This afternoon (or morning for you West Coasters) I got to be part of what is truly one of my most favorite opportunities - talking to "Supernatural" consulting producer Ben Edlund. Anyone who reads my stuff knows he's my favorite writer and perhaps I tend to push that more into worship territory.
In today's conference call with various media outlets, Ben talked in detail, without giving away too much, about this Wednesday's episode, "Everybody Hates Hitler." Below is the entire interview transcribed, starting with my question (I love going first!). This is spoilery, so I'll warn now. Otherwise be prepared to learn about secret societies, the new set and his original wild ideas for it, how Sam has found his ultimate happy place, and how giant Golems are really funny. As a bonus, learn about Ben's true love of "Barney Miller" and meeting Hal Linden.
(My question) Where in the world did Nazi Necromancers come from and how did that go over in the pitch meeting?
(Laughs) Let's see. I think it that stemmed from just thinking in terms of the Thule society, actually we're supposed to say Thulee but we have decided Thule is a more menacing sound. That began because we needed a sort of counter force for the Judah initiative and the Thule are historically perfect. They really did exist and they were wildly occult. I think Dietrich Eckart, or it Eckart Dietrich, anyway, these guys actually did fund the early days of the Nazi party and kind of had some weird interactions with an early Hitler. It laid itself in really nicely. This whole society was thrown into the mix by Andrew Dabb who reminded me that they existed. Following the plot of where they were heading, necromancy seemed like the right arm of magic to pursue.
How did the go over in the pitch? It went over great. Everybody's waiting for Nazi and Necromancer to be put together (everyone laughs).
(For more information, go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thule_Society)
Can you talk about the new set that we'll be seeing in this episode?
It's gorgeous, it's beautiful. It will stand for sometime I hope because it's really, really wonderful looking. Adam Glass brought the Men of Letters into his episode. It was the opportunity to give them a really cool, very atmosphere rich space for them to be in and Jerry Wanek has done a beautiful job of making it real, or as real as movies get. It's really beautiful.
That was one of the challenges was writing the language of the set. I got very prosy in the script because I was just so excited to do it I had to actually limit myself. It started out un-produceable and then we scaled it back. At one point it was constructed as an echo of the axis mundi and was a mini-universe in the ground that had all these spiral staircases and un-produceable elements. For the feature series maybe we'll get into the other version but this is just gorgeous. I don't mean to downtalk it, it's just that I made something absolutely un-shootable or buildable and then Jerry made incredible out of it because we brought it back to a certain thing. I re-described it and it's beautiful.
A lot of your early scripts, you were known for a lot of humor. The last handful has been focusing a lot more on the over-arching mythology of the show. The upcoming episode, is there any chance we're going to see anything funny return?
No, it's just like a rainy Wednesday, it's terrible, it's just full of obligation. No, I'm kidding. It's got a lot more funny than I've had in a few episodes yet. Even though it revolves around some very dark material, as all of my episodes do, in it is this natural comedy team of a giant Golem with a kind of old school sense of purpose and then a young, Jewish man but not a Orthodox Jewish person. He's supposed to be a Rabbi by the rules of the awakened Golem and he's far from it. It lends itself to some of my favorite kind of writing. The boys in dealing with this new comedy team get to be comedic themselves. There's a good bit of that. Even in exploring the new home there's a couple of moments. I think it's got a higher comedy potential than the last handful of scripts I've done.
Is there a lot of physical comedy in this episode, or it more dialogue based comedy?
People batting each other great distances can sometimes be funny (laughs). In this case there's a couple of things that function that way. Yeah, the Golem is so physically present and the guy we got to play him is amazing. (Ben went on to explain that he hadn't slept in 24 hours and couldn't remember the guy's name, but instructed us jokingly to say he knew it. Thanks to Holly, the publicist, the actor's name is John DeSantis). He's like 6' 11''. Usually when I'm writing something for Sam and Dean and I say, "This person towers over Sam and Dean," I'm in a really bad place to begin that discussion cause Jared is 6' 6" and Jensen is...tall. Jared makes Jensen seem like...they're both just very big. Trying to get them to be towered over is pretty much an impossibility or to get them to be towered over and then have any acting quotient is especially an unfortunate assignment for casting.
This fellow was great, was amazing, and has this voice that sounds like a church bell rolling down a hill. He adds such presence to the intent of the comedy that's written in the script that it's really just amazing. There's physical comedy and there's just this physics issue of the Golem just standing there, which is comedic.
The show has dealt with bringing people back from the dead in the past and now it's dealing with necromancy in this next episode. If it is raising someone bodily instead of just summoning their spirit how different is it than what Sam and Dean have dealt with issues have been with that the past?
Necromancy as a rule one way another is one of the darkest forms of magic you can use usually. In this case, it is something that the Thule are working on to try to wed death for their own purposes. It's like a self empowerment move as much as anything else. In this situation, it allows us to create a new species of undead critter, which is basically a Thule necromancer or a member of the Thule fraternity. It gives us this new species of wretched critter who happens to be a Nazi so you can especially kick them in the face. No offense to, well I guess we don't really need to worry about offending Nazis, that's what so nice about it.
Is Sam and Dean's reaction is it different than how we've seen them in the past when they've dealt with things brought back from the dead?
