By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—NBC’s new supernatural series, “Midnight, Texas,” scored a respectable 3.6 million viewers on its July 24 premiere.
Based on Charlaine Harris’ popular book trilogy, the series, which airs Mondays at 10 p.m./9C, is set in a remote West Texas town populated with colorful residents who possess various hidden powers. Cast out of regular society, these misfits have banded together and formed a close community, wary of outsiders. Midnighters, as they refer to themselves, look out for each other. It doesn’t matter if the local reverend is obsessed with animals, or a pawn shop owner has a dark secret, or that there’s an energy-leeching vampire, or a powerful psychic who sees the dead, or a witch who lives with her cranky cat or a beautiful assassin. It’s one big happy family .. for the most part. Of course, what would a TV series about an odd small town be unless there was a stranger who showed up, whose intentions are initially questioned by the locals, and this stranger has some dangerous enemies that are after him to disrupt their otherwise peaceful town?
The series, with an initial run of 10 episodes, was created by Monica Owusu-Breen, a veteran TV producer whose credits include “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D,” “Fringe” and “Brothers and Sisters.” Under her guiding hand, the show introduces viewers to Manfred Bernando (Francois Arnaud), a psychic living in California who is warned by his beloved dead grandmother to hightail it to Midnight, a place possessed of mystical energy. Manfred has enemies who are after him but viewers will have to wait to find out why. Once he arrives in the West Texas town, Manfred meets Bobo Winthrop (Dylan Bruce), the peculiar pawn shop proprietor with an array of unusual items and the fiancé of a young woman named Aubrey who has disappeared; the good Reverend Sheehan (“Seinfeld’s” Yul Vazquez), who has an unholy amount of strength and an attachment to the local pet cemetery; Fiji (Parisa Fitz-Henley), a witch with a talking cat; and Olivia (Ariel Kebbel), a beautiful assassin with an arsenal of weapons. Then there’s Creek (Sarah Ramos, “American Dreams,” “Runaway”), who lives with abusive father and young brother. She wants out of Midnight, but doesn’t want to leave her sibling behind.
Arnaud, a Canadian actor best known for his roles as Cesare on Showtime’s “The Borgias” and as Oscar on NBC’s short-lived “Blindspot,” spoke alongside co-star Ramos, about being part of the action-fueled horror series, which is chock-full of surprises, scares and, surprisingly, a lot of humor and heart.
Q: When did you commit to the project?
Arnaud: From the moment I read the script, I knew it had a very specific voice. I hadn’t a lot of experience doing network television but I’d done something on “Blindspot” recently. Oftentimes, it feels like you’re fighting against the dialogue to make it work but when I read this I thought Monica’s ear is so good that she understands. Even after we did the pilot, I could tell she was listening to us and she was writing specifically for us. I’d read a line written for my delivery. It just feels right, especially in the dialogue. It set the tone for me and the people who got the job are the people who understood that tone, that fine line that we’re surfing.
Q: Creek personifies the purity of the town. She’s the one untouched thing.
Ramos: I don’t know how I can speak to that. A big part of Creek is that she comes from a family that is really troubled. She’s there with her dad and her brother and she doesn’t really want to be but she’s there out of duty. She really wants a better family, a better dad. She’s not going to get it but she does have a community around her who care about her like a family does. So, that makes her really vulnerable and puts her in a position where you don’t want to see her get hurt.
Q: What keeps Creek in Midnight? She seems to be the only “normal” one there.
Ramos: She moved to Midnight, Texas when she was really young. It’s her home; it’s where she grew up. Had she moved there as an adult, she might find it strange but, having grown up there, all the strangeness feels really familiar. Everyone in town is really protective of her. Why wouldn’t you want supernatural vampires and witches being protective of you?
Q: There are a lot of secrets there that even you don’t know about, right?
Ramos: Yeah. A lot of people don’t know everything about the other people in Midnight. Creek has secrets. I think she wants to leave but she feels obligated to stay because then her little brother would be living with her dad alone. She just doesn’t want that to happen.
Q: Francois, what’s your take on Manfred?
