“I remember damage.” That haunting quote, from the novel “Station Eleven,” by Emily St. John Mandel, becomes an ongoing theme in the TV series of the same name, adapted by Patrick Somerville for HBO Max. “Station Eleven” started in development, and even began shooting, before the COVID-19 pandemic. But the ten-episode series — about the aftermath of a devastating flu that wipes out most of the world, and the survivors who attempt to rebuild and reimagine the world anew – obviously took on an entirely new resonance when the real-life pandemic hit.
What does “I remember damage” mean to the show’s stars? What’s it like to promote a show about live after a pandemic… during a pandemic? How did the cast and crew keep the show’s action straight while shooting, given its jumps between multiple timelines? And could there ever be a second season? Stars Mackenzie Davis and Himesh Patel, along with Somerville, joined Variety’s Awards Circuit Podcast to discuss all of those questions, explain what “Face Reveal Fridays” was on set, and a lot more.
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“Station Eleven” stars Davis as Kirsten, who had lived through the beginning of the flu crisis as a child. In flashbacks to the beginning of the pandemic, the younger version of Kirsten (Matilda Lawler) is a child actress who clings to a graphic novel that had been given to her by her older co-star. That book forms the basis of how she looks at the post-apocalyptic world. The show flashes between different time frames to show others tied, closely or loosely, to Kirsten, including Jeevan, played by Patel. A total stranger who took her in when the pandemic quickly spread, he helps set the stage for her future in this new world, and the question of how they got separated is major arc of “Station Eleven.”
“I think something special about the show is that it’s made by a bunch of people who never would have gone after making a show about a pandemic, if we knew one was coming,” Somerville says. “We shot episodes 1 and 3 before we had really heard of COVID. We were trying to tell a story about healing. And then we happened to fall into a gigantic pandemic. And so, I think there’s a lot of gigantic feelings that our audience had been sitting on, and were buried and didn’t have a way to express them. And it just so happened, we were making a show that was trying to make that vocabulary.”
Says Patel: “As wonderful as parts of it were, there was also parts of it that I found really difficult. That’s my damage.”
“Station Eleven” returned to filming during the height of COVID-19 protocols that kept everyone on crew masked up and at a distance. Davis came up with the idea of “Face Reveal Fridays” on set in order to get to briefly see what her co-workers actually looked like. “It drove me crazy that we never saw people’s faces,” she says. “At the morning meeting on Fridays, we would do ‘Face Reveal Fridays,’ where we chose somebody from the crew to stand up and take off their mask and turn around, and everybody would cheer. It was so nice and then we added ‘There’s Your Chin Thursdays’ because we weren’t getting enough of it.”
Would the stars and Somerville be interested in returning to the story of “Station Eleven”? “What would interest me would be an anthology series,” Davis says. “Something that Emily St. John Mandel, who wrote the book, has said, this isn’t everybody’s experience. This is the experience of this group of people in this area of the world. There is a completely different group of people that have built an agricultural wonderland, and aren’t traveling bards and aren’t cobbling together this meager existence and settlements. I think that interests me more than excavating these characters.”
Somerville is adapting St. John Mandel’s “The Glass Hotel,” which is a bit of an anthology from the world of “Station Eleven”: The character of Miranda is in that book as well. “We thought what would happen if we sort of expanded her role,” he says. “And what’s interesting there is that it takes place in the time between when she burns down Arthur’s pool house and shows back up again in 2020. And what’s cool about this story is she can be making the graphic novel in the backgrounds of the story of ‘The Glass Hotel.’ It’s diagonal. But what’s cool too, is like, you know what happens to Miranda in the end from ‘Station Eleven.'”
Somerville adds that the artist who started making the “Station Eleven” graphic novel could return and make more for “The Glass Hotel.” “So if we make ‘Glass Hotel,’ by the end of making ‘Glass Hotel’ we will have made the whole graphic novel, and then we’ll just publish it as a book. We have 23 pages, but it takes our artist a full week to make each page, and we have 70 more to make. So we’re trying to get to the real graphic novel by the end of it.”
Variety’s “Awards Circuit” podcast, produced by Michael Schneider, is your one-stop listen for lively conversations about the best in film and television. Each week “Awards Circuit” features interviews with top film and TV talent and creatives; discussions and debates about awards races and industry headlines; and much, much more. Subscribe via Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify or anywhere you download podcasts. New episodes post every Thursday and Friday.
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