Back in the 1950s, EC Comics (Entertaining Comics) began publishing several horror anthology series namely: Tales from the Crypt, The Vault of Horror and The Haunt of Fear. Why are we bringing up three comics that are not titled Creepshow. Well, that’s because this is where Creepshow started.
Inspired by and paying homage to anthology comics like these is how famed horror author Stephen King and famed horror director George A. Romero birthed the original 1982 horror comedy anthology film, Creepshow.
The film consisted of five stories: “Father’s Day,” “The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill,” “Something to Tide You Over,” “The Crate,” and “They’re Creeping Up on You!” sandwiched between a prologue and epilogue which follows a young boy named, Billy (Joe Hill – Stephen King’s real life son), who is punished by his father, Stan (Tom Atkins), for reading horror comics. As you can expect from a film written by Stephen King, all of the stories have quite ominous conclusions.
Following this film, there have been two film sequels, Creepshow 2 and Creepshow 3, a graphic novella (entitled Creepshow) and now a new series on Shudder, also simply titled, Creepshow, which premieres today. Each episode will bring us a new, grim story told to us by The Creep from the pages of the Creepshow comic book. The first episode, “Gray Matter,” is written by Stephen King, he is by no means the only episode writer, with one-two different writers for each story. We are excited by the series’ cast which includes: Adrienne Barbeau, Giancarlo Esposito, Tobin Bell, David Arquette, Tricia Helfer, Dana Gould, Jeffrey Combs, Bruce Davison, DJ Qualls, Big Boi, and Kid Cudi.
At San Diego Comic Con this summer we caught up with a staple of both film and television for the last three decades, Giancarlo Esposito, who stars in the premiere episode. Hot off an Emmy nomination for his (second) portrayal of Gus Fring in the Breaking Bad sequel, Better Call Saul, Esposito spoke to us about Creepshow, and how he came to be on the series.
First off congratulations on the Emmy nomination for Better Call Saul it was truly deserved. But, let’s talk about the new series — what brought you to Creepshow?
Giancarlo Esposito: A phone call from Greg Nicotero. I had worked with Greg back on Breaking Bad. He did my makeup for my final episode with the two-face [look]. He called me and said, “I’m doing this new show and we’d love to have you come down and play in it.” As soon as he mentioned Stephen King and George Romero and that connection, I have a connection to Steven from many years ago, I said yes immediately. [Horror] is a genre I’ve never done before. I was a big fan of George Romero not even knowing that Stephen King and he were good friends. So it was the material that drew me in and the personality of Gregory that got me to say yes. I’m so happy that I did it.
Thanks for the congrats on the Emmy. I was totally blindsided and shocked to get the nomination. I’m grateful to all of the fans and the Emmy voters who have so much love from me. I love what I do and that’s the gravy. To get nominated is already a win and I feel like a winner. And I’ll tell you why. It’s like sort of historical. I love pop culture and I know we’re here at a pop culture event but my character in Breaking Bad became iconic and it’s wonderful because many people call me Gus on the street wherever I go. For me it’s very, very special to have bridged two decades with two different shows [and the same character]. I was nominated seven years ago for Gustavo Fring for Breaking Bad and now I’m nominated for playing Gustavo Fring in Better Call Saul.
So you’re like Richard Belzer of AMC.
Giancarlo Esposito: (Laughs loudly), I love Richard. Richard is an old friend who I worked with years ago and I’ll take it, I won’t shy away from that one. It’s pretty cool to be in a number of AMC shows and they’re a great network and have been really supportive of me. So I’m grateful for that.
How is it to go from a show like Better Call Saul to a horror series like Creepshow. What’s the biggest difference in preparation for two wildly different genres of television?
Giancarlo Esposito: For me is was to forget about who I am. When I walk on the set of Better Call Saul there is a great sense of respect that I get from all the other cast members, directors, and producers as well. And sometimes I just get tired of that respect. (laughs) Can you guys treat me like shit? Or you really that afraid of me?
I think it’s partly the respect of the time in, but it’s also my attitude. When I get on set I don’t even go into the makeup trailer until I’m dressed. That’s been my M.O. for years because I’m a theater actor. Once I put those clothes on, my whole demeanor, my attitude, everything changes. Not that I’m mean, I’m just direct and to the point and I’m not into frivolous chatter. So people mistake that and they become afraid of me. And depending on what mood I’m in, rightfully so. (laughs).
So to go to do this, I realized [when I] got there [that] this is like guerrilla filmmaking. To me that means it’s like going back to shoot your college student film. Now you may think that’s a negative, but actually it’s a real positive because everything’s going on at once. Actors always want to be the primary focus of attention. Now when you walk onto a Greg Nicotero set, especially in Creepshow what gets your attention? It’s the room you’re in right away. How did you [Greg] do this? It’s so disgusting and weird and scary and creepy. So it’s like “Oh, that’s a star right there.” And then you start to do your work and then you meet the other star besides me (laughs) the surprise at the end, the monster. That’s such a visceral experience.
So for me as an actor, I dropped all of my pretension. [In the show] I’m a new guy, I’m a doctor in this small town who’s the best friend of the sheriff. [Now] we need to go and help out this dude whose son just came [to me] and said, “Hey my dad’s not doing so well and there’s something strange going on.” And so all of a sudden I become more aware. All my spidey senses come on and I’m trying to figure out how this will be translated and how to get through this particular five days of creating something that’s creatively different.
So I get there and I realized this is an anthology series, it’s a standalone, you can do whatever you want to do as long as it’s within the parameters of what the director and the writers vision are. I did I say that I’ve never done this genre before so maybe I just wanted to be scared because I scare so many people in my real life and on television? So finally I went, “I want to be scared for once. I want to know how that feels.”
