‘Castlevania’: Warren Ellis & Kevin Kolde on the Psychedelic Horror of Season 3

     March 5, 2020

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In the latest Saturday Mourning Cartoons interview, we sit down with writer/EP Warren Ellis and EP Kevin Kolde to talk Castlevania Season 3, now streaming on Netflix. Fair warning: We do get into spoilers on this chat!

Ellis and Kolde talked about the events of Season 3 and how they follow in the wake of Dracula’s death and the power vacuum left behind. We also discuss the newcomers like Saint Germain, Lenore, The Captain, and Miranda, among others. Plus, we get into the inspiration for the creation of the insane and impressive sequence in the Infinite Corridor. All that and a whole lot more, so listen in!

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Image via Netflix

I know the two of you have been working on this in one form or another since at least 2007, so what’s it been like to finally see your hard work come to fruition?

Kevin Kolde: It’s been amazing to be honest. You know, it was a long road to get where we got. But in hindsight, I think that it was probably the right time, the right place, the right group of people for it all to come together in the way that it did and I couldn’t be happier. I’ve been privileged to work with just amazing talented artists at all levels of this production. From Warren to Sam and Adam Deats, directors at Powerhouse. Their incredibly talented team of artists, the amazing cast of actors that we’ve been able to pull together for this. Meredith Layne who does our casting and voice direction, Trevor Morris, our composer. I couldn’t be happier, it’s great.

And then Warren, same question for you since you’ve been working on adapting this for the last 10 years or so.

Warren Ellis: Oh, 10 years and then some. I think it was probably around ’06, when Kevin first talked to me about Castlevania, and then that ran into trouble, as most of these things do. You know, the stuff you see actually being produced and made is the very tip of the iceberg of what is always in development at any one time. So, it went away, and then fully 10 years later, Kevin came back to me and said, “How about Castlevania?” And I said, “Who are you and what are you doing in my house?”

It had been kind of a long time, but I guess sometimes if you wait long enough, the stars will align and you’ll get to do it after all.

I believe you previously stated that the end of Season 2, I think that was the end of your original script, which was originally envisioned as a trilogy. But that was the end of that, right? So Season 3 was a new, blank page for you guys?

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Image via Netflix

Warren Ellis: That’s correct. Season 2 was the end of my original plan. So we had, or I had the situation which was happy and delightful and pleasing, that Netflix came to us and said, “We would like Season 3, please.” And then the delight, and joy, and pleasure fades and you have what we call in the writing game, the “Oh Shit” moment when you realize you don’t actually have a clue what to do next.

Luckily, we had a broad cast of actors, who had given me just so much, in terms of invention and nuance during season two, excuse me. And of course, many of those characters are left in play. So I discovered that I could give each of those characters a new full life, and new character route, and they essentially told their own stories, even Drac.

I saw on Twitter, you mentioned a little while back, that when you started working on Season 3 in 2018, you started out with a quote, “The Psychedelic Horror Season.” So how did that one line pave the way for everything else that was to come in Season 3?

Warren Ellis: As I’m sure everyone knows by now, I never played the games, I wasn’t even aware of them until Kevin originally came to me about them. So all my knowledge of the games is from Wikipedia and fan pages. So I find myself just sort of clicking through the canon, in those situations, and looking for things to hold on to. And there’s some really weird stuff in the canon. Occasionally, you just trip over one or two things, and you know, spoilers being what they are, I’ll mention right now what those one or two things are, but you’ll see them. You trip over that and it kind of gives you a key, to unlock the entire story and it’s fully psychedelic horror. It’s weird stuff. So that ended up coloring the entire season. It gave me permission to get really much stranger than I probably should have.

What I loved about Season 3 though, you guys get to follow four different kind of story arcs, so they focus on different characters. Obviously you have Alucard’s story and you’ve got another that focuses on a Trevor, Sypha, and a newcomer, Saint Germain. We also get a side story with Carmilla and her vampire queen sisters, and then we also have Isaac’s own journey. But for the both of you, did you have a favorite character arc to kind of play around in, or is there one that stood out to you this season?

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Image via Netflix

Kevin Kolde: Well, that’s really hard because one of the amazing things that I love about the show and what Warren’s been able to bring to it is, I love like all the characters. I just do, they’re all interesting in their own ways, right? So it’s really hard to pick. I guess, maybe in some way Isaac’s journey, to me is very interesting because of sort of where he’s started out in season two, and kind of where he’s heading in season three. He’s evolving to become a different character, a different person, you know? I think people are going to be a bit surprised by his journey. I love them all, I really do. Lenore and Hector, makes me squeal with joy.

