Filmmaker Adam Wingard knows his way around a horror film, from his contributions to anthologies like “V/H/S” and “The ABCs of Death” to his feature outings like “A Horrible Way to Die” and “The Guest,” but now he’s trying something a little different with his latest chiller: Television. Wingard directed the first episode of Cinemax’s new “Outcast” series, adapted from the comic book series of the same name from Robert Kirkman and artist Paul Azaceta, which hits SXSW next week as part of their burgeoning Episodics slate.
It’s familiar enough material for both Wingard and his audience, but the director promises that “Outcast” puts a twist on the tired trope of possession stories. The show follows the (quite literally) haunted Kyle Barnes (Patrick Fugit) as he finally attempts to get to the root of a problem that’s plagued him his entire life: The weird (and terrifying) regularity in which those around him fall under the spell of demonic possessions. Kyle eventually hooks up with a reverend (Philip Glenister) to crack the mystery, and the two embark on a journey to crack the case and basically get the devil out of Kyle’s mostly ruined life. Still, Wingard swears this is not just another “possession of the week” show and he promises that “Outcast” will thrill audiences with its fresh spin on a long-loved genre.
Indiewire got on the phone with Wingard in advance of the “Outcast” premiere. While we’ve yet to catch the show (and trust us, we begged, but the thing is under lock and key until its premiere), Wingard’s obvious passion for the material have just pushed it way up our must-see list.
I wasn’t allowed to check out the show before we talked, but from what I’ve seen, it looks very scary and very much in your wheelhouse. How do you explain it to people who haven’t seen it?
It’s probably more of a drama than anything I’ve done before. Usually most of the projects I work on are grounded a little more in having a strong comedic base. So that’s something that’s a little different.
Essentially it’s an exorcism story, but in true Kirkman fashion, he’s created a universe where it’s partially familiar but a totally new take on it. There’s lots of surprises, so I guess the best summary is it’s a new kind of possession story.
Given that this is a television series, how far do you think the story can go, in terms of actual hours of storytelling?
Well, I think there’s a definite trajectory where it’s going to be headed. In terms of how long that’s gonna be stretched out, it’s not really for me to say.
The interesting thing about it is, even though it is a television show with possessions, it’s not necessarily an exorcism of the week thing. There’s definitely a goal the show is moving towards and it can take as long or short as it needs to get there. That’s the interesting thing about it. It’s a possession story that’s moving somewhere. It’s not just about random possessions and things happened.
Not “possession of the week.”
Yeah, not really. There are plenty of possessions that happen. The whole pilot is a whole lot of crazy exorcism stuff and a lot of episodes do have it, but it’s not just based around the repetitive horror show.
At the core of it, the show is really a drama. It’s about a guy who has PTSD from his mother being possessed when he was younger and how he’s dealing with it. And how he’s teaming up with this preacher to try and put an end to these local possessions going on.
How did you use the comic book as a roadmap?
It’s really helpful to use that as a guide, because we could always say we can depart from it as much as we need to. But at the end of the day, whenever we wanted a reference point, there it was. Even if we weren’t trying to match things exactly, there were always some references or some ideas that would come out of the source material.
One thing that is different is the source material approaches the color palette in a colorful way. I knew I wanted to ground it and Kirkman, and the whole team felt the same way. They didn’t want it to feel like the book, they wanted it to have a realistic quality, similar to the way they approached “The Walking Dead.” First and foremost, this is a television show and the comics are kind of a guide. A lot of times, when we could, we would get costumes, locations, as close as possible and we would try to match a couple frames here and there.
To that end, the Internet has had some fun making side-by-side comparisons between Patrick and the comic book Kyle. It feels like an out of the box role for him, but it already seems to be working.
Well, that was what was great about casting Patrick. Like you said, he’s playing outside of expectations, which I think is important for your leads in a series like this. To not go obvious. I think it’s important to find someone you sympathize with and believe in and Patrick had it.
The funny thing was, we auditioned tons and tons of people. The day Patrick came in, I don’t think anyone had the expectation that he was going to be the guy. I think in our minds it was something totally different, at least in the types we were looking for. He came in with his audition and it was extremely clear from that point on that this is the guy who has all the goods we are looking for. It’s because we have an open mind and we allowed it to happen. He came in and did all the work and we look smart by picking him.
How was making the jump from film to TV for you?
I’ve never wanted to just refocus my energy towards there, but it is something where we are living in a culture now where TV is just as influential in a lot of ways as film is. I spend a lot of time watching TV, not gonna lie, so in the back of my head there was always the thought this is something I’m gonna do.
This project just fell into place in a nice way where I had some time at the end of the year before I was going to go shoot a movie and experience something on a film set. I got this script and I heard it was a possession story. When I first heard that, I wasn’t really interested at all. I feel like, by and large, possession stories all do the same thing. There is always the Catholic angle and the rules are all the same, and basically this is the long way of saying everyone’s just imitating “The Exorcist” and they got it right the first time and everybody is just trying to figure out what to do different. Instead of doing anything different, we are at best doing the same thing.
I read it guarded, not knowing what to expect. But there are a couple of elements in here, that I can’t tell you about not spoiling some of the fun moments, but there are a couple of just really shocking and great avenues that the story takes, where I knew this is something worth doing. Eventually someone’s gonna figure out how to do an exorcism TV show. This one is doing it in a way that is not taking a boring approach and doing something new. More than anything, that’s why I got involved.
What was the production experience like? How is it different from what you are used to?
The main difference is there is just less time. Not that indie films have a ton of shooting days, but you have a bit more than what we had on this. There is that curve too, because I’m the type of director who likes to shoot a lot of takes, and so for me it was like, how can I squeeze in as many takes as possible and get the coverage I need. That was a little bit of a learning curve. By and large I had such a great crew that it went really smoothly.
It’s nice that you’ve moved into TV, but you still get to premiere your show at SXSW, where your films have been so well-received over the years.
It will be fun to actually be in the room with people and experience it. You don’t get to do that with TV all the time. I haven’t had a film in a festival in like a year or something. I can’t escape the festival circuit.
I don’t know if you’ve seen these rumors that people think your “Guest” star Dan Stevens should be James Bond. Do you feel partially responsible for that?
[laughs] Are people talking about Dan?
Some people are!
When we were shooting “The Guest,” there were so many scenes when we were thinking Dan would be the perfect Bond. The whole Bond thing has gotten so dour with the direction they’ve been going in, it feels like they need to move back to Pierce Brosnan-style fun Bond again. If they did that, Dan Stevens would be the perfect choice. Not that he wouldn’t be the perfect choice for any kind of Bond, because he’s a fantastic actor. But he certainly has my endorsement.
“Outcast” wil screen at SXSW on Monday, March 14. The show will premiere on Cinemax later this year.
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