It’s a cool February day in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and a group of misfits are striding with purpose across the small town set of “Midnight, Texas.” Since the events of the shoot are for the series’ season finale, details can’t be divulged about the group’s purpose or destination yet, but what’s important is that they’re doing it as a team. With so many of vampire and supernatural shows ending in the past few years, the NBC series is looking to revitalize the genre with its emphasis on inclusion, not division.
From the author behind “True Blood,” comes “Midnight, Texas,” which shares more than a few hallmarks of HBO’s ultra racy vampire show. Besides featuring a mix of supernatural beings, including one sexy vampire main character, the NBC show is also inspired by author Charlaine Harris’ experiences with southern living. Well, Texan living, in this case.
“When the Sookie books ended, I was kind of out of gas and I wanted to write short series and I thought, ‘What could I plumb?’” Harris said while sitting down with press at the set visit. So the author decided to latch onto her childhood visits with her mother to the hotel where her grandparents worked in the tiny town of Rocksprings, Texas.
“It is very desolate. If you think this is desolate, you should see that,” she said. “Texas was a real challenge for me. The terrain was so different. I grew up in the Mississippi Delta, and the society was different, and the people were much tougher, much tougher and they had different goals. I felt like an alien and I thought, ‘You know, that was an interesting feeling to be an alien in your own country,’ and it kind of grew from there.”
Unfortunately, that feeling of being an outsider is all too familiar for many people who currently live in this country, and not just because they must adjust to a new environment. Intolerance still abounds for all people. Watch a trailer for the show below:
The tagline for the show, “Only outsiders fit in,” indicates that series titular small town is draw for supernatural people, but also regular folk who may feel like misfits in other ways due to marginalization, stigmatization, past trauma or secrets.
“I think people are very unkind in general to those who are different in significant ways,” said Harris. “People who have learning disabilities, people who have epilepsy, people who are fat, people who are boney, people who are any different from the average run are picked on, derided, called names. That is the least pleasant part of human nature. I think that I created a space for all these people to come together and be a whole that’s more powerful than the individual.”
Showrunner Monica Osuwu-Breen said, “I’ve been loving the metaphor of this show, about difference coming together and being stronger together than apart. And that you can disagree with people and still love one another and take care of one another.”
Meet each of the unique Midnighters below:
Manfred Bernardo, Psychic
Our entry into this world of outsiders is through Manfred Bernardo (“The Borgias” star Francois Arnaud), a medium who can see and speak to the dead. Many of the characters on the show have a domain that represents their unique qualities, and Manfred’s is his vintage blue van, in which he drives across the state to Midnight on the advice of his deceased grandmother Xylda (Joanne Camp). Despite being dead, she still visits him in ghost form, sitting in the passenger seat of the vehicle and chatting with him as casually as if they were on the phone.
“I think [his gift] is definitely more of a curse than a blessing,” said Arnaud. “He’s definitely used it to scam people and got away with things in the past, and is on the run because of it, and hiding in Midnight because of it. And so those things obviously will come back and haunt him quite literally.
“I was a big fan of the ‘Babadook,’” he said, “and that’s a film that I can draw a lot of parallels with Manfred’s story actually, because I think it’s about controlling, managing your inner demons without necessarily conquering them, but just taming the beast. And so I think that’s part of Manfred’s journey.”
Manfred runs a business as a professional psychic who uses a combo of hornswoggling and real skill with his clients. Income and profit drive him initially when he gets to Midnight. “He’s not particularly willing to help others,” said Arnaud. “That’s why I think it’s so interesting to play a character who’s flawed and selfish, and a reluctant hero. Inevitably, eventually he’ll learn to be the hero that he was told he’s meant to be.”
Fiji Cavanaugh, Witch
Fiji (“Luke Cage” actress Parisa Fitz-Henley) looks harmless. She’s a Wiccan who runs a shop out of her home, sells crystals, charms and herbs, and is a bit of a crazy cat lady… on the surface at least. Fiji moved to Midnight after she inherited her house and cat from her aunt. She’s also not that sure of herself and her untapped potential.
“She’s very sincere, in particular when you see in the books how much she struggles to feel comfortable in the world,” said Fitz-Henley. “That’s something we also wanted to make sure was a part of her experience in the show because I feel like so many women experience this, where we know somewhere deep down inside we’re powerful. We know we have something to offer, but the world tells you you’re the wrong shape, you’re the wrong size, the wrong this and the wrong that. Fiji is really conscious about her feelings about that.”
Her powers will blossom and be put to the test on the show, but it’s not something Fiji is quite ready for yet. “She knows that if her emotions get the best of her anything can happen. So it’s not a power that she is wielding comfortably,” said Fitz-Henley. “Something that is very important to Fiji is the idea that magic and science are maybe the same thing. And I think about it even like, you have a cup of herbal tea, which is just tea, but like 200 years ago the lady doing that in the woods, putting herbs and stuff together and maybe making someone feel better might also get put on the stake because it was like, ‘What did you do?!’ Fiji, she sees that, but maybe there are things that she didn’t do that aren’t explained yet, but probably will be. So she’s kind of feeling witchcraft all day. People are coming to her with illnesses, coming to her with emotional concerns, and she puts things together.”
Lemuel Bridger, Vampire
NBC upped the idea of inclusiveness another notch with its racebending casting of Peter Mensah (“300,” “True Blood,” “Sleepy Hollow”) as Lemuel, a character who in Harris’ novels is pale white with light-colored hair. Breen said, “Someone like Lem who physically is very different [from the character in the books], we still took the essence of him. He’s old Texas and he was human in Texas before he became a vampire. We just changed the specifics for who Peter is and what the character would be now.”
Beyond race though, Lemuel himself is intriguing because he’s not your run-of-the-mill vampire. Although he can feed off of blood, he’s like a hybrid car and can also run off of a person’s energy. “I was sick to death of the other kind of vampires,” Harris said about giving Lem this extra resource. “I thought, ‘If I ever have another vampire, it’s going to be a different kind of vampire. I just can’t do that again.”