From Jordan Peele and Simon Kinberg, the modern re-imagining of The Twilight Zone (available to stream at CBS All Access, where you can also watch every episode of the original series) has Peele serving as host and narrator, in the role previously held by Rod Serling, as the anthology series explores different genres and tones in its socially conscious storytelling. Throughout its 10-episode season, it will explore the human condition in ways that are terrifying, horrific, funny and always entertaining, while it leaves you with plenty to think about.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, executive producer Audrey Chon talked about how terrifying it was to take on The Twilight Zone, why now is the right time to bring back the iconic TV series, how they chose and worked with the actors on developing their episodes and characters, selecting directors, what she thinks of Jordan Peele as The Host/Narrator, and whether they’d like to do more episodes in the future.
Collider: I have been so excited about the return of The Twilight Zone since it was announced, and it’s been everything that I hoped it would be, from the storytelling to the cast to Jordan Peele’s spot-on delivery as The Host.
AUDREY CHON: That’s great!
When this idea came your way, what was your reaction to it?
CHON: It’s a terrifying idea to take on something that’s so beloved and iconic. I work with Simon Kinberg, and we were both super excited about the possibility of it, but also understood the high bar of excellence the original series had. Every step of the way, we were definitely very cognizant of that, and that pushes you, across the board, from the writing to the execution of the series to every decision made. Even when you bring on someone like Jordan, there is definitely a bar of excellence that you feel like you have to hit, in order to even compare it to what Rod [Serling] did, with the original series. There’s definitely a looming shadow from the original, for sure.
Was there a moment where it goes from, “Are we really going to do this?,” to “Yes, I think we can actually do this”?
CHON: There is, but when you’re doing it, you’re like “Oh, my God, are we really doing this?!” It really wasn’t until you actually start to see episodes that it becomes more real. It’s been real exciting for our entire team to share it with people. We still feel like we’re crazy for taking it on, but it’s been very exciting and fun to see people’s reactions to the show.
Why do you think now is the perfect time to bring back The Twilight Zone?
CHON: When we started on this journey to re-imagine the show, which Simon and I started back at the top of 2016, it was actually a very different time than it is now. With the elections and so much happening around the world, and people literally saying they feel like they were in The Twilight Zone, it just became the right time. I think people are hungry for a forum to talk about issues, where they aren’t just getting told things on the news. I think Jordan Peele is a genius at doing this, in a way that you can smuggle in social ideas and provoke people to think and talk about this stuff without being so obvious.
One of the things that I really love about these episodes is that the actors in them seem to be getting to play characters that we’ve never really gotten to see them play and do things that we haven’t previously seen them do. How did this seemingly endless list of incredibly talented people end up being cast in the specific roles and the specific episodes that they’re in?
CHON: Every case was a little different. Especially with someone like Kumail [Nanjiani], you get to see him stretch his acting abilities, in a way you haven’t seen before. With that episode, Kumail had been involved from almost the very beginning of the idea’s inception. Jordan had an idea for a stand-up comedian, that evolved into what it became, but from day one, we felt like Kumail was the perfect person to play it. That was an instance where we went after him, very early on. It was something similar with the Steven Yeun episode, as well, with Greg Kinnear. What was interesting about that casting process was that we were thinking about Steven for a different role. He was real excited to do a The Twilight Zone episode and came in and was like, “You should consider me for The Traveler. I know it’s not obvious, but I think I can do it, and here are all of the reasons why.” We’re glad he pitched so strongly for that role ‘cause he really crushed it. Those are just a couple instances of casting, where the actors had a very strong opinion, or were brought in a little early. Case by case, it’s a little different. We went after people that we thought would really embody the roles the best, as we saw it written.
And kudos to whoever’s idea it was to have Steven Yeun do karaoke in that episode because that was awesome.
CHON: Well, that credit goes to Glen Morgan, who wrote the episode.
Similarly, how did you also decide on the director that would helm each episode?
CHON: It’s very different from traditional TV, in the sense that every episode is almost like a little movie or a pilot, and the tone, from episode to episode, varies a little bit. We almost treated them like little movies. Based on the tone of our episode and what kind of vision we thought it needed, we were really specific about who we went after. You can see that there’s a wide range of the type of filmmakers that we hired for the show.