‘NOS4A2’ Showrunner Jami O’Brien Finds Heart in Horror. (Interview)

AMC’s hit TV series NOS4A2 is back! The supernatural horror drama based on a 2013 novel of the same name by author Joe hill was brilliantly brought to life in 2019 with the help of its talented showrunner Jami O’Brien. Season One certainly left us hungry for more and now Season Two is served… time to sink your teeth in. 😉

“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.”

Zachary Quinto, Charlie Manx, Jason David, Wayne McQueen, NOS4A2
Image: Seacia Pavao/AMC

Crooked Llama was fortunate for the opportunity to chat with the lovely Ms. O’Brien as we discussed her passion for NOS4A2, working with Joe Hill, that ‘righteous’ Wraith and more. Check it out…

Linda: Loving NOS4A2, it’s incredible.

Jami: That’s nice to hear, thank you.

Linda: You’re very welcome. Are you naturally drawn to the horror genre and what specifically attracted you to doing this project?

Jami: Great question. It’s funny, what attracts me to every project really is character. Because I worked on Fear the Walking Dead and then worked on NOS4A2, I think that a lot of people view me as the lady horror writer.

Linda: Of course.

Jami: And it’s funny because that isn’t how I thought of myself beforehand. I don’t actually have a deep knowledge of horror. I’ve gotten to know more about it since I worked on Fear, and since working on NOS4A2. What attracted me to NOS4A2 really was Vic McQueen and Charlie Manx’s characters.

I’ve worked on lots of different shows with lots of different genres. I worked on Hell on Wheels for a long time, which was a Western. What I’ve discovered about myself during this journey is that I am most interested in character drama. But I also love to explore the genre in which the story takes place as a way to support the drama and to kind of drive [the] story.

I have discovered that horror is really a very fun place to work and it’s great. I wasn’t always a huge horror buff, but I have learned to become one. My initial attraction to the show was the characters, but I’ve learned to like the horror too.

NOS4A2, Vic McQueen, Ashleigh Cummins
Image: Zach Dilgard/AMC

Linda: I almost feel like as a society, we like being scared. All these horror shows coming out, I think people really enjoy it. And to have a good story go with it makes it even better.

Jami: Yeah.

Linda: What is the biggest challenge in translating Joe Hill’s book to the TV screen?

Jami: Joe writes very cinematically. There are some things that are really easy translations. That said, he also isn’t encumbered by the practicalities of having to actually shoot anything. And also there are beautiful portions of the novel that are completely interior for Vic. The challenges that we’ve had are really twofold. One is: How do you dramatize the interior nature of that character. And then number two: There are a lot of incredible iconic action moments in the novel that I frankly was like, “I don’t know how we’re going to do that.” But we have to because it’s so good. One example is the laundry shoot from last season. And then the example that I can think of this year so far is the lake sequence with the abduction of McQueen.

Linda: That was amazing.

Jami: Thank you. I was amazed as well. It was one of those things where the script came in and I was like, “This is a beautiful script.” I think that it really is a testament to our team, that they were able to pull it off. And Hanelle Culpepper who directed that episode is just, I mean she’s no joke, she’s serious business. I’m so glad we had her for that episode. She was actually the director for the laundry shoot episode as well. It would seem like she keeps getting all these really complicated, huge emotional stakes. But also like, “How the heck are we going to do that episode?” And manages to pull them off in style. I think she did an amazing job.

Linda: Yes, it’s so layered, so tense, you can feel it. Really well done. With regards to the book, I’ve not read it yet, but I’d like to know… What have been the reader’s responses?

Jami: Yeah, listen this is all anecdotal. I do read what people say about the show on social media and truthfully it’s been mixed. Some people who love the book; the television show is never going to be the book. The book came out in 2013, and in 2013 they had an idea of what Charlie Manx looks like and what Vic McQueen looks like. It’s interesting, I think some fans of the book feel protective of the book. And I think that some people have enjoyed the show. I think we’re actually very faithful to the spirit of the book. Some things that I’ve seen, like people complaining about us aging Vic up. In the book, Vic is eight years old when you meet her. But, the first time that she meets Charlie Manx, she’s 17. And I think that people, some fans conflate that, and are angry that when she meets Manx she’s not eight. But the truth is, in the book she wasn’t eight either. So anyway, this is a long way of me saying, “I love the book.” And I do think that it’s a pretty faithful adaptation. Some fans have liked it and some fans haven’t liked it. The other thing too, that I just think is interesting, people are protective of Joe. They love Joe, and I think hearing that he is on board with the adaptation has changed some people’s minds about it.

