From Eli Roth and Jason Blum, the WE-tv supernatural thriller series South of Hell, which is airing all seven episodes in a binge marathon on November 27th beginning at 6 pm ET/PT, follows Maria Abascal (Mena Suvari), a 30-year-old demon hunter for hire in Charleston, South Carolina, who is skilled and fearless in her pursuit of the demons that live in others. Like those that she hunts, Maria is struggling with her own demon, Abigail, who resides inside of her, feeding on the evil Maria exorcizes from others.
During this exclusive phone interview with Collider, actress Mena Suvari talked about why she wanted to be a part of South of Hell, loving the challenge of it all, the human story at the center of this supernatural tale, Maria’s relationship with her own demon Abigail, what Maria really wants out of life, leaving the audience wanting more by the end of the season, and what makes this the perfect show to binge watch. Be aware that there are some spoilers.
Collider: How did you get involved with this show?
MENA SUVARI: It actually happened really quickly. I heard about this project on a Wednesday, I tested for it on a Friday, and then, I flew out that weekend to Charleston (South Carolina). My life completely changed. Sometimes it’s like that. It just happens very fast and, all of a sudden, you find yourself in a completely different environment. But, it was awesome. I heard about it and I was really, really excited because it wasn’t just the opportunity to work in the horror genre again or play a character like this, and I love the supernatural elements, but I grew up and spent several years living in Charleston when I was younger. So, it was also the ability to go back home and work in that awesome city. And then, there were all the people who were behind it. I’m just a massive fan of James Manos Jr. and Eli Roth and Jason Blum, and we had fantastic directors, like Ti West and Jennifer Lynch. Before I even read the script, I was game. I loved the whole concept of it. It’s also a really wonderful opportunity to be able to have a job where you’re able to shoot the whole series. Working in television, many times you read a script, you work on the pilot, and then you play the waiting game to see if you’re able to make it a series. It was a lot of fun to shoot the whole series. I’ve never done that before.
Since you didn’t really even have much time to stop and think about it, did you have a moment where you realized just how challenging this show and character would be?
SUVARI: That was James Manos Jr.’s words to be. He was like, “You don’t know what you’re getting yourself into, kid!” But, I love that. I love challenge. But, I had to get used to the rhythm and how things are going to be. There are a few demon interactions, there’s a big fight scene, and there’s a lot of physicality that was required, as well. I had to understand and fully comprehend the whole mythology of the story and where it was going to go, and understand Abigail and what her personality is like. It was a lot, in the beginning.
The TV schedule is more fast-paced and you don’t have the budget that you do on a film, even though you’re still trying to pull off effects. It must feel very sink-or-swim?
SUVARI: Definitely! The thing that’s important is that you know that you’re in really good hands. For me, I loved the entire process. I loved being involved in everything. It was comforting for me, knowing that I could do my job and give a bit more, and know that I could also just sit back and trust and have faith in the people that I was working with. These guys are legends in the business, so it was easy. I didn’t have to stress out too much.
What can you say about the journey that viewers will be taken on, over these seven episodes?
SUVARI: It’s really a story that centers around the city of Charleston. You have Maria Abascal and her brother David Abascal (Zachary Booth), who are the survivors of a cult that became demonic, and she was possessed, as a young girl, with this demon named Abigail. There’s such a human element and a human journey for her and her brother. Maria really wants to be rid of Abigail, but she’s come to a pact with her to use her for good, in a sense, where she exorcizes demons out of people. She’s a demon hunter for hire. And then, their father comes back after them. It’s them trying to rid themselves of their past and move towards a better life.
Because Abigail pushes Maria, does Maria really want to rid herself of Abigail, or do you think she’s also miss her?
SUVARI: I think ultimately she does. You find out in the story that Abigail created a lot of pain and trauma for Maria. That’s definitely the ultimate goal. She’s really just trying to do the best that she can, but it’s a tough thing. What’s suggested in the story is that Maria has already tried to get rid of her. Because of the type of person she is, Maria does feel a slight sense of compassion for Abigail. With all of this mythology, you realize that Abigail turned on her own kind, so she can’t technically go back where she came from. Maria is just continuously fighting this battle within herself.
Maria is ridding other people’s demons to feed her own. What do you think she would choose to be doing, if she didn’t have to feed the demon living inside of her?
