The Executive Producer of The CW’s ‘Containment’ on Casting the Show and Writing for Trained Actors
“[David Gyasi] walked into our room just to read at the last minute and blew us away so much that we changed everything about how we were gonna put this cast together”
Executive Producer Julie Plec (Vampire Diaries, The Originals) and writers Chris Ord and Matt Corman were at WonderCon to talk promote their latest show, The CW’s Containment. Along with the cast, they showed off the gripping pilot and talk with the press about the show.
The series, which stars David Gyasi (Interstellar), Christina Marie Moses (Starship: Apocalypse, Starship: Rising), Chris Wood (The Vampire Diaries), Claudia Black (The Originals, Farscape), George Young (Casualty), Hanna Mangan Lawrence (Spartacus: War of the Damned), Kristen Gutoskie (Beaver Falls) and Trevor St. John (One Live to Live), follows an viral epidemic that breaks out in Atlanta, leaving a large portion of the city quarantined and those stuck on the inside fighting for their lives.
In this interview, Plec, Ord and Corman chat about the show, the casting process and how star David Gyasi got his role at the last minute.
‘Containment’ premieres on The CW on April 19th
What drew you to want to do this type of series when you came from the supernatural world?
Julie Plec: I think it was the fact that this was not supernatural but still had a very clear monster, you know? I love writing character stories and this television climate is easier and often more successful when you can tell a beautiful love story with a monster looming large and that’s what drew me to this. I could dabble in the life or death stakes and make things really intense and make things really scary without having to make the mystical as well.
Chris Ord: It’s one of those shows where you get more and more invested because you get more invested in these characters and the bigger the situation gets, the more and more harrowing it is, so it just draws you in.
When we were making it, we got a cut of like episode four and we’d be like, “Oh my God! I’ve got to see what happens in episode five!” And they’re like, “But were still shooting it!” It really is that sort of storytelling because you’re so invested in the characters, you just get invested in the season.
Matt Corman: It’s modeled after actual viral outbreaks. It’s not a zombie show. When people die, they stay dead. And it’s sort of modeled to a certain extent on an Ebola like virus. We consulted with a lot of folks from the CDC and infectious disease specialists and the scary thing was whenever we came up with a scenario and would be like, “Is this plausible?” They were like, “Oh no, it would be much worse.” They were very concerned, they are very concerned, that this could happen in America.
Chris Ord: In this kind of situation, it is very plausible in that this just happened in Sierra Leone in 2014, quarantining a giant part of the neighborhood. So, to think that it couldn’t happen here is a little bit of false optimism. The more research we did the more scared we got but it was good research.
This is based off of a Belgian TV show. When you decided to do the show and set it in the United States, how did that factor into the story you’re telling?
Matt Corman: Well, there’s one component that was just a bit of happy accident which is the CDC is based in Atlanta and the CDC plays a big role in the show, so it feels very organic. There is an equivalent in Belgium but it’s not as worldly and so that was kind of a happy accident.
Then there are components, like Belgium is a pretty uniform and uniformly white society, and changing it to Atlanta made for a diverse cast. There’s all these issues that come up about class and race that adds another element.
Was this a hard show to cast?
Julie Plec: No, it actually wasn’t a hard show to cast. And thank God. I think that it was filled with lots of really wonderful surprises, like the famous story about David Gyasi who plays Lex is that we had a guy we were ready to cast and all that was left for him to get the job was to walk into the studio and audition in front of the studio heads and the network heads. And that morning David Gyasi got off the plane from London to come do pilot season, he walked into our room just to read at the last minute and blew us away so much that we changed everything about how we were gonna put this cast together based on that moment. And it was well-deserved because he’s such a truly spectacular actor, we feel incredibly lucky that we got him. We feel like we’ve got a little secret. We have a really phenomenal actor on our hands.
In the show, you start to immediately care about the characters in the first episode, which is not easy to do.
Julie Plec: You can think the Belgian series for that. I think in an ensemble show that is based around an event, the hardest thing to do is to capture that slice of life of the characters in a way that doesn’t seem like you’re forcing anything, pushing too hard, trying to be too kitschy.
You’ve got like half a page to a page and a half to define who they are in the first act of your pilot the Belgian series did a really great job with that. So I lifted a lot of what they did right from the top because I thought it was so successful. It was successful in its simplicity and how sparse it was and they didn’t put forth much effort in feeling like they had to explain too much about these people and that’s what I liked about it. You got like a little peek through the window of who they were and it’s up to the season to let you flesh them out. You kind of inherently care about them in the beginning because they’re a little bit like a piece of all of us, which I liked.
Who is your favorite character to write?
Julie Plec: I like to write for all of them but I think that Leo (Trevor St. John) is probably a favorite because he so unpredictable. Trevor is really talented, like deeply, deeply talented and very trained as an actor. So, you know anything that you put in his mouth he’s gonna do really well.
But he’s got such a chip on his shoulder and he’s got a really wicked sense of humor and he’s so annoyed by everything and he’s just got no tolerance for any bullshit. He’s just a guy who wants the truth and doesn’t really care who he offends along the way. And I always think what it must be like to be that person. “You don’t like me? That’s your problem.” And I love that about him.
You said that you really like writing this because it’s a monster that’s not a monster. How did this affect your writing process? How does that influence this character drama that you’re creating?
Julie Plec: One of my first jobs was I worked for Wes Craven and Wes was really, really good at visually setting the tone for suspense and scare and there’s a bag of tricks that work really nicely. It has to do with the way you creep up behind someone on a steady cam or how you draw them into the room. It’s how you see a big space where there’s nothing and then you cut back and then there’s someone right in front of you. And there’s a visual rhythm and language to doing a good horror good suspense that I kinda got from watching him do it.
And then of course Kevin Williamson, who I worked with for years, made his whole career out of the scare and the intention and how to make you terrified of the masked figure in the shadows.
So, to me, this is using exactly the same tools, you know? The monster is under your bed in the show all the time. It’s in the person you might touch, it’s in the door that you might open and who is on the other side. Someone could leap out at you from an alley grab you and you’re dead. I think that in that way it’s actually so simple as a suspense vehicle.
And then you add the cool side of it, relatively speaking, that this could actually happen. See we get to play in that great world of hard genre and the Freddy Krueger and the Jason and the Michael and you can use all his fun tricks but you’re also delivering this weird fucked up wish fulfillment of what would happen, what would I do in this situation? How would I be the cowboy and survive the killer? It’s fun to write it like that. It really is.
We had rules that every episode needed to have the three H’s: Heart, horror, and holy shit. The holy shit being like what’s the surprise here with the big wow. But with the horror, we made sure that we treated that with as much respect as we did with the humanity.