Monday (March 7) found the premiere of A&E’s newest series, a small-screen adaptation/sequel to the 1976 classic horror movie, “The Omen.”
Airing after the Season 4 premiere of “Bates Motel,” the series picks up on Damien Thorn as he reaches his 30th birthday. Working as a war photographer, Thorn has all but forgotten his chaotic childhood and leads a semi-normal life. That is, until his birthday hits.
Zap2it got a chance to sit down with Glen Mazzara (“The Walking Dead,” “The Shield”) to discuss the new series, its relation to the original 1976 movie and the challenges it took to stay true to the story while also pushing some genre boundaries.
So … of all the movies to make a series adaptation from, why ‘The Omen?’
I had a development deal with Fox and there was another producer named Ross Fineman and he was realizing that “Hannibal” and “Bates Motel” were successful shows based on properties. So he said, “How about a show based on ‘The Omen?’” That had been tried once before, and they’ve revisited that property before, so they brought it to me and asked if I could find a writer and supervise.
I said, “In all honesty, I love that movie. I don’t want to give it to another writer, I want to write it!” I spent some time thinking about what I wanted to do with it. Why would it be interesting to write as a show and not just a movie?
That had to be a big challenge.
Yeah. I began thinking … Christ was baptized when he was 30. It was sort of as if he had this awakening, if you will. Suddenly, the sky opens and says, “This is my beloved son, in who I am well pleased” and Christ begins his ministry. In a way, he’s activated when he was 30.
So, what if Damien’s been in hiding? Or he doesn’t even remember who he’s been … or who he’s supposed to be, until he’s 30? We tell a dark, perverted version of the Christ story. We make the Antichrist but use the Christ story as a model.
That’s something I had not seen. We always just associate the Antichrist with the devil. We never see him as a mirror image of Christ in some way. Is that possible and is that interesting? So, the network was very surprised at that take and I said let me go write it and see if that holds up.
I wrote the script and the series bible for the entire story, for multiple seasons … not a detailed plot, but the broad strokes of what this story is about. They responded to it, so we took it out and Lifetime got it, really responded to it and they bought it.
Lifetime has really been stepping outside of their comfort zone recently.
Yeah, that was kind of an interesting choice but I like taking risks, so we went along with it.
As the show started to come together, as we were shooting, we had only delivered four days of dailies from Shekhar Kapoor (“Elizabeth”) directing the first episode and the people at the network were so excited by what they were seeing — and the future scripts they had read — that they ordered four more episodes and said they’d move us to A&E and launch us behind the new season of “Bates Motel.”
That’s a pretty big deal. You mentioned a story bible for the series, is it safe to say the canon here picks up after the original movie and ignores the sequels?
That’s correct. I feel that the second or third films, even though I enjoyed them, put Damien down a path that doesn’t work for the character I have in mind. This is a direct sequel to the 1976 Donner/Seltzer film and, even though we’re aware of those other films and there might be a little Easter Egg nods to them once in a while, we’re not using them as canon.
Barbara Hershey has a pretty important, yet mysterious role here. Is there any similarity to that of Mrs. Baylock in ‘The Omen?’
A line that stood out to me when I went back to watch the original movie … when Mrs. Baylock shows up, she says, “the agency sent me.” I started thinking, who’s that agency? Is she just lying or is there some big major conspiracy behind who’se sending her. I wanted to know more about that so that question led to Barbara’s character and some backstory around her.
While we’re talking about her, it needs to be said that she brings a powerfully eerie presence with her on screen. Her performance in “The Entity” still hits all the disturbing marks to this day.
Let me say something about Barbara. It’s funny, because in all the conversations about Barbara, a lot of people don’t talk about “The Entity.” I think what you see is, in her work between “The Entity” and “The Last Temptation of Christ” … she was in “Paris Trout,” she takes risks.
She’s a very very brave actor and she’s smart, she’s incredibly talented and has a tremendous high level of craft. But she’s a risk taker and can play anything you give her. I’ve learned a lot about acting from her, and about writing.
She’s been a terrific collaborator and I’ve absolutely loved working with her. I think part of it is because she really wants the show to be good. It’s never good enough.
The look and tone here is reminiscent of the ’70s slow burn feel of the movie. What were some of the challenges bringing that cinematic quality to the small-screen?
That’s the kind of filmmaking I grew up with. That’s the kind of filmmaking I enjoy. To me, that is cinema and that’s something I really wanted to do on the show. I felt I had to, because otherwise you’re doing a poor man’s TV version of a classic film. I wanted it to have a worthy sequel.
So, we spent a lot of time — a tremendous amount of time … more than I’ve ever done in the past — working with the directors talking about the look, talking about the feel, talking about the tone and working with the D.P.
We spent a lot of time talking about these shots and the type of colors … there was more effort on this show in paying attention to all the aspects of filmmaking, and perhaps it’s because we had a lot of time, but the color timing, the sound, the music … Bear McCreary did a phenomenal job with the score where he’s drawing inspiration from Jerry Goldsmith’s Oscar-winning score from the film.
So, we really talked about not just the characters and the scripts and the plot and all of that business, but we really spent a lot of time talking about all aspects of filmmaking. It was just a matter of the whole team coming together. It was really just a great experience.
Recently, there’s been a growing popularity in genre shows revolving around the devil, demons and the like. Why do you think that is?
I think it’s just a wave of what’s working in horror and what can be done well on TV now. I think that’s one thing.
I think also, though, people feel threatened. I think if you look at the type of world we’re living in where there are people feeling threatened by terrorists, mass shootings or forces we seem not to be able to control … that there are these malevolent forces out there that scare us and frighten us.
Perhaps we’re tapping into something that way. What you’re seeing now is a horror that is directly tied to the unseen, the unnamed. That’s more frightening, when you don’t have something specific you can eliminate and just get on with your life. This is something that’s a little darker and I think maybe it’s a way for society to exercise some of those fears.
“Damien” airs Mondays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on A&E.