A Series of Unfortunate Events

Another comparison people noted was the depiction of Lemony Snicket as a Twilight Zone-esque narrator really solidified him as a real character, unlike the previous depiction in the film by Jude Law. I admit I completely forgot Lemony Snicket appeared in the movie. What made you decide to portray him that way, with Patrick Warburton no less?

At the meeting I had with Netflix before I became the showrunner, I said that I thought that Lemony should be an onscreen presence and not just the guy sitting at his typewriter that you bring in at the beginning and end of every episode. I thought that Lemony should really be our tour guide and that he should exist in the present of the Baudelaires but in the future in terms of where he’s telling the story from. I love omniscient narrators, so I thought one of the great parts of Daniel’s books is the asides, is the narration, the definition of words. And I didn’t think it would be as good to do it as voiceover or a guy on a typewriter. And I’ve worked with Warburton a bunch of times and adore him. I was executive producer for The Tick that was on Fox for a short time, he was in Men in Black II. So there are certain actors whenever you read a script you say, okay, what part can I get this guy in, and Warburton was one of those guys.

It was actually Daniel Handler who said what about Warburton when I talked about the idea, and as soon as he said it, I said absolutely. Patrick has a really hard job because he doesn’t get to act to anyone, he doesn’t ever have a line of dialogue where he speaks to someone else. Although we’re hinting that something might change about that down the road, but we’ll see how that works out. So I love Warburton’s performance, it definitely feels very Rod Serling and he’s just a great guy to be around.

And how does Daniel Handler feel seeing his pseudonym come to life in front of him?

I don’t want to put words in his mouth, but I think he’s very happy with the way it turns out. And I know Daniel and I feel the same way about tone and flatness of performance. And I think Daniel and I together have really nailed what Daniel wanted.

Yeah, I know he had a lot of criticisms for the movie when it came out. One of my favorite things was that director’s commentary where Daniel basically lambasted the movie as the director was trying to explain it.

[Laughs] That sounds great, I’ll rent the DVD to hear that, that’s very funny. Daniel would lambast me, but in a very loving way. We’re constantly chiding and poking each other in the chest.

And both of you are still on for the second and third season?

We’re not officially picked up for the third season yet, but we’re on board for whatever Netflix wants to do. As far as I know, Netflix has not officially announced the third season.

A lot of the criticism about the movie was that Jim Carrey was too big of a personality for the film. Were you worried that the show would fall to those same pitfalls when Neil Patrick Harris — who himself is quite a scenery-chewer — was cast?

One of the things I felt I wanted to do differently than the film, was that to me, the story’s about the kids and they are the heart and soul of the show. The extent that the movie stopped and let Carrey do sort of comedy bits — the one that comes to mind is the Tyrannosaurus Rex one — it took away for me, the real threat of Olaf which was important to me. It took away the focus on the kids. Also, I enjoyed the concept of the troop and sometimes in the movie there was no room for the troop because Jim took over that role, kind of. I think Neil is fantastic because he’s to me much more of a real threat and more bipolar than the movie version.

Near the end of the first episode, they’re all at the dinner table, and Klaus is going off on him about their beds and finally Olaf backhands Klaus in the face. Neil at the end of each take wanted to feel remorse at the end. I said we gotta do a take with no remorse, where you’re really mean, where you feel no regret for having done it, because for so much of the show Olaf is sort of ineffectual and buffoon-like, and even though it’s shocking to the audience that this happened, we need Olaf to be a real villain. You need a strong villain to have a strong hero. I personally think Neil is extraordinary in the role and extraordinary as all these different characters. He can play both stupid and ineffectual and ineffective and evil. It’s hard to walk that line of actually having something be sad and funny, because it’s at opposite ends of each other. If something’s too funny, it takes you out of the threat, and if something’s really scary it takes you out of the comedy. The hardest thing for the director to do is to figure out the tone of the show and maintain the consistency of tone.

One of the things I’m most proud of is that we’re walking the really thin tightrope between comedy and tragedy. The fact that we’ve built all the world on a stage, so there’s artifice, but we still want you to be engaged. And we’ve created a world that’s both fantastic but also real. We have a 1950s walkie talkie and a 2016 Motorola walkie talkie in the same show, and somehow the challenge is to make it all feel like the same world. One of the many unsung heroes is Bo Welsh, who’s the production designer and did the Men in Black movies with me, and by the way, he did a few movies with Tim Burton — Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorhands — so that may be why people see similarities.

What can we expect for the second season of the show? The first season covered the first four books, so I’m assuming the second will cover the next four and so on?

The second will actually cover five books. So that will take us from the one I’m directing at the moment, which is Austere Academy, all the way through to Carnivorous Carnival, which is the ninth book. And three more books in between which are Vile Village, Hostile Hospital and Ersatz Elevator.

When can we expect it to be released? Have you started production yet?

We’re working seven days a week. We’re currently in production for Season 2. I’m not sure that Netflix has officially decided yet, but I would expect it would be sometime in the first quarter of 2018. It won’t be before that but we’re still trying to figure that out based on post-production and some other issues that we got to make sure we can deliver on time.

You took some creative license with the first season, mostly with the twist with the parents at the end. Will you be doing a couple creative flairs like that in the second season?

Yes, we’re creating characters that are not in the book, we’re creating them with Daniel. I was able to convince Daniel that we had to open up the material a little in the book, so there will be some new characters. For instance, in the first season, Larry and Jacquelyn — Larry the waiter who was the anxious clown and Jacquelyn who was the secretary— weren’t really in the books, and they will have a bigger role in the second season. So we’re creating additional great characters that will have entire emotional arcs in season 2. That will hopefully be emotionally satisfying.

Will we have any more buzzy guest stars like in season 1?

That’s sure the hope. We just worked with Roger Bart on Austere Academy and we’ve got Lucy Punch who will play a large role in the second season, [as] an actress named Sarah Ruse. We definitely will have more guest stars in the second season and hopefully if we get everything moved forward with the third season.

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