In part two of our exclusive interview with Bryan Fuller [read part one here], we turn from Hannibal to Mockingbird Lane, Fuller’s take on The Munsters. He tells us how these Munsters are more monstrous than their 1960s counterparts, hints at some of the neighbors that may be popping in, and talks about human flesh and gruesome meals.
I’m sure that there has been some resistance to the idea of remaking a classic like The Munsters. What has the reaction been to Mockingbird Lane?
I think there was a lot of resistance initially, but I feel like the Comic-Con panel went a long way [towards earning goodwill]. We showed six minutes of footage, and it’s a pretty clear indication that we are a dramatic departure from The Munsters. The Munsters was a half-hour sitcom; they were a family who looked monstrous on the outside, but on the inside, they were the sweetest people on the block. Lily loved her husband - they had a beautiful relationship and I love how much Lily loves her man, and how much Herman loves his family. Those elements are the elements I want to keep. But in addition to loving their family, they also eat people. They do the things that monsters do. Lily hides under the Golden Gate Bridge and catches suicides as they fall and feeds off them. Grandpa actively plots to control the neighbors and make them his blood slaves. If monsters truly moved in next door, they would truly be doing the things that monsters do, so we wanted to tell that story, as well as the story of two parents on Mockingbird Lane who are really concerned about their child because he is different from all the other kids, and they are genuinely worried about him. That is what will resonate with anyone who has ever been in a family. The delicious frosting on top is that they are eating people. So I’m doing a lot of “eating people” on these shows [Mockingbird Lane and Hannibal].
I’ve noticed! Have you ever eaten human flesh?
Not that I’m aware of. But when we talked about these projects with [chef] Jose Andreas, he told me I had to go with him to the offal markets of Spain, and I had to eat everything he put in front of me. I figured if I have the chance to go to an offal market in Spain with Jose Andreas, I am eating whatever that man put in front of me.
What did he put in front of you?
I don’t know. He was talking about stuffed sheep vagina, intestines, eyeballs.... I asked him what are the parts you can eat on a human being, and he said everything. There is not a single thing here that you can’t eat.
You have some very interesting casting choices for Mockingbird Lane. Can you talk about that?
Eddie Izzard was the first to be cast [as Grandpa] and is actually a producer on the show. For me, as someone who has wanted to cast Eddie Izzard in something since... we actually talked about casting him on Star Trek, one of my first jobs. Joe Menosky, my mentor at Star Trek: Voyager introduced me to Eddie Izzard, saying, “We should cast this guy. We should cast this guy.” And we were never able to cast him. So all these years later, finally getting to work with Eddie was such a treat. He is so focused and grounded and disciplined with his character, and wants everything to be motivated and earned and real. I love how seriously the cast is taking this show. It would be easy to dismiss.
Jerry O’Connell is the sweetest man, and he is such an unexpected Herman. Everyone expected that we would have to cast Brad Garrett. But no, we weren’t going in that direction.
Brad Garrett would be fine if you were remaking the sitcom The Munsters.
If we were doing The Munsters. But we are not doing The Munsters; we are doing Mockingbird Lane. I think people just have to see it, see what we are doing. Our goal, setting out, was to do a Harry Potter movie directed by Alfred Hitchcock. I think we are in that arena.
Portia de Rossi was fun to cast. I have been a fan of hers since Sirens. She has the best line in any movie: “Hi. I really mean that. Hi.” Initially I was nervous because she is vegan. We have Lily wearing all sorts of [animal clothing]. She has a horse-hair skirt, she has a peacock-feather tulip dress.... I asked her if she was fine wearing this stuff. She said, “Oh yeah. I played a horrible racist on Arrested Development. That’s no closer to my identity than this meat eater.” We had this big dinner scene where we had this whole pig, roasted on the dinner table. On the third day of shooting the dining room scene, it was getting a little gamey. Everyone was being such good sports about it, especially Portia, who is a disciplined non-meat eater, having to sit with all that meat, that has been under hot lights for three days, being sprayed down just to stop it from decaying. She was a fantastic sport, and she did such a wonderful job with this character. I really feel we got the right cast.
How “monstery” will it be?
There will be monsters. I’ll show you some of the monsters we are doing with Grandpa, what he turns into at the end. [This is where Mr. Fuller whips out his iPhone and scrolls through images of Eddie Izzard in full-head prosthetic makeups. It was pretty cool - at once subtle and intense... you will just have to wait until the show airs to see it.] So we go very monstery. If we are going to do monsters, let’s do monsters. I think we are going to see the Creature from the Black Lagoon; we are going to see the Phantom of the Opera.... It will be celebrating all those great Universal horror icons that should be celebrated.
Between Hannibal and Mockingbird Lane, are you trying to darken NBC’s doorstep? You are bringing two horror properties to a network best known for its comedies.
I would say Heroes was pretty dark. We had Hayden Panettiere opened up on an autopsy table. We had frozen people. That had a lot of great horror elements in it. What I love about NBC taking a chance on this stuff is that they realize they need bold, loud, noisy shows, and there is lots to talk about with both these shows: the Universal monster heritage with Mockingbird Lane, and Hannibal Lecter is one of the most recognized villains in the world. I think it was less about darkening their doorway and just about recognizing that these are things that could find an audience.
There is so much genre television out there now, and it’s good, and it’s getting respect. It’s refreshing, because just five years ago, if there was a genre show on television, it didn’t get the respect - it would get a terrible time slot and no publicity. But now... genre is huge.
It’s nice that it has gotten a rejuvenation. Those summer genre movies make a ton of money, so there is an audience for a quality [horror] story. The thing that I think is important to remember for all of us working in genre television, is to keep the bar very high with our storytelling. There is a lot of crap, and we need to tell quality stories. The horror genre deserves to be loved. It deserves elegant shows, it deserves to be celebrated.
It deserves respect.
Yes. Exactly. I feel like both of these [Hannibal and Mockingbird Lane] are respectable shows. One leans comedy; one leans social satire, but they are both horror shows, and that is my genre of choice. Alien is more influential on me than Star Wars in terms of tone and storytelling. I feel really lucky to be working within the genre, and to be doing quality projects within the genre. The fact that Mockingbird Lane is so beautifully produced... it deserves to be. We don’t need to see cheap monsters running around. They should spend some money on it.