We’re just a few days away now from the return of Outcast, Cinemax’s horror drama based on Robert Kirkman’s comic series of the same name, as season 2 premieres this Friday, July 20th. Co-starring Patrick Fugit and Philip Glenister, Outcast is centered around demonic forces that have taken root in Rome, West Virginia, threatening to destroy the very fabric of the tight-knit community, with Fugit and Glenister doing their very best to battle against the sinister powers at play.
Daily Dead recently had the opportunity to speak with both Kirkman and Outcast executive producer/showrunner Chris Black about the upcoming season on the show, and they discussed how they mixed things up for this next run of episodes, handling storylines between the comic series (which is still going strong) and the TV series, finding the balance between the horror and the heart of the stories being told in Outcast, their thoughts on the late Reg E. Cathey, who was instrumental to the success of the show, and more.
What were the challenges and the things that you really wanted to hit on for season 2 of Outcast, based on what you guys were able to achieve on season 1?
Robert Kirkman: Season 1 really established our setting, and who the characters are and everything. We really just wanted to move a little bit deeper into that and kind of expand the mythology, expand the world of Rome, West Virginia, and dive deeper into that—amp the horror up a little bit, and make things move a little more fast-paced, too.
Chris Black: And expand the threat, too. We wanted viewers to really see that this has tentacles that go further and deeper than our guys had suspected in the first season. The challenge of any show—not just Outcast—you try to end the season on a note where the audience is going to go, "Oh my god! How are they going to get these people out of this?" And, of course, the challenge as writers is you walk back into the room of season 2 and go, "Oh my god! How are we going to get our characters out of this?" Which is part of the fun of it, but also part of what's terrifying about then seeing 10 new episodes ahead of you and you feel like you've put so much out there in season 1, and it's like, "Okay, now people want more." How do you raise the stakes? How do you make it scarier? How do you make the threat emotionally and physically greater to these people that you've now hopefully drawn the audience in to?
For season 2, what did you know from the template that was set down by the comics that you wanted to make sure to include, and where did you see opportunities to go off and explore different corners that you hadn't already visited?
Robert Kirkman: There's a cool arc that we'd established in the comics with the Sidney character, played by Brent Spiner, that I really wanted to make sure survived in the show. There's some really great character stuff, if I do say so myself. There's a big change with Megan and her husband, Mark, at the end of the first season of the show. That leads to some really big things that alter the story and give us room to change things up quite a bit.
I would say there are elements of the comic book series in season 2, and they kind of creep up when you least expect it, which is the way I prefer it. I want people that have read the comics to be watching the show and go, "Oh, this is all new. This is cool. I'm really excited, I don't know where things are gonna go.” So, we do break a lot of new ground. There are a lot of new characters that aren't in the comic and a lot of new plot threads and things throughout that are completely original to the show.
Chris Black: That's fairly natural in a second season, too, because in the first season, we hued much more closely to the comic as a roadmap for what it was. Having done a full season of it now, the show has become its own thing. Then, going into the second season, it's like sending your kids off to college, so now we are able to depart a little bit more from the comic in ways that maybe we were nervous to do the first season.
I'm actually curious about the creation of something like Outcast, where the creation of the comic and the creation of the show are happening around the same time. When you’re looking at different stories, is it ever a decision of, “This goes into the comics and this goes into the TV show?”
Robert Kirkman: It's much more organic than it probably seems outside of the inner circle. The biggest thing about this world is that I just wanted to tell a cool story. It was a story I wanted to tell and comics are the medium that I mainly work in, so as I started working on that, and it kind of organically spiraled into a television show. As I've told the story many times, Sharon Tal Yguado at Fox International was just casually asking me what I was working on next, and as I was explaining Outcast to her, she was like, "Okay, we're doing that as a show." I was like, "Oh. All right then." So, that led to me developing the comic and the show at the same time, which was a fun, challenging, difficult process. But it wasn't like I said, "This would only work if I did the show and the comic book at the exact same time."
Chris Black: Well, Robert and I were just talking about this with someone else, but there is something about the comic form, both visually in terms of the framing and the visual components of it, and also the long-form, episodic storytelling of it, that makes it a natural source material for television. A comic series is designed to have longevity. You're trying to build something that you don't want to have a set endpoint for, the same way you build a series, and I think comics are a natural place to start from.
How do you balance out the grief and religious/theological discussions that are central to Outcast’s story against all the supernatural, more spectacular-feeling elements? And also, having family from there, it’s really nice seeing a show where you don't treat people from West Virginia as stereotypes. Was there something about that state in particular that you felt was a really good backdrop for this story?
Robert Kirkman: Yeah, I have the very same pet peeve. The reason West Virginia is the setting is because I wanted to be able to go from extremely terrifying, claustrophobic dark rooms, where you have this very intense exorcism story, to stepping outside and seeing the colors of fall and the beautiful rolling hills and this really serene, beautiful nature setting. And that's the thing that I thought West Virginia would provide, this juxtaposition of being in these two different environments that are in the same environment. I thought that'd be a fun thing to explore.
But in terms of the drama of the characters, the small town interpersonal storytelling stuff, it heightens all of those big exorcism moments and all that scary stuff. As long as you're doing your job there, it makes all of the big, extravagant, crazy things that you do on the show better. They actually work hand in hand pretty well. It's not necessarily, "Oh, I'm doing this over here and I'm doing this, and I don't know how to make these two fit." One leads into the other pretty well.
Chris Black: It was important to Robert, and to all of us, from the start that this world feel authentic. If you're dealing with a heightened supernatural storyline, you don't want to have heightened characters that you're building on. The world and the people in it feel authentic and grounded, and what's superimposed onto them is this heightened, supernatural dilemma. In the first season, some of my favorite episodes had very little supernatural components to them at all. One of the best episodes in the first season was about the Megan character dealing with her childhood abuser and letting the audience think that perhaps this character was one of these possessed entities, and at the end of the day they were not. It showed that evil can come from a human place just as easily as it can come from a supernatural place. Characters in this world are dealing with that as much as they're dealing with the supernatural element of it.
One of the great secret weapons of this show is Reg E. Cathey, and I was hoping you guys could talk about working with him and what he meant to the show.
Chris Black: He meant a tremendous amount to the show. As most people know, he just recently passed away from cancer, which was very sudden and devastating to us. He's not only just an extraordinary actor and brought that character to live in a way beyond our wildest dreams., but he was just one of the most delightful, charming, smart, sweet-natured people you would ever want to be on a set with—just an absolute joy to work with. I get a little choked up just even talking about him, and, if you look at the first run of the comics, Chief Giles only appears on a couple of issues. But, Reg came in and just brought that character to life in way that you had to give him as much screen time as possible.
Robert Kirkman: I have talked a lot about Melissa McBride on The Walking Dead, and how she drove the evolution of Carol, and how she forced Carol to become a much bigger character. It's the same with Reg. Chief Giles in season 2 is an even bigger, ever-present character than he was in season 1. And everything that Reg brought to the show was amazing, and it was really just a great example for all the actors and everyone on set. Him no longer being here is such a tremendous loss for anyone who ever knew him.