San Diego Comic-Con 2011: Kevin Williamson, Andrew Miller, and Richard Hatem Talk The Secret Circle

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The CW’s witchy new series “The Secret Circle” premieres on September 15th following “The Vampire Diaries”, and if you’ve been wondering whether or not the show might be up your alley, you’ll want to read our interview with executive producers Kevin Williamson, Andrew Miller, and Richard Hatem from San Diego Comic-Con.

San Diego Comic-Con 2011Like “TVD”, the show is based on a series of books by L.J. Smith so of course the question was raised as to how close to its source material it will be. According to Miller, “L.J. Smith has laid out amazing characters that have great relationships with each other and a terrific mythology. We’re basically starting with that and staying really true to that in terms of who the characters are and how they relate to each other, but then we’re moving in a different direction because in a weird way the books take such a brief period of time and there’s a conclusion to it, and we need to stretch that out for hopefully over seven years so we’re really just starting with the characters. It’s this Adam and Cassie thing and then the love triangles and the power struggles – that’s what really appealed to me to begin with. It’s the same as ‘Vampire [Diaries]’ – really amazing relationships – so we’re kind of riding those further than she was able to because she only had three books and we’ll have a little bit more.

When asked if he’s going to be keeping a lot of elements from the books, Williamson said, “If it works, yes. It’s one of those things where if it works, do it; if it doesn’t, don’t. When you take a series of books and you have to redesign them for TV, suddenly I change this and this, and then I add to it because I get an idea, and I go, ‘What about this and what about this?” You know, I’m a writer; I don’t want to just translate. It’s like the whole reason you hired me is for me to bring whatever’s going on in [my head], and I try to do it. It’s no fun for me [if] I can’t personalize it. Like I do with ‘Vampire Diaries’, I had to personalize it so that I could cry over it. Julie [Plec] and I sit there and cry as we write.

We wondered what sets “The Secret Circle” apart from other supernatural shows on TV, and Miller replied, “For one thing, in our case what I find very unique is the supernatural entities of our show are regular kids as opposed to ‘The Vampire Diaries’ where they’ve been around for 130 years and they’ve been to chemistry class a thousand times. Our guys are going through these things for the first time. First love and first betrayal. The friendships and the family stuff … they’re going through it themselves the first time, and then the supernatural element is just added onto it so it’s a fun world to play in because [they have] very, very relatable stories. The emotions they are experiencing are what we know, and then we are adding the supernatural element onto it.

Hatem added, “What they are experiencing is kind of a fantasy for people. They get to do things that we wish we could do. So we get to enjoy those experiences through them. And they are so likable and beautiful. Who wouldn’t want to do that?

With so many close ties between “TSC” and “TVD”, Williamson was asked if he’s nervous about viewers thinking the new series is just more of the same. “It does have so many connections. I think the key word is if we can just let people know it’s a ‘companion’ piece and it’s not so much a spin-off as it’s a separate world. And that’s kind of my biggest thing. I do worry … and you know the other thing I worry about is that people will start the show and compare it to the beginning of the third season of ‘Vampire Diaries’, which is going a mile a minute. Whereas, if you go back to the first season of ‘Vampire Diaries’, you’ll remember it told a story. It took a while to suck you in. And that’s what we’re trying to do here. I wouldn’t say there’s a slow pace, but we spend time getting to know our characters and dealing with the relationships and understanding what they want and what they desire and what witchcraft is. And then, right around the time you think it’s ‘this’, then this happens and the whole world turns upside down. It’s another fun show.

Miller explained further, “We’re excited. It’s an amazing opportunity. I was a huge fan of ‘The Vampire Diaries’ before I ever started this, and I love the idea of being able to try to keep that audience interested and maybe bring in a different audience also. I think that fans of ‘The Vampire Diaries’ will like the way we tell stories and will like the excitement and will be surprised by the depth of emotion we get to dive into. And again, because no one of our characters has had this 130-year history behind them, it’s a little bit more relatable I think than Stefan and Damon. So in that sense ‘Vampire’ fans [will find] like six Elenas, and I think that’s kind of fun.

