From show creator Glen Mazzara (The Walking Dead) the new A&E drama series Damien follows the adult life of Damien Thorn (Bradley James), the mysterious child from the 1976 motion picture, now grown up and seemingly unaware of the satanic forces around him. Haunted by his past, Damien must come to terms with his true destiny as the Antichrist and learn what that means for those around him. The show also stars Barbara Hershey, Scott Wilson, Omid Abtahi, Megalyn Echikunwoke and David Meunier.
During this exclusive interview with Collider, actor Bradley James (Merlin, iZombie) talked about what attracted him to Damien, playing such an iconic character, using the movie as a launchpad, finding the human element to the Antichrist, how this is a show that will leave the audience asking questions, and accepting your own level of darkness.
Collider: How did this come about for you?
BRADLEY JAMES: The way it came about was that I was up in Vancouver, working on iZombie, and I was very proud to have been a part of that. I had a batch of scripts come through, for a few things. I was quite busy, at the time, so I didn’t really have a chance to look at any of them. If you’re working on something, your team doesn’t usually question stuff like that, but I had a little nudge from one of my agents with this one. So, I gave it a go and was hooked, very early on. Every time I get one of these scripts, I never know what’s going to happen. I find myself turning the pages as quickly as possible. It was the script that drew me in. So, I had a little window to come down to L.A. and meet Glen [Mazzara], the warped mind behind the script. He showed me a couple of his ideas about how he wanted to do the show, and I was all in.
Were you hesitant, at all, about taking on a character like this, who everyone knows the name of, or was that never a concern?
JAMES: I wouldn’t say that it was something I was too stressed out about, really. Having read the script, you long for great characters to come your way, and that’s what I saw this as. I was very eager to get going. I found out about it in November of 2014, and I think we started in February, so I had a chunk of time where I was just eager to get going. There was never too much worry, in terms of content and what it deals with.
Since you don’t get the full journey from just reading the pilot script, what was it that drew you to this story and character?
JAMES: It was the humanity. Everyone has an idea of the Antichrist, and this was not that kind of caricature. He’s a human being who suddenly found himself with this insanely humongous baggage and he hadn’t done anything to bring it upon himself. So, it was seeing the human side to him. By the time he makes it to the church and you witness his heart breaking, that was a moment in the script for me where I was on board with this guy and could understand what this is all about for him. I’ve been very pleased with everything that’s come his way after that, as well.
With a character like this, how do you view him? Do you see him as the hero of his own story, do you look at him as an anti-hero, or do you see him as the villain?
JAMES: I think everyone sees themselves as the title character in their own life story, and they wouldn’t necessarily paint themselves with a good or evil brush. I think everyone has elements of many things, and that’s the way to approach a guy like Damien. I don’t think he actively has an on and off switch of good and bad. That comes with finding that human element to the Antichrist. Human beings are a complicated bunch, aren’t we?
Damien is really torn between two worlds, being good or giving in to what’s happen. Will he continue to struggle with that, or will he get to a point where he enjoys what he can be capable of?
JAMES: Without giving too much away, what the audience will experience is asking questions of themselves, with regard to being in Damien’s position. Damien is essentially us. He is you and me, but put in this situation. I think the audience will experience that questioning of themselves. They’ll see Damien make a decision, and they may agree with it or they may not, but there will be the opportunity for them to ask themselves what decision they would make in a similar set of circumstances.
To play Damien, do you keep the history of the character in mind, or do you try to approach it from an entirely new perspective?
JAMES: Well, we used the first movie as a launchpad, and then everything else is essentially our own subjective creation of what that 25 years was, in between seeing him in the film and on his 30th birthday. The only rule book to follow are those first five years that are set up in the film. A lot of people have asked about the idea of him not being aware of his status as the Antichrist, but there hasn’t been anyone, up until now, who has been there to articulate what is going on in his life. He doesn’t know any better. He’s just aware of this situation where things seem to be a lot harder for him. Bad stuff seems to happen more in his life than it does for people, but I don’t think you’d assume, “Oh, I must be the Antichrist.” It gives you that room to fill in that 25 years and create that backstory without him being a mustache-twirling evil villain.
Even though he might want to fight what’s going on, he can’t really deny “666″ being tattooed on his head.
JAMES: I think you’re hitting on the nature of how the audience will experience the show and his journey, by asking questions like that. As he turns 30, lots of things happen that are just a little bit more extreme than have happened before. It’s just a little bit more point blank, on-the-nose of the subject, so it’s not as easy to run away from.
Is it ever creepy to do a show like this, or do you just have a lot of fun with it?
JAMES: I have a lot of fun with the cast. They’re a great bunch. The crew are fantastic, as well. It’s not necessarily about creeping yourself out. It’s about trying to understand and accept your own level of darkness, so that you can then understand and portray Damien’s. I’m not sure if creepy is the right word, but you can ask questions of yourself. There are certainly moments where the process has its intense elements to it. But on the whole, it was a very enjoyable experience to shoot and to work with the people I got to work with.
Did you have any conversations with Glen Mazzara about what the full journey would be for the first season, and maybe even beyond?
JAMES: I did, at a particular point. I held out until a particular point, and I can’t say what that point was. Glen was there to offer me whatever I needed, but I held off until then, and then I said, “I need to know where this is going to go because there are a couple of decisions I need to make.” Glen is a very collaborative human being, let alone a showrunner. He’s an absolute pleasure to work with, thus I had every advantage I needed, in terms of shaping that journey.
Damien airs on Monday nights on A&E.