Drinking Blood with the Cast of Moonlight
We visit the set of the new vampire series, talk to the stars, and yes, drink some blood.
It might be a sunny day in Los Angeles, but if you look closely, vampires are walking amongst us. At least they are on the new CBS series Moonlight, and this rise of the undead extended to a visit to the set of the show, which IGN took part in last week.
Upon arriving at the Warner Bros. lot, the assembled group of visiting journalists were introduced to Jason Dohring, known to my fellow Veronica Mars fans as Logan Echolls. Dohring plays Josef, a 400-year-old vampire who is an incredibly rich hedge fund trader in the modern age. Dohring showed us the set for his office, which features plenty of expensive TV monitors and large paintings, though Dohring told me “I wish you could have come to some of the locations and seen the houses we use [for my character]. They’re ridiculous,” describing one amazing house in the hills where the bedroom windows look directly into the water from a huge pool.
Dohring described Josef as “fun and frivolous. He turns on a dime. [He has] quick attention. Loves women. They describe him as hedonistic. He just loves life and has the most expensive stuff.” Dohring was very excited about the show saying he “Gets to do just the wildest stuff,” describing a scene where his character drives “a half million dollar Ferrari that I got to cruise around in-between [takes]. It was so cool.” Dohring noted how impressed he was seeing what a big CBS network show like Moonlight could afford — it’s safe to assume the budget is far higher than the UPN/CW Veronica Mars — saying “You can rent the biggest house, the nicest car. It’s really cool.”
Dohring was a fun and informative tour guide, walking us through each of the standing sets, including the apartment and the office of the character Beth (Sophia Myles) and the apartment belonging to the hero of the show, vampire private eye Mick St. John (Alex O’Loughlin). Dohring pointed out some cool little touches in Mick’s apartment, including a retractable section of the wall that held Mick’s secret blood stash.
Dohring said he didn’t envision a love triangle between Mick, the human Beth and his character, especially because Josef is “more of the one night stand kind of person.” However, he did feel that instead, some problems could occur “if Beth gives something away to Mick that he’s not happy with. There’s this big ongoing story about getting found out as vampires. And when things come up that endanger people knowing about it, that’s not good. That’s the main thing that causes fights and disputes to our characters. So I imagine if something like that happened, where he gets too close to her and gives away some info that she uses, and I go after her… That might [cause] conflict. That’s what I’m guessing.” While Dohring has worked with O’Loughlin quite a bit, he said he’d only had one scene with Myles so far, “where we first meet. I’m looking at her rather lasciviously. Mick doesn’t like that.”
Josef has various beautiful concubines he keeps around who will feed him their blood whenever he wants – in the pilot we see him biting into one such girl’s arm. Dohring got some laughs when he said he hadn’t done any big stunts yet, except for “Just eating a girl,” smiling and adding it was “Pretty awesome. I do my own stunts.”
They were filming the sixth episode of Moonlight that day, and Dohring explained it was “the biggest episode for me [so far]. There’s a ton of it that goes over his backstory. We’re gonna start getting into that sort of thing, which I’m looking forward to. He’s the oldest vampire on the show at 400, but it would be cool if someone that was 1000 made him.”
Dohring said that given the age his character is, when it comes to making money “He knows it all. He knows all the deals and all the ins and outs. I’m sure there’s gonna be stuff, I hope, where you rewrite history. Like things that we know are true weren’t true and how it all [really] went down – if there were some vampires in there somewhere, I think that would be a cool story.”
After speaking to Dohring we then left the Warner Bros lot for the location the show was filming at that day. There are many scenes in the show set at a morgue, and Moonlight films these sequences at one of the most interesting locations I’ve been to yet on a set visit. An abandoned hospital in East L.A., the place screamed horror movie from the moment we saw it, complete with smashed out windows, boarded up sections and a paint job several decades in need of a touch up.
