FX brought executive producers Guillermo del Toro, Chuck Hogan and Carlton Cuse and much of the cast of The Strrain to Hall H at San Diego Comic-Con International on Sunday.
The actors in attendance were Corey Stoll, David Bradley, Mia Maestro, Sean Astin, Kevin Durand, Natalie Brown, Jonathan Hyde, Richard Sammel, Miguel Gomez, Ben Hyland and Jack Kesy.
Based on the bestselling trilogy of novels by del Toro and Hogan, the horror thriller stars Stoll as Dr. Ephraim Goodweather, whose team from the Centers for Disease Control is called upon to investigate a mysterious viral outbreak with hallmarks of an ancient and evil strain of vampirism.
The panel opened a screening of the third episode, which aired on television later that day. When the lights came back up, the producers and stars appeared on stage, with the discussion beginning with the roots of the novels. Del Toro and Hogan began work on the first book in 2006, after del Toro pitched the concept to Fox as a television series. Ironically, after the release of the novels they found themselves back with a Fox brand. "We went full circle with Fox,” del Toro said. We removed the 'O' and we went to FX.”
For del Toro, the center of the story was always biologically believable vampires. Speaking of other popular depictions of the creatures, the filmmaker said, "They were very, very good-looking, six-packed, trimmed vampires who wanted to tell you how lonely they were." However, he had a darker vision without the sexual appeal. "I never got my rocks off with the vampiric genre. It never peeled my banana," he said. Vampires would "drink the guy as you would a Capri Sun."
It was that darker version that drew showrunner Cuse (Lost) to the material. "I was tired of this idea of romantic, existential, brooding vampires," he said. "The story just activated my brain."
However, Cuse was attracted to the project by more than the vampires. "There's three books. It’s a very elaborate mythology," he said. "We see this as a five-season show.” Season 1 will draw from the first novel, while the second novel will become Seasons 2 and 3. The final two seasons will be drawn from the last book in the trilogy. "It will, in general, follow the books, but there will be a lot about it that will be brand new to television."
"The arc that at least is in the book and that we’re attempting to do in the series is massive," said Stoll (House of Cards, Ant-Man), who describes his character Goodweather as "a smart, intuitive, complicated guy."
He teams with virologist Nora Martinez (Maestro, of The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn) to investigate a aircraft filled with corpses at the outset of the series. "They're virus hunters, that's their profession," Maestro said.. "She has this sixth sense, this feminine intuition." That trait eventually will lead her into conflict with Goodweather, who’s a calculating man of science.
The third member of CDC team is Jim Kent, played by fan-favorite Sean Astin (The Lord of the Rings), who betrays Goodweather and Martinez. "I still feel like a hero inside," said Austin, who wondered, "Can Eph and Nora and the audience forgive him?"
Del Toro laughed at the idea of hiring Astin for the part. "Sean is one of the most trustworthy, really adorable characters," he said. "Funny to have the most famous sidekick of all time to be a betrayer. Funny to have him saying, 'What ring, Mr. Frodo?'"
The three investigators receive guidance from Abraham Setrakian, played by David Bradley (Harry Potter, Game of Thrones). "At the age of 72 it’s a treat," he said of playing a swashbuckling vampire-hunter. "At first when they asked me, I assumed it was a typing error."
Setrakian and the others will ultimately have to hunt down the undead, including Kesy's character, a hard-living rock star who was a passenger on the mysterious plane. "Gabriel Bolivar is in some sense living out his destiny,” the actor said. “He's looking forward to it.”
Fans can expect del Toro and Cuse to pull few punches when it comes to the grim visual palate of the show. "We wanted to establish a very vivid, saturated look," said del Toro, who directed and co-wrote the pilot. The crew has even taken to purchasing elaborate and creepy sets from productions that haven’t fared as well in Toronto. "We are like the ambulance chasers of production," the filmmaker joked.
Some of the shooting locations are so realistic that Stoll recalled more than a few scares. "We spend a lot of time with some really dank tunnels in Toronto," he said.
The Strain airs Sundays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on FX.