And then, a follow-up question for you then, too. Maybe a harder one actually. Do you have a favorite character, that you got to write for, either past or present? Because personally, I loved and I miss Godbrand. It just seemed like such a fun character to get to play with. So, any of those that stand out for you? Even if they’re supporting characters.

Warren Ellis: I tell you, if Peter Stormare hadn’t taken that gig…

Kevin Kolde: Yeah.

Warren Ellis: … I would have been so screwed because his voice was all I could hear. I mean, you’ve heard the performance. I’m not even sure he knew the microphone was on. It was just so instinctively insane. Yeah, Godbrand was a lot of fun. Oh. I enjoy writing Isaac because it’s actually very difficult to write it. It’s a real challenge. He comes from a very different place, and he has a very particular cadence. Which [Adetokumboh M’Cormack] has developed over the show, so I found myself actually starting to write to his cadence. Kyle Miller is always a joy. And in season three, Saint Germain was just immense fun to write. Because he’s so grandiose, and he’s so unimpressed with literally anybody else he meets, and yet he cannot help but try to play, work and con everyone he meets. So that was just immensely entertaining, for me.

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Image via Netflix

I believe you said you wrote that character with Bill Nighy’s voice and cadence, and performance kind of in mind.

Warren Ellis: Yeah, once again, yeah. Once again, I would have been in real trouble if Bill hadn’t done it, because, yeah, it was very much the sound of Bill Nighy I had in mind. I mean, I’ve been a fan of that guy’s work for … God, decades.

Same.

Warren Ellis: It was marvelous working with him.

Were there any actors who you had in mind, who you reached out to and maybe you didn’t think you would ever in a million years get them to sign on?

Kevin Kolde: Oh, all of them.

Warren Ellis: Pretty much. I mean, look at the cast, aside from our returning actors, and I’m amazed that our previous actors decided to return, after the horrible things I make them say. But I mean, Bill Nighy, Barbara Steele, for God’s sake, Lance Reddick, Jason Isaacs, Jessica Brown Findlay, Ivana Milicevic, Yasmine Al Massri, and Navid [Negahban] … I mean, I’m always shocked when these people agree to come on to my weird animated show about vampires and swearing.

I don’t know how much the cast really ever gets to crossover, but did the returning cast have any welcoming, or even hazing, for the newcomers, to be like, “You don’t know what you’re getting into, but it’s going to be a hell of a ride.”

Kevin Kolde: Animation recording is a little strange. Oftentimes the actors are not in the same room, and oftentimes they’re not even recorded at the same time. So there’s not a lot of that interaction, that we would know of. We’re fortunate at times to get them all together, sometimes across continents, which is always great, to have them be able to perform together.

Warren Ellis: We had the ladies from Syria, all in the same room. At least once, and that was hugely entertaining. We connected up, we had Alejandra in LA, Bill was in London, and Richard, I want to say was Berlin, and I think we were running them simultaneously.

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Image via Netflix

Hopefully you can get them together for a ComicCon.

Kevin Kolde: We got Richard, and James and Alejandra together in the studio once for Season 2, which was great. But other than that, it’s always like through the amazing technology of the future that they’re all in these different places and time zones, and somehow they can hear each other, and we can hear them all and it all comes together.

Exactly. And speaking of amazing technology and some time-traveling future folk. We get Saint Germain as a new character in this one, but we also have some teases of some other characters who may have fans kind of questioning, digging into the lore a little bit more.

Warren, you’ve previously said of the Castlevania character of Grant, and honestly I don’t even know how to say his last name. Is it just dynasty, or is it da-nasty? Because the way it’s spelled…

Warren Ellis: Well I’ve got … yeah, the way it’s spelled is ridiculous. And it adds to being pronounced as da-nasty, due to that. Da-nasty. If you go back what they were actually … there’s actually a town in the Romanian region called Danasti. D-A-N-A-S-T-I. And I think it’s just a transliteration issue, but it just comes out as Grant Danasti.

You previously said of this character, “What use is a pirate in a landlocked country, anyway?”

Warren Ellis: Well, yes.

But in Season 3 we get some teases of both a character they call the Pirate of the Roads, I believe. And it also features an unnamed sailor who simply goes by The Captain. So are we reading too much into, maybe, some Grant lore in there?

