Prepare to get to know an adult Damien Thorn.
From The Walking Dead alum Glen Mazzara, A&E’s Damien picks up 25 years after the 1976 feature film The Omen ended with the 5-year-old Antichrist as the last man standing.
The drama, originally picked up straight-to-series with a six-episode order at Lifetime, moved to corporate sibling A&E complete with an additional four installments, and explores a 30-year-old Damien (Bradley James, Homeland) who is haunted by his past and who now must come to terms with his true destiny: that he’s the Antichrist, the most feared man throughout the ages. The series will fill in the gap of what happened to Damien for the past 25 years and see the character pulled in both directions as he vies to save the world and himself.
Here, The Hollywood Reporter exclusively reveals the trailer for Damien and chats with Mazzara about what to expect from The Omen TV “sequel.”
Where did the idea to revisit The Omen come from?
Ross Fineman, an executive producer on the show, originally had the idea to base the series on The Omen. Fox Television Studios approached me — and I have a deal with them— and they wanted me to supervise. I’m a huge horror fan and love The Omen, and thought this sounded like fun and decided to write it. I ended up falling in love with the project and stayed on as showrunner. We’ve been very fortunate because we originally picked up straight-to-series for six episodes and A&E was so excited about the material they extended the orderto 10.
The film pushed the boundaries of violence when it was originally released. How will Damien compare?
I think Damien is cutting-edge material. It’s trying to push the boundaries as far as violence and horror go. There’s a lot of really great drama on TV and that was not the case in 1976 when the film came out. So the bar is set so high given other great horror shows that are on TV. We have our work cut out for us; everybody is really interested in pushing the boundaries. I think we’ve got a few episodes that people are going to be talking about.
How does the series work in terms of filling in the gap between a 5-year-old Damien in The Omen and the 30-year-old we meet here?
We see the series as a sequel to that original movie. We’re not using the second and third movies as part of our bible. Fans of that first movie will also be interested in finding out where Damien’s been for those missing 25 years since the last time we saw him when he was a boy and meeting him now. We’ll definitely give fans information on where he’s been.
What will surprise us about that gap?
It will make sense with everything that comes in the first movie. There are little nods to the second and third movies, but we’re not following the events of the second and third movies. We spent a lot of time trying to make sure that our characters and the horror felt like they were coming from that world. This has always been an issue that I’ve dealt with as a writer: How do you keep something grounded and yet keep the horror, especially something that has a supernatural element. How do you keep that surprising every week without it eventually becoming unbelievable or over the top? That’s something that the original film did really well. It felt like it took place in our world. To do that on a weekly basis with our show has been a challenge but it’s coming together nicely.
The show was originally picked up at Lifetime, which seemed like an odd choice for a female-driven network, but now that you’re on A&E, did the tone or concept change at all?
No. Lifetime was interested in developing the material and they understood the script and we shopped it around to different places and Lifetime executives really responded to what we were trying to do with the show and with the character, and they bought into that. So it was within that company, it was decided A&E would be a better home for it, especially given Bates Motel. We didn’t have to try and change anything. We’re making our show, and they’ve decided A&E was a better home for it, but they never have given us any notes to change course or to revision the show for the different network, they’ve only been incredibly supportive. We had originally broken and written the six episodes with one writing staff, and then we went into production and when we got the additional episode order, we had to bring on another writing staff. So some people were available to come back, some people weren’t, so I sort of had two different writing staffs on the same season. They both added so much and have been so invaluable. It’s been great to work with so many different writers and so many different people, bringing different viewpoints to the same season. That’s really been unique and pretty interesting and exciting.
Damienis your follow-up to The Walking Dead. What kind of lessons did you learn from working on The Walking Deadthat you’re putting in place here? When it comes to character deaths, or plotting out those creepy moments of terror behind every corner?
I think all of that. Walking Dead was such a great experience and it was such a high level of filmmaking and that was certainly something I wanted to bring to Damien. Walking Dead was an adaptation of a long-running comic book and I was brought in, onto staff and then moved to showrunner. Damien is my creation. It’s my original vision. It’s great to be able to conceive of the character and really start thinking about that world, series and long journey for him, and about the world and bringing in the other characters and all the different levels of conspiracy and horror. It’s great to be able to do that from day one.
In terms of the things we can expect from Damien, you mentioned conspiracy and horror. There are so many horror shows on TV right now. How would you describe this and how does it really fit in among the others?
