CS Interview: Creator Jami O’Brien on AMC’s NOS4A2
In attending this year’s virtual SeriesFest, ComingSoon.net got the opportunity to chat with Jami O’Brien, creator and showrunner of AMC’s adaptation of the Joe Hill novel NOS4A2 and discuss the horror series’ newly-premiered second season and the well-received first chapter!
In comparing the pace of the first season to the second, with the former focusing more on a slow-burning character development heavy story, O’Brien describes the second season as being very much “more” of a lot of elements in the first season not utilized as heavily.
“Season two is, I think, faster, scarier, and has more action than season one,” O’Brien described. “And you know, that really is a result of us realizing in the writer’s room when we first kind of all got together that season one in many ways was about unraveling various mysteries in terms of the supernatural story. You know, in addition to the family drama, we were learning about Vic learning about her powers. She was learning about her powers. She was learning about Charlie Manx. She was learning about Vic. They didn’t know each other yet. And they didn’t know one another’s strengths and weaknesses, or even really Vic didn’t know her own strengths and weaknesses. And what we realized as soon as we started breaking season two, we realized that all that mystery is over, really. Vic and Manx are very aware of one another. They know one another’s strengths and weaknesses. And so, given that they know one another so well already, it automatically meant that the story was going to move much more quickly. We just start off with a lot more gas in the tank.”
When the writer’s room came to the realization that the characters “were going to be kind of at one another’s throats” in a much quicker fashion than the first season, O’Brien noted that one of the goals they had was to ensure that they did “preserve the character drama in the midst of all the plot action.”
“That was one of the things that we really were careful with in the writer’s room, you know, thematically, we wanted to talk about — eight years have gone by,” O’Brien explained. “A question we had was, we kind of saw Vic’s coming of age story last season. Has she really grown up? What kind of a parent is she? Has she been able to move past Charlie Manx? Is she going to fall into some of the same traps that her parents fell into that we kind of already saw her starting to pick up at the end of season one? And you know, what kind of mom is she going to be, and what kind of partner is she going to be? And as kind of a foil to that, we realized Charlie Manx also has a child. Eight years have gone by for him. And I guess we have some of the same questions for him. What kind of a dad is Charlie really? I mean, we heard him talk a lot about what his worldview was in season one, how much he loves kids. And in season two, I think we wanted to kind of interrogate that and ask, is that really true? Is Charlie’s version of events really true? Does he really believe that? How good of a dad is he? Is he somebody who’s able to change for the better? And so, we’ve kind of got, in season two, these two parents with two kids. And they’ve both kind of got vengeance on the mind towards the other. And also, protecting their own children from the other in addition. So yeah, that’s where we found ourselves and what we’re exploring a lot this season.”
Despite this extra gas in the tank helping fuel its extra action, in looking to keep the character drama in place, O’Brien and her staff also strived to find a way to “ground all of the supernatural elements” of the story while simultaneously amplifying them all.
“The approach to that was always, you know, Vic can’t open up her bridge just because she feels like going to the mall,” O’Brien joked. “You know? Any time that she opens up her bridge, it’s coming from a character need and a strong emotional need. And the same with Charlie Manx. You know, he’s going after Vic because he has a real emotional charge about her in general and Vic specifically. And so, that was kind of the bar that we set in season one, and I strive to maintain it in season two. There is still a character drama. You do still see Vic’s family. I can say that you’ll see Chris and Linda come back. And in season two, I guess the difference is, is that everybody, in addition to telling these family stories, the family story is folded even more deeply into the plot. So kind of everybody is all moving towards the same goal, by mid-season.”
With the source material featuring multiple time jumps in its story, the creator discussed that they knew ahead of time “they wanted this” and had planned it even while writing the first season, knowing that “the second part of the story really is about…the fight for Wayne’s soul, Vic’s son’s soul, and in the show also Millie Manx’s soul.”
“I thought that it was really an exciting creative challenge, because it’s almost like repiloting the show, in a certain way,” O’Brien opined. “You know, we pick up these characters. They’re all folks that we know and have met before, but they are in different places in their lives. And so, it’s almost like it’s a whole new start to the series, in a way, that we were really excited about.”