You mean in the terms of how they've dealt with it physically or in terms of how they regard it ethically?
Ethically they say, "That is wrong. It's bad to do that, don't do it, and we will hurt you because we are Sam and Dean Winchester and it is our job." Physically they work out how to deal with those creatures during the course of the episode, so that will be part of watching it. No offense (laughs).
With finding this new home base and them finding old dated, information does that tie into doing a themed episode about the Nazis and does that information help them with the case?
Sam's really excited that they're in this place and he's really jazzed about this wealth of information and the library and everything that comes from inheriting the Men of Letters headquarters. Dean is a little less geeked out in that regard and points out that all the information kind of terminates in 1958. How it relates to the present day is a mystery to him.
The case actually stems from what they learned by going over the files and Sam connecting the dots and trying figuring out what is relevant today gets a hit on something that draws them into the case that they wouldn't otherwise have pursued. Ultimately the story stems from their inheritance of the Men of Letters.
It sounds like with this episode we're putting the tablet story on the shelf.
In this one, the tablet story is not front and center. The trail warms and cools with an intermittent quality, cools to degree allowing them to move in this direction. The way that Sam feels is that this is a family inheritance from their grandfather. He sort of uses it as a break in the whole of their quest. It bolsters overall their needs and their pursuit of their goal for the season. He feels strongly that things will come from this. He leaps into the library and the data banks of this is place.
(Ben goes on a small break here to clarify not literally data banks because it would be like the ancient computer with tubes that takes up the whole place. This is exactly why I love Ben Edlund interviews. That's a Univac BTW.)
It for him represents a kind of well that he wants to get to know because he feels convinced it'll give them leads and information. In the history of the Winchesters they've had the myth of secret societies but almost no contact. We've never really made a point of them and they are a huge corridor of occult studies. For Sam, it's like "We found it." This is an important thing and it's going to add up to something that gives us tools to fight the enemies we are courting in this season. I will go ahead and say that it doesn't directly affect the tablet story but that it builds in on their story as time passes.
In this last episode Sam was warned by this guy that this information should be destroyed. Is Dean is aware of these warnings or does he think of that option on his own at any point in this episode?
That the information in the society should be black boxed or blown up? That does not occur to him. We have a thing we usually say about Bigfoot is that it just doesn't exist. The hunters just all know, Bigfoot is not real. For Dean, his position is that hunters felt they knew that secret societies didn't exist. Not all hunters because there's a dispatch of specific hunters that worked for the Men of Letters, but in general they've done such a good job of staying secret that for this number of seasons there wasn't any indication of their presence nor was there an indication of the presence of the Thule society and other secret societies. They only came to life through the storehouse of the information available through the Men of Letters.
The desire to destroy that information coming from the last surviving member, that was then, this is now. Sam if anything is a little starry eyed and voracious the way he was at Stanford. This is a library, you don't burn the library of Alexandria. It may come to pass that later as maybe thorns start to grow down there Dean will bring up that point independently but that's not in this episode.
The Golem myth hasn't been well traveled in other shows, but it has been touched upon in a few. Are there any kind that you wanted incorporate in this show that you weren't able to? I know that you mentioned the set was more smaller than usual.
Let me make clear, it's really incredible. For a TV thing or even for a feature Jerry Wanek did an amazing, incredible job. Everyone there, it's mind blowing. No one could put in the pyramid I thought of. There were things that were just impossible.
In terms of the Golem, I don't think so. Early on one of the ideas on how to present the Golem, for me in my mind, there was one possibility it would lean in the direction of. I don't know if you've ever saw Heavenly Creatures, Peter Jackson's movie about two young girls that murder their mother. In it, they make these clay figurines, and they have this fantasy sequence where they're both in love with Orson Wells. It's based on a true story, it's an excellent movie actually. They go into a fantasy sequence where everyone in this little village as clay. And there's this incredible moment when you see clay Orson Welles just yelling at people.
That was sort of like, "If we're doing a feature now, we'll be doing that." Actually, as is often true in the case "Supernatural," the Occam's Razor of time and money tends to help us in terms of grounding things. It would have been less funny if he was actually clay. It's much funnier, and also less in a way profound, because in order to justify the fact that he looks like a dude, I started to consider him being made of the clay of Adam, which makes great sense. As if you were to make a figure out of clay but then through the co-opted breath of life, co-opted from God, somehow the clay is transformed from the clay of a river bed in somewhere Belarus to actual flesh. A lot comes from the limits, that's generally the case, and that's what took place here.
You've got Hal Linden in this episode. Did you enjoy "Barney Miller" when you were younger?
A lot. I really loved "Barney Miller" a lot and I was there in the audition when he came. He's a really wonderful guy. I didn't spend days with him but we got to speak for a moment. No, that was great. It's a point, I don't know what you call it, it's not a point of personal pride because it's Hal Linden, it's all Hal Linden, but I'm really pleased. I guess I am proud to have a piece of work that he appears in because I watched "Barney Miller" religiously as a little kid. I don't know, I just really loved it. They had a werewolf episode (laughs). They had their own little supernatural moment. But ultimately good question, because that was a big part of my youth.
Tune in Wednesday night at 9 pm to see all these wild ideas become reality. It's hard to pass up an Edlund classic.