We are a little over half way through season two of AMC’s chilling adaptation of Joe Hill’s popular horror novel NOS4A2 and while we are fully trapped inside “the Wraith” and along for the ride, we were able to have a chat with Executive Producer and author Joe Hill! He spoke about everything from the rules of being a good executive producer, to some of the possibly surprising inspirations behind his modern horror classic.
Nerds and Beyond: Congratulations on Season Two of NOS4A2, and Season One of Locke and Key, that’s pretty exciting.
Joe Hill: Yeah! Wow It’s been a wild ride, you know it’s been pretty cool.
NaB: What’s it feel like having two of your works adapted for television and streaming?
Joe Hill: It’s funny, it’s like neither thing exactly happened overnight. I mean, AMC is very methodical in the way they develop a TV show. NOS4A2 was in the pipeline for a good five years. But Locke and Key famously had two other pilots before Netflix picked it up and ran with it. So, it’s pretty amazing when it all comes together.
NaB: How involved have you been with Season Two of NOS4A2 – was it a lot or more like dropping in to surprise them with some little tidbits or fun things?
Joe Hill: I have a joke about being an executive producer – as I’ve mastered the skills to be an effective one. To be a good executive producer you have to: eat everything on the craft service table. Sit in someone else’s chair. And then obliviously walk through set talking on your cell phone while a couple actors, you know, try to act their way through a really emotional thing. And if you can do all that you too could be an executive producer! But you know in truth, I did talk to Jami. We talked a lot about making Season Two leaner, meaner, scarier, faster.
The comparison I use often is – the difference between Terminator and Terminator 2. In the first film we’re running about the world and discovering those characters, but in Terminator 2, the hammer is down from the very beginning of the picture. And you’re accelerating from 70 miles an hour to 120 miles an hour.
And I think that’s how we all wanted the second season of NOS4A2 to feel. And we talked about broadening this world full of strong creatives. There are people in this world who can storm reality. With the help of a totem or an object of some type. Like Maggie who can answer unanswerable questions uses the Scrabble tiles and Charlie Manx has discovered The Wraith, a Rolls Royce that runs on human souls. So we talked about who else is in this world, what other people are out there, and that’s the way we came up with the Hourglass Man because Hourglass isn’t in the novel.
But I thought, you know, you don’t want people who have read the novel to get too comfortable. You want to tell the story they love, but you also want to keep them off balance and keep them engaged and hit them with the unexpected. So, the Hourglass Man is an example of taking a moment that readers think they know. And then, exploding it into something different.
NaB: That makes me think about other differences from the book to the show, specifically with changes that have been made to Vic and her relationship with her mom. It’s interesting to see her come to that understanding of what her mom’s relationship with her dad was really like a bit sooner and I was wondering if you could talk about what it’s like to see your characters change from the page to the screen.
Joe Hill: I’ll tell you what, I mean, I just love the second NOS4A2. Episode Six, there are moments between Evan and Virginia, who play Vic’s parents and moments between Ashley (Vic) and Virginia, that are just, you know, absolutely kicking on the field. Really wrenching emotional moments. There’s Virginia, who plays Linda McQueen, a woman wrestling with this idea that her daughter is almost a kind of superhero – someone who has this incredible power. And she’s saying to her ex husband “Don’t you think I would have noticed if my daughter had these powers?” And he said to her “Not if you had your hands full with an abusive drunk who would use the back of his hand on you.” It’s a really painful but also beautiful moment.
And Ashley, there’s great stuff with Ashley, feeling like a failure as a mom, feeling like she doesn’t know how to do it. And that not only does she not know how to be a good mom, but that her child is at risk because of her. She talks to her mom about her own experience of being a parent, and you know, there’s lots of scary stuff in NOS4A2, lots of moments of high peril. But I think that the peril works, because we fall in love with these characters, and we want them to make it. And it’s moments like with Vic and her mom that we really feel closely, emotionally bound up with their fate.
NaB: Right, so much of the book is about relationships between parents and children and the parallels between the stories – like Charlie Manx and his daughter Millie (which by the way, I love the exploration of Millie this season), and also Vic’s relationship with her parents but also with her own son. I think it’s so interesting the way that they often mirror what Charlie’s doing, but then where they diverge or maybe, perhaps, make better choices. The parents who either cling to their children and want them to be innocent forever, or the ones allow them to grow up.
Joe Hill: Yeah, I mean I think today I’ve been thinking a lot about something Jami identified in the book that I saw there as well. And it’s one of the things we kind of bonded over as we talked about NOSF4A2. NOSF4A2 has its share of influences on it. But one of the more invisible influences is Pinocchio. Charlie Manx is abducting children, and taking them off to this place Christmasland, an otherworldly amusement park where every day is Christmas, every evening it’s Christmas Eve, and unhappiness is against the law. And, when I wrote the book, I was very cognizant of the similarity between Christmasland and Pleasure Island in Pinocchio. The place where little boys go drink and gamble and smoke, but as they indulge their vices they gradually begin turning into jackasses. And as a seven year old, the moral is not lost on you – acting like a jackass will turn you into one.
Christmasland is a little bit of a place like that. And so there’s real power in Millie Manx, Charlie’s daughter, saying she wants to be a real girl. Not this kind of frozen person – frozen in a particular moment of childhood, forever. Which is what Charlie has made her into. And in that way, she very much resembles Pinocchio saying he wants to be a real boy.
NaB: There is also that moment when Millie is confronted with the fact that her mom, or maybe the ghost of her mom, is still there and she has to deal with it. She’s terrified but also she goes back to see her. I’m really curious to see where that leads her.
Joe Hill: Yeah, I mean one of the things that the show questions is what makes a hero. And another thing to show questions is what makes a parent. Charlie, in a lot of ways, views himself as the hero of the story. This guy has run around abducting children from what he views as abusive, dangerous, toxic childhoods, and he’s taken them to a place where they’ll be safe forever, and always happy. That’s how he sees himself, and so the kids call him Father Christmas. He sees himself as the benevolent father of all lost children.
When you see Charlie’s point of view, and hear it described like that he really does sound like the hero. But of course that’s only half the story, or maybe not even half honestly. But that’s what is interesting. Charlie thinks he’s such a good parent and Vic largely feels like she’s a failure. But as a viewer we can see the bigger parts of their lives play out, and we can see that maybe Charlie simply doesn’t have a heart at all.
Stay tuned for more Comic-Con@Home updates and exclusives, and make sure to stay tuned for the final episodes of NOS4A2 on AMC.