The latter episodes of the first season saw the introduction of FBI psychologist Tabitha Hunter, portrayed by Ashley Romans, and with the finale hinting at a bigger involvement from the character, O’Brien confirms audiences will get to see a lot more of the latest team member and that her and the writer’s room were “really excited about making Tabitha a series regular in season two.”
“One, we love the character from the book, and two, we really love Ashley Romans, who plays Tabitha, so we were excited to find an expanded role for her in season two,” O’Brien warmly described. “And yeah, when we meet her, she’s living with Maggie and the two of them have a partnership, a romantic partnership. So that relationship will continue to develop over the season. I think it will be tested by Vic McQueen and her insistence on kind of dragging Maggie back into the supernatural adventure. And Tabitha is going to have some feelings about that, and also, of course, she is equally invested in bringing Bing Partridge to justice as Vic and Maggie. So we’ll see her get involved in the plot as well, like everyone else. I think Tabitha is a true believer. You know, she saw Maggie’s scrabble bag in action at the end of season one. And you know, kind of made the choice to believe her own eyes. And so, I think in the eight-year time jump, in that time that she fell in love with Maggie and the two of them moved in together and explored their relationship, she’s aware of Maggie’s powers. And so, I think by extension, she is aware of Vic’s power. So I don’t think that there’s any more convincing that Tabitha needs. In the first episode, when we learn that Charlie Manx is dead and Vic doesn’t believe it, I think Tabitha also, I mean, Tabitha believes that Charlie Manx is dead. So she doesn’t have the information yet. She hasn’t seen the beating heart that we see at the end of episode one. So I think that that is still a point of skepticism for her. But she is a believer in the supernatural, when we come back in season two.”
One of the most exciting elements of the series’ first season saw Manx visit the mysterious bar Parnassus in the eighth episode, in which audiences were treated to a number of Easter eggs for both the works of Stephen King, Hill’s father, as well as other horror icons. This is very much carried over from the source material, as Hill connected his novel to others of his and King’s, and Parnassus was one of many Easter eggs littered throughout the first season. In looking at season two, O’Brien says there are “absolutely” a few more Easter eggs this time around, including specific characters fans may know before, though keeping her lips sealed on exactly who.
“I guess I’ll say we definitely, I can say we definitely go back to Parnassus, the bar that you mentioned before,” O’Brien noted. “And we meet some new folks there.”
With the novel being comprised of 720 pages and multiple timelines and characters, O’Brien expressed her love for its “vast world of strong creatives and inscapes” and though nothing is set up just yet for a third season, she does have ideas about how to continue the series should it get renewed while expressing her excitement for audiences to see the “hard work” her and her writer’s room put in on this season.
“I don’t want to say how much of the novel we eat up in season two, because I feel like it’s kind of a spoiler,” O’Brien stated. “But I will say that I think that Joe left us a pretty big canvas to continue telling stories, even in the event that we do finish the book. So yeah, right now, we don’t have a season three pickup from AMC yet. But in success, I do think that there are lots of stories to tell in this universe.”
NOS4A2’s second season picks up eight years after the events of season one. Vic McQueen (Ashleigh Cummings) remains more determined than ever to destroy Charlie Manx (Zachary Quinto). Charlie, having faced his own mortality, emerges desperate for revenge against Vic. This time, he sets his sights on the person who means most to Vic — her eight-year-old son Wayne. The race for Wayne’s soul sends Vic and Charlie on a high-speed collision course, forcing both to confront the mistakes of their pasts in order to secure a hold on Wayne’s future.
The series also stars rising star Ashleigh Cummings, along with Jahkara Smith, Olafur Darri Olafsson, Ebon Moss-Bachrach, Virginia Kull, Jonathan Langdon, Ashley Romans, Jason David, and Mattea Conforti.
Based on Joe Hill’s best-selling novel of the same name, NOS4A2 is executive produced by showrunner Jami O’Brien (Fear the Walking Dead, Hell on Wheels), and Hill. The series is produced by AMC Studios in association with Tornante Television.
(Photo by Phillip Chin/WireImage)