Locke & Key: A Conversation with the Cast and Showrunners

Dept. of Raps and Confabs

After almost a decade in development, Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez’s stunning – and much beloved – Locke & Key has finally found a home. The IDW comic has been, at different times, a movie trilogy, a pilot on Fox, a pilot on Hulu, before landing on Netflix under the steady hand of showrunners Carlton Cuse (Bates Motel, Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan) and Meredith Averill (The Good Wife, The Haunting of Hill House).

First published in 2008, the comic book revolves around the Locke family and their ancestral home of Keyhouse, a mysterious mansion filled with locked doors and magical keys. This Netflix series stars Connor Jessup, Emilia Jones, and Jackson Robert Scott as the Locke siblings, as well as Darby Stanchfield as their recently widowed mother.

Last week, Umapagan Ampikaipakan caught up with showrunners, Carlton Cuse and Meredith Averill, as well as the series stars, Darby Stanchfield and Connor Jessup, for a quick chat about the long-awaited series.

The Locke siblings discover a magical music box in Locke & Key.

From the first few episodes, we learn that the Locke family seem to have very distinct characteristics when it comes to dealing with the strangeness around them. Bode is all childlike wonder and excitement. Kinsey is skeptical but accepting. Talk to me about where both your characters fit in?

Connor Jessup: One of the things that was most fascinating to me is not just how all these characters – all the siblings – react differently to discovering this magic, but also how they are so distinct in dealing with their grief, and in dealing with fear. It’s like you said, Bode is the one who – at the very beginning of the show – pushes everything along. He’s the one who discovers the keys. He’s the one who’s over the moon. He’s overjoyed. He doesn’t see any downside. Total childlike wonder. Kinsey is more willing to accept it. She believes it pretty quickly. She moves pretty quickly from believing it to how it could help her out and benefit her. She is much more eager than Tyler is to take advantage of it. And Tyler is the one who is very wary and reluctant. He feels like he has to fill the vacuum left by their dad’s death. He feels a responsibility for his siblings, and he doesn’t have the tools. He doesn’t know how to be a dad. He’s 17. He feels like all his tools are dull and he’s trying to protect his siblings but he doesn’t know how. So he’s very suspicious of the magic at first.

Darby Stanchfield: I would say that Nina – who is super fun to play around with as an actor – is unable see the magic because she is over 18 and an adult, but then, once she relapses and becomes inebriated again, she can suddenly see the magic. And the layers of her disbelief – “you think I’m crazy”, “is this real?” – and all of the emotions that come along with those possibilities of magic being real was so rich to explore. I like that, in this world, if an adult is on a mind-altering substance, they can suddenly be part of the magic. I think that’s fantastically twisted and unique.

Welcome to Keyhouse!

Meredith, you wrote what is arguably one of the best episodes of television from the last decade (“The Bent-Neck Lady” from The Haunting of Hill House). What are some of the learnings from making that show that you brought to Locke & Key?

Meredith Averill: Oh, well thank you first of all. That’s very very kind of you to say. Working on one haunted house show and then jumping to another haunted house show; apparently this has become my brand. There are some definite similarities between them. The house is very much a character and we’re dealing with this family that is coping with an immense amount of grief and guilt. But that sort of is where the similarities kind of end between them. Our show is much more on the fantasy axis. It’s a little lighter. Hill House was certainly much darker. But we do employ flashbacks to kind of inform our present story and also to have these surprising reveals about our characters. So, in terms of structure, I would say that’s one thing that we brought over from Hill House. I also like to tell stories in a non-linear kind of fashion. That’s an exciting way for me to tell stories and something that we brought over that I loved.

Darby Stanchfield plays Nina, the recently widowed matriarch of the Locke family, on Locke & Key.

Connor, no pressure, but so much of the success of a show like this depends on the chemistry between these siblings. What was it like working with Jackson Robert Scott and Emilia Jones and how did you guys go about developing your relationship?

CJ: In a way, I’m also the big brother. I’m the eldest of the three of us, just like Tyler is. And Jackson and Emilia were both from out of town. We shot in my hometown. And so, whether I should have or not, I felt like a big brother. Then I met them, and realized that they are both so much more capable and sophisticated than I am. You have these visions of being a mentor and then realize that they are so far ahead of me. I mean, I met Emilia two weeks before we started shooting and I was very – not worried – but I had been thinking about it a lot because I knew that Tyler’s relationship with Kinsey is the centre of this story in a lot of ways. Their dynamic drives so much of the show. And I just fell in love with her so quickly. I wish she was here with us right now. She is so intelligent, and kind, and warm, and talented. 

DS: And humble, and brilliant.

CJ: And I felt the same way when I met Darby. And I felt the same way when I met Jackson. We are different but there’s so much overlap in how we see the world and how we see the show. Sometimes you work with people and you’re supposed to be sisters or brothers or sons or lovers and you’re just staring at a person and you just feel nothing. And that’s on you, to make it work. And I was overwhelmed by how much I loved Emilia, and Darby, and Jackson. So, it was kind of easy.

DS: I agree. I get a little choked up thinking about my experiences working with the three of them. It’s true that natural chemistry lays a foundation and you kinda don’t have to do much but get to work and have fun together.

CJ: They also make me so angry because when I was 17 and 10, I could barely talk my way out of a cardboard box. And meanwhile they are acting circles around me. I would go to work every day and be so amazed by what Emilia and Jackson could do. By what they were bringing. By the way they were animating these characters. I am in awe of both of them.

The demon well lady in Locke & Key.

What I loved about the first episode is that it really plays out more like a traditional “pilot”. There’s a lot that happens. All the characters are introduced. The mysteries are set up. Everything just gets going. Which is quite unlike much of what we now see in this era of binge watching where it takes at least 3 to 4 hours of television to set things up. Why did you decide on this approach for Locke & Key?

Carlton Cuse: It’s great to hear that. I think part of that has to do with the lessons learned in some of the prior developments. One of the things, for example, the Savini Squad and the teenage stories, that was something that, as Meredith and I were working with the writers room on the show, we were like: “oh, this is going to be a big part of the show”. Let’s not wait three episodes to introduce these characters. Let’s set this up right in the pilot. Let’s dive in. We really were conscious of trying to put our foot on the accelerator pedal and make sure that the pilot included all these different elements that were going to be a part of the show so that it was representative of the series that we wanted to make.

MA: No pun intended, but we wanted to “locke” you guys down. Right away.

CC: We thought that was the “key”.

MA: The “key” to “locke” you guys down. Sorry. It’s been a long day.

Talk to me about striking that right balance between Goonies-like adventure and outright Stephen King/Joe Hill-type-horror.

MA: I mean, that is really the delicate balance of this show. Finding a way to make all of those elements work together. And I think what helped is that we never leaned too far in one direction. We we’re always kinda straddling a line. That’s the big reason why the horror elements of the show you never see dip into being overly gory or grotesque. And with the fantasy Harry Potter elements you never see them be too young or extreme. So I think it’s always trying to find that balance. Which is one of the reasons why the comic has been so difficult to adapt but also what makes it so unique.

Locke & Key premieres globally on Netflix on 7 February 2020.

Uma has been reviewing things for most of his life: movies, television shows, books, video games, his mum's cooking, Bahir's fashion sense. He is a firm believer that the answer to most questions can be found within the cinematic canon. In fact, most of what he knows about life he learned from Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. He still hasn't forgiven Christopher Nolan for the travesties that are Interstellar and The Dark Knight Rises.

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