Exercise the Demons! - Outcast (TV Review)

Outcast is the latest project that Robert Kirkman will use to kill and maim a large group of fictional characters in what will surely be increasingly brutal ways. Wrenn Schmidt, Kate Lyn Sheil and Reg E. Cathey will be playing three such characters. We ask them about the show’s supernatural elements that will put their livelihoods in danger, the controversies tackling demonic possession, and what drew them to foolishly put their imaginary lives in the hands of the most sadistic writer this side of Clive Barker.

What first attracted you to the roles?

Wrenn Schmidt: I was both really into – and highly suspicious of – the script. I thought it was really incredible, but there was so much very-specific description of what happens with Joshua’s character that I was really afraid in the wrong hands it would come across as hokey. But I also really loved the character of Megan. So I called my manager to let them know that I didn’t think I should go for this. The character was really great, but in the wrong hands Outcast could be the worst thing ever.

Then I ended up talking to the casting director and she said “Just audition for it,” so I did. Then I got to meet Robert (Kirkman) without knowing who he was. So just talking to him about the world and the characters was really interesting because he’s very laid back – not didactic – but he has really clear opinions. The other thing that really attracted me to the role was working with Patrick (Fugit). I actually had auditioned with him for a different project and had a really great time, but neither of us got cast in it. So when the opportunity came back around, I just thought I’d really love to work with him. So now that I’ve been assured that this was going to be a really fun experience, and I get to play this fabulous character, it really seemed like it could be a good one.

Kate Lyn Sheil: I also have a great deal of faith in the casting director who was working on the project, Julie Schubert, so I went in for her and she had so many amazing things to say about the entire production and the script. My character, Alison, isn’t in the pilot that much so I didn’t have much to go on. It was really the team behind it I was attracted to. Also, Patrick and I had just worked on a movie; we only spent one day together but he’s great and I’m a huge fan of his work. So yeah, that was my entry point into the project.

Reg E. Cathey: For me it was completely talking with Robert. I had a conversation with him and Adam and Chris, and from that moment I knew it was going to be special. I didn’t know if people would like it, but I knew it would be special and that I wanted to be a part of it.

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So Wrenn, did you not try to see who Robert was before you auditioned?    

Wrenn: I don’t like to look up who someone is before I audition for them. Sometimes you can’t help it because you recognise the name. I knew of The Walking Dead but I hadn’t come across his name in association with it. So I just went in blind, because then I was looking at a person and not a…

Reg: Like a Stephen Spielberg?

Wrenn: Yeah, exactly. So that helps because you’re not putting that kind of pressure on yourself.

Reg: And he is so smart. Without, err, y’know… being a douchbag.

What sort of research did you do? 

Reg: Research? Oh, I thought you asked what kind of drugs did I do. Well I’m originally from the South – I grew up in Germany, but I’m a Southerner. So I was talking to Robert about this event that’s happening in this Southern town. It was fun to think about it like that and going back to my Southern roots was fun. My character doesn’t really deal with the Devil so much, as opposed to some of the other characters. So I didn’t even think about that kind of thing. Mostly I was concerned with how to make this town real and this character as organic and as believable as possible, given what he’s going to be going through; this black police chief in this mostly white, Southern town. In our first conversation Robert told me we were going to explore that. When he did, I knew he was telling the truth. Usually when people in television say things like that you know they’re lying through their teeth. If they say “Yeah, we’re gonna do this,” you go “Yeah right, pal.” But Robert means what he says. It makes it one of those kinds of jobs that we’re lucky to be on. It’s a great group. We all bonded instantly in different ways. Because we’re all (Reg, Wrenn and Kate) New Yorkers. And we all come from the theatre. So the boys – Philip who is of course British and Patrick who is the most amazing, wonderful man – means that this isn’t one of those shows that you hate the people you work with. I’ve been lucky; I haven’t done any of those.

Wrenn: I’m actually from the area we shot. I grew up about ninety miles south of there. So that world, while there was a great deal to draw from, already felt very palpable.