Linda: That’s true. You look at Stephen King and it’s the same situation. If Steven’s on board, then all is good.

Jami: Yeah. And Joe has been an incredible partner. It feels like since Joe has been promoting the story and has been kind of involved, and that people know that, it makes them feel a little more comfortable, and a little bit more like, “Okay, we can trust them with our beloved novel.”

Linda: You touched on this earlier and I read in a previous interview that Vic McQueen was one of your favorite characters. When it comes to her taking on Charlie Manx, what do you feel are Vic’s biggest strengths and weaknesses?

Jami: Her biggest strength and actually the thing that gets her in trouble is her heart, I think. There’s this beautiful moment in the book, which is when I fell in love with Vic McQueen, where the first time that she meets Charlie Manx, he has a kid in the back of the Wraith. And the kid is a stranger to her and she doesn’t understand what she’s gotten into. She immediately, without even thinking about it just tries to save the kid, even though she’s in extreme mortal danger. It is not planned out. It is not the most thoughtful thing. It is a purely heartfelt motivation to just help. And I think that that’s what’s commendable about Vic and what makes her a hero.

NOS4A2, Charlie Manx, Zachary Quinto
Image: Zach Dilgard/AMC

Linda: That’s a great way to put it. And you bring up the Wraith. This car is pretty awesome. I’m a huge Stephen King fan and I keep thinking of Christine, and the personality of the car and the comparisons. Can you tell me more about the Wraith?

Jami: Yes. Well, we actually, we have two of them that are actual Wraiths, and actually 1938 Wraith. They are antiques. They are beautiful. And it takes a lot to keep them running. And we ask an awful lot of them. We also have what we call our stunt Wraith, which is a more modern car. I actually don’t know what it is, I think it’s a Ford, but it’s got Wraith parts on it. We learned early on that the car is beautiful, but it doesn’t do well with peeling out or taking off, or kind of doing any of the stunts that we ask of it.

In fact, it’s funny, in episode 2 of season 2, when Charlie Manx is escaping the morgue, he takes a Trans-Am? (she thinks) When we were shooting that sequence and that car was so fast and so awesome. I was like, “Oh, this is what it’s like to actually have a muscle car,” which the Wraith is not, but it’s a lot of fun. I think the most fun part of the Wraith is its relationship with Manx. And Zach Quinto created this kind of really formal relationship with the car, that I think is wonderful.

Zachary Quinto, Charlie Manx, Mattea Conforti, Millie Manx, NOS4A2
Image: Zach Dilgard/AMC

Linda: I was going to ask you about the relationship he has with the car. I’m glad that you just touched on that. NOS4A2 is not your typical vampirey, supernaturally kind of show, it goes beyond that. What do you feel separates NOS4A2 from other horror shows?

Jami: What I love about the novel is the family drama at the center of it. And what I mean by that, is the McQueen family drama. Also the family drama with Lou and Vic and Wayne, and also Charlie Manx and his backstory and he’s a parent as well. What I love about it is that Joe has created this world… he says in the book, and we say it in the series too, everybody has an inscape. Some people are able to tear the fabric between the real world and the world of thought and pull that inscape into the real world. I think that’s compelling. I like the way that the show is really grounded, though it has a place called Christmasland.

Linda: Exactly.

Jami: That covered bridge looks like it belongs in the real world. I appreciate that these are just people really, they do have special gifts, but they are struggling with the same problems that all of us do. It doesn’t feel like it lives in another dimension, it feels like it lives here on earth. And that’s what I think is special about it.

Linda: That’s terrific. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk. NOS4A2 is a fabulous show and congratulations on putting this together. I can’t wait to see what’s going to happen next! 

Jami: Well, tune in. Thank you so much. Thank you for the kind words and thank you for your interest in talking to me.

A big thank you to Jami O’Brien for taking some time to chat with us. Catch new episodes of NOS4A2 airing Sundays at 10 PM EST on AMC!

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