In the tradition of Hannibal and Bates Motel, Damien (airing Mondays at 10/9c on A&E) is a television exploration of a beloved big-screen horror franchise—that of The Omen. Under showrunner/executive producer Glen Mazzara (formerly of The Walking Dead), the series debuted last week and stars Merlin‘s Bradley James as the titular antichrist, along with Barbara Hershey (as his “protector” Ann Rutledge), Megalyn Echikunwoke, Omid Abtahi, The Walking Dead‘s Scott Wilson, and Tiffany Hines. But how does one continue a story whose central character heralds the ultimate ending? (That of the entire world.)
“Good question,” laughs Mazzara, when he sits down to chat with us about Damien. “Horror is doing well on TV and everybody’s looking for stories the audience knows and responds to. And yet we’re looking for fresh ways to tell those stories. So I was approached with creating a show based on The Omen, and that’s one of my favorite films. It just scared the hell out of me when I was a kid. So I really started thinking, ‘Okay, how do we tell the story of Damien Thorn in a new way?'”
“We played with the fact that he’s the antichrist. And just like Jesus Christ being all god and all man, is it possible to have a figure who’s a mixture of all man and all devil? I thought that was a fun starting point. So I took that and ran with it, and developed the character and the story and here we are.”
In chronicling Damien’s journey, Mazzara has assembled an impressive cast, including screen legend Hershey…
“When we created the roll of Ann Rutledge,” explains the showrunner, “we knew we needed an actor who could play a lot of different things. I certainly always look for somebody who’s willing to take risks, to push the boundaries a little bit. Barbara is that kind of actor. She’s done that her entire career, and given some really brave performances in what she’s done, in The Entity for example. But yet she can also go to the other end of the spectrum in something like Hannah and Her Sisters. She’s got such a tremendous range. So I wrote her a fan letter and actually asked her if she’d consider playing the part, and I described what the role is and how I work. All of that. She responded to it, so that was really exciting. She’s been so much fun to work with.”
Damien features another veteran favorite, Scott Wilson, as White House power broker John Lyons.
“Scott and I walked on The Walking Dead for two seasons. He’s a terrific actor. I wrote his role specifically for him, to bring him into the show. Then the other actors, Megalyn [Echikunwoke] and Omid [Abtahi] and of course Bradley James, they came in and auditioned and really just inhabited those roles in a way that felt right to me. I consider myself very lucky to be working with such a talented cast.”
Unlike some horror franchise extensions, Damien has been unafraid to address its roots or invite comparisons to The Omen, going so far as to incorporate clips from director Richard Donner’s film.
“That was something that was important to me,” says Wilson. “I wanted to use the original film playing as repressed memories coming to surface decades later. These memories that had been traumatizing Damien his whole life, that he’s been trying to bury. That was something that I had never seen done before. I love that film and I was excited to try to work with it. We are a direct sequel to that movie. We’re ignoring the other sequels, the other films, and there was an attempt to have a TV pilot in the early ‘90s. We’re ignoring that material and going straight to the classic.”
The biggest challenge now facing Mazzara lies in taking a character once principally viewed as a threat and transforming him into a multilayered protagonist. Though Mazzara tells us he’s long harbored some sympathy for Damien.
“I always felt that the antagonist in The Omen was really the devil, the unseen Satan protecting his son. You have these dark forces around Damien, and then we learn there are forces trying to eliminate him and forces bringing him along and raising him. He’s in the middle of at least one conspiracy, maybe a few. So I wanted to keep that alive. There’s definitely a devil’s point of view sometimes in our show. That there are these unseen forces. That’s why we try to do a lot of our stunts and horror sequences practically. We don’t want to rely too much on special effects. We want the show to feel grounded and that it’s taking place in our world. We see this world as punctured by evil because of Damien’s birth and upbringing and the curse that he’s suffering. But there’s all these unseen forces swirling around him, and when we meet him he’s starting to recognize that they are tied directly to him; and that they’re not just something he can outrun. That’s not a choice anymore.”
As for Damien‘s first-season arc, and how it will play into future seasons, Mazzara remarks…
“There’s definitely a journey to this arc, to this season. It’s something that I had designed before I sold the show. It was something that I really thought about the entire journey. I don’t want to just do something where I’m getting this guy into situations. I want him to go on a long, complex, emotional journey. I describe the show as ‘a man’s search for God leads him to the Devil.’ Damien’s trying to find himself and he keeps coming up against the fact that he’s evil and he has this evil curse. He doesn’t want to bear that cross, if you will. That’s a long story to tell. Hopefully we’ll have the time and the multiple seasons to tell it. We definitely have a road map and a beginning, middle, and an end. We’re just getting started as he’s learning about himself and the forces around him, and he’s trying to make sense of all this stuff that’s now stepping out of the shadows and coming into the light. So this is the first part of hopefully a long-running saga.”
Are you a fan of The Omen? What do you think of Damien? Let us know below!