Reg: But didn’t you find that because it’s West Virginia that it’s a completely different place?

Wrenn: Well the accent was very different for me and that was very informative in a lot of ways.

Reg: Yeah me too. I’m from Alabama. When they first introduced us to this voice person who came to talk to me about my accent, at first I was like “Look honey, I’m from Alabama babe. Ain’t nothing you can tell me about a Southern accent.” And she was all like “Um, West Virginia dude. Completely different.”

Kate: She was great. She was so helpful. The script is so well written and the characters are so well observed that in terms of doing research there really isn’t much needed. It’s all on the page, you really can just draw from the material you’re given.

Did you read the comics before you started shooting?

Kate: I read the comics for the first time when I was on set shooting the pilot. It was this incredible gift to suddenly have in addition to the script so much more information about the world you’re existing in and the tone and the physicality of the character. Yeah the comics are really wonderful. But then, as the show went on, I think we all felt that after we would shoot an episode we would all take a look at the material because we didn’t want to be influenced too much.      

How is this show different from other shows?

Wrenn: Oh wow. I’ve never created a character from the beginning of a series. I don’t know if it’s the same for you, but I’ve only had experience of playing a recurring character that’s introduced once the show is in mid-season, or if I’m coming in later when the world is already well established. So for me, it was really different to just be on the ground when the thing was being made. It was really exciting, as well as a very different experience. It felt more collaborative, less like I’m trying to fit into this thing that already exists and more like we’re all creating this thing together. So that was really different for me.

And the plot itself?  

Wrenn: Like Reg, my character really doesn’t deal with the devil. So for me it was really about this brother/sister relationship in the beginning and then something quite terrible from my character’s past comes back to haunt her. And so it was about dealing with that.

Kate: I think all of our characters are dealing with personal demons.

Reg: I’ve been really lucky to have been in The Wire. So I have to constantly tell myself not to compare it to other shows. That was such a particular moment in time, with a particular group of people, and a particular writer. But this show, because of how we’ve started this, the way we shot the pilot, just from an acting point of view, it’s got a really strong nucleus. And a really nice group of writers. I think it’s special.

No strong conflicts with faith?  

Kate: Not for me personally.

Reg: I think in general you don’t really have to be a believer to enjoy or be drawn into what’s going on. I think Robert’s very careful about the way that faith is presented in the show so I think it will be fun to see what the audience thinks. It’ll be fun to see how much of the discussion is about Christianity and faith. Especially in a small Southern town.

Kate: The perspective of the show feels very lived in and honest to me, so I would hope that no one would find a conflict of interest. I think that the show is very well observed and the subject is being approached in a non-flippant manner.

Because it’s a Robert Kirkman show, do you worry about you’re characters’ impending deaths?

Kate: Absolutely!

Wrenn: I think you could be worried about that on any show.

Kate: I find a way to be worried about that in almost any situation.

Wrenn: Any time they make your character happy, you’re like “Oh God!”

Kate: She’s sitting in a car! Something horrible is going to happen!

Reg: Oz started that. Quick story. Only four actors were under contract in that show. One of them who wasn’t was late one day. So Tom Fontana (creator of Oz) went “Hey man, your late.” He just went “Yeah?” Tom said “Don’t be late.” The next day the same guy was late again. This time Tom didn’t say a word. The next episode, his character was raped to death. And that let everybody know not to be late, because anyone can die at any time. From then on nobody was late, there were no divas, nobody would refuse to come out of the trailer, nobody asked for red M&Ms. But I don’t mind that you can die at any time. I mean, I say that now. But if I did I’d be like “Nooooo!”

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Which other shows do you watch?  

Reg: Catastrophe, the UK show. I love that show. Have you seen it?

Wrenn: I have not.

Reg: Oh my god, its hilarious.

Kate: I find myself watching a lot of comedy as well. I just watched the new Maria Bamford show, Lady Dynamite.

