NOS4A2 fans know that the AMC series started with the bone-chilling novel written by Joe Hill. But what went into taking Joe’s book and turning it into what’s now two seasons of a TV show? Just how much is he involved in the making of the series, and what does he think of the entire experience?
Plus, we get to the bottom of how exactly he created a terrifying version of Christmas that has made everyone look at the holiday a hell of a lot differently – pun intended. Dive into the creative process with Joe Hill in this interview before the NOS4A2 season 2 finale airs at 10:00 p.m. tonight on AMC!
Nerdophiles: Let’s get this out of the way first – where did the original Christmas motif come from in NOS4A2? Jami O’Brien said she thought you might not be a big Christmas fan, or how did you come up with the concept?
Joe Hill: That’s such a great question. I wish I had a great answer for it, because I don’t really remember anymore. There’s a quote that I’ve often used in reference to NOS4A2, one of my favorite quotes about horror ever – Lon Chaney once said, “There’s nothing funny about a clown at midnight.” And I thought by the same token, everyone loves Christmas carols…but if it’s the middle of the summer and you’re sweaty and you’re lost in the woods, and you come across a dirt track that leads to a derelict rundown house, and you hear Christmas music coming from inside, you turn around and walk in the other direction real fast. Because that just seems all kinds of wrong.
But that’s sort of an explanation for why Christmasland is scary. It doesn’t really explain where I got the idea from, and I’m not really sure exactly. Maybe it was, there’s a great poem by Wallace Stevens called “The Emperor of Ice-Cream.” The Emperor of Ice-Cream is of course death and I guess it was thinking like that. Where can I find an interesting juxtaposition between ideas that would indicate Charlie is bringing these children to a death place? And I thought, a place like Christmasland. A place where it’s Christmas, all the time. That has a kind of sinister undertone to it.
NP: You’re unique in that many authors, when their work is adapted for TV, they either can’t be involved a lot or aren’t asked to be. But you are an active part of the NOS4A2 team. Can you talk about how that relationship works from your end?
JH: I’ve tried to balance being a good sounding board to Jami O’Brien. I try to be someone that Jami could run ideas past and bounce ideas off, and talk to about the characters and about the larger mythology of this world, but I’ve also tried not to be too much underfoot.
I spent three years writing the novel, and by the time I was done, I felt like I told my version of the story. This is really Jami’s version of the story. She read some things in the book that she identified with, having had a working class childhood in eastern Massachusetts, and she responded emotionally to those things and saw in NOS4A2 a story she wanted to tell. So I view my role on the show as largely one of supporting Jami O’Brien’s vision.
Tthe place where the show is most closely connected to the book is that these characters are very true to the people you meet in the book, and that’s what I really care about. Ashleigh [Cummings], Jahkara [J. Smith], Ólafur [Darri Olafson] and of course, Zachary [Quinto] have all tapped into what made those characters the people that they are in the novel, and have brought that to the screen and expanded on it; explored those people in really interesting ways.
NP: What have you loved about NOS4A2 season 2 as a viewer? Is there anything that’s stuck with you, or perhaps even inspired you creatively?
JH: I thought season one was great. I think season two was better. That it runs harder, That it’s more intense, that it’s scarier. The comparison that I’ve made a few times is that season one was the first Terminator film, and that season two was like the second Terminator film. It starts at 70 miles an hour and accelerates up to about 150.
There’s so much, I almost hate to pick one episode or two episodes, so I’ll pick three. (laughs) I thought episode 205, where Charlie, Bing and The Hourglass turn up to steal Wayne, was an incredibly effective bit of TV storytelling. The whole episode worked a little bit like Rashomon. We keep revisiting the same scene from different points of view and discovering new things.
I thought it was a really great hour of television and Tom Brady, who wrote the script really knocked it out of the park. The director was Hanelle Culpepper and she did such exquisite work there. And then I really liked the last two episodes of season two. I don’t think it’s any big spoiler to say we’re going to spend some time in Christmasland. We’re going to get a little time to ride some of the rides.
NP: Is there any burning question about NOS4A2 that you’re surprised no one has asked you? Anything you want people to know that maybe they’ve not gotten to yet?
JH: No one has asked me if I’d have had a chance to drive the Wraith. But then no one on set asked me if I wanted to drive it. I’ve never driven the Wraith. Rolls-Royce has not called me yet to offer me a free Wraith for all the promotion we’ve given them with the show. So that’s a little bit disappointing. (laughs)
I have to say I’m pretty impressed with Zachary Quinto’s ability to drive the Wraith. I was there on his first day on set; he was in the full old man makeup and he got behind the wheel and drove it expertly, without a flaw, no grinding gears, no missteps, like he’d been driving it his whole life. And I found out later that he had really only started to learn stick that year.
NOS4A2 airs its season finale tonight at 10:00 p.m. ET/PT on AMC.