Warren Ellis: You’re reading too much into The Captain. The Captain is simply the Captain, I’m afraid. However, The Pirate of the Roads, he stuck wheels on his boat, because he’s a pirate in a landlocked country. That’s my little nod to all the people still furious that we didn’t use all the two dimensional sprites from the early games.

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Image via Netflix

Fantastic. Speaking of mysterious characters, I’d profess to not know all the lore of Castlevania, as well, but we get introduced to a very mysterious, magically gifted woman, by the name of Miranda. So can you maybe tease a little bit more about how that character came about, and maybe what she was based on?

Warren Ellis: Oh, not everybody is from the lore. Some of them, I just made up, I’m afraid.

Well, I definitely like her part to play in the story. With characters like The Captain, with characters like Miranda, I want to personally see more of them. So I’m glad that this world, your world, is expanding and including more and more of these stories.

Warren Ellis: Well, yeah, I dream of writing those characters more as well. But that’s for me, I mean, when Kevin talks about Isaac particular being his favorite, although it was possibly the hardest part of the season to write for me, it was also among the more interesting arcs because almost uniquely amongst those characters, Isaac is on a philosophical journey. In the period, philosophy included magic. So I can have him having conversations with old sea captains and hermit magicians.

I love it. And that leads right into my next question actually, because when I think of Castlevania, this particular series, I think of three things: There’s gorgeous animation, there’s incredible and intense action, but also a rarity in animation these days, we get deep philosophical conversations that are held by complex characters. So when it comes to the philosophizing, when do you know when you’ve gotten your message across, and when do you know when you have to kind of rein it in and move onto the next thing?

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Image via Netflix

Warren Ellis: Well, that’s relatively easy for me because I’m quite stupid. So, I’m not really going to get that deeply into it. And the thing to bear in mind is that these aren’t lectures. These are people talking and trying to get something from each other, or trying to give something to each other. So, if you maintain the personal conversational connection, all conversations have an arc and a conclusion. It’s not difficult to know when you’ve outstayed your welcome. If that makes sense.

It does. So you essentially use a story structure, just kind of in the focused form of a conversation.

Warren Ellis: Essentially, yeah.

Gotcha. As for the other components of Castlevania, the insane action sequences, I’m curious, how much of that is actually scripted by you guys and then how much do you just lean on storyboard artists and animators to really flesh that out?

Warren Ellis: Depends massively. Some things I’ve scripted down to the beat, some things I’ve literally set it up, I’ve noted where the scene needs to end, and I’ve literally written on the script, “Sam, this needs to be about a minute [and] 30 seconds long, go nuts.” And Sam and his team just take the space and invent something marvelous. I mean, I can’t say enough good things about Sam Deats, the director. Adam, the co-director, assistant director and Sam’s entire staff at Powerhouse. They’re just astonishing artists.

Yeah, they’re fantastic. Were there any specific either action scenes, or fight scenes that you …  You said some of them are scripted by the beat, so which ones were really important to you, if you can remember, that they were hitting a specific beat?

Warren Ellis: Yeah. Season 1 in the underground with the minotaur thing, and Sypha as a statue, that was scripted down to the beat. It was one of the first revelations for me. Obviously, working in comics, I script things as closely as the artist needs me to. But to see that kind of close scripting translated into animation, and seeing what I could actually make out of that, that was really revelatory to me. Not least because he told me, he started to teach me when I would be overwriting, and when I can just step back and let Sam invent and create.

I guess a similar question then, goes into when you were crafting the idea of how to explore the Infinite Corridor, and what that looks like, and how you get this idea of infinite dimensions, and portals, and doorways, how you bring that across in animation. What was that process like, and then what was your reaction to seeing the finished product?

Warren Ellis: Oh, I made everyone’s life hell on that one.

Yeah, it looked like it. It looked insane.

Warren Ellis: I knew exactly what that looked like and I knew it was going to drive everybody crazy, so … that went through a whole bunch of iterations. But I could see it down to the color palette, and just seeing them build that stage by stage was marvelous. Once again, I know I put them through hell, but what they brought back was just a hundred times better than what I was seeing in my head.

