Back in the fall, I visited the set of the upcoming CW show Containment (which is in my hometown of Atlanta, also known as the place where all of the plagues start on TV shows). We were able to interview Executive Producer Julie Plec along with cast members David Gyasi, Christina Moses, Chris Wood, George Young, and Hanna Mangan-Lawrence about the upcoming CW series, which is something very different for both Plec and the network. Described as a more “grown-up” show (and specifically by Wood, a “dirty, gritty, dramatic, dark, adult show”), Containment is the story of a contagion that cripples the city of Atlanta, resulting in the creation of a quarantine zone that divides friends and families, not all of whom are sick (yet).
Based on the Belgian series Cordon, life in the cordon area is explored as its inhabitants fight for survival, with Game of Thrones’ David Nutter acting as showrunner. As Plec told us, at the center of the story is the question “who are you and what kind of person are you in this situation? Are you someone you’re proud of, or someone you never want anyone to see again?”
Plec and the cast filled us in on what drew them to the story, what fans can expect from the series, and how it will take viewers on an emotional rollercoaster. (Also, Plec recommends that you don’t watch the Belgian series beforehand for spoiler reasons, since some of the biggest twists are similar).
- Fans of The Vampire Diaries and The Originals will note that Containment marks a very different kind of series for Julie Plec. She said it was the “opposite of a challenge” though, because the crux of the series is “character and humanity, and how people relate to each other.” She said it’s easy to “overtop yourself” with a genre show, but that in this show, things are more paired down. Still, she described the virus itself as the monster of the series.
- The series will be a slow burn when it comes to pacing, allowing for some mystery and maybe a hint of conspiracy. The intent is to keep everything as real-world as possible, with the show’s first season (13 episodes) taking place over roughly 20 days. The flash-forward seen in the pilot is Day 13, which will hit around Episode 8 or 9. Wood added that “not having that 22-episode format, the story is a little more concise and it’s easier to build momentum to the finale.”
- Regarding the Belgian series (which some of the cast watched and some did not), Plec said, “it knocked me out a few times, there are a few sucker punches where you’re just like ‘dude, that’s not cool.’ And we’re borrowing from that so I think that people will be able to remain very engaged. It definitely leaves you very afraid of what could happen next.”
Chris Wood said, “the show is so real and really shakes us all. We’ll have table reads where it’s very emotional. It’s a very true story, and very much about human response and sometimes compassions, heartache, selfishness, and it’s all very stripped down and raw.” George Young echoed that, saying that it’s emotionally draining because everything is so real.
- Hanna Mangan-Lawrence said that because the show is “set in real time and could really happen” that “everything is scary inside the cordon.”
- Despite some comparisons to the ebola outbreak, Plec said the show was in development before that happened, and if she thought it felt too topical she would have dropped it. So while there are some similarities to any contagious disease, the virus on Containment will be something we haven’t seen before. (But I can confirm it’s gross).
- Plec also brought up the fact that Patient Zero is of Middle Eastern decent, which she said brings up complicated issues of “anger, hostility, xenophobia, and subtextual racial politics,” and some of the show’s other complex themes.
- The production worked closely with the CDC, including having analysts speak with the writers to get the facts right. Plec said that the rules of a quarantine, how to handle the situation, and more are all set up to double as a public service. “In setting out to make this real world we tried to follow as many of the rules we could.”
Every cast member said that they became far more aware of germs and contagions since filming the series, and some have changed their behaviors: Chris Wood said he’s become a germaphobe, while George Young says the show has made them all hypochondriacs, and that some viewers may become Doomsday preppers after watching it.
- When it comes to the show’s focus on reality, Gyasi and Wood told us that they worked with Atlanta PD to get a feel for how things would really be handled in this situation. They learned how to clear rooms, and then were tested on their skills. Wood also read books about officers caught in extremely difficult and emotional situations, to get a feel for what he would need to portray in the quarantine zone.
- Vampire Diaries fans may wonder if Plec is stealing from herself by casting Chris Wood in a lead role here, but she said she had already planned to end his arc on Vampire Diaries long before that, and actually thought he was too young for the Containment role, but David Nutter thought his audition was fantastic.
- Though 95% of the cast is from Atlanta or regional, there are some familiar faces from Plec’s CW world. There are also a lot of international members of the cast, and Chris Wood had a funny story about how, “there’s an area in Atlanta called the Fourth Ward, and I guess the writers didn’t say it out loud much — it’s hard to say. But the writers created this gang called the ‘Fourth Ward Lords,’ and to give that to Australian or British actors who normally don’t say R’s, and are trying to do an American accent … there were a lot of sounds, and they had to change it!”
When it comes to David Nutter’s involvement, Plec said he chose the show from a stack of WB pilots. “[He told me] it was powerful, moving, emotional; this is a story about human beings, a life a family … what would you do in this situation, has this most universally simple question at its center. He took over [the production] and it was magnificent. He ran the whole machine, and I’m a control freak, but he’s me times a million, and it’s glorious. I just sat there and learned. He’s just very, very good at his job. You have to love and adore him. He’s a teddy bear but he’s also a machine and he’ll get it done.”
- Chris Wood also praised David Nutter for his personal approach with the actors, saying that it “strips away pretension” and “he’s sort of like a horse whisperer in some ways. He’ll say things that trigger you, and just drop you immediately where you need to be in a scene.”
- The stakes on the show are very high, and “nobody is safe” when it comes to the outbreak, Gyasi told us. Plec echoed that, saying, “death is knocking at everybody’s door all the time. It’s an extremely potent disease, it does not treat people well, and it is not discriminatory in any way — it attacks series regulars or the 3rd guest star from the right. It’s very powerful. In addition to a great mystery and some nice moments of humanity there’s a big emotional rollercoaster than the show will take you on.”
Containment premieres Tuesday, April 19th on the CW