Andrew Miller and Richard Hatem, The Secret Circle

As for how Williamson is holding up juggling both shows, he seems to have it pretty easy all in all. “Both offices are in the same building in LA. We have ‘Vampire Diaries’ up front, then in the back we have ‘Secret Circle’, and upstairs we have post/editorial. So I just get to go boom, boom boom, boom, boom. It’s fun right now, but the way it is, the way it works is ‘Vampire Diaries’ comes first. That’s my bread and butter in terms of my ‘baby’. It’s the one I still cry over. And so ‘Secret Circle’ has been designed to be run by Andrew Miller. And he’s the guy who was there before I ever showed up. He’s the guy who’s there now, and I just check in with him, I help him, I go into the writers’ room and I play, and then I leave and I go back to ‘Vampire’.

Next we asked the question on every horror fan’s mind – How dark is the series going to get? Will it be edgier than the books, which definitely cater to the younger crowd?

Miller got our hopes up by saying, “Yeah, again, it’s taking the [same] characters, but we’re exploring the darker side of this a little bit more than the books. The books allude to it, and the books have the crystal skull, and the books do a lot of things that kind of hint at the darkness; and we’re kind of exploring it further and using the multi-generational element to say , ‘Well, there’s darkness out there.’ They all have a feel for it, and exploring those characters, it’s easy to slip into the dark side with this magic stuff because it’s so tempting and so easy. We’re going to try to explore how easy it is to become someone that you never expected you’d become.” Crystal skull, eh? That sure get our attention!

Williamson elaborated a bit. “The witchcraft in ‘Vampire Diaries’ has been so … you know, Bonnie’s always been on this sort of learning curve: ‘I know I’m a witch, but how do I do it?’ Here you have WITCHES. I want it to be scary. To me that’s always the challenge. How do you make witchcraft scary? Then when you really start digging into it, it’s like the occult, Rosemary’s Baby, devil worship, voodoo, all that Haitian creepy hoodoo stuff. It’s really scary. But if you can take that and invent your own and then call it the witchcraft of ‘The Secret Circle’, you’ve got a really scary, scary sort of rich bible of evil. And at the same time you have the good.

Does that mean they’ll be incorporating “real” witchcraft into the show? “We’re doing everything. We’ve got the Wiccan bibles, there’s so many different types, but we’re sort of designing it to be our own fit, what works for us. I produced a movie called Venom and went down to Louisiana to film it, and I got deep into voodoo – you know, the milking ceremonies with snakes – and it was just creepy as all get out, and I think if we could just take some of that and flavor it in a way which is Wiccan or sort of like an evil Wiccan witchcraft, or something that’s really taboo, I think there’s a way to make witchcraft really super scary. As well as it is magical and lovely and fun and romantic. Because there’s all those storylines, too, so I feel like you get to do both. If you do it right, you can be epic; be good and evil.

What we’ve seen of the show so far really highlights the kids. How do the adults like Natasha Henstridge and Gale Harold play into things? According to Hatem, “It’s kind of cool because the notion is that these people are descended from witches so it sort of runs in the family, and each generation has approached that challenge and that opportunity differently. The parents’ generation had an experience 16 years ago that gets alluded to in the pilot and is elaborated on in future episodes where things didn’t go as well for them as it could have, and so the question becomes with this generation of kids how will they deal with things, also in relationship to their parents, because not every character is what they first appear to be in the pilot. So there [are] a lot of parent relationships – father/daughter, mother/son, mother/daughter – and you know when you’re a teenager, those can be highly combustible relationships, and they are here too for the normal reasons and then also the more abnormal reasons.

Taking that a bit further, will “The Secret Circle” be using fantasy to talk about real issues facing kids and parents today? Miller believes it will. “I’m a huge science fiction fan, and I think the best sci-fi is always stuff that treats the human condition in a way that you don’t get to do on other shows, and we’re going to strive to do that. What Richard was saying about the multi-generational aspect, we get to explore these mother/daughter stories and father/son stories, which are just very relatable things, but I think we can come at them from a different angle. The power struggle between this mother and daughter is very different from normal people, but we can use that intensity to better explore a common issue.

