Producer, showrunner, writer and actor Jonathan Lloyd Walker moves vampiric mythology in new directions.
Jonathan Lloyd Walker likes to keep busy.
A writer for the first three seasons of the Syfy series Van Helsing, Walker also worked this past year as co-executive producer on Wu Assassins, consulting producer on The Murders and a regular cast member on Snowpiercer, which is in post-production and will air next year.
Now, he's also stepping up as showrunner for Van Helsing, taking over the reins of the gory, post-apocalyptic thriller from series creator Neil LaBute.
"My mandate coming in was, I wanted to keep the DNA of the show the same, so it didn't suddenly become an unfamiliar show to the audience," Walker, fielding questions while driving across rural British Columbia, explained.
"But what I really wanted to do was ... to branch out into a new direction - introducing new characters, shooting in different styles and in extreme locations," he said. "But, tonally, I think we're in the same wheelhouse as we were. It's a dark, gritty show with moments of light."
One of the changes in the upcoming fourth season is the introduction of some new, younger characters, Walker said.
"I was interested in exploring the idea of people who have grown up with this, who didn't have a lifetime of experience before this (the vampire pathogen) happened," he said. "This is their world, this is what they are dealing with. It's fresh, and it brings a new perspective to the show."
Also, he said, the new season will bring to fruition a concept that's been percolating behind the scenes since the series began.
"We finally meet Dracula," Walker said. "Dracula arrives in a big way."
And it's Dracula as he has never been seen before. Tricia Helfer - best known for her roles as Number Six on Battlestar Galactica and Satan's mother on Lucifer - will appear as the iconic vampire.
It made a kind of sense to make Dracula female, Walker said - especially since the show's protagonist, Vanessa Helsing, is a strong female lead. Helsing (played by Kelly Overton) is, of course, descended from Stoker's famed vampire slayer Abraham Van Helsing, who has awakened from a coma in a world where vampires have risen and taken over.
The show poses vampirism as a pathogen that is transmitted through the vampire's bite. Helsing, in this series, can bite vampires and turn them back.
The series is also very violent, a far cry from some recent teen-centered vampire stories.
"We certainly don't fall on the Twilight side of things, with its romantic, angst-ridden teenagers," Walker said.
In Van Helsing, he said, "vampirism is a blessing and a curse. It's like heroin. The highs are high, but the cost is also incredibly high.
"We're more interested in the human condition, the pain and suffering of the humans who are the victims of the vampires, but also of the vampires themselves - that constant craving for blood and what it does to your psyche."
But, while vampires are the primary threat in Van Helsing's world, Walker said ordinary men and women can be equally threatening.
"Who can you trust? Who's going to be straightforward with you?" he asked. "Humans can be as much of a danger as the vampires are. You're not sure where to turn.
"It's a deep dive into the human condition."
Walker said he likes "trying to explore the worst of humankind, and perhaps how that could nurture the best of humankind. I like to delve in that world. It's not the only gear on the bike for me, I do sometimes like to explore lighter fare.
"I have been fortunate to have the opportunity to explore these bleaker genres. It's a lot of fun to do."
It doesn't take too much of a mental stretch to get himself in the right mindset to write for this series, he said.
"We live in fragile times," he explained. "There are a lot of things that could go very wrong, very quickly, in our society. If all the things that we know and count on fell away, what would I do? Just put yourself in the worst-case scenario and try to figure out where to go."
There are supernatural elements to the series, he said, but it has a real-world foundation.
"Nobody turns into a bat. Nobody turns into a puff of smoke. No one's afraid of garlic or crosses," he said. "We thought, what if vampirism was a contagion? Something that could be communicated to people through a bite?
"Essentially, we're treating it like a virus."
LaBute had posed the Dracula twist early on in the series, Walker said, but it never made it into the script until now.
"There's really nothing about that character that necessitates it being a male," he said.
Helfer, he noted, has made the part her own.
"Tricia, as you would probably imagine, brings a feral, sensual quality to the role. But she brings a lot of nuance and intelligence to it as well. Really, she's playing Dracula as the ultimate trickster, a manipulator who can play with you on every level. ... There's something animalistic about the way she plays the role that is very interesting."
She won't be in every episode of the fourth season, Walker noted - but he hopes to explore her character and motives further in season five, if Syfy greenlights another round of episodes.
"There is certainly some very supportive feedback coming from the network, but there's no 100 percent guarantee," he said. "Let's say I'm hopeful and optimistic."
Honestly, Walker said, he's not sure how long the series could run.
"That's a tricky question," he said. "Each year, we've found interesting and intriguing ways to spin things, so I think it's got a bit of life left in it. But I'm also a big believer that I don't want to overmilk an idea to the point that it becomes derivative or repetitive. I do believe there's a shelf life for shows."
Walker said he has no plans, as showrunner, to step in front of the camera in any capacity on Van Helsing.
"I think the lines for me on this one are very clear. I should probably stay on this side of the camera and indulge my passion for acting in other settings," he said.
He enjoys the diverse challenges of acting, writing and producing, he noted.
"They're different experiences, they stretch different muscles," he said.
Season four of Van Helsing will air on Syfy this fall.
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