'Locke and Key' creators Meredith Averill and Carlton Cuse explain why the show is less dark than the comics02/09/2020
- Netflix's "Locke and Key" is an adaptation of a dark comic book series created by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez.
- Insider spoke with the show's co-creators, Carlton Cuse and Meredith Averill, about why the series is much more family-friendly than the original material.
"We wanted to make a show that you could watch with your friends, your family members, [all] across a pretty broad age group," Cuse said. "We thought of this as more like a 'Harry Potter' film or a Steven Spielberg movie than a niche adaptation."
- Cuse and Averill also told us about their favorite details and Easter eggs on the show, including Hill and Rodriguez's cameo appearance.
- Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.
"Locke and Key," a new Netflix series from co-creators Carlton Cuse ("Lost," "Bates Motel") and Meredith Averill ("The Haunting of Hill House," "The Good Wife"), premiered on February 5.
The show is an adaptation of a comic book series by the same name, one which has undergone a tumultuous development process (which you can read about here). The show fans are finally seeing on Netflix is a much more family-friendly version of the dark and gory comic story.
"We wanted to make a show that you could watch with your friends, your family members, [all] across a pretty broad age group," Cuse told Insider. "We thought of this as more like a 'Harry Potter' film or a Steven Spielberg movie than a niche adaptation."
"But it was also important to us, too, to really retain the essence of the ideas at work in Joe and Gabe's comic," Averill said.
Insider spoke with both Cuse and Averill about their adaptation's tone, plus how they built Keyhouse from scratch and included important details from the comics — including one very meta cameo from the comic creators themselves.
Keep reading to see our full interview. Warning: Spoilers below for all of "Locke and Key" season one.
Kim Renfro: I watched the whole first season of "Locke and Key" before reading the comics, and was surprised by how much darker the comics are. Your adaptation feels much more whimsical and a bit lighter at times. How did you land on this particular approach to the source material?
Carlton Cuse: Oh, gosh. I mean, there's a lot to that. Part of it is the history of the development process on the show. We tried to learn from everything that has been done in the past. The other part is really just Meredith and I locking in on a tone and an approach that we wanted to tell. Netflix was incredibly supportive of that. We wanted to do something that was in an era of really niche television. We wanted to make a show that you could watch with your friends, your family members, [all] across a pretty broad age group.
We thought of this as more like a "Harry Potter" film or a Steven Spielberg movie than a niche adaptation. It felt like Gabe [Rodriguez] and Joe [Hill's] comics and lent itself to something that was in a much bigger and grander and that's what we went for.
Meredith Averill: But it was also important to us, too, to really retain the essence of the ideas at work in Joe and Gabe's comic. At its core, this is really an emotional story about this family. All of our conversations were around keeping that story at its core. So whether it's fantasy or a horror series, it doesn't matter because we were always keeping the family story at the forefront.
Renfro: You made many changes from the comics, changes that seem to make it so that even fans of the original story can watch "Locke and Key" and be surprised. Was that part of the intention behind the changes?
Averill: There are certainly many changes, but I'm assuming you're referring to the reveal that Gabe has been Dodge, which is very much inspired by and taken from what's in the comic with the Zack Well's character.
We wanted to tell what is, in essence, the same story, but tell it a little bit differently so that fans would be surprised. So they'd get to the end of the season and say, "Wait a minute. They didn't do that whole big story, which is a big part of the comic." And then get hit with this bombshell in the last five minutes of the season that, "Oh my God, all along Dodge was hiding in plain sight and I had no idea."
Averill [continuted]: In the comics, that story is told openly — the audience knows. And also Zack Wells looked exactly like Lucas. So anytime someone recognizes Lucas, he has to kill them. It felt like it was a little bit smarter on Dodge's part to adopt a brand new identity that would surprise the audience and our characters. That was one of the bigger changes that we made. And yet it still is very much in keeping with the story from the comic.
Renfro: A show like yours lends itself to what I like to call "analysis culture," when fans can screenshot a scene and find set design details or Easter eggs that hint at storylines or reference the comics. Was that something you were both thinking about when creating this show?
Cuse: I mean, yes. You're talking to the person who put a Dharma logo on shark tail along with my partner Damon [Lindelof]. And it was literally on two frames of film and people found it, and that was before people had the computational abilities that they do now.
[Editor's note: Cuse is referring to the ABC series "Lost," in which he and cocreator Damon Lindelof planted many small details.]
But for this, we didn't go for a super heavy Easter egg approach to the show. We're very aware of the genre history that surrounds this kind of property. For instance, we put a lot of effort into making sure that the house was very different than what you see traditionally in scary house stories. We wanted the house to be inviting and warm and like a place you'd want to hang out.
Cuse [continued]: And that's sort of the burden. We tried to subvert the expectations of things that maybe you're normally experiencing in genre storytelling. We tried to lean into certain things in the comic that we really felt were unique and that no one has seen in this kind of genre storytelling, like the Head Key and the ability to go inside someone's brain. So that was really more in the forefront of our decision making.
Averill: That said, there is a grandfather clock in our Keyhouse for a reason.
Renfro: Right, or even how mentions of the Revolutionary War are done in passing, so if you aren't familiar with the original story it doesn't register. But for someone who's read the comics, it sets off a little light bulb of "Oh, they're setting up that for potential future seasons."
Averill: Yes. Totally. Exactly.
Renfro: One detail I noticed was in the yearbook Nina's flipping through on episode three. Each of the original Keepers of the Keys has a yearbook quote that seems very fitting to their characters. How did you choose those?
Averill: I picked those, and I spent way too much time on them, so I am so happy that you did that [laughing]. It makes me very, very happy because now all of that time was well spent. We broke down the personalities of the Keepers and what we knew about them and used that to inform what their quotes might be. So I am so thrilled that you noticed that. One of them was a song lyric that I thought was very funny.
Renfro: Lucas Caravaggio's is a Metallic lyric — "Life is ours. We live it our way."
Averill: Metallica! That's the one. Because Lucas was the bad—. Yeah, that's right. Oh, that's so funny. I love that you did that.
Renfro: Are there any other fun details like that, ones you hope folks pick up as they're watching?
Cuse: For us, the most fun thing was Joe and Gabe's cameo on the show. It's so meta because they have the same cameo in the comic. We really wanted to put them in the show, and then what better place for them in the show then literally doing the exact same thing that they do when Gabriel drew them into the comic book?
Having Joe and Gabriel on set playing the paramedics was really fun. And making them do the performances a few different times and giving them directorial feedback [laughing]. They were both very into it and wanted to do a good job and it was just really fun having them there. That was a fun thing that hopefully people who read the read the comics will be like, 'Oh my God, it's the exact same thing.'
Renfro: How did you wind up choosing the Billie Eilish song, "You Should See Me in a Crown," for the ending of episode nine?
Cuse: We have a music supervisor who was giving us various songs and trying things out. We would listen to a lot of songs for every episode. The problem happens when you hear something and you just fall in love with it and then nothing else works. And even by the time of which we had put that song in the show, I mean, she was popular but now she still has a massively upward-trending popularity.
It was very expensive to license that song for television, but we basically made other sacrifices in some other places in order to find the money to do it, because Meredith and I just fell in love with that song. Once we heard it there, anything else that we tried just paled by comparison to it so we couldn't reconcile changing it out for a less expensive song. It was so creatively perfect for us that we fought and found the money to do it.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
For more Easter eggs and references to the comics, read our breakdown of 29 details you might have missed on "Locke and Key" season one.
Disclosure: Mathias Döpfner, CEO of Business Insider’s parent company, Axel Springer, is a Netflix board member.
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