We were taken into the props trailer and met Chris Garwood, the Assistant Prop Master on the series. Garwood gave us a very entertaining look at all of the different kinds of blood used on the show, including, in Gardwood’s words, “Drying blood; Flowing blood; More of a dark pumping blood; A jelly paste, and that’s for a big spill kind of thing. Then of course we have the drinking blood….”
Ah yes, the drinking blood. On a show where several of your main characters are vampires, sometimes your lead actors will need to drink blood on camera. That’s where this special concoction comes into play, which we were all given a sample of. The verdict? It’s not bad! It’s very sweet; perhaps a bit too sweet, but certainly not unpleasant to drink. Yep, consider me on the blood train.
After drinking the blood of the innocents, we then went inside the hospital, where O’Loughlin and Myles were shooting a scene in which she needs his help in order to infiltrate a very private club. We watched as the actors did a few takes of the scene, and were also allowed to snoop around the hospital a bit, and what we found was incredibly cool and creepy.
One room was filled with old hospital files, apparently just left there when the place shut down. I flipped through various charts and records for people with discharge dates from 1980; I was told others found much older files too. Because this place had been used for so many film and TV shoots since it closed, it became hard to gauge what was there “naturally” — as in via stuff left by the hospital staff; anyone who might have broken into the hospital since it closed; or you you know, actual undead creatures — and what was done by other Hollywood productions through the years, many of which were likly other horror-themed stories.
What were we to make of a painting of a moose on an old office wall, splattered with red across its face? And then there was the incredibly scary sight of a small, claustrophobic little room where the walls were covered in unsettling imagery, including eyes and strange symbols. Okay, okay, it’s most likely it was done by another production filming some story about an undead killer haunting the dreams of a psycho ward patient… but since we didn’t know for certain it wasn’t an actual undead killer who once haunted the dreams of a psycho ward patient, who could say?
When we moved closer to the area actually being used to shoot that day, there were some very interesting things to check out, most notably, the [fake] dead bodies. This being a scene set in a morgue, there were numerous corpses on gurneys with sheets over them. But also laying out in plain view was a human who’d met a rather grisly end and a vampire who met a rather crispy one.
After getting some lunch, we then say down with cast member Shannyn Sossamon, who plays Coraline, the vampire who is responsible for making Mick what he is. 60 years earlier, the two got married, only for Coraline to spring her big surprise on Mick on their wedding night. Their relationship since isn’t exactly cordial, and in the first episode we see their last encounter, in the 1980s.
Asked what it’s like to play a vampire, Sossamon said “Well, I’ve only done one scene where I’ve got the whole getup and kind of in that mode and I love it. It suits me very well. It feels quite natural in the sense that it’s just passionate. It’s passionate and dramatic and I like that.” Sossamon said she felt the contact lenses and fangs she wears when her character shows her true vampiric form work well because “Any tool helps. But those are just the little details.” She said that her interpretation of a vampire was that “There’s no such thing as over the top in the area of the depth of passion that I feel.”
Sossamon said that she liked that though Moonlight is about vampires it “feels pretty real. The way that the vampires look and act, it’s very subtle. Our makeup is white faces, just a little bit, the teeth and the eyes, and that’s it. So it does feel like it’s close to human behavior.”
One thing Sossamon had to stay tight lipped on is the dynamic between Mick and Coraline when they eventually meet again in the present. For the first few episodes, she is only seen in flashbacks, but when she returns fully by the seventh episode “it’s definitely not what you expect. I think what everyone would expect is the bitchy ex-wife coming back, pissed off that he’s having this new connection with this girl and trying to either get revenge, or f**k it up, or get him back. That’s the typical [direction], but it’s not that at all, it’s not even close” Sossamon said when she heard what was going to occur, she thought “‘Oh my god, that’s interesting!’ It’s actually weirder. It’s different. It’s darker. It’s darker, but in a subtle way, as opposed to playing it like I’m really coming back and pissed.”
