Notwithstanding the stranger-than-fiction saga of its crack-smoking mayor Rob Ford, Toronto’s most outlandish happenings tend to take place on the sets of the many Hollywood productions that have come to call the city "home." This has been particularly true since Hemlock Grove’s supernatural sideshow rolled into town. As befits a drama bearing Eli Roth’s producing imprimatur, the Netflix original series served up ample helpings of the bloody and the bizarre in its first season, which, in melding a teenage werewolf-vampire bromance with a small-town murder mystery, tipped its cap to both Twilight and Twin Peaks. Season two will debut on the streaming service on July 11, and, based on an extended visit to the show’s Toronto soundstage, fans can look forward to greater intrigue and heightened emotional stakes, as well as, naturally, gallons more gore.
Where the first season of Hemlock Grove largely adhered to the plot of Brian McGreevy’s 2012 novel, season two represents uncharted territory for the series, and the show’s creative team has taken advantage of this newfound freedom to up the dramatic ante. To help deliver on that objective, Roth and his fellow producers have appointed a new showrunner in Charles “Chic” Eglee, who, as a veteran of Dexter, The Shield, and The Walking Dead, arrives with a self-proclaimed pedigree for “dense, adrenalized storytelling.” In describing the sensibility he brings to Hemlock Grove, Eglee advises viewers to expect a richly layered, character-driven narrative, and cites his work on FX’s high-octane cop drama as evidence of his modus operandi: “I’ve always believed in putting 15 pounds of story into a five-pound bag.” Eglee is also quick to reference his experience on Dexter, which generated much of its narrative momentum by pitting its protagonist against a series of “Big Bads.” He promises that Hemlock Grove’s second season will introduce a similarly sinister external threat, providing the series with a propulsive new thrust.
Of course, the heart of the show will continue to be the fractious friendship between vampiric playboy Roman Godfrey (Bill Skarsgård) and lupine gypsy Peter Rumancek (Landon Liboiron), which, in season two’s early episodes, will be decidedly more off-again than on. “The two are definitely not friendly with each other at the beginning,” says Liboiron, who stresses that Peter’s return to Hemlock Grove is a reluctant one, brought about by forces beyond the character’s control. “When they come back together at the beginning of the season, they’re dealing with their own agendas, which causes a butting of heads,” he explains. Despite this, he stresses that the characters will remain inextricably linked: “They need each other, even if neither is certain he can trust the other.”
In contrast to last year, the forthcoming season will see both young men wrestling to suppress their supernatural natures. “The big difference between Peter and Roman in the first season was that Peter was very at ease with what he is,” Liboiron notes, adding that season two will instead see Peter struggling to restrain his lycanthrope instincts. Meanwhile, Skarsgård sums up Roman thusly: “He’s basically a junkie this year.” Having completed his transformation into a full-fledged Upir at the conclusion of the series’ first season, Roman now finds himself unable to quell his hemovoric thirst. “He’s an addict. He needs to drink blood even though he doesn’t want to,” says Skarsgård.
As much as this dilemma will be a source of torment for Roman, Skarsgård suggests the gorehounds among the show’s fan base are in for a treat. “Just imagine someone biting someone’s neck and piercing the main artery. We’ve had crazy amounts of blood,” he says.
“We did a scene the other day where we used pretty close to 30 gallons,” says special effects coordinator Tim Barabball, offering a more precise quantity. “We have a really high-pressure tank that we hook into the actor’s blood tubes, and the blood was 20 feet high. We soaked the cameraman in blood. The actors were soaked to the bone in blood. It’s always a good day when I go home and somebody’s soaked in blood."
Barabball also adds that his effects budget is “triple” what it was in season one, and Liboiron says there will also plenty be more of the gruesome, sinew-tearing werewolf transformation scenes that helped earn the show a 2013 Emmy nomination for outstanding special effects: “If they used a slingshot last year, they’re using a catapult this year. They really amped up the fun stuff.”
By “fun stuff,” Liboiron is presumably also referring to some of the scenes he shares with series newcomer Madeline Brewer, familiar to seasoned Netflix binge-watchers as Orange Is the New Black’s cornrowed convict Tricia Miller. On Hemlock Grove she plays Miranda Cates, a tough, tatted-up graphic novelist who finds herself thrust into midst of the simmering beef between Peter and Roman. “She arrives in episode two… with a bang,” Brewer says of Miranda. “She’s kind of right in the thick of it from the get-go. She becomes a really interesting part of the boys’ lives in ways that nobody thought could happen.”
Though Brewer remains coy about the precise nature of the Miranda-Roman-Peter dynamic, she admits that a love triangle may be on the cards. “They really like to fight over blondes,” she says, alluding to Leetha (Penelope Mitchell), Miranda’s fair-haired counterpart from season one. “Aren’t I lucky?”
Also lucky, albeit in a very different sense, is Famke Janssen’s Olivia Godfrey. To put it mildly, Hemlock Grove’s Machiavellian matriarch was left in a bad way at the conclusion of season one, and she’s fortunate to have made a substantial recovery, even if season two will find her in less domineering form than viewers have come to expect. “She starts from a much more vulnerable place,” explains Janssen. “Different things are now on her agenda, and there are people who hold the keys to what she needs.” Janssen says Olivia is hopeful of reconciling with son Roman, despite the near-fatal fallout of their last encounter, and describes Olivia’s relationship with paramour Norman Godfrey (Dougray Scott) as “more loaded” this year. “Things are becoming a little bit more complicated, she continues. “When you have somebody like Olivia with that many secrets and mysteries around her, something is eventually going to come out.”
And what of season’s two promise of greater quantities of the grotesque? “I haven’t experienced that and I think I’m about to,” Janssen says, anticipating a scene she’s scheduled to shoot opposite Joel de la Fuente’s deranged geneticist, Dr. Pryce. “I’m very upset about it. I’m not good with the blood and the gore. I’m not sure I’m going to get through the last episodes,” she adds, laughing nervously. “But I’m not going to tell you what those entail. For that you’ll just have to tune in.”
Julian Carrington is a contributing writer. He tweets here.