Mario Van Peebles Talks Superstition
Mario Van Peebles has a new horror-themed TV show called “Superstition” on The SyFy Channel. He’s the star, plus he writes, directs, and produces many of the episodes.
Here’s the lowdown: The Hastings family owns the only funeral home in the mysterious town of La Rochelle, Ga., which is known for its haunted houses, odd residents and unusual phenomena. La Rochelle is also considered a landing patch for some of the world’s darkest manifestations of fear that are guided into the world by an ancient malefactor. That gives the Hastings more to do than just plan funerals, as they also handle “afterlife care” for the unexpected deaths that people suffer at the hands of demonic entities and other unworldly phenomena. The family uses arcane weaponry, incredible strength and a deep knowledge of the occult to quell the evil that lies within the town.
We sat down with Mario to ask about the show, and what his future plans are within the horror genre.
Dread Central: How did this series come to you, because – you’re not really known for genre stuff.
Mario Van Peeples: I got approached by some of the folks at SyFy, and a buddy of mine, Gary Gordon. And we just started talking about the rich folklore that is the American South and America in general. You take freed slaves and Italian immigrants, the Chinese, and British, and Irish and Jewish folks and you put this all together, you get sparks. But from that you get great music and great art and great rich folklore and great superstitions from each old country and man we thought, this is such rich great territory. At the core of this could you have a loving family. And there’s an old African proverb “If there’s not enemy within, an enemy without can do very little harm”. You have a loving family that has to work through their own stuff, while dealing with heavy superstition and in the funeral business, dealing with the dead and the rise up of infernals. And then I wanted to add – we talked about why they’re coming out – the notion that human beings started to do irreparable damage to the planet and that the infernals in effect are coming to put us in check – that’s what it’s about. The question, who’s the bad guy, who’s the good guy, there’s a lot of grey areas you have to discern, so I guess you saw some of that in the show. So could we make a loving family that deals with some heavy obstacles. But you still kind of want them to win. You still want to roll with them and get some of that wisdom, that family wisdom.
DC: You grew up in a showbiz family, and now you’re working with your daughter who is also acting in “Superstition.” Tell us some of the upsides and downsides of working with family.
MVP: Yeah, I kind of grew up with it as pretty natural I think, it’s like you grow up on a family farm, you learn how to feed the chickens and plough the north forty and it’s all about the zenith of farming. Growing up in the entertainment film world with the Van Peebles family is similar, we’re just in a different business. So we all learn a bit of that acting, directing, carrying cables, being a PA, and being a director, and it doesn’t mean you’ll go off and do that. I have siblings that are not in that business but it does mean you have a work ethic, you’re not afraid of hard work and that you’re bilingual, in that you talk to your family as family, just as siblings and play and disagree and agree as siblings but you also have a work dynamic. Suddenly your dad says, okay now I’m directing this, or you’re writing this or whatever it is – you have that other work dynamic – and that’s rich, so it’s my sneaky way of telling my daughter what to do for a couple more seasons (laughs). When you have a daughter in college, you don’t get to tell her what to do, any parent can tell you that, but I get to tell mine what to do (laughs). It’s fun, it’s been bring your daughter to work week for the last four months. She’s at college right now, Columbia, and she took a semester off to do this with me, so it’s been natural to me. I think there’s three loves in life, love what you do, love and hopefully enjoy the people you do it with and I do, and then love what you say with it. Just say something that you believe in through your work, just entertain us but make us think a little bit too.
DC: Your character, Isaac, is the patriarch of the family, and he seems pretty stern in the pilot. But you yourself are so friendly and outgoing. What characteristics would you say you share with him?