We get there, and we start rehearsing. I had great scene partners in Tobin Bell, and Adrienne Barbeau. Tobin is a real actor like me and he starts breaking down every line of the script And he starts going “Oh I don’t know if I’d say it like this, or that” and I hate actors like that. (laughs). I truly do that. You gotta make sense of this shit. I can’t make sense of it for you. But Tobin and I got in the trenches and we started to fix things that we felt weren’t suited for us which means he went away and rewrote some scenes and we wrote some stuff together, never intending for that dialogue to be in the piece, but intending for that to inform our relationship, which was wonderful.
So we did our work and then we get to the set and I hadn’t taken one thing into consideration. It’s Creep Show you read the story and all that. It’s dark (literally)! [So everything start like this]:
Giancarlo Esposito: Greg, Greg, Greg, hey, you know I’m, I’m a brown-skinned man, right?
Greg: Yeah, yeah.
Giancarlo Esposito: How are you going to light this?
Lighting Guy: Oh, tell him he has got a flashlight. His character does.
Tobin Bell: I know it’s written out that I have a flashlight, but I don’t know how [to light an actor]. So maybe I give [Giancarlo] the flashlight.
Giancarlo Esposito: Oh yeah, I’d love to have the flashlight.
The DP comes on set and tells me that’s my light. I’m like, “Oh, then I want your salary. I gotta light myself and act.” So all of a sudden I had to get out of the whole acting [part of my] head and figure out how to light us both in a dark room. We’re just tripping over crap, tipping over shit. It’s like, it was so real, so gooey, so creepy.
I had to, when Tobin was speaking, shine the light on the white ceiling to reflect on his face when we’re speaking together and to get the light in the right place so we’re both lit. It was freeing. It was liberating not to be in the same place I’d been in any character I played in the last three years. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t know if you guys know, I have a show coming out called Godfather of Harlem with Forrest Whitaker [which premieres September 29 on EPIX] and I play Adam Clayton Powell Jr. I’m doing the narration on a show called Dear White People [Netflix] also on camera — each one, different characters. And this was intriguing to me because I had a vulnerability, yet a sincere caring about the community, which has gone to seed. The storm comes in and then we’re in hell … like that. And so you have to make really the decisions you’d make as the character.
And to me it was so freeing to have the challenge of a flashlight, lighting darkness and then I met the monster. I got to tell you. You know, I played bad asses on TV, but this was like so fricking gross.
Hope you lit the monster well.
Giancarlo Esposito: It is nothing like I had ever imagined. Then I got really excited by that coupled with Gregory’s energy. When I [said] gorilla filmmaking [earlier], I meant it’s done quick, fast in a hurry, and you don’t stand on ceremony and you’re able to get cut to the quick of it. What are we doing? There’s the camera, we’re shooting. That’s it. And believe me, no hurry up and wait, which is what we do in our business that’s what I want as an actor. You’re ready. I’m ready. Let’s go. And I had a blast. I got to tell you, I had a blast. It’s so great to do something that’s very different and out of the ordinary, spontaneous and something that you don’t expect.
Was the kind of experience that maybe may lead you to wanting to do more stuff behind the camera?
Giancarlo Esposito: I’ve directed two films. My first was called Gospel Hill. My second call was originally titled, This is Your Death. [But] The answer’s yes, yes, yes, yes. I have a show in development at a network now, which I’m really excited about, which I’ll direct. One of the episodes I’ve got a great director to be on with us and a great writer and I’m hoping for a pickup. I love being behind the camera. I could never imagine doing a show like [Creepshow] because it’s so complicated. On Greg’s end he had such a complicated job to piece all this together and he had to know what he wanted to see. And as a director of the two movies I’ve done, I’ve loved it.I can’t stop doing it. I’m waiting for my next script. The answer is yes, yes, yes.
And now you have an Assistant DP credit under your belt.
Giancarlo Esposito: (Laughs) I sure do. I love lighting. I love shadow. I love the fact that little light can do a lot. When you see this episode “Gray Matter” you’re going to see how that really works. We think as filmmakers, we need to have a lot of light to create a mood and a feeling. You’d be surprised how little you really need, especially with our high-tech cameras of today, to have it look real and have it feel like darkness. But you’re able to see the characters you want to see.
It sounds very noir-sh.
Giancarlo Esposito: It is very noir-ish which is wonderful because it, you’re really trying to [have a moment of], “Oh, did I just see that?” The feeling of that is suspense and that’s a wonderful thing.
What do you think the secret is to making them a memorable episode of the anthology series?
Giancarlo Esposito: I think it is to take each one and make a little movie. That’s what Gregory did with Creepshow. Every episode’s a film. So you’re not carrying any sense of your style because when you do a show, you have a bible, you have a style for the whole show over the next 10 years. With an anthology show that style style of shooting changes from episode to episode. That to me is exciting and you’re also getting a chance as an audience to see some of the great actors and more creative talents that you’ve seen on television in different incarnations in every show. From episode to episode it’s “I know that guy. Wait a minute.” So you get fooled a little bit because you’re used to seeing people on television shows in a certain way. Anthology series is some of my favorite series because you can make a comment on our society, you can make a comment on our humanity. You can literally really integrate some of your thoughts and feelings about the world into the story that you’re telling in an anthology series.
Giancarlo Esposito stars in the premiere episode of Shudder’s Creepshow which is currenty streaming live here.
This interview was conducted by Alfred Mannarino with additional writing by Rachel Freeman, and transcription editing by Bill Bodkin.