Interview: ‘The Strain’ Producers Carlton Cuse & Chuck Hogan on TV Horror and Watching the Apocalypse Happen
Posted on Friday, August 26th, 2016 by Fred Topel
There were three books in The Strain series by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan. The FX TV series will be five seasons and it is entering its third now. When season three begins, it has only been 23 days since the CDC quarantined New York City and discovered the vampire species the Strigoi, as the introduction to the season reminds us. Eph (Corey Stoll) is looking for his son while Fet (Kevin Durand) encounters some New Yorkers watching the authorities from the sidelines.
We spoke with Hogan and producer Carlton Cuse after their Television Critics Association panel for The Strain season three. Del Toro was not available this year as he is filming The Shape of Water, but he has supported the show with his attendance at two previous TCAs. The Strain returns Sunday, August 28 at 10PM on FX.
Did you want to remind viewers it’s only been 23 days, lest they think a lot more time has passed?
Cuse: Yeah, I think so. We kind of wanted to recontextualize the show for people. It hasn’t been on in a while and it just felt like it was a cool way to tell the audience, “Okay, this is what’s happened. You can jump in or you can get caught up.” I think people are surprised when they realize that it’s only been 23 days given everything that’s gone on. I think that our show is different because we actually are showing the downfall of society. Most shows that are in the sort of apocalyptic world, they kind of pick up with that as a precondition like The Walking Dead or 28 Days Later. Even World War Z had three scenes before we were in full zombie overrun. We wanted to really show that process.
Is it a unique opportunity to let seasons of the show focus on a smaller window of time?
Hogan: Very honestly, I hadn’t really thought about it that way. I remember last season working on the season I was kind of surprised when I was like, “Wow, it’s only been X number of days” because it felt like so much had happened. So we just didn’t want to lose sight of the pace of it. Frankly, what really energized the storytelling and us was this season, we went from 13 episodes to 10, to the benefit of the story overall. This is very much a streamlined sort of season with a very definite and rather shocking endpoint. So it was great to build to that rather quickly.
Is there more of the regular New Yorkers interacting with the Strigoi or the CDC?
Cuse: Not that much. We have a lot of characters so we’re trying to give screen time to our wonderful cast. You saw there was a guy yelling, “New York strong.” “New York Strong” is actually the title of the first episode of the season. We hope our characters are standing in for New Yorkers across the social stratum as they make the decision that it’s fight or die. That’s really what the season is about.
What has Guillermo’s input been this season?
Hogan: He loves to be involved in all aspects. We certainly don’t make any big moves or even medium moves without consulting him and getting his input. As always, he’s completely fascinated and enthusiastic about the look of the creatures, a lot of the other visual aspects of the show, effects.
Cuse: The visual style for sure.
Do we see any new permutations of Strigoi?
Cuse: We see more of the Feelers and we have a lot more to say about Quinlan who is half Strigoi. There may be some more iterations of Strigoi coming downstream but we don’t want to say too much more or it will become a spoiler.
Is Eph consistently plagued by dreams of his son, or is that just in the season premiere?
Cuse: I think we dramatize it in the first episodes but I think it’s meant to really be an indication for the audience that Eph is very obsessed with his kid. He wants retribution for what’s happened to Nora and to Kelly. He also wants to rescue his kid. Those are the twin pillars of desire that drive him forward in this new season.
We’re in a very special time for horror on television. The Strain came on after it really started with The Walking Dead, but what do you think it is right now that makes horror so successful on television?
Hogan: That’s hard to say. I think one obvious answer is the rise of basic cable really wanting to take chances and being a place where you can do gore at times and bigger special effects. The advance of CGI too has made this all people. In terms of thematically and what people are open to, that’s a really big question. I don’t know but it’s indisputable. It’s attractive and it’s something that people are interested in so it is somehow reflective of our times.
How do you go about scaring viewers in their own home as opposed to the theatrical experience?
Cuse: Wow, I think that one of the big things that differentiates horror on television is the depth of association with the characters. So if you live with these characters over weeks and years, you’re so invested in them that when they are in situations of jeopardy, you just are that much more engaged. Getting to know a character in a horror movie, you’ve got a half an hour before you have to start scaring the shit out of the audience so you have in very short order to bond the audience with that character. In television we have the advantage of being able to do that across dozens of hours. So when a character that we care about, like Eph or Dutch or Fet or Miguel or Gus finds themselves in jeopardy, I think you’re deeply connected to those characters and therefore their jeopardy really evokes a strong response.