Why 'Channel Zero' And 'The Act' Showrunner Nick Antosca Never Wants To Direct [Interview]

American Crime Story proved that true crime could be addicting television, and each season could tell a complete new story. Hulu's new series The Act is about to tell you a more recent true crime story. Season one is about Gypsy Rose Blanchard (Joey King), whose mother Dee Dee (Patricia Arquette) was committing Munchausen's Syndrome by Proxy, keeping her daughter sick so she could keep taking care of her. Gypsy eventually found a man online, Nick Godejohn to kill Dee Dee so she could escape.Nick Antosca, the creator of Channel Zero and a writer on Hannibal, brought The Act to Hulu. His co-creator on the series is Michelle Dean, author of the 2016 Buzzfeed article that brought this case to national attention. Dean is also a producer and writer on The Act and lead the writer's room. Her article also became the subject of the HBO documentary. Mommy Dead and Dearest."The show though isn't a factual retelling of the case," Dean told /Film in a separate interview. "It's more inspired by the case, something like that. Over the years this case has become like an ocean for me of information. Apprehending that ocean is a big part of constructing the show."Antosca spoke with /Film about adapting the true story into eight episodes of television. He's also in the works on a Chucky TV series with Child's Play creator Don Mancini, as part of his overall deal with Univesral Content Productions. The Act premieres on Hulu today.Had you been looking to do something more real world after several horror and sci-fi/fantasy series?I hadn't. It was this particular story that sucked me in. I was one of the six million people who read the Buzzfeed story when it went viral. I read it as a consumer of true crime and somebody who's interested in complicated stories about human nature. And then shortly afterward when I heard that the option was available, I leapt at the opportunity to help bring it to the screen because when I read that story and watch the documentary or the news coverage, I feel like what I crave is something that I can't get from documentary, which is subjective experience, internal experience. I just wonder what was it like to be inside that house for seven years? I wanted to help explore what's behind the mask, behind the performance.So you are a true crime buff?Yeah. I remember reading Helter Skelter on the plane when I first came to L.A., 10, 11 years ago. And then reading it again after I'd been here for a while. Books like that, The Stranger Beside Me, Evidence of Blood, In Cold Blood, a million other ones were really formative for me. I think it kind of speaks to a curiosity about what's going on behind your neighbor's front door. People hide in plain sight.Lifetime did a movie in January where they changed the names. Was it important to have the rights to the true story?Yeah, I mean, I haven't seen the Lifetime movie. What was important to us was to have the real estate to really explore the character journeys. This is not a show about a murder. It's a show about the relationships that led to the murder, to show the people the murder. What drew me to it wasn't the crime. It was the many years over which these two women shaped each other and led to that.Are you dealing with two timelines through the duration of the season?Yeah, we're dealing with multiple timelines, more than two actually because eventually we'll go back and see Gypsy's early childhood and see what Dee Dee was like as a young mother and see her relationship with her mother, played by Margo Martindale. We see how there's a generational aspect of this. We see how Gypsy was taught to manipulate. She was manipulated and so she was taught by example and she used those tools that her mother gave her, manipulation and deception and she became better at them than her mother was and she used them to escape and get free. When we go back to the earlier timeline, we see how Dee Dee's own mother manipulated her.Channel Zero always had a twist. Does the true story provide the twist to The Act?There's a lot of twists in the story. We go into it though knowing that the audience already knows some of the twists. So this story isn't about shocking twists. It's about character journeys. It's about why you commit murder. It's about committing murder out of love sometimes. And doing a show like Channel Zero, a fictional story, is sort of fundamentally different. We can, at the last minute in the writers room, we can just change the ending totally in Channel Zero. Here you can't do that. We already knew the factual mile markers that we were going to follow. We knew how the story ended. We knew how we got there so it's a matter of taking a foundation of truth, arranging it a little bit so it has a strong dramatic structure, which it already did. But the real work is the internal journey. The real work is thinking about what would it have been there to be Gypsy at this moment? What would it have been like to realize that the only way to escape your mother is to kill her?Did eight episodes always lay out intuitively with the true story?It did lend itself pretty intuitively to what really happened. We decided to start the story at a certain point, and it was where the act was at its strongest point. The act was seamless, the performance was seamless. At the beginning of this show, they're at the happily ever after. They've gotten this house. The world thinks that Dee Dee is the greatest mom around. She's kind of achieved everything she wanted and over time we're going to see that erode and the cracks appear in the facade and it falls apart.Could you have done The Act without Michelle Dean?It wouldn't have been as good. We just wouldn't have had an extraordinary resource. I mean, Michelle did years of research as a journalist before we started doing the show. She had a ton of background material, far more than could be fit in a Buzzfeed article. She had 1000 pages of medical records, extensive interviews with most of the people involved including Gypsy. So in the writers room, any time we're wondering is this plausible, is this believable, is this roughly what happened? Michelle could give us the raw material so that we could be true to the spirit of the truth, even if we were  rearranging things a little bit.Has a lot come out since she wrote the article?Not too much. There have been further interviews. The documentary came out after she wrote the article so there was other publicly available information that we were able to use. Also, Nick's trial happened while we were shooting. He was convicted of murder while we were shooting episode three or four. We were in the middle of production watching the story unfold as we were filming it.Will we see any of the conventions Gypsy went to in The Act?Yeah, episode three they go to the comic