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Swamp Thing: Horror Icon Derek Mears Gets Under the Monster's Skin

DC Universe's Swamp Thing marks the horror creature's return to live-action for the first time since 1993. Actors Andy Bean and Derek Mears together bring to life the two halves of Swamp Thing, with Bean playing biologist Alec Holland and Mears embodying his botanical counterpart. The story presents some unique challenges, as Swamp Thing's identity and intent play into the overall mystery that governs the first seasons.

The series leans fearlessly into Southern Gothic horror, and has no shortage of frightening, grotesque imagery. Mears has made a 20-year career out of playing monsters, aliens and horror villains, so his casting played to his strengths in more ways than one. CBR spoke at length to Mears about his experiences working on the serie, and bringing Swamp Thing to life again.

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CBR: I wanted to ask if you're a Dick Durock fan. Have you seen the other Swamp Thing movies? What was it like following in his footsteps?

Derek Mears: I remember when I was younger watching Swamp Thing and enjoying the features, and I didn't really watch the TV show as a kid, but I had the opportunity in my career to work with the legendary Wes Craven, and Wes has been so kind to me before his passing, for so many years. I'm so thrilled to just try to keep the franchise afloat, keep the iconic character and do a positive job just so, similar to like Dracula and other iconic characters, that even after me there's gonna be other versions of them. So, my job is just to go and do the best I can so I can respect the people like Dick and Wes who came before, and created for me, to keep their original creation alive.

So, what do you think makes Swamp Thing relevant and exciting in 2019?

Honestly, I think a lot of the issues we're dealing with in the first season are about acceptance and even though he's a monster, that what shines through all of that is his humanity and with that acceptance being the issue like all of us, we either feel like we're too tall or too short or too thin or too wide – there's just something that we feel insecure or something we dislike about ourselves. With Swamp Thing, we can relate and see through his eyes, that we're similar to him. It's just being human [enough] to embrace whatever it is that makes you different, and step on that gas pedal because it's going to be all right.

What about you and Andy Bean? Did you both sit down and try to create a physical relationship between these two? Did you work closely together at all or was it more of a separate journey to finding the two halves of this character?

What's unique about the Swamp Thing character and challenging at the same time, is having to share our own creative processes with another person. And a lot of times, it's a solo process on our own individual journeys, which it was for this, but there were times when we would compare notes and Andy is such a loving, talented, giving actor. At one point he was like what do you need from me? Do you need anything to do your end of this character? And we would go and have conversations and go down these crazy existential rabbit holes just kind of conceptual life designs and theories and just blow each other's minds on what if it's like this or [not]. It was just wonderful.

Ultimately we had our own approaches on the character, but we also left the point where the character blends together kind of open so each other's creativity could be more liquid and ebb and flow between the two of us. That was a creative first for myself and, I couldn't ask for a better partner because Andy is not just an outstanding actor, he is an outstanding human being and I gained brand new friend out of all of this which is just amazing.

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That's a wonderful icing, it sounds like.

(laughing) Yeah, it's literally like that. It got to the point on set where I've explained before, this show is really special to me because it's kind of what you think Hollywood is before you get into Hollywood, where cast and crew were all artists of different mediums but there was no hierarchy or pretense. Where we all work together as a team and no one tried to step on anybody's toes. There's no "do you know who I am, do you know what I've done?" It was just like, "What's our common goal? Okay, how best can we reach it? What do you need to cover your end of the art? What do you need to cover yours? Okay what's the medium that we can do to make the best project possible? And that was the light to go towards.

... There are the hard times where you have to do the stress and the regular work environment when it's time to work, work, but in between takes the vibe was just so jovial, it's literally like going to work and it's a giant playground and playing with your friends.

What is it like being on a playground wearing that suit? Can you talk about the mechanics of it all? Any horror stories?

Torture! (laughing) A playground full of torture. No, it's so wild, Fractured Effects who created the suit, Justin Raleigh whose the head of Fractured Effects - I've gotten to wear some amazing different, iconic makeups throughout my career and this one is just - I keep saying the word Cadillac of suits, where every little emotion… just transfers through the makeup and is captured on camera. And it was a beaut to wear. I make the joke of… "pain is temporary, film [is] forever" and I compare it to people going "was the suit bad or difficult?" I go, "It's the best that it could possibly be for what it is," but, the analogy I've used before is, "Well, I've worn suits where [it’s like] getting stabbed in the face, this is just getting punched in the face."