SUVARI: I don’t want to give too much away, but you find out why she came to that agreement with Abigail. It’s almost like, if they have to live together, than she wants to use her in the best sense possible, instead of hurting innocents or people who aren’t possessed, which Abigail clearly would do. The whole thing with demons is that they really just want anybody’s soul. So, Maria comes to this agreement with her and tries to control her, as much as possible. If Abigail needs to feed, than Maria uses her to at least rid the evil of this town. This demonic presence in their lives is something that Maria and her brother have been trying to escape since they were younger.
Did you find it very freeing to play this role, especially when Abigail is the one who’s present?
SUVARI: Yeah, I definitely am influenced by the whole transition process, with wardrobe and hair and make-up and really embodying the character. There’s a liberation that happens. And I’m such a huge fan of the horror genre and the supernatural elements. I definitely had a lot of inspiration on how to play Abigail, especially demon Abigail. Once I was in that look, there was something that happened to me. It was easy to be wild and crazy, and just let go and attack people.
Did you approach the duality of this character as if you were playing a split personality, with the change in physicality and vocal inflection?
SUVARI: I guess, in a sense, but I really just approached them as two separate characters. It was really with the help of everybody involved. The support was fantastic, as was working with James Manos Jr. the entire season. Different directors came in and left, but he was a huge help. I really needed that to understand exactly where she was at and what moment was what. It was just a process that unfolded. Once I understood the differences in their personalities, it got easier. It required me to coach and direct the actors that would stand in for me and play opposite me in those scenes, so they knew how I was going to perform Abigail while I was performing Maria. And then, we’d do the change over and do vice versa. That was a bit of a challenge, but it was fun.
Maria and her brother clearly have a bond together, but their relationship also seems a bit co-dependent and not always terribly healthy. How do you see their relationship?
SUVARI: I think they truly love one another, and they’re survivors. That’s really what it comes down to for me. They grew up without parents. They survived this cult and they believed they were the only ones, but you find out that they weren’t. The possession and the demonic forces that were brought into their lives by their father. They’re not perfect, but they’re survivors and they’re doing the best that they can. I think that they genuinely want the best for one another and love one another, and they’re doing the best that they can in those moments. David lies to her, at times, and she doesn’t necessarily know what he’s doing. I’m sure she wouldn’t approve. You definitely see her frustrated by his absence, at times. But, they’re battling life the best way that they can.
There’s an interesting and complex dynamic between Maria and the priest. What can you say about that and how that will develop?
SUVARI: I don’t want to give too much away, but when he comes into her life, that’s her job and she’s used to it. She has her shop at the flea market. I don’t think she knows everything that her brother is up to and how he’s bringing in money, but they’re surviving. It’s understand that it’s her job to be called upon to exorcize demons out of people. That’s how they financially survive. I think she initially just wants to know the job that he wants her to do. But then, he brings her to the hospital and it’s this huge surprise for her. It just opens up a whole other part of her life and her past, finding out that her friend, who is his daughter, is alive. Until then, Maria and her brother thought they were the only survivors of that cult. It starts her trying to put together all of these pieces to figure out why he’s come back for her. You ultimately find that out, and more, but I don’t want to give it away.
Can Maria even try to have romantic relationships with Abigail being so unpredictable, or is that something she just avoids?
SUVARI: I don’t want to give too much away, but you find that out. You find out what Abigail did to Maria in the past and why they have the agreement that they do. All Maria wants is to be happy, to be in love and to be accepted, so she does start to open up and open her heart for someone. You’ll have to watch. It’s pretty complicated, what happens in the story. But, it does unfold and all of those questions will be answered.
When we get to the end of these episodes, will we feel a sense of closure with this story, or will we be left wanting more?
SUVARI: I think you’ll definitely be left wanting more, for sure. It definitely plays on like that. The story gets very intertwined. It’s a cerebral show, too. That’s what’s great about it. It has not only these really awesome action demon vs. demon battles, but there’s a real human journey in it, a lot of heart to it, and a really cool mythology to it. I hope people will like it and want to continue with it and know more.
It’s cool to have the opportunity to binge all of the episodes on WE-tv before having them available on VOD. Why is this the perfect show for binge-viewing?
SUVARI: It’s just seven episodes that we’re dropping, so I think it works really well with the type of show and the amount of episodes. It’s exciting. The story definitely does deliver, and you want to just know more and more and more. It’s cool that you can watch them all at once. I think it’s neat, the way they’re dropping the show. In regards to being a part of this, people have been really excited that that’s the way that they’re presenting it.
All episodes of South of Hell will be available on WE-tv in a binge marathon on Friday, November 27, beginning at 6 pm ET/PT, and then the entire series will be available on VOD, download to own and TVE platforms.