Reg: Grace and Frankie, have you seen that? It’s hilarious.

Wrenn: I just watched Transparent. People kept telling me how good it was. I thought it would be a let-down, but it wasn’t. They kept elevating it. I think the thing that the show does so beautifully is that all of those characters are so flawed, and there will be a moment where they are so fantastically gross. They just do something where you’re like “Really? Oh. My. God!” And then they flip it and somehow they become even more human.

I’m also really excited to watch the fourth season of The Americans. I’ve been waiting for it to finish so I’ve been avoiding social media so I can binge watch it. Speaking of David Simon, I watched Show Me A Hero which was phenomenal. And I would also say The Nick.

Reg: You like The Nick?

Wrenn: Yeah I did.

Kate: I love The Nick. It took me a long time to get into it, but I did.

Wrenn: There’s a point at which it took off for me too.

Do you watch the shows you’re in?

Wrenn: Well, I tend to wait until after and it depends. But often, with something like The Americans, the writing and the performances on that show are so good, I’m dying like everybody else to see where it goes. And that was a show that I’d heard was very good, but I didn’t start watching until I was cast in it. And then I was like “Oh my god! I have to watch all of it now! I’m in airplane mode; I’m out, I’m sick, I have the flu!” That show is so good, all of the people are so perfectly cast.

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How was it working for different directors?

Reg: That’s a good question. Sometimes on a show, one I had worked on previously, one director came in and he really wanted to do some things, and the Showrunner came and said no. It’s because the director has to fit into the machine that’s already going. On this, it’s the first year, so we’re not a machine yet. We’re still building.

Wrenn: Figuring it out.

Reg: Right. Or building our foundation.

Kate: Adam Wingard really set the tone for Outcast.

Wrenn: Adam did the pilot. Everyone is as professional as they could be on our shows. And when Reg says there are no divas, that’s very true. Nobody’s having a tantrum, but some people do have chemistry and some directors do understand you as an actor and there are others you have to work a little harder with to communicate. So I felt like there were certain people for me who were seamless. There was one whom I only got to work with for a day who made it easy-breezy-super-fun.

And the guy who did our finale had such a great eye for how he wanted to tell the story, but in a way that showed he was really good at listening. Which is strange, because it’s something that you should probably be able to expect, but as an actor sometimes you can have a director who won’t take your concerns on board. It actually takes a very strong director to listen and incorporate your concerns into the shoot. But I feel like we had a great group of directors.

Reg: It’s too much for just one person to do.

What’s it like adapting to different styles?   

Reg: It’s hard to explain. It was like when David Fincher did House of Cards, he really set the tone. That was how the show was gonna be. But this has a different feel. There’s no one, big person that says “BOOM! This is what this will be.” And so it’s been an organic kind of…

Wrenn: Evolution.

Reg: Yes.

Kate: I think that working with multiple directors is just the big, interesting challenge of television. What it ends up imbuing the actor with a lot of agency because you are the person who knows your character the best. You are the person who brings it from episode to episode. And I think we’re all hard workers so we just put our noses to the grindstone.

Reg: We’re all theatre actors. There’s a sense that I know my lines, I know my part. Let’s do this. Get it done quickly and let’s go home.

Does the expectation of a Robert Kirkman show ever get to you?

Reg: I try not to think about it.

Wrenn: I put my hood up and try to ignore it.

Reg: People are going to like it or not, but we still have to do our work, so thinking about it just doesn’t help.

Kate: It takes you out of it.

Reg: Right. I did a show years ago called Lights Out for FX about a boxer with dementia who has to keep fighting. It was a brilliant show. It had a great cast and some great directors. We did ten episodes. Got amazing reviews. And nobody watched. FX loved the show, but they said if we had 200,000 more people they would have kept it on for a second season. But they cancelled it. It was just one of those things. It truly was brilliant, but it got cancelled. Just because nobody watched.

Wrenn: You never know.

Outcast premieres on Fox from Tuesday 7th of June at 10:00pm