‘The Strain’ Season 2: 10 things we learned on the set

TORONTO, ONTARIO. It's a mild spring day in Toronto, but unknowably dark things are happening at the Royal York Hotel.

A group of journalists has descended on the filming location for Season 2 of FX's “The Strain,” but we can't see what's actually being filmed. 

Yes, the late-season episode is heavy on spoilers, not that it's really a spoiler to tease that one-or-more of our intrepid heroes have run afoul of the vampire hordes and one-or-more of our intrepid heroes is staging a rescue mission of some sort. That's standard operating procedure on the FX adaptation of Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan's thriller trilogy.

The real reason we can't observe filming is one of simple logistics: A pursuit is taking place in the stairwells of the Royal York. Stairwells are tight. The number of reporters isn't tiny. 

For that reason, we're sitting in a medium-sized ballroom at the Royal York, a room “Strain” producer Miles Dale tells us once housed a James Brown show, which seems nearly unfathomable as the stars of the “Strain” make their way in to sit down at a roundtable with the press over two days.

The headline of this story is either incomplete or misleading. We learned way more than 10 things over our two days of interviews. The problem is that many of the things we learned are spoilers relating to the entire second season “Strain” season, which premieres on July 12 on FX. Hardly a plotpoint was skipped during our various interviews, as we got details on the rising vampire menace, the determined human resistance and the fate of New York City.

This feature spoils nothing big, but sheds some light on Guillermo del Toro's directing contributions to the season, some key recasting, the state of Corey Stoll's wig, a couple important evolving “Strain” relationships and more.

Click through to whet your appetites for Season 2…

Guillermo del Toro returns to direct this season, but only a little. In addition to co-writing and directing the pilot and co-writing the book series, Guillermo del Toro shot a bunch of second unit in Season 1. This year, though, his appearances have been smaller and more selective. Specifically, he directed the prologue for the premiere, which features the origin story for The Master, or at least his current body. He also directed a  black-and-white segment featuring luchadore character The Silver Angel from later in the season. He discusses:

The Wig Removal Heard Around the World is coming this season. As everybody has insisted since “The Strain” premiered last year, Corey Stoll will not be burdened forever with the wig he used all of the first season. “We had huge conversations with Corey before he accepted the part about it. We said, 'Look, second season it”s going to come off,'” del Toro says. “Because for an actor, a wig takes time, this and that. But we knew, and we explained it. How do you show a guy has changed and how do you… what can you do? Because you know, his glasses or cap, it happens within a few days. He cannot grow a beard. So we knew we were talking about weeks. And we said, 'This is the only device we have.' We talked about it before he took the role” Del Toro and Carlton Cuse both claim, by the way, that nobody outside of a small circle has even noticed Stoll's wig, much less obsessed about it. “Nobody noticed Bradley”s mustache and beard that were done by the same hair people. Why? Because David Bradley”s capable of growing a mustache! So no one questions it,” de Toro says.

Stephen McHattie isn't actually playing Quinlan, which will make no difference to anybody who hasn't read the books, but will really confuse people who read the books. Once McHattie was introduced in Season 1, fans of the books just assumed that he was vampire-fighting-vampire Quinlan, a favorite character from the books. It's even on the Wikipedia page, even though the character never calls himself Quinlan. Then on the set, everybody started talking about the introduction of Quinlan, played by an actor whose name hasn't gotten out yet, so I won't spoil it here. Carlton Cuse called it “a cool reversal,” though it isn't a reversal for audiences who don't have a clue who Quinlan is or isn't. Let's just say that we learn the name of McHattie's character in the first episode back and we'll leave it at that.

One of the biggest changes between seasons: Ben Hyland is out and Max Charles is in as Zach Goodweather. While Corey Stoll nervously declined questions about the changes to his on-screen son, Guillermo del Toro explained the reason for the recasting. “We knew we needed him to end older,” del Toro says. “Kids grow fast or grow slow and in a movie you can kind of control it but if the kid looks 11 and you need two seasons later for him to look 15 or things like that. There was also [that] some actors are great at comedy but they are not great at drama or they are great at drama but they are not great at comedy, and we thought that the notes and the tone that we were getting, we needed to go very dark. Very dark on the second season and then really, really dark in the following seasons. Really dark. If you read the books, you know that he becomes big time dark and there was really – Ben is such a nice, well-adjusted kid! His color was that and the matter of scheduling and the parents decisions about school vs. work and all of those things collided and we said let”s go that way.” Viewers can decide for themselves how that worked out. 

