Interview: 'The Strain' Producers Carlton Cuse & Chuck Hogan On TV Horror And Watching The Apocalypse Happen

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.Kevin Durand in The Strain Season 3 / The Strain Chuck Hogan and Carlton Cuse InterviewWhat 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.John Krasinski in 13 Hours / The Strain Chuck Hogan and Carlton Cuse InterviewWhat makes Jack Ryan ideal for a TV series?Cuse: I think the great opportunity that exists for Jack Ryan is that the [TomClancy books were these huge sprawling epics. They're 600, 700, 800 pages long. It's really almost impossible to take a book that length and reduce it to a two-hour movie, but across a ten-hour show on Amazon, you can tell a sprawling mosaic story and add in color and depth at a level that you just can't do in a theatrical motion picture.Would Amazon let you go longer than 60 minutes per episode?Cuse: Again, it's streaming so there aren't tight parameters about episode run times.And it's an original, not from a Clancy book?Cuse: Correct. That was the other thing. We started working on an adaptation on Clear and Present Danger and then decided it just felt dated. It really led to this revelation that the thing that defined Tom Clancy was that his thrillers were very much geopolitical thrillers of the moment. They really tapped into something that was going on in the world, so we're doing an ISIS/ISIL type story. It feels very much connected to what's happening in the world right now.That's right, any of the books are period pieces now.Cuse: Exactly, and when you start adapting them, you realize it just didn't feel contemporary as we started working on it. So we're keeping the characters and the same general sense of all those things that made Clancy Clancy, but telling a wholly original story.Bates Motel / The Strain Chuck Hogan and Carlton Cuse InterviewYou've cast your Marion Crane on Bates Motel. How many episodes is Rihanna going to appear in?Cuse: Not something that we're going to disclose right now, but she is in multiple episodes.Once you start intersecting with the movie Psycho, do you have to very carefully expand and change up the things we think we know?Cuse: Absolutely, it would be I think really uninteresting to deliver up basically the exact same story of the movie. So we're going to criss-cross with the mythology of the movie and deliver up our own version of an ending that is referential to the movie but not beholden to the movie.If there were a shower scene would it have to be completely different?Cuse: Well, certainly shower technology has improved since 1960 so just even on that basis alone, it'll be a much nicer shower.That is the best answer to that question possible. You're developing another new series for Hulu and they're coming into their own with original programming too. Is it a good time to be developing a show with Hulu?Cuse: I think it really is. Look, I feel super fortunate to work for what I think are the best companies in the television business right now. Hulu is one of them. The ability on a streaming show to basically not have content restrictions, to not be beholden to some of the limitations that exist with act breaks and stuff like that is a great experience. That said, in terms of traditional basic cable, there's no better experience than FX.