Many actors like to build a history for the character they are playing. Most of the time that comes from their imagination, which is built on years of making up the stories of other characters. It’s easier when the production is based on a book.
When versatile actress Caral Gugino was cast in the new M. Night Shyamalan short-run series on FOX, “Wayward Pines,” she immediately thought about reading the books by Blake Crouch on which the production is based.
That idea got nixed by executive producer Chad Hodge.
“When I first spoke with Chad, he said don’t read the book. Which, of course, made me want to read the book. But I didn’t read the book for a while, actually,” Gugino says. “ I think it wasn’t until we were actually filming that I read the first book. My character is different in the book, and it was ultimately at that point I had sort of a strong and clear enough sense of what our incarnation was going to be of her.
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“She’s really a complicated woman who’s very different than she seems in a lot of ways, as I guess we all are as people.”
Gugino gleaned a lot of that from the book. She mixed that with Shyamalan’s vision and came up with the history of her character.
The series is about a man, played by Matt Dillon, who suddenly finds himself in a peaceful community that he can’t leave. All of the secrets play out through the series.
But, plot doesn’t hold an audience completely. Gugino knows there has to be interesting characters dealing with the twists and turns or the audience won’t care.
“And, interestingly enough, the mystery continues even as you start to understand who these people are and you get a different context. You really do actually have the mystery of the mysteries of human beings, of the complexity of who these people are and the circumstances that they’re all in and how each of them are dealing with it very differently,” Gugino says. “It’s very engaging in a completely different way than it starts out, which was something really exciting to me as well.”
Series such as Showtime’s “Penny Dreadful” are so masterfully put together they can even impact the performers. That’s what happened to Helen McCrory as she slipped into the world of 19th Century London where Dr. Frankenstein and Dracula prowl the streets.
Take for instance the scene where Madame Kali is reclining in a tub filled with what is supposed to be blood. Creating the scene was so realistic for the production team and the actress that they had nightmares after filming.
“The blood was very carefully constructed for months and months, and many, many people had jobs in making sure that I could lie in it without you seeing various things until we discovered that you float in that blood,” McCrory says. “I think that there are quite a few people in our makeup department that haven’t seen a lot of it that get nightmares.”
She also had nightmares after working on one set that was covered with outlandish artwork.
Equally scary can be the way the characters are portrayed. McCrory’s Madame Kali is a spiritualist who is a practitioner of the occult. She only appeared in two episodes the first season but has had a more pronounced role in the second season. She likes playing the role because Kali is not just presented as a two-dimensional character.
“She’s one of the most powerful because she wants what she wants. She wants it more than anyone else. This is a battle of faith and who has the strongest faith will win. So all these characters have very strong beliefs in what they want, and that’s what drives her as a powerful character through,” McCrory says of Madame Kali.
The question becomes is she evil by choice.
“It’s the idea, isn’t it, that (Mary) Shelley talks about in ‘Frankenstein” that the monster is not what he creates but actually what mankind makes the creature to be when they reject him for being ugly. And it is society that brutalizes, which is one interpretation of what makes a monster is everybody around that person,” McCrory says. “And in this, I think what’s interesting is that’s almost true of all your monsters, that they all have a vulnerability and a need to be accepted by those around me.”
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