The kerfuffle over the eye-worm billboard amused everybody, but nobody will try to replicate that marketing shock this season. “You know I”m sure that the mothers of Cheviot Hills are already forming their picket lines in anticipation of our debut,” jokes producer and director Miles Dale. “You know it”s funny because we were saying, 'That”s not really the show when you look at it.' You know? A worm through the eye. Like it”s the odd thing. I hear Guillermo chucking when I see that poster. I think that was a good sort of thing to get people talking. But the show”s kind of more sophisticated than that.” He adds, “[I]t”s what I call 'stinger fatigue.' It”s like the first time you see someone get nailed with this beautiful oozy stinger it”s great. And then, you know, the tenth time it”s like, 'Oh yeah, a stinger.' So we”ve got to kind of come up with new things.”

More on Page 2…

The creature shop is full of gross stuff. Walking around the creature warehouse for a Guillermo del Toro production is always fun, because the director has been known to request items he knows may not make it on-screen as future exhibits at his famous museum/residence Bleak House. Lots of what we saw in the creature shop was disgusting, disturbing and spoiler-y. The corpse below was just gross and rubbery.

Richard Sammel takes offense — light offense — when you call Eichhorst a “bad” guy. Nobody talks like Richard Sammel, the uber-thoughtful, uber-articulate actor behind Nazi-turned-vampire Thomas Eichhorst, but don't think that being a Nazi-turned-vampire makes Eichhorst evil. “I think him being so bad is your projection,” he tells us. “When I play a bad guy, I don”t play a bad guy. And when I play a good guy, I don”t play a good guy. I play a guy. I play the story of a man.” He later adds, “Look at us, look at your food, you have skins of other animals on your feet! Holy s***! And around your belly is another part of skin! You eat the meat of other animals, and those animals are in blood forms. And you raise them, and their only purpose is to be killed whenever it pleases you. Holy shit! So, you know what I mean. And then you decide, we decide this is a pet so he needs to be hugged. Okay? Cats and dogs. Okay. And we get crazy when other people eat them! But we eat cows! In India they are holy! So – about the bad guy? Please!”

Speaking of Eichhorst, get ready for quality time between Eichhorst and newly turned vamp Kelly Goodweather. “It”s Bonnie and Clyde, vampire version,” Sammel crows. Sammel also compares the relationship to Pygmalion and “The Bride of Frankenstein,” so that's a lot of terrain to cover. Adds Natalie Brown, ” It is like tutor and pupil, it”s father and daughter. We”re hardly lovers, boyfriend/girlfriend, but it”s the closest thing to an ally Kelly has.” Speaking of oddball movie comparisons for Season 2 events, Brown says that Kelly and Eph will spend the season battling for son Zach in “The vampire custody battle that never ends,” chuckling at the comparison to “Vampire Kramer vs. Kramer.”

Fet's ongoing love story continues this season. Sure, there may be flirtations with New Girl Dutch, but we all know that when it comes to Vasiliy Fet, the man's real romance is with his one true weapon. “He has such a strange allegiance to the rebar,” Kevin Durand laughs. “It”s not made of silver. It”s close-quarter combat stuff. He still loves the rebar. He”ll pick the rebar over anything. Rebar and the handgun mostly, and if no handgun, he”ll pick the rebar above the handgun. He enjoys killing these things. It”s therapeutic for him. It”s almost like, as he”s killing these things, he hears angels singing and stuff. I don”t know. There”s something really awesomely perverse about it, which is probably why he chooses the rebar. There”s one point where a new character says, 'Does that rebar have any special properties that we should know of?' And he goes, 'Yeah, it doesn't bend.' That”s basically still his main tool of destruction.” Off-screen, it sounds like Durand has a bit of a bromance — God, I hate that word — with co-star David Bradley, a dynamic that somewhat mirrors the characters' on-screen relationship. Durand notes, “Because I”m a young character actor, and he”s been around a lot longer, and I want to benefit from his experience and his stories and try to get better every day because he is such a champion. He”s the guy on set that”s always smiling and ready to offer up a joke or a song, or I”ll start beat boxing, and we”ll start dancing together. He”s really just so full of wonderful energy.”

Eldrich Palmer may find love this season. This definitely isn't from the books, but Jonathan Hyde's Eldritch Palmer, rejuvenated by a little suckle from The Master's veins last season, may get a little randy this season, following a lifetime of illness. But the course of true love never did run smooth. As del Toro puts it, in particularly del Toro-y style, “Your dick falls off. So that”s a problem. I mean, that”s a dilemma for the character because he”s been basically wanting immortality and what comes with immortality? Your dick falls off. And now he”s got a girlfriend, what”s he going to choose to do? It”s pretty basic. It”s a pretty strong dilemma.”

“The Strain” returns to FX on Sunday, July 12.