NB This interview discusses events in all ten episodes of Damien; it also references back to the original interview five weeks earlier which can be read here.
One area we didn’t tackle last time were the changes that happened when the episode order switched from six episodes to ten: was episode 10 pretty much what episode 6 would have been, or did you completely rebreak the story?
No, the first five episodes laid out exactly as we aired – for the most part. We did add some material. Episode 10, which culminates in what we call the Faustian bargain (Damien promising his soul; signing the contract with the Devil in his own blood, accepting his fate as the Anti-Christ) was always going to be the end of episode 6.
When I had the writers for the back half of the season, we talked about that. “Do we make episode 7 what happens next, or do we push that Faustian bargain to episode 10 and risk filler?” We ended up deciding that it was a big enough moment and it was a great character arc that we could push into even deeper and develop the characters. We would spend all that [extra] time on two things – further developing the characters and bringing them all together in an interesting way, and building out the world.
It was at that point that we introduced Sister Greta. We went back and filmed her scenes and put them into episode 2 and episode 5. Sister Greta was someone that had been developed in the series bible that I had written before I sold the show but she had to be cut when we only had six episodes. Now that we were given ten episodes, we could take that element and thread it through the show, and fortunately we had the time to do that.
So originally we’d have had none of those amazing scenes with Sister Greta and Amani?
I think the first half of the season sets up these different threads but then the back half of the season pulls them all together. You can see how all the elements are leading Damien to make that choice, that final sacrifice at the end – the way that the Greta/Amani scene comes together and Ann screams out “No”. She then throws Lyons under the bus, which prompts Damien to use this power (and of course the Rottweilers are great in any scene), and goes after Lyons.
Shay stepping forward, having gone off the deep end, taking a shot at Damien and hitting Simone, and Damien promising his soul to bring Simone back to life – that was always the plan. We just had to find the right spot for it.
It was a matter of how much story could we fit, given ten episodes, and I think the story expanded to fit those ten episodes. Those last few episodes, those additional episodes, do not feel like filler. It feels like a freight train barrelling towards that end.
Was I off beam in the review as seeing Shay as a sort of Doubting Thomas figure? He sees Simone killed, and sees the power of Damien and then becomes a believer…
Thomas was a disciple who followed Christ for three years and when Christ returned from the dead, Thomas did not believe what he was seeing. Now, the truth is that when the Gospels were written, there were some followers of Thomas who had certain thoughts about Jesus, and there were other followers who did not agree with those thoughts, so they went back to discredit Thomas. The Gospels were written later and there is some thought that the Doubting Thomas story was a bit of a hatchet job to discredit the followers of Thomas. There’s actually a lost Gospel of Thomas, not included in the Catholic canon – it’s more of a Gnostic gospel.
Paul was someone who was persecuting the early Christians, and he had a moment of conversion [on the road to Damascus]. I would say that that is closer to how I see Detective Shay. He’s persecuting Damien and now he has this moment of conversion. It would be very interesting if he suddenly became someone who was preaching the word of Damien in a future season. That would be very interesting!
And his son having the insights about the Devil would feed into that…
That is something we’ve talked about. I would think that that character would be torn in a lot of directions, and they would certainly have a huge effect on his personal life. That’s something I’ve given a lot of thought to for a season 2 and I have specific ideas that I would offer to a writing team and start working on it.
That’s the way I like to work – I like to come up with a sketch of what I think it should be and then everybody contributes, and you throw bits out and find a better piece. Any time I run a show I try to give the writers something to work with. I don’t really like when writers are expected to come into the room and have no direction from the showrunner. I like to give them a rough idea of what I want the season to feel like. With season 1, I definitely had that sense. With season 2 I don’t know exactly what happens, but I do have a sense of what it would feel like.
I think my job as a showrunner is to be the keeper of the tone. I would say that the tone of Damien is something that makes you uncomfortable, something that makes you think, something that pushes you out of your comfort zone, and something that keeps you guessing – that is, it’s unexpected. A sense of agitation, the sense that you’re never really sure what’s going on or where it’s going. Then when you get to the ending, and it seems very inevitable, like there’s some evil force… You feel like you’re a participant in the show itself. You feel what the characters feel…
That’s different. It’s something we’re trying to do on the show that I’ve never had on another show.