But I tell you, the job that the special effects did on this and the time and tender loving care they put into it also on my end, knowing that I would be in it for 8 months or so, they made sure that it had all the bells and whistles and I honestly,… I get to wear art and I'm so honored to be able to wear that suit.

How long does it take for you to transform from Derek into Swamp Thing?

The face itself, just the facial makeup is like nine different pieces to have to be applied and colored and glued and blended and made right. Then I have a full suit that goes on, on top of that and it restricts your breathing and what not. But originally it was supposed to be four hours before anybody else starts filming, I come in and do that and it's about an hour and a half to take off. But, Kevin Kirkpatrick and Ozzy Alvarez, who are award-winning makeup artists, they actually got the application time down to two hours, which is just unheard of, and I'm like thank you guys so much, what can I, do you want my first born? Like what can I pay you for this because...

That's insane!

It makes my life so much easier.

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You have a pretty amazing legacy when it comes to horror, and I think that's a lot of what people have responded to when it comes to Swamp Thing, that in terms of a genre project this feels like a lot more like a  horror film, or at least that's the vibe. What should horror fans be looking forward to about the series?

When we were shooting I kept sneaking out, going, “This is what I want as a horror fan.” The cool part that really intrigued me is the hard R rating and them not being afraid to show some of the gore and horror, but it's all contextual it's within the story because the story is the most important first and foremost – everyone's playing it like Chekov. No one is winking or going, “Oh, this is a campy show.” It’s done so dead serious. And it's not just one style of horror, it's not just a body horror, the supernatural elements, the psychological elements and overall the whole show is a giant horror mystery.

The original Alan Moore run [was] one of the first comics to have the 18 rating removed and have it be labeled as an adult comic. Same thing with our show where it's made for adults, it's not dumbing down anything for an audience that might not get it, it's really intelligent and I myself, I haven't seen everything and I'm chomping at the bit to see how it all comes together.

Is Swamp Thing still the hero that fans know him to be or does he have different intentions in this adaptation?

You know what, I want to leave it up in the air right now cause the questions about Swamp Thing or who Swamp Thing is – kind of the point of the whole first season is that it is a mystery… It leaves you constantly guessing and as a fan, every week when the new scripts would come out, I would be chomping at the bit to grab the script to find out what happened.

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And the other thing that I was really impressed with from the writer's room and our show runners was that it's not one of the shows where you’re just sitting around waiting for Swamp Thing to show up to be cool. I'm so invested in all the other characters and the mysteries and the depths of those characters cause everyone has a secret and something’s going on and so I would find out twists and turns as I was reading the scripts and then I would call up my friends, other cast mates and go "how long did you know about this? Did you know about this in the beginning?" So there's a lot of surprises and also on the comic side, there are twists of characters and Easter eggs of or puzzle pieces being laid, bigger story being told, which fans will go, wait a second that little subtle thing that happened there, is that a tie or a reference to blank?

Given you’ve played a fair amount of iconic horror characters like Jason in the 2009 Friday the 13th, how is it different to play an established character rather than something that's brand new to you?

Well, it's, in my opinion, playing an established character, like Swamp Thing, for example, since we're talking about Swamp Thing, [is] that I personally have taken on the responsibility where people have had a relationship personally with a character for years before I've come on board to play the character. You never want to disrupt those positive memories because it could be like before my dad passed away, you know our bonding thing is like we'd watch an episode of Swamp Thing on the TV every week when it came out when we were younger or something along those lines where there's a personal heartfelt connection. So [there’s] the responsibility of being respectful and trying to bring back their vision of that character to life. But also you have to take risks as an artist for a whole new generation whose never seen that character before, so you're trying to weave two different pieces of cloth together to make it a single cloth.

Now streaming on DC Universe, Swamp Thing stars Crystal Reed, Andy Bean, Derek Mears, Jennifer Beals, Henderson Wade, Will Patton, Virginia Madsen, Jeryl Prescott and Kevin Durand. The series is executive produced by James Wan, Mark Verheiden, Gary Dauberman, Michael Clear and Len Wiseman.

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