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Exclusive: Midnight, Texas - Monica Breen: Vampires and Tigers and a Man in a Fat Suit

Monica BreenWhen we first join Midnight, Texas, Manfred (François Arnaud), who can talk to ghosts, is trying to escape his past when his dead grandmother, Xylda (Joanne Camp), suggests that he go to Midnight. When he arrives, he quickly realizes that he isn't the only one with secrets.

The town is a safe haven to other supernaturals wanting to stay hidden from the world. Midnight, however, sits on a weakening veil between the living and Hell. The energy not only affects the Midnighters, but also attracts other evil forces.

When the fiancé of the local pawnshop owner, Bobo (Dylan Bruce), is murdered, Manfred decides to stay and use his abilities to help solve the murder, while they also all work to keep the police from learning their secrets.

Earlier in the year, as part of a press day, SciFi Vision visited the set of the series, which is based on a novel series by Charlaine Harris. While there, the site talked to the cast and crew, including Showrunner/Executive Producer Monica Breen.

Recently, Breen caught up with SciFi Vision in an exclusive interview to talk more about creating the show, the characters, and everything in between.

Monica BreenSCIFI VISION: Talking to everybody on set, there was this feeling that a big part of the show is about family and protecting it. Can you talk a little bit about the part each of the characters play in? Because we have supernaturals and human together as well.

MONICA BREEN: I think it's a community. Maybe community might be a better way to phrase it then family, because one of the things you have when you have a community, when you're all bound to, "this is our home and we will protect our home," is you understand that some people might not be good at one thing, but they'll bring something else to the table.

It was super important to me that Bobo (Dylan Bruce) has abilities and Creek (Sarah Ramos) serves a vital role in the community other than standing up for the supernatural.

So, I feel like, to me, the metaphor is a community, and it's a tight knit community. It's a community of people who are different, and that too is important, and that's why family as a metaphor, as much as they feel like a family, I love like making community also family, because everyone has a different job to play.

So Madonna (Kellee Stewart) feeds them, and she sews them up when they're injured. And then there's Lem (Peter Mensah), who's been there very long time and takes care of everyone and doesn't sweat any dangers. And then you have Olivia (Arielle Kebbel), who's a little bit more of the hard ass, but this is where she can be soft. This is where she doesn't have to lead with violence and anger and rage.

And I have to be honest, one of the things that I've been missing about writing Midnight and being in Midnight in my head, is it feels like right now the world is so fractured and everyone's at odds, and I think we forgot how to be together and different, and so there's kind of for me the idea of a town of people who are different, who still work towards the same goals, which are being safe and being happy, and allowing each other to be happy. That's kind of what our metaphor is.

On the set, you talked about adapting from and pulling from more than one book, and also how you added to the plot rather than necessarily changing the characters themselves. Can you talk about how all of that will affect the actual story?

The first season, I think plot-wise, is very much the first book and the third book combined. It's not like one and the other as much as it is a Venn diagram; they sort of overlap. So, it's just the very basic plot of what the thread is and what the concern for the Midnighters are.

In the second season, if we're fortunate enough to have a second season, we set up what is the big change in the town in the second book. So, I think the second season will follow the second book.

So, if you get a third season, would that be kind of your own story to tell?

I think so, in keeping with the sort of platform that we launched, but I do think we created sort of a mythology for the television series that differs from Charlaine's novels, but part of what it does, is it gives us an engine through what is hopefully a very long run.

Talking about changes that you've made from the books, is there anything specifically you can say for fans of the books about how the TV series will be different and unique?

There are a lot of things that are very different. Like Manfred is a different character in certain ways. He's still a loner; he still lives with his grandma (Joanne Camp). He's still a powerful psychic, but we made him sort of our way into the show, in part because in the first book, he is the way in to the story of Midnight. We made him a little older, because he's going to sort of center the story, and also in the books his grandma had died, but she doesn't visit him.

One of the things I find personally, is when you have that lone hero who doesn't talk to anyone, it's kind of hard to know who he is, other than, you know, important looks and quiet.