Like Dohring, Sossamon had a lot of praise for O’Loughlin, saying “I love him. He’s awesome. He’s such a gentleman. He just breaks my heart in how sweet he is. He’s so sweet, but such a leading man in this way that isn’t cocky, but strong. He’s strong, because he needs to be strong, and he needs caring to show, and he’s very ambitious and wants a really long career. All of the qualities that need to be attached for somebody to be really successful are all there, but without that sort of sketchy quality that can sometimes be in people that really want to get to the top. He has zero of that. I see how he treats everybody on set. He’s really compassionate. Really loving.”
When I asked her if she was looking forward to eventually getting to do scenes with her other costars, Sossamon said she was, noting she and Myles had quickly “hit it off.” As for Dohring, she said “I think Josef will be really fun. Don’t you think that that Jason kid looks like a young Mickey Rourke?” When someone else suggested Edward Norton, she agreed with that too, and said “There’s something very sexy about Jason, but he’s young and doesn’t know it, which is even sexier.”
Sossamon said she had two favorite scenes she’d filmed so far, including “the wedding night, the night that I bit [Mick]. I think that was really nice. That felt really romantic and sensual and I don’t know, it just felt really beautiful. And then the vampire fight [in the first episode] I enjoyed doing, although it was really rushed that night, so I felt like it was a hard night of work, the actual work. But I loved just sort of going kind of crazy vampire like that. “
After Sossamon left, O’Loughlin and Myles then came by to speak to us. When Mick and Beth meet in the first episode, Mick is hardly advertising the fact that he’s a vampire, but as they begin to work together more — she’s a reporter and their jobs cause them to cross paths — O’Loughlin said “There’s quite a lot about Mick, and who he is, and where he’s been, that’s revealed to Beth in the first few episodes. And as a result Beth has quite a lot to deal with in a short space of time.”
There’s an obvious romantic attraction between Mick and Beth immediately, but Myles said that’s certainly complicated because “She’s got a long-term boyfriend. They don’t live together, but they’re quite serious.” Added O’Loughlin, “The fact that Mick and Beth are falling in love with each other becomes more clear as the episodes progress. I think it’s safe for me to say that both of the characters in their own way go in and out of an acceptance of that. They take turns, I think, wishing it were so, and then wishing it were different. It’s pretty awkward and difficult from time to time.”
Myles said that her thoughts on the subject are “this show was over the moment these two characters got together. What I think, from an audience point of view — if I was watching this from every episode — is you’re falling in love with them falling in love, and with each episode you’re just desperate for them to get together. We kind of tantalize the audience.” O’Loughlin smiled and remarked “We haven’t made little vamp babies yet, or anything like that.”
Myles admitted she had a bit of trepidation about once more doing a vampire project, having previously worked in the Underworld films and a TV version of Dracula. Myles said she also was contacted by Silver and recalled “I thought it was one of my friends having a laugh, but there was a Warner Brothers lettering on the paper, and I thought, ‘Well this sounds pretty legitimate…’ But I kind of had this handed to me on a plate.”
O’Loughlin said the chemistry between he and Myles came naturally noting, “I think Soph and I became buddies straightaway as actors. We became friends quickly, had a similar sense of humor, we know some of the same people. So there was sort of a pretty easy familiarity straightaway.” Myles is British and O’Loughlin Australian and Myles said “It was a real comfort to have him come from Australia. Because I think it would have been a much more daunting thing coming here, playing an American on an American television show, if everyone else was American. So we’re kind of allies.”
Asked how hard Mick has to work to suppress his vampire tendencies and never feed off of humans, O’Loughlin said he wasn’t sure what the producers had in store for the character. Personally though, O’Loughlin said “I feel like things could unwind quickly for Mick. I’ve been trying to think of what it’s analogous to, and it’s almost like watching an alcoholic come off a wagon and hit a bar for a night and then wake up in a pool of sorrow and get back on the wagon. I could see something like that for Mick, because he’s a vampire and he has these urges. He’s been through this for sixty years, and every day he wakes up and suppresses that urge. Every day. He’s a reluctant vampire, and every day he gets up and he controls this demon as much as it’s within him, and he goes and pursues other monsters, which, in his mind’s eye, helps detach him from the monster that he truly is. But really he’s just acting out what he wants to be acting out anyway.”