They found out as scripts arrived. They asked a lot of questions about the material, and we talked about their characters, about what the characters want, what the characters understand, what the characters think. I was very careful to make sure that they always understood their perspectives. Sometimes there might be an issue that came up that something wasn’t working, and I would reach out to the actors.
I had a long conversation with Megalyn about Simone. Originally Simone is many steps behind Damien, and I was worried that she was perhaps too far behind, that she maybe felt a little too investigative. It didn’t feel as if she was as tied into the action as everyone else. She knew a lot less and yet she was having her own experience.
I spoke with Megalyn and talked about how she was feeling about the character and then she said something particular that impressed me. When I brought it back to the writers’ room we started talking – and that’s when we realised that Greta needed to seek Simone out. Once we could put those two together that would then tie everyone together in a nice way. That would be worlds colliding in a surprising way, and that made a lot of sense. I was very grateful to have that relationship with my actors, and in fact Megalyn said to me, “I’ve never had a producer ask me what I thought before”.
So I would ask them more questions, as part of my process; they would never offer a particular scene, or say, “My character would do this.” It doesn’t work like that. It’s more, as they’re creating their character, I’m asking them what their process is and then I’m using their skills and their material and feeding it into the writing process.
That’s something I learned on The Shield. That’s how we wrote The Shield, and it was very collaborative. I’ve not really done that on other shows – I’ve not been able to do that on other shows. You need to have a certain type of actor who’s willing to do that, to take risks, who’s willing to experiment, and I would say that the Damien cast and The Shield cast were cut from the same cloth.
Yes, I think by the end the Church feels that this is a threat that they need to dispatch, but I think that they think they’re going to be able to dispatch it relatively quickly. Greta calls out one of the cardinals in episode 5; she talks about Rome’s hubris, and all of that.
The Church is made up of over a billion people, so if you want to talk about the Roman Catholic Church, the hierarchy, it’s a place of multiple viewpoints. There’s a diversity of viewpoints throughout the show.
There would be a Church bureaucracy that would have a certain way of looking at the Anti-Christ problem but Sister Greta is the kind of worker bee that the Church needs and is built on. She’s the foundation; she’s the person who does get her hands dirty. She’s the person who’s there when they need her – she has travelled to South America and performed an exorcism, and now she’s supposed to go and investigate something else, then she’s called back to Rome, and she’s not even listened to when she’s there. Now she has to take matters into her own hands because she understands the problem before Rome does.
She’s really trying to make a difference. And she’s personally connected – whatever her intentions are, she is affected by Damien in several ways. She’s compassionate; I love that she hugs him and says “My poor man”, when she sees the 666 scar. But then when Damien is just asking questions about God, she suddenly thinks this is Satan trying to dissuade her from her faith, and when she’s in that grave at the end, you see she is really holding onto that faith, even though her faith has been shaken. In that conversation with Ann, when Ann says “Satan is God”, Greta is horrified by this – but she also cannot understand why she fails, if she’s a servant of God. Why did she fail to eliminate the Anti-Christ? Her faith can only get her so far, and that’s what she holds on to at the very end. That’s what brings her some solace in the grave.
What’s important about the show, and maybe what’s different about the show, is that it’s not just one answer for one group of people. If we had ten people from the Church, those people would have ten different viewpoints on the Anti-Christ problem. On Damien’s side, everybody has their own point of view. I think that’s why the characters feel alive – they have individual points of view. They may be on the same side but everyone is still coming at it from their own angle. That’s different.
People expect this to be a very black and white show, in which everyone on Damien’s side all feels the side, and everyone on the other side all feels the same, and maybe they have questions of power, about who’s in charge. No – these people are having philosophical conversations about the meaning of reality, and spirituality! It’s very complex but I think the only way you can do it in a believable way is to have the characters as individualised as possible.
In the same way – and I don’t want to put us on the same level as this show, I don’t want to imply that – as a fan when I look at Deadwood, all of those characters were individual characters. That’s sort of a model for what we’re trying to do here, but in a very different genre.