So, I wanted to make him a character that you immediately love, someone that you can at least understand. So, we let his grandma stay with him, even though she still died like in the books. She becomes his confidant and his emotional like person to talk to. So Xylda, while she is a character in the book, she's much more important, because she's a ghost that lives with Manfred, tethered to the RV.

I'm not sure how much you were involved in this, but I know as a showrunner, you often get the final say on how things look. Was there anything in particular in the show's visual look that you knew from the beginning that you just had to have that you worked to get?

When I read the book and the single crossroads town in the middle of Texas, I wanted it to look a little like a western. That felt really new to me. It felt like one of the draws. There're endless stories in westerns about the stranger who comes to the small town, the small town banding together to stop the intruder. Kind of all the story let me feel like this was a way to fold in a western aesthetic. For one thing, we're in the west, [laughs] but also it made sense as a way to narratively structure the story and a way to visually make this town special.

Then, when I put Manfred in the RV with his grandma, I started looking up RVs, just because I like to in my head have a picture, even though I know when production happens, it all depends on what's available and what you can afford. But as a writer, you try to sort of put it in your head. And the first thing I saw was an aqua Travco, and I was like, "All right, that's what I would like to see crossing through a western landscape." Aqua's my favorite color; it all made sense.

So, I was super excited that we actually found one aqua Travco in Florida. It's very rare that you think of something in your head, and then you actually can actualize it to a "T" in production, because you're bound to the reality, whereas in your head, you're bound to whatever you think of. And so that was something that I'm really happy with, my little aqua Travco.

Monica BreenI know that the season is going to be made up of character stories, as well as the overall mythology arc with the veil, but someone said on the set that things had changed and the murder mystery would be less of a part of the season. So I'm curious, other than the stories dealing with the individual characters' explorations and backstories, as well as the big story of the demon, will there be any other stand-alone stories? Like is there room for other people or supernatural creatures to come to the town, things like that?

One of the things that happened, is we've created a pilot very much based on the first book. Then when the show got picked up, it was ten episodes; we knew what it was. The network also found that they loved the supernatural stuff, and they wanted more of that, and they wanted a mythology to ground that.

One of the things that became very important, is that they thought a lot of shows can do murder mysteries. So what we created, is a mythology whereby the veil is tearing, and so it's bringing evil into town. Other supernatural evils and human evils are sensing this and being drawn to the town.

So, every week there is a very specific adversary or a specific goal. I think the first two episodes are a little bit more linked, but after that you can expect that every episode has it's own nemesis and it's own vibe. So yes.

We find out that the veil is not just bringing in others, but also affecting the people of the town as it weakens. For instance, in this week's episode, the Rev (Yul Vazquez) mentions that after he turned, he wasn't sated by a bull. Can you talk a bit about how the other Midnighters will be affected by that and what kinds of problems it will cause?

I can only say that it will happen. It's like you get temptations into being the worst version of yourself, and I feel like the veil isn't just affecting other supernaturals and humans, it's also affecting the Midnighters, and they too are not immune to the effects and the draws of evil. And we'll see how that plays out in an episode towards the end of the season.

Going back to other weekly stories, will we maybe see Manfred helping some of the other ghosts that are in his house as well?

Occasionally. It's an ensemble, and it has this other myth, so he's not going to revisit the ghosts that are there, because one of the things is, for Manfred, this is not a great gift, and you don't want to encourage everyone who has a problem to come to you. He's also very vulnerable. The fact that they can take possession of his body leaves him extraordinarily vulnerable. This is something he doesn't solicit, and in fact he tries to avoid angry ghosts.

But yes, he will come into contact with ghosts that he has to help, but Manfred is a little bit of a reluctant hero. He sees ghosts for money, not for goodness and to help. So, he doesn't exactly want to become the person who helps all the ghosts.

This week's episode was about the Reverend. Somebody had mentioned on the set, I think it was actually you, that for the tiger that you use for the Rev, you had the same people that The Walking Dead used to make their tiger to do the effects. Can you talk about those visual effects and also about filming the transformation?