convention. I knew and Michelle knew from the very beginning of our conversations, we knew that we wanted to have an episode centered around that because that represents the first real opportunity she had to escape because she met somebody there. She ran away with him. He was like a prototype for Nick, the guy who she would eventually ask to kill her mom. This first guy was the first experience she had with adult sexuality. So it's kind of ironic, she goes to this convention where she gets an opportunity to dress up and be someone else, and she takes that opportunity and runs with it.What did you learn from Hannibal and Channel Zero to help you show run The Act?From Hannibal I learned that you have to have a very clear vision and you have to hire people you trust and you should push the boundaries. You shouldn't be afraid to do an art project on TV. I was in season three of Hannibal. At that point, Bryan was almost making like a Matthew Barney art installation on TV. It was just so strange and experimental. I couldn't believe what he was able to get on TV. That was one reason I wanted to be on the show in the first place. How does a show runner get something this strange on TV? This was back in 2013, 2014. So I took that philosophy to Channel Zero which is we're going to do something different. Having run four seasons of TV before The Act, I was able to confidently express our vision to the network, the studio, get everybody on board early on so that they understood that we were making something more akin to Boys Don't Cry, Heavenly Creatures, that kind of almost poetic true crime story.Are there episodes of The Act that are more abstract and artistic?I wouldn't say abstract. I would say they're subjective. They're about the internal life of these characters, these people.Is it harder to be subjective about Dee Dee?A little bit. Gypsy's more the point of view character of The Act because it's her coming of age story, but the show is very interested in Dee Dee's experience as well. What is it like when you're injecting your daughter with something you know that she doesn't really need? What are you telling yourself while you're doing that. We always kept in mind that she was coming from a place of love and that love was polluted by fear. But, it was love of her daughter and fear of losing her daughter.How big of a role does the medical community play in The Act?Well, in episode two, we'll show how Dee Dee was able to evade doctors and how Gypsy participated in that deception.Syfy announced your Chucky series with Don Mancini. Did he start talking to you about Chucky during Channel Zero?We've been talking about that since even before that, since Hannibal because we were on Hannibal together in 2014, 2015. We've been talking about it since then. It's been a dream for a while so we talked about it more during Channel Zero. We did a pilot for Fox at one point.child's play remakeA Chucky pilot?No, no, it was an adaptation of Brian De Palma's The Fury. It didn't go. They picked up The Exorcist instead which was a good show but I still wish we could have gotten to do that. Finally, late last year we were able to get the rights to Chucky, all the deals negotiated and everything. Now we're going.Will it be called Child's Play?Tentatively the working title is Chucky. That could change but that's the working title.I think it should be called Chucky at this point because that's who's known.I agree. You know what that is.The last few movies used Chucky in the title too.The series is going to be closer to the tone of the first two movies in the series. It's going to go back to a sort of classic scare.Is it back to the idea that Chucky goes after kids?Yes.How much does it follow the complicated story Don laid out in the movies versus introducing new stories?It's consistent with that mythology but it's a whole new story. So you could come into it without knowing anything about the previous stuff and get into it, but it is consistent with all the mythology that's come before. So it's in canon.But no Fiona Dourif, Jennifer Tilly or Alex Vincent?Well, they might pop in eventually but it's new characters. I don't want to say anything definitive. I'll leave that to Don but let's just say there might be opportunities in the story for Jennifer or Fiona to make an appearance. Of course, the plan is for Brad [Dourif] to do the voice.Obviously you would have preferred to continue Channel Zero, but did it's cancellation come at the right time as you were gearing up The Act?I wouldn't say they affected one another. When Channel Zero was cancelled, we were already almost done shooting The Act. So for the first chunk of writing The Act and preproduction, we were still editing Channel Zero and even production. So I was running two shows at once. Had Channel Zero gotten renewed at this point, I think I might have gone into a coma or something. I'm very sad to see Channel Zero go but I'm incredibly proud and kind of amazed that we got to do four seasons of a weird art horror film on the Syfy Channel.Are you still shopping it around?Not at the moment. At the moment, I'm fully focused on season one of this and on Chucky, and developing a couple other things that are in earlier development. In theory, I would love to do more Channel Zero but I'm fully booked right now. And I don't feel like we left at a place where it's like oh shit, we didn't get to do what we wanted to do. I think we told four stories that are very different but thematically connected, and I couldn't be prouder. So I would love to return to that art horror world or existential horror world, but not actively shopping it to anybody at the moment.What genres are your other developments?Thriller, horror and unclassifiable.All for different networks and outlets?Yeah, all at UCP where my home base is. My production banner, Eat the Cat, is at UCP so I'm developing a couple different things there and I'm working on some features.Writing features?Yeah, so I have a movie called Antlers coming out later this year that Guillermo del Toro's producing and Scott Cooper's directing. It's based on a short story I wrote and I cowrote the script. Then I have some other stuff in earlier development.Is Antlers a creature feature?Yeah. I feel like it's in the spirit of Channel Zero.Are there features you want to direct too?I have no interest in directing right now. I'm a writer and show runner is the dream job for me. I love working with directors. I loved working with Laure de Clermont-Tonnere who did three episodes on The Act. Steven Piet was the producing director on The Act and he did two of the episodes as well. I prefer to have ongoing collaborations with directors who I love and respect. When a director can take what I've written and honor my intention and also make it better and bring something even more elevated to it, that's my favorite thing.