s only when we get into the bowels of the building (in reality, just a few steps away) that things get super duper creepy.
But before we get there we start to wonder what it’s like being a new captain on a (slightly) older ship. To that degree we grill new showrunner Charles “Chic” Eglee. Are these changes in part due to some of the reaction towards the first season? “ Well I have kind of made it a point in my career to not really follow what people are writing about your show. Because if you read the good reviews to feel good about yourself, then you’re obliged to read the bad reviews and feel miserable about yourself and contemplate suicide. So I honestly was aware of kind of a zeitgeisty reaction to the show last season, but it didn’t really inform what we did this season. We took the opportunities that were presented by last season and then let the story go where it took us and where it took the writer’s room.”
Eglee is also unmoored from fidelity towards McGreevy’s book. “I haven’t read Brian’s book. I look forward to it at some point, but after I finish working on the show. When I was running “Dexter” I came onto the show at a point when they had exhausted the underlying material. They had finished the first book. And I remember somebody, one of the higher-ups from somewhere, saying “oh my God! What are we going to do? We’re out of story!” And it was just the most perplexing thing in the world for me to hear that. We’ll do what every storyteller does, we’ll make shit up! The table was set last year by the novel and the show and we’ve taken that into the future.”
Perhaps most importantly, there’s a “Big Bad” this year to provide an additional narrative throughline. An antagonist whose season long arc conflicts with and threatens our protagonists (such as they are). “That’s a motor and an engine for the show. I think we derive [a sense of] event from that. There is a larger scope. Things certainly exist beyond the confines… everything takes place behind the proscenium of Hemlock Grove but there are larger forces impinging upon the place. A bit of the outside world is being invited in.” As far as what the “Big Bad” is, we’re not yet sure.
But there’s certainly some nefarious business going on. In the bowels of the White Tower he happen upon a lab where Dr. Pryce is doing some most unfortunate experiments. That pulsating tumor at lunch? Nothing compared to a flayed out screaming cat with thin tendrils (think slimy glass noodles or just look at the pic below) in open repose right before you.
It’s here, in a room like this, that we observe the final bit of the day’s shooting. Roman, in a hospital gown and hooked up to an IV drip, shuffles hurriedly to some type of machine. We don’t know why, but it seems urgent. He seems sick, in need. Then, he hooks a tube affixed to his stomach into the machine and receives, very much like a junkie, his fix. The blood.
I’m not sure what episode this footage is in, or what it leads up to. The show is in uncharted territory. As Skarsgård puts it, “ Last year we had the book. This year every episode has been completely brand new. Unless they tell us something, which they have done vaguely as we’re going along. I have some vague ideas about what’s going on. But I just read the last episode now and I was completely surprised.”
Hemlock Grove Season 2 debuts on Netflix on Friday, July 11th. Even if you’ve seen the first season, you might be completely surprised as well.