It was so funny, because it was an idea that my assistant had talked about, like when we were talking about, "Well, if the show gets picked up, the first episode has to be about the weretiger. What would be fun?" and she's like, "a vampire/weretiger fight!" And I was like, "I love that so hard! [laughs]

So, from early on, we knew if we got picked up, that there would be a vampire/weretiger fight, although I had no idea how to execute it. Everyone fell in love with the idea, and what was vitally important to us, was that because this is the place for the first time where you see Midnighters kind of fighting, [you also see] the way they care about each other as they do it. So it was important that this tiger feel real and menacing, and that it feels like something he's touching.

And so we bid it out; we got designs on the tiger, and we made it bigger and a little more ferocious than a normal tiger. We sort of did a little research about tigers. Like, for instance, tigers store their food up in trees, which I did not know, which is why that happens [in the episode]. So it's a tiger, but it's a sort of larger than life tiger.

Then when we shot it, poor and brilliant Peter had to fight with a man in a fat blue suit. So, it was all sketched out as this man in an enormous fat suit that was blue, and they acted with it.

Peter, [laughs] who had done this before, was like, "Okay, I know how to do it." But, you know, for a very long time, for months, we were watching the edits with a man in a blue suit, and it was terrifying [laughs] to be perfectly honest, because you're like, "Okay, I hope this works, because if it doesn't, we're so in trouble."

We got a really good group of people, and it took months, but I feel like it looked like a man fighting a tiger, and, you know, thanks to the man in the blue suit, but we don't see him anymore. So that became important.

It also became important that we focus on the transformations as more about the Rev and less about the horror of him transforming into a tiger. So, the story always felt like it was about the Rev, not about a monster, because in this show, the characters who would be the monsters, are the characters who we love and are following. So, that also was a tricky scene, but it came out in a way that I think you're focusing on the man, not the monster.

When you were talking about that just now, you made me think of an odd question, and I'm not even sure how to phrase this, but you talk about how, you know, you don't expect to see a tiger and a vampire fighting, which is definitely true.

But I'm thinking about the fact that there are angels, you don't see a whole lot of those in these type of shows, at least not as a big focus. Are they going to be getting into the fight too, or are they just more protectors? Because it's hard for me to envision how you're going to have angels kind of be right in the fight, or are they more, you know, just watching?

With Joe (Jason Lewis) and Chuy (Bernardo Saracino), we veer away from the mythology in the book about who Joe and Chuy are, so heads up on that.[laughs] Joe is really a little bit outside of things; he's watching initially, and what you learn, is that there's a reason why he doesn't want to be in the fight. He's fought this fight before; he's been in that history before. It's why he knows all that information, but he doesn't want to repeat it, and he's got something to lose now, because he and Chuy matter and have been together for a millennia, and this is not a relationship that he's going to risk.

Monica BreenI will say that Manfred's not the only reluctant hero in the story, because Joe doesn't want to engage. He loves his neighbors; he's happy in Midnight, but he doesn't want to fight this fight, and we'll learn why in an upcoming episode.

But it is interesting, because what it required, is, you know, I was raised Catholic, so angels are very specific in my head, so it became sort of rethinking what I thought about angels.

Can you talk a bit about Olivia (Arielle Kebbel)'s and Lem (Mensah)'s journey, because they seem like very interesting characters, and also, somebody asked if her traumatic past is going to be in line with the book.

Yes, and I have to admit that Lem and Olivia, to me, they were a love story that was one of the main reasons that I wanted to adapt this book series, because there was something so beautiful.

Olivia's past is dark. It is one of the darkest stories I've read, and it's the kind of childhood that would leave most people so damaged as to be incapable of functioning.

And then you have a vampire that leeches pain and energy and anger, and so what you have is a love story where two people make each other better and sort of alleviate the pain of each other. The one person's pain is the other person's sustenance, and together they're stronger than apart. So, there's something so beautifully metaphoric about that love story.

And in terms of Olivia's pain, we are true to the books, and while we couldn't address [all of it] as we explain her backstory, if we get a second season, her backstory will be a large part of that story. But we only have one episode per character, [laughs] so we sort of put in and did as much as we could, like with the heart of that love story. And what Charlaine created was beautiful, and I don't want to touch that emotional, complicated, lovely unity that they have.

I don't know how much you can tease about this, but we know that the demon is trying to come through the veil coming up through Manfred's floor. Can you talk a bit about why he's there? Is it just because the veil is thin, or is there some other connection?

