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NOS4A2 Jami O'Brien

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Interview with ‘NOS4A2’ showrunner Jami O’Brien

The ‘NOS4A2’ showrunner on adapting Joe Hill’s novel, what’s coming up in season two, her favorite Christmasland game.

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It’s no secret that we’re big fans of AMC’s NOS4A2 around here. While the Joe Hill novel it’s based on is a modern classic, the show manages to faithfully adapt the book while adding to the narrative in ways that make the story even better. You don’t have to take my word for it, though–Hill is loving it, too.

While NOS4A2 sports an incredible cast and production crew, much of its success can be credited to showrunner Jami O’Brien and her team of writers.

O’Brien has written/produced for a number of great television programs during her career, including Hell on Wheels, Flesh and Bone, and Fear the Walking Dead (when it started getting really good). NOS4A2, however, has been hers from the beginning. Despite a crowded prestige television landscape and a premise that doesn’t lend itself to snappy loglines, she’s skillfully guided the series from a strong and highly entertaining first season into an even better second one.

O’Brien was kind enough to sit down with us for a bit to discuss adapting NOS4A2 for television along with some perspective on what goes on behind the scenes…and what we have to look forward to in the coming weeks (answers have been lightly edited for brevity/clarity).

NOS4A2 logo

NOS4A2 (AMC)

AIPT: I’ll start us off with a confession: I’m one of those pedantic types who can be hyper-critical of book adaptations that (in my opinion) don’t live up to source material. So it was a very pleasant surprise when parts of the show that deviated from the novel, which is one of my all time favorites, became some of its strongest aspects.

Along those lines, what inspired you to make Lou Carmody and his perspective a bigger part of the narrative (besides how great Jonathan Langdon is)?

Jami O’Brien: To your first point: I love the NOS4A2 novel, so the series is definitely adapted out of love. That’s important when you’re adapting a book for television.  

NOS4A2 S2, E1

NOS4A2 (AMC)

As far as Lou goes, he was one of my favorite characters in the novel. Obviously he’s not as large a character as Vic, but he does play a pivotal role in the story. Lou isn’t a strong creative, but he is an every day, working class hero. He’s such a great character in the book and we wanted to make sure to honor him in the television series, as well.

AIPT: While Lou Carmody is still prevalent in the novel, Millie Manx was barely present. What inspired you to explore her character more in the television series?

Jami O’Brien: Like you said, she’s in the novel, but not until near the very end. She also got an expanded role in The Wraith prequel comic where we get to see some of her backstory, but was still mostly a soulless monster.

Millie NOS4A2

NOS4A2 (AMC)

That being said, we were always fascinated with her as a character. We’d already wanted to expand her role because we were interested in Millie in her own right. When we cast Mattea Conforti and saw some of the phenomenal work she was doing last season, we got even more excited.

As we started talking about Season 2, the theme of parents, children, and intergenerational trauma started coming up pretty regularly in the writers room. We realized that Charlie and Millie would make a great foil for Vic and Wayne and ran with the idea. The more stories we told about Millie and the more we dug into the her character, the more fun we had. 

The Millie Manx story is actually one of my favorite things about this season. We got really lucky to find such a good actor for the role as more themes and stories involving her came out of the writers room.

AIPT: Will we see more this season of Millie reconciling what she is now with her former/human life and the role she played in killing her mother?

Jami O’Brien: That’s definitely the question we’re presented with by the end of Episode 2. I don’t want want to spoil anything, but Millie’s storyline will continue to be an important part of the season as she grapples with who she is…and she’s presented with some choices.

Millie NOS4A2

NOS4A2 (AMC)

AIPT: It’s clear Millie isn’t very happy with dad right now. Do you think Bing Partridge will ever have a similar moment of reckoning? He may be all types of awful, but it’s hard not to feel bad for him sometimes with the way Manx treats him.

Jami O’Brien: Bing Partridge’s main thrust has always been go to Christmasland. It’s all he wants–and Charlie Manx promised all the way back in Episode 2 of last season that he’d get to go if he helped him.

I think from his point of view, it’s time that Charlie makes good on that promise, especially since Bing is literally the person who saved Charlie’s life by putting the engine back in the Wraith. He feels he’s owed. He’s still a believer in Manx, but if Charlie doesn’t make good on his promise to take him to Christmasland soon, I think Bing may have something to say about that.

NOS4A2 S2, E1

NOS4A2 (AMC)

AIPT: Going back to our discussion about original ideas for the TV series, where the idea for Parnassus come from? Will we be returning to the supernatural watering hole this season?

Jami O’Brien: Parnassus was an idea we came up with in the writers room as a way to expand the world a little bit. In the NOS4A2 novel, Joe Hill hints that it’s a much broader world out there in terms of inscapes and strong creatives beyond characters we get to meet. He’s also careful to point out that while some of them are good like Vic or Maggie, there are others who are not–and some who may be even worse than Manx.

We wanted to find a way to bring that into the series while also giving Charlie Manx someone he could talk with about things on his level. Bing wasn’t exactly a great fit for the role, so that led us to the invention of Abe. I wouldn’t say the two of them are friends, but they’re definitely contemporaries who understand each other. 

NOS4A2 Season 2

NOS4A2 (AMC)

AIPT: Will we be spending more time in Christmasland this season?

Jamie O’Brien: Absolutely. We’ll also get to see much more of it than was shown in Season 1 or the first two episodes of Season 2. 

NOS4A2 Christmasland

NOS4A2 (AMC)

AIPT: The last episode also featured some surprisingly intense/gruesome body horror; way more than I expected to see on basic cable even after 10:00 PM. How difficult was that to shoot? Did you and your team have to tone anything down to get the episode to air?

Jami O’Brien: We didn’t tone anything down–what you saw is what we shot!

All of that great Charlie Manx body horror was created by Joel Harlow, who is our special effects/make up artist. He’s also the one who does all of Manx’s different age looks.

The body you see on the slab at the end of ‘Bad Mother’ is a sculpture Joel created. From there, every other piece of full body prosthetics is something he and his team made, from the organs to those phenomenal-looking feet.

NOS4A2 Manx

Anyone have an inscape that offers pedicures? (NOS4A2 AMC)

AIPT: Considering the eight year jump, is there any forthcoming media (like the NOS4A2: Ghost digital short from last season) where where we might explore that time period?

Jami O’Brien: We weren’t lucky enough to make a digital short this season, so everything you see will be within the body of the show.

AIPT: Where are you in the show’s production process? Have all the episodes been filmed and produced?

Jami O’Brien: Yes! We were lucky enough to finish shooting everything in mid-January before the COVID shutdown started happening. Also, Episode 10 made it through post and was delivered last week.

AIPT: Final question. Which game is more fun: Scissors for the Drifter or Bite the Smallest?

Jami O’Brien: If I were playing, I feel like I’d rather do Bite the Smallest. There’s one less step to worry about and Scissors for the Drifter can end up becoming Bite the Smallest, anyway.

 

The 'NOS4A2' showrunner on adapting Joe Hill's novel, what's coming up in season two, her favorite Christmasland game.

Good call

 

You can stream the first episode of ‘NOS4A2’ Season 2 here.

Keep up with all of our ‘NOS4A2’ coverage here.

If one episode a week of ‘NOS4A2’ isn’t enough, then hop over to the NOS4A2 Fans Facebook group for in depth discussion among one of the best communities in the otherwise hellish landscape of social media fandom. Hopefully the show continues to be good so my reviews don’t make things awkward.

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