Back to the “thing” that happened 16 years ago, will we be seeing flashbacks to that event? Miller said, “I don’t think we’re going down the flashback route necessarily because we can’t do flashbacks with our same actors like they [‘The Vampire Diaries’] can. But that mystery is going to play into the whole season. It’s going to be awesome, and we’ll learn more and more about it, and it’ll twist and turn as the season goes on and hopefully keep people entertained.

The Secret Circle 2011 Comic-Con Promo Poster

Casting always plays a huge part in the success of a project so we were curious what it was about Britt Robertson that made Williamson pick her as his heroine. It was easy, he said, “‘Life Unexpected’ got cancelled! I sort of had my eye on her, and then when we were casting Scream IV, I remember going, ‘Yo, Wes, this girl. She’s in ‘Life Unexpected’. So they brought her in, and they were really considering her for a bigger role, but her schedule wouldn’t let that happen so she did a little part. But when this came around, I was like, ‘Oh, this should be Britt Robertson. She’d be perfect for this.’ Then I heard the network had their own person in mind. It turned out when I said, ‘Who is it?’, they go, ‘Britt Robertson. She was on a show of ours.’ I went, ‘Wait! That’s who I’m talking about!’ I thought it was going to be a problem, but everyone’s been on the same page. And then when I found Thomas Dekker was available, I went to Warner Brothers – he worked with them on ‘Sarah Connor [Chronicles]’ – and they loved him so it was a matter of just having him audition. He was wonderful.

Speaking of Britt’s character, can the “good girl” Cassie be tempted by the seductiveness of magic, or is there always the one morally incorruptible character? Williamson opined, “There is. I think there should be a moral compass. What I really love about making characters is I want my heroes to be flawed and I want my villains to be understood. Whether you agree with them or not, you understand why they’re doing what they’re doing, and you can almost empathize with them or you can sympathize with them or you can have some sort of compassion for them. And that to me always works the best. I feel like in ‘Vampire’, for instance, Uncle John was such a hated character, but I knew if I could just do it right, I could make you at least by the time he died go, ‘Yeah.’ A lot of that’s going to happen with this. You are going to understand Natasha Henstridge, you’re going to see her be a wonderful mother, you’re going to see her be a great principal. [Same with Gale Harold’s character] – he’s a lawyer, he’s an upstanding person in this town, he loves his daughter, he loves her more than anything. And the mythology goes deep.

Without getting too much into it since we knew the producers couldn’t reveal a lot, we asked how much destiny is going to play a part in the love story between Britt’s and Thomas’ characters. Is it addressed immediately, or does it continue through the series? Hatem told us, “It gets addressed, but it also lives throughout the life of the series. And the great thing about that … it’s kind of like the earlier question … when you’re 15 and 16 and you meet someone, the word ‘destiny’ comes up in your mind a lot because it’s huge and it’s the first time and the feelings are so big. And the fun thing about this show is that the feelings are there, but then there’s also this weird mythology that seems to suggest those feelings aren’t being experienced completely without reason so yeah, that’s going to go on for a long time. There will be ups and downs and all kinds of things with those two.

Lastly, because we’re such big fans of Williamson and just about everything he’s ever done, we wondered if there are any new big screen projects in his immediate future, but the answer was no. “I’m doing this this year because I want to really focus on making this as good as it can be, and I am so excited about this year of ‘Vampire Diaries’ because I have so much I want to do with that. I’ve learned my lesson about getting spread too thin, and I feel like between these two I’m in a good place and I should just shut up and work.

Keep writing, Kevin, and we’ll keep watching!

Kevin Williamson, The Secret Circle

Our thanks to Warner Brothers for arranging the interviews and especially to Kevin, Andrew, and Richard for their time.

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