A&E's "Damien" Promises a Twisted Take on the Jesus Story

Heralded by street protesters holding signs with slogans like "The Beast Rises" and "There Is Only Damien," no television series had the introduction to Comic-Con International that A&E's "Damien" did.

A sequel to the 1976 horror classic "The Omen," the upcoming drama stars Bradley James ("Merlin," "iZombie") as an adult Damien Thorn, who, following a series of macabre events, begins to realize his true identity: the Antichrist.

Former "Walking Dead" executive producer Glen Mazzara, who developed "Damien," was joined at Comic-Con by Bradley and his co-star Barbara Hershey, who plays the mysterious Ann Rutledge.

The aptly named moderator Damien Holbrook of "TV Guide" asked Mazzara how the series is connected to the original movie but not to its sequels.

"I love the first movie," Mazzara explained, "but the second and third pushed him along this arc. But I loved that kid from the first film, I wanted to know what happened to that kid. So now we get to see what's he's like 25 years later -- which we picked intentionally because it means that Damien is 30. Christ really started his journey when he was 30. We're taking that Jesus story and twisting it on its head -- which I'm sure is going to piss a lot of people off."

Holbrook pointed out that in the promo screened at the beginning of the panel, there were images from the 1976 film, including a shot of Gregory Peck and Lee Remick, who played Damien's adoptive parents. "I'm a huge fan of that original movie," Mazzara said, "so we're being very respectful to it. And things that happened in that film will have repercussions in our show."

Asked why he cast James in the title role, Mazzara replied, "We saw 666 actors, and a lot were very talented, but when we saw Bradley, we knew he was the guy."

James said he sees the character a little differently than you might expect. "I think everyone has the capacity for good," he started, triggering a look from Mazzara. Holbrook the interjected, "He's the son of the devil!" "Yeah," James acknowledged. "He is, he is."

Holbrook then turned to Hersey, who recieved a cheer from the crowd, and noted that her character, "is not a great influence on Damien." "Well, she's trying," Hershey replied. "She's been in the shadows all along, protecting him from all of these elements that want to destroy him or absorb him. There are a lot of forces in play."

"Does that mean she was at the party in the movie?" Holbrook asked, prompting Hershey to cheekily reply, "She's been in the shadows all along ..."

"But she is human?" Holbrook probed. "Yes," Hershey said, "and that was the first question I asked Glen."

Mazzara was asked why Damien is a war photographer on the series, with the moderator noting a connection to the photographer character in the movie. "I may be wrong about this," the writer admitted, "but I think that's one of the earliest examples of the supernatural and photography colliding in a movie. It's the first time I'd ever seen that. So I wanted to connect to that. And part of what he's been doing as a war photographer shows part of his humanity and where he's been. We've been able to develop the character through that."

Bringing up Mazzara's history with "The Walking Dead," Holbrook asked whether he had "recruited any old friends." Mazzara admitted that he's recruited director Ernest Dickerson, actor Jose Cantillo (who played one of the Governor's sidekicks on the AMC drama), and acclaimed composer Bear McCreary.

"And," he continued, "I'm happy to announce that Scott Wilson," who played Hershel in the zombie drama, "is a part of the show." They then played a clip in which Hershey’s character tells Damien he is the Antichrist, followed by a scene in which Damien tells Wilson’s mystery character what she said. The old man demurs, saying not to listen to her because, "she's bat-shit crazy." At that point, Mazzara brought out Wilson to thunderous applause.

"He's know Ann Rutledge [Hershey's character] for a long time," Wilson said of his role. "He's a power broker. But you won't know for a while who he is. But it'll be fun for the audience watching these character reveal themselves."

"And is he a human?" Holbrook asked, to which Wilson replied carefully, "Yeah, yeah."

Mazzara noted the pilot was directed by Shekhar Kapur, who's best known for the films "Elizabeth" and "Elizabeth: The Golden Age." He also announced that "Deadwood" alum Robin Weigert will play an investigator for the Vatican.

"Damien" debuts in 2016 on A&E.

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