This really has a high-level of conspiracy. It plays as a conspiracy thriller because everybody wants Damien on their side or eliminated. There are a lot of different groups vying to either control him or eliminate him. There’s a thriller aspect to it, which is tricky and something that I haven’t done before and that comes directly out of the original film.
You’re following an adult Damien who seems as if he’s been kept in the dark about his identity as the antichrist. How do you forget about that kind of stuff — and how might he respond when he learns of his true identity?
That’s going to be answered right away in the first episode as Damien awakens to his role as the antichrist. He’s going to have to face those questions of where he’s been for the past 25 years, what does this mean, what are the true circumstances of his parents’ death. That’s material we get to very quickly at the top of the season.
How long do you see Damien running? What’s the endgame?Is this a story about redemption? Can he get out of doing this?
The antichrist is supposed to bring about the apocalypse, so the end game is exactly that. An end game with a capital E and a capital G. So it’s a question of if he fails — if he succeeds as the antichrist — he destroys the world. If he succeeds as preventing it, he saves the world, so the stakes are very high here. That’s a long story to tell. Hopefully fans will show up and we’ll get a following, and because I feel that there’s a lot of story and a lot of layers. The way we’ve developed this, it can go on for more than just several seasons. We’ve got a good long-term plan here. We’re just getting started. What we want to do is establish the characters in a big way and understand the dynamics between them. But we have all these other parts of Damien’s world ready to introduce.
Is it fair to expect some references to characters from the original?
We definitely see ourselves as a sequel to the original film, so we will be able to allude to the films in ways that will really satisfy the fans of that 1976 film.
The original movie was pretty deadly, with Damien basically the last man standing. How will you approach character deaths on the show?
The deaths in The Omen are unique because a lot of them occur when people are investigating Damien or getting too close to the truth. There’s always an unseen supernatural force that’s protecting him that’s killing people. That leads to some very inspired deaths, some scenes that people still remember. That’s been fun to think about: How do we use that as our type of deaths? As people get close to Damien or get close to the truth, they will be in danger, but you need to put them into an interesting mousetrap.
How different would you say this character is from the 5-year-old we knew in the movie? Is there still that innocence? The raw footage I saw looks like a kind of upstanding guy who’s kind of mortified to find out what he really is.
That’s the whole story. Damien is trying to hold on to his humanity but clearly has the devil inside him. It’ll be an interesting road for him to travel. Once you see the show, it’ll make sense. There’s a lot of twists and turns. We do some very unexpected things with this character and we make it our own.
What are some of the themes you’ll be exploring with Damien? How much of this is about him trying to hold on to his humanity, which is a theme you explored a lot with The Walking Dead.
We’ll try to tackle those big scenes, and then there’s some particular scenes I don’t really want to get into quite yet that you’ll see about where Damien’s been for the past 25 years, what he’s been dealing with, what his world has been like. A lot of the deeper themes of the show will come out of that, out of his profession, out of things that he’s done, things that he’s seen.
Is this someone who will embrace those dark urges, and can he really change his future? Especially on a show where you kind of know what the ending is?
That’s the $6 million question. That’s what the show is. Can Damien fight his destiny? Can Damien save his own soul? Or can somebody save it for him? That’s the question that remains to be answered. We’ll make sure that journey is as complicated and interesting as possible, but there’s no easy answer.
You’ve got 10-episode a season. What can you say about the journey of an individual season? Is season one a contained story, or will there be a cliffhanger setting up season two?
We have had the season finale in mind pretty much since Day 1 and we had an interesting question of what do you do when we had developed it for six episodes. Do you take your ending and keep it as episode six and find new story behind it or do you move it to episode 10? We were able to take the emotional journey and make sure that it fills all 10 episodes, and we were able to use the new episodes to go in and actually develop story, broaden the world and push these characters against each other. There is no filler in the series, and it’s very satisfying. People will really feel like it’s chapter one of Damien’s story.
Have you heard anything from the right-wingers yet? What would you say to all the religious nuts out there who might protest the show?
Well, I hope they watch the show and find it entertaining. I welcome their feedback and their thoughts.
Robert Kirkman is also prepping another exorcism-themed drama, this one based on his comic Outcast. Have you read that and how do you think they compare?
I haven’t read it.
A formal premiere date for Damien has not yet been announced.