I asked the actors what it’s been like dealing with the transitions on the show, including the departure of David Greenwalt (Angel) who’d come in to run the revamped version of the show, but rather abruptly departed the series — Greenwalt has since been replaced by Chip Johannessen (Millenium / Dark Angel). “I was gonna say we’ve had it not as bad as other departments, but I don’t think that’s true,” said O’Loughlin. “There’s been some really major sidesteps. And it’s part of the problem – We are still teething.”
“I’m really looking forward to seeing what we’ve shot,” O’Loughlin continued, “seeing episodes air, having a look at how many people are interested in watching it, at the ratings, and what the fans are saying, what the bloggers are saying, stuff like that. Because I have been involved with this project for like nine months or something now, and it’s still not there. It’s not like a film, where you shoot it and forget about it because it’s coming out later. We’re still in it. It’s a bizarre time.” As for Greenwalt’s departure, O’Loughlin said “I don’t even know what the true story behind that is. But he was wonderful while he was with us, and I think that’s just a case of this isn’t the right show for him, or it wasn’t at the time. I don’t even know how Chip [Johannessen]’s going. I haven’t really spoken to him very much.”
When the conversation turned to the topic of violence and what can be shown on American network TV, Myles mentioned that there is an episode in which her characters is forced to kill someone and that when she got the next script “I’m kind of flipping through, and I was like, ‘I wonder when the court case is coming up, or the emotional breakdown she’s gonna have…’ [There was] nothing. Not ever referred to. And I did say to them — because I really do not believe in glamorizing violence — ‘If anything like this is gonna happen again, it must be properly thought through and actually discussed on a human level,’ because I don’t want to be with a gun in my hand, thinking, ‘Hey, it’s cool. Look sexy with a gun and get to shoot somebody and get away with it.’ That’s wrong.”
More humorously Myles noted “In England and on all the British films, pretty much all the movies I’ve done, I’ve had to fight the directors to keep my clothes on. In this show, you can’t even show a bit of nipple that’s cold underneath a T-shirt. They are so prudish about nudity here it shocks me. Now, I’m finally ready to kind of get them out and they won’t let me. I’m desperate. I keep saying, ‘Can I get my tits out?’ ‘No, no, no.’ You can show a nipple being sliced off in an act of violence, but you can’t show one being licked.” O’Loughlin then quipped “I myself get very nude and kill people every episode.”
Despite any growing pains the show has gone through, O’Loughlin was clearly very excited about Moonlight. “It’s such a f**ing great show,” said the actor. “I’m really excited by it. It’s a character-driven drama, but it has a procedural element, which allows us to do incredible stunts and wonderful action sequences and be very violent. And it’s a love story as well. So we don’t get to see her boobs, but you get to see mine. And it’s in a genre that we all love. I love the vampire genre, and I love that we’ve been able to manipulate it a little bit and stay true to the fundamental rules, and I love the fact that all of this is shot in a modern-day film-noir style, with modern action-style direction and photography. So it’s gonna be a really satisfying show to the audience.”
Myles agreed, saying “It’s got a real soul to it, [and] I’m always kind of very picky about watching myself. I honestly did not know what the hell I was getting myself into by accepting this job, and I was given twenty-four hours to make a decision. I really didn’t know, but there was something — and I can’t even describe what — that I just thought, ‘I don’t know what they’re doing, but I want to be part of this adventure.’ Even now, until we give birth to the baby next week, we don’t know really what we’ve actually got yet. But I definitely feel there’s a real magic. On the set, it’s such a wonderful crew. We all get on so well. We look forward to coming to work; it’s fun. It’s a fantastic atmosphere here.”
Moonlight premieres Friday, September 28th at 9:00 pm ET/PT on CBS.