There is an old Acting 101 conceit that says in essence that if you’re playing a villain, don’t play him as a snarling, mustache-twirling cad. Bad guys, after all, are human beings, too, and they don’t think they’re bad.
That gives some idea of the approach Bradley James (“Merlin,” “Homeland”) took in creating the adult Damien Thorn in A&E Network’s “Damien,” the 10-episode follow-up to the original 1976 film “The Omen” starring Gregory Peck and Lee Remick, that premieres Monday (March 7).
“Someone asked me … ‘What did you do to become the Antichrist?’ And I thought, ‘Well, you can’t really go out and play the Antichrist,’ ” the 32-year-old British actor tells Zap2it. “You know, people who are kings can’t necessarily play kings. They are endowed that by the people around them. They are given that status, and the same sort of thing kind of applies to being the Antichrist. You have to be endowed with that by the people and the world around you.
“So it was a case of just taking this character who is on the page … and turning him into a human being and just having that aspect to his character where people could understand that he was capable of being whatever their version of the Antichrist was, just having people aware that that was a possibility.”
In this new iteration, Damien is 30 years old and once again at the center of death and despair, only this time he’s not causing it but rather recording it as a war photographer in Syria alongside colleague Amani (Omid Abtahi, “Better Call Saul”). Though haunted by the events of his past, he’s nonetheless unaware of the satanic forces around him – until a shocking discovery in the premiere episode forces him to come to terms with his true identity.
Megalyn Echikunwoke (“House of Lies”) stars as Simone, a woman whose life is thrown into turmoil by tragedy, and Barbara Hershey (“Beaches”) plays Ann Rutledge, a mystery woman working behind the scenes to ensure that Damien’s terrible destiny is fulfilled.
The Oscar-nominated, Emmy-winning actress says she was initially drawn to this project by the script and the questions it raises.
“I was really intrigued with … the question of ‘What would you do if you found out you were the Antichrist?’ ” Hershey says. “… I think we have both good and bad inside of us and we make choices every day about who we are. So his dilemma is something that I related to when I read it – as well as my character. I thought that was very intriguing. I wasn’t sure where it was going but I was willing to take the leap.”
“Since the little boy at the end of the original film smiles at the camera, he has blanked out what happened to him. He has erased it from his brain,” she continues. “That’s how he dealt with it and became a war photographer and surrounded himself with pain basically. And I think all along, she’s been in the shadows orchestrating things, guiding him, protecting him, making sure things proceeded as they should. … Now that Damien has reached 30, it’s time for him to do it and she steps out of the shadows and reveals herself to him.”