Arnaud: He has a very limited understand of his psychic abilities. He doesn’t control his powers very well. They’ve taken a toll on his sanity. He’s not going to Midnight to find a family, to find a community. He wants to check out, which isn’t what happens. The only person he was close to was his grandma who passed away shortly before the story begins. Obviously, she still has a strong presence. He’s in tremendous psychological and physical pain. He goes right to painkillers after being possessed by the ghost of Harold. He’s basically running from himself. There are people who are after him. He’s a bit of a scam artist. He does have actual psychic powers but he might have faked his way through a couple of readings so a couple of people are after him for money.
Q: Like this mysterious figure named Hightower. Do you know what you did to him?
Arnaud: Yes. He’s from another powerful rival line of psychics.
Q: Did you study psychic abilities in preparation for this? Have you tried to levitate your phone?
Arnaud: I didn’t do that but I met a couple psychics. I didn’t want them to tell me my future. Thankfully, I was lucky enough to meet people who are very open to sharing their experience of it.
Ramos: You have to suspend your slight disbelief in playing this role.
Arnaud: As an actor, in general, whether you’re doing genre or not, it’s part of the process to rid yourself of your personal opinion or judgment. I’m not there to judge the character but to try and experience life through his point of view. I don’t think it’s any harder or easier than usual.
Q: When you met with the psychics, did you check your bias at the door?
Arnaud: I tried.
Q: Your character is a gypsy, right?
Arnaud: Yes, he is. The psychic I met was extremely generous. While I don’t believe in the powers that she claims to have, I believe she does so I don’t think she’s a crook. So that helps. She fooled me.
Q: This show has a lot of special effects to convey the supernatural elements. How was it working with all those effects? Was there a lot of green screen?
Arnaud: The great thing about this show is that we have a great CGI team but we also have a great team of special effects artists so a lot of the effects are sort of retro in that there’s an ‘80s look and vibe to all of them. The scene where I’m conjuring Aubrey’s spirit and those three ghosts that appear, they were all played by actors that were in the room. They lunge at me on a rope. It’s helpful to really ground yourself in that moment.
Ramos: And then there are times like when we are supposed to be watching an epic battle on the street, and supposedly somebody is flying down the street, and we are just doing reaction shots—me, Dylan (Bruce) and Arielle (Kebbel). We’re directed to just look down the street and look back this way at the same time and then look up.
Q: In the pilot episode, there’s a very realistic-looking tiger. Was the tiger really there?
Ramos: The tiger is a (stunt) man in a blue (CG) suit. It looked so funny for so much of the time but we just saw the episode and the tiger looks so real.
Arnaud: It exceeded my expectations for television. It was made by the same (effects house) that created the tiger in “Life of Pi.”
Q: Are you going to be able to get back into the house at some point because the last thing we see in the first episode is that you’re living in a camper because the house is wrecked?
Arnaud: It lasts a while but Manfred will eventually get help from Fiji (Fitz-Henley’s character).
Q: For a horror series, there is a surprisingly lot of humor in this. The world depends on you guys and yet there’s a sense of black humor. How do you walk that line?
Arnaud: And there are romantic moments. But there’s a self-awareness in the situations themselves in that things like our first kiss keeps getting interrupted. If I can say something about Sarah’s casting. This role could have easily been filled by your run-of-the-mill girl-next door. Sarah can project that purity but she also brings an edge to the character of Creek. Creek isn’t as naïve as she looks; I think her naiveté is sort of a front.
Q: What did you know of the book series this is based on? What was your New York Comic Con experience like?
Arnaud: Fans of the books were there but it was mostly TV genre fans. So far, the response has been positive but some people who are fans of book series get upset if the character in the book has blue eyes, and then the TV character has brown eyes.
Q: Have you read Charlaine Harris’ books on which the show is based?
Ramos: I listened to the first one on audiobook. I didn’t love the way the reader read my character. (imitates a cutesy voice). But then my character leaves at the end of the first book so then I didn’t continue reading the second one. Now, I just want to be surprised.
Arnaud: There are elements of all three books in the pilot. I only read the first book because I asked Monica, the creator of the show, about how much they’re planning on departing from the books and she said, “We’re sticking to the essence of the characters but we’re changing some of the storylines.” As an actor, when you read the book, you get attached to the material.
Ramos: You become like those fans.
Arnaud: Yeah, you’re expecting those things (from the book) to happen and when they don’t, you’re disappointed.
Q: What do you know about Season Two?
Arnaud: Very little. Season One ends with a conclusion to the main arcs and then there’s a cliffhanger.
Ramos: There’s a hint of it. That’s really all we know. It’s done in a funny, great way.