Julie Plec, creator of The Vampire Diaries and The Originals, ruler of all things supernatural, is tackling the scariest foe known to mankind: an incurable, fatal virus.
Her new CW series Containment follows the harrowing story of a mysterious and deadly epidemic breaking out in Atlanta, forcing a vast urban quarantine to go into effect overnight, much to the horror of everyone trapped inside. Trying to keep the peace on the streets is police officer Lex Carnahan (David Gyasi), who has quickly risen through the ranks of the Atlanta PD. But Lex’s job becomes even harder when he learns that his longtime girlfriend, Jana (Christina Moses), and his best friend and fellow officer Jake (Chris Wood), are trapped within the cordoned area.
Also quarantined within viral ground zero is 17-year-old Teresa (Hanna Mangan Lawrence), who is eight months pregnant and now separated from her boyfriend on the other side; Katie Frank (Kristen Gutoskie), an elementary school teacher now placed on lockdown with her entire class, including her young son; and CDC researcher Dr. Victor Cannerts (George Young), the doctor who initially made the controversial call to quarantine the area, and who is now racing to find a cure for the seemingly-incurable virus. On the outside, Dr. Sabine Lommers (Claudia Black) leads the government efforts to contain the outbreak, and asks for Lex’s help in enforcing the cordon — which grows increasingly difficult as the public trust deteriorates and anarchy erupts.
While Plec usually deals more in vampires/witches/werewolves than in illnesses and anarchy, the showrunner actually revealed to Nerdist while on set in Atlanta that creating a non-supernatural series wasn’t a challenge for her.
“Interestingly enough, it’s the opposite of a challenge, which has been this remarkable creative experience,” Plec says. “There’s something about a supernatural universe that you would think would actually make it easier to create tension and build conflict and have big scares and big ideas and big sequences. And that’s true in a lot of ways. You can pick the best idea out of a hat. But it’s also incredibly difficult to continue to continually make your mark from act to act, episode after episode. You can actually end up accidentally overtopping yourself.”
Plec got to flex a different kind of muscle when sitting down to create the world of Containment, which is based on the Belgian TV series Cordon.
“In a non-supernatural universe, there’s just character, and it’s humanity and human beings and how they relate to each other,” Plec says. “And there’s an added bonus of this really is genre. The virus itself really is a monster. It’s the Jaws, the monster under the bed, all those things. I assume writing a nice family drama would be more difficult, probably, but this is the perfect blend of being able to explore humanity and also give people a little nudge of tension or suspense or mystery.”
While trapped inside the quarantine with the threat of a fatal virus looming everywhere, the characters will be forced to become either the best versions of themselves, or the worst.
“It’s a series grounded a lot in inhumanity,” Plec reveals. “Humanity has both its beautiful and its ugly sides. You see people constantly faced with decisions they have to make in a completely crisis-based situation.”
Plec was also excited to use Containment to explore larger themes that exist out in the real world.
“The first thing that happens is that patient zero is a man of Middle-Eastern descent,” Plec says. “Of course, there’s a lot of fingers pointing and a lot of anger and a lot of hostility and some xenophobia. There’s some nice subtextual racial politics. But it’s really about who are you and what kind of a person are you? Does a situation like this bring out a side of you that you are proud of or does it bring out a side of you that you hope you never have to see again?”
While the series could easily shift into science-fiction territory, Plec made sure to keep Containment realistic in terms of the virus.
“One of the things we tried as hard as possible to keep this grounded in real world predicaments and not falling prey to the urge of making something bigger or weirder or cooler,” Plec says. “We try to hold off on that as long as we could and maximize what we could get out of the very simple idea of a virus to which there is no cure. That being said, there are a couple elements that shift about the virus which throw people for a couple loops and it certainly leaves the door wide open for the future of the series, which anything can go.”
Expect to learn about the science of the virus, its origins and why it showed up in Atlanta as the season progresses.
“Honestly, it’s a very long, slow journey through the first season,” Plec says. “It’s something that the Belgian series did very well and really nicely. I tip my hat to them in how they unfolded the details of their mystery of who brought it here, how did it get here, what is it and that kind of thing. We try not to stall ever, and we try to dole it out in very small doses, but it’s not a Lost-sized mystery that will have you screaming every episode, but it is enough to wet your whistle and keep you engaged and asking those questions. I like that subtle threat of a conspiracy.”
And while The Vampire Diaries fans will get to see season six’s fan-favorite villain Kai (Wood) in a new light as a police officer trapped inside the cordon, Plec reveals he almost didn’t get cast in Containment at all.
“I thought he was too young, actually,” Plec says with a laugh, before revealing that executive producer David Nutter was blown away by Wood’s audition. Apparently, all it took was Wood growing some facial hair and voila, he’s the new star of a CW series.
Images: The CW
Containment premieres Tuesday, April 19 at 9 p.m. on The CW.
Last month, Containment took over Nerdist’s SXSW Saloon at Banger’s Sausage House and Beer Garden. During the day, it was a seemingly safe medical facility. But at night, things got a little crazy … Check out photos from the event in the gallery below!