MVP: I think that some of the things I bring to Isaac are things my dad passed on to me. For example that he said, a lot of dad’s teach their kids how to play ball, I don’t play ball that well, but maybe I can teach you how to own the team. And the understanding in my family is pretty is temporary, dumb is forever. That if you’re gonna be in show business you have to understand some of the business side and I think the Isaac character that I play has this good sort of sense of life. He gets the joke of life. He can be a tough love dad, like my dad can be but he’s also someone that gets it and knows that he was there and that while he’s on this planet he needs to raise some folk with consciousness, have a lot of fun and keep the balance with the infernals. It’s fun because I get to bring a lot of my wisdom that I’ve garnered as a dad and as a son and as a parent together in one and that’s what’s interesting. You can still scare us and still have all the other stuff that happens in this space but give us something to think about and that’s what I really like with Isaac. I can’t tell you more because a lot of it is gonna be revealed, it’s a hard question to answer! If you’d asked me later rather than now, you’d know all these other things, and I could tell you. But once you get into the series, you’ll go ‘ohh, that’s what Mario was talking about but I could trust it.’ Isaac has been doing what he’s doing for a minute and yeah there’s something that’s going on that you’ll find out about.
DC: Does each episode stand alone? I liked the snakes and religious superstitions about serpents in the pilot.
MVP: Yeah, well each week we deal with new ones, and I’m learning as we go. One last one I directed was about divination. There was someone who could read the future by coffee grounds left in a cup and I’d never heard that one before. My director of photography came over to me and he said he’d had that done with him and his wife, way before they ever had their daughter, and predicted the birth of their daughter when and the gender and everything and they had it done twice. So I was not familiar with that one. This other one we deal with is in Asian mythology, which is scary. And we deal with stuff in the mirror world, which is an interesting reflection of our world. So each one sort of allows different insight into who we are and that’s some of the fun of it, is that it’s not just dealing with the superstition but how that works on you and what it reveals about us. So, it’s a trip. I’m constantly learning and that’s what’s exciting about the show. It’s entertaining but it’s informative and I like that.
DC: Do you like horror in general, and will you be doing more in the future?
MVP: I really loved scaring the crap out of my sister, I loved telling her scary stories as a kid. It’s funny because my son Mandela is coming out in the new Saw Legacy Jigsaw. So I’m getting more into horror now. And I have a thriller that’s coming out next year called Armed which I wrote and it’s about a guy who’s very armed and has some perspective issues. So it’s very timely if you think about the whole weapon thing that’s going on right now, you know, gun sense or lack thereof. So right now I’ve got a bunch of projects right now coming out in this area. But I’ve always enjoyed it. I enjoyed Get Out, The Thing and Night of the Living Dead and of course Exorcist movies. I always wanted to play in that genre but haven’t had a chance to do it, so it’s my first time doing it and I’ve got my daughter here with me so we can scare each other.
The cast includes Mario Van Peebles, Robinne Lee (“House of Payne,” “Being Mary Jane”), Brad James (“For Better or Worse”), W. Earl Brown (“Preacher,” “Deadwood,” “Bates Motel”), Demetria McKinney (“House of Payne,” “Saints and Sinners”), Diamond Dallas Page (“WWE Monday Night RAW,” The Devil’s Rejects), Morgana Van Peebles (We the Party, IF), and newcomers T.C. Carter and Tatiana Lia Zappardino.
“Superstition” is produced by Barry Gordon, Mario Van Peebles, and Mitchell Galin. Joel Anderson Thompson (“Battlestar Galactica,” “Boomtown,” “House M.D.”) is the co-creator and showrunner, and Laurence Andries (“Alias,” “Six Feet Under) is executive producer.
The series revolves around the Hastings family, who have owned the only funeral home and graveyard in La Rochelle for as long as anyone can recall. In addition to providing services for all faiths, the family specialty is handling “afterlife care” for the unexplained deaths of folks at the hands of demonic Infernals and other unworldly phenomena that have long haunted the town.
Over the years the Hastings have developed a skill set in the dark arts to help combat this regular “Infernal problem” of La Rochelle. The family uses arcane weaponry, brute strength, mystical alchemy skills, and a deep knowledge of the occult and ancient lore from around the world to quell the evil within the shadows of the town.