Kevin Kolde: I think that the whole infinite corridor, the animation and all of that stuff, that fell on Adam Deats to make all of that come together and he really did an amazing job. I also had him and his team, coming out of the infinite corridor into the shots hell, since you’ve seen it, in the latter episodes, again, making something out of nothing and figuring all that out. And you know, we gave them lots of reference from 2001 to …

Warren Ellis: Oh God, I was even pulling out old psychedelic band posters from the Fillmore in the ’60s, for that one.

I love that. I’m curious, what were your inspirations that kind of went into it? Because there’s a bunch of sci-fi stuff that goes in there. It goes well beyond the traditional fantasy art, because you’re peeking into all these different worlds. So what were some of the other things you guys threw around as inspiration?

Warren Ellis: Oh God. What even was there? I mean I pulled out the old psychedelic posters for Adam because of the color scheme. I think a lot of it was, I mean, I had a list of things I wanted to try and I think I just boiled them down to five images I thought would be the most striking. I remember wanting to things we used to be the most un-Castlevania things we had yet seen, I wanted them to be completely jarring against the world we knew. That was the leading impulse for all of those.

What can you guys tease about where you’d at least like to see the story go from here? I know you can’t get into specifics, or renewals or any of that, but what can you tease about what could be more fleshed out in the future?

Kevin Kolde: I’m not sure where we can go, to be honest with you, in terms of our answer. Right? At the end of Season 3, [the story is] at a very different place than you think it’s going to be. Season 3 sort of starts with new hope, new beginning, and you think everything’s going to be great and happy, and then Warren pulls the rug out from under you, and it goes to shit. So look, there’s definitely unfinished business and unfinished stories that I think we could easily [continue.]

Warren Ellis: Yeah. What I will say, is that in some ways you can almost look at Castlevania as an alternative history story where vampires are real and magic is real, and the third season is the aftermath of what everyone thought was the worst possible thing that could happen. Dracula is real and he’s trying to kill everybody on the planet, and that good stuff. But all these other elements are being thrown into play, inside what has become a power vacuum. So, you are living in a world where these things are real, and it turned out just knocking out the middle of that great threat left a hole that all these terrible things we now know about are now going to rush in to fill.

Therefore, this is a much grimmer world even than the actual time period, in the late 1400s, or wherever it was. Yeah, it doesn’t necessarily end happily, but it feels kind of truthful to the situation that was instigated at the top of season one. These things have happened in the world, they don’t go away. There is no reset. It’s not like everyone is going to forget about vampires, night creatures, and magic. And these things are now off the leash and reveling to some extent, in the chaos.

That’s a great tease and set up for hopefully, future stories to come, but I’ll let you off the hook. My last question for you guys today, what else maybe are you two currently working on, that you can talk about? Like Warren, I just saw the Crunchyroll News for Freak Angels, the adaptation there. So anything else going on that you guys are proud of, or would like to do a signal boost for?

Warren Ellis: This was an announced months ago, but Kevin and I are working on an animated series called Heaven’s Forest, also at Netflix, which is a weird kind of cultural remix of the Ramayana, in India. And we’re working on that right now, and that is amazing.

Fantastic. And Kevin, anything else going on for you, aside from Heaven’s Forest?

Kevin Kolde: No, Heaven’s Forest, is the main one that we’re working on now. The project’s now with Warren, and we just wrapped up, finally, the new season of Bee and Puppycat, which I think people will be super stoked for. So that should be coming out of soon. But yeah, Castlevania, Heaven’s Forest.

Warren Ellis: Bee and Puppycat! Yeah, now I remember. Is that, Natasha Allegri?

Kevin Kolde: It is indeed.

Warren Ellis: Yeah. Now, I remember first seeing her stuff, she used to draw little comics that she’d post on LiveJournal in the early 2000s. I followed her way back when, and it’s just delightful to see her creating animated shows now. I love her.

Kevin Kolde: She went and lived in Japan for basically two years and worked with a Japanese studio to put it all together, because it’s got a lot of anime influences. So yeah, I think people will be stoked to see it. And so yeah, that’s what’s going on.

Cool. So if you guys want to announce that she’s also animating and directing your Chibi-inspired version of the Castlevania universe, feel free to do that on this show.

Kevin Kolde: I will reveal that on my desk are some sketches that she did of Castlevania babies.

Oh, that is too cute. Well, I will happily crowdfund that or contribute to it, at least. So … whatever it takes.

Kevin Kolde: Someday, yeah.

Thank you guys so much for your time today, and congratulations on all things Castlevania. Looking forward to more from that show, and your projects as well, in the months and years ahead. So thank you guys again.

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