The veil is thinning, but also there's something in Midnight he wants, and when he gets a taste of Midnight in the second episode, there's something there he's after, and we find out what that is. I think by the end of the episode you kind of can hint at what or who he wants.

I know it's connected to Fiji (Parisa Fitz-Henley), that's kind of what I was hinting at.

Yes. He desires her, and he wants her for a reason, and we will find out why, but, yes, she becomes the goal for the season, and that is the third book.

For a fan question, someone asked me if you could elaborate on Fiji's witchcraft - I'm not sure if they meant effects-wise or with the practicality of it, but they talked about the Latin based incantations, flashy visuals, and kind of where her powers come from.

I think with Fiji, we're pulling at a lot of witchcraft traditions, but she is a natural witch, so her power comes from her power, not so much the incantations.

But also witchcraft is something that she studies, that she focuses on; she's spent years studying, taking from different traditions, taking from her family history. This is a science to her, and she takes it extraordinarily seriously.

So, we pulled from multiple traditions as well as from just our creativity, but one of the things I love about Fiji's witchcraft, is it's not only an organic skill for her, an ability for her, but it's something that she takes extraordinarily seriously, and she really practices and hones her potion making skills, and it is for her a science.

As a witch, Fiji has a familiar. Can you talk about the difficulties in having Mr. Snuggly (voiced by Joe Smith) and bringing a talking cat to the set. Not just working with the cat, but can you also talk about kind of the idea of making it work so it doesn't seem silly.

It's funny. I just recently read an interview with Charlaine where she said when she wrote it, she was like, "Is this stupid? I don't know; it feels right to me." It's funny; she had the same thoughts as I did adapting it.

When I read the book it created this magical, whimsical lovely little town that I wanted to live in. It was midway through the first book that the cat spoke, and by that point, you knew a lot of the world, and it felt like, "Oh, of course that cat talks," and the cat's a character throughout the plot. Like it moved through spaces; Fiji would hold it. You definitely knew Mr. Snuggly [enough], so by the time in the novel that he spoke, it kind of made sense in the logic of the world.

So I tried to do that within the pilot. There are all those shots of the cat watching everything that's going on.

We tried very hard to keep it looking real. We spent a lot of money to make sure it looked real, but the cat is very funny and has a very singular voice to Fiji that I loved, but there's also a leap of faith. It's not a story that I ever thought I'd love, and I loved it in the books. So, I'm taking the same leap of faith that in the logic of this magical, whimsical world where anything can exist and they've all sort of coalesced in this small little town, that of course, a witch has a talking familiar. And we also know that it's not a well you can go to all the time. It kind of loses its specialness if it's constant.

And you used a live cat for a lot of it and then just kind of CGI'd the mouth?

Yes. I think there's something about the eyes in a live cat that we could never have replaced. And honestly, with the television schedule, you're doing it every day; you don't really have time to do all CG, or the expenses, so it just became an economic equation as much as a stylistic equation.

I think sometimes it better to have something real anyway. Sometimes I think they overdo it a bit.

Yeah, and I think sometimes with pets, who you live with and see so much, I notice the difference a little bit, in a way that a wild animal I might not notice as much, but with a cat, I feel like there's a familiarity.

Monica BreenAnd, you know, the cat was as good a cat actor that I've ever worked with, but, you know, it's still a cat. [laughs] Ultimately, he moves like a cat, he walks like a cat, and once he started to cooperate, we got what we needed and moved on, so it wasn't that hard.

I also wanted to ask you after having seen it, what's your favorite part of the set?

Fiji's home, when you sit in there, it's so warm and inviting, and it's just like a set I would sit in when I wanted to calm down [laughs] or when I wanted to just be thoughtful. There's something so warm and inviting about it, and part of what I love, is that when I first saw the color, I was like, "I don't know if I like that color," but they were like, "No, no, no I swear it will look right." Then when I saw the dailies and she walked into that space, it was like, "Oh, that's such a beautiful color." So, I love that space.

But I have to be honest, when you walk into the spaces [on the set], you know the characters. So, there's something about every set that I utterly enjoy, but Fiji's, I think, was for me, the most warm and inviting.

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