A common compliment paid to film writers is that their work evokes the feel of a stage play. Andrew Hinderaker is one of the script writers who can craft films and television shows in which the characters feel grounded the way plays accomplish. Starting his career in theater, Hinderaker wrote critically acclaimed plays such as The Magic Play and Colossal before moving to television. His TV writing credits include Penny Dreadful and The Path. Hinderaker’s latest project is adapting and showrunning Let The Right One In for Showtime. Wanting to learn more about his career as well as Let The Right One In, I was able to interview him for ScifiPulse.
Nicholas Yanes: Growing up, what were some stories you loved? Are there any you still enjoy revisiting?
Andrew Hinderaker: It’s so funny you ask that, because I just finished re-reading Jurassic Park. And the reason I returned to it was that, while it’s perhaps not the greatest piece of literature I’ve ever encountered, it remains the greatest reading experience I’ve ever had. The book came out when I was 11 and absolutely captivated my imagination. Reading it again 30+ years later, I was surprised to discover that it’s essentially a horror story. And when I think back on the books and films that stick with me from childhood, it’s remarkable how many of them are works of horror. Jurassic Park, Firestarter, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, Pet Cemetery, and Candyman, just to name a few.
Yanes: When did you know that you wanted to pursue a career as a professional creative? Was there a moment this goal crystalized for you?
Hinderaker: I went to college as a pre-med student but very quickly discovered a passion for creative writing. During my junior and senior years, I was lucky enough to have two plays produced, and those experiences were big for me. Collaborating with a director, actors, and designers—on something I’d written—gave me joy and a real sense of purpose. And that hasn’t abated in twenty years.
Yanes: You are an experienced and award-winning playwright. How has writing for plays shaped the way you write in general?
Hinderaker: In almost every way. First and foremost, I love writing for actors. That may sound obvious, but—at the risk of sounding provocative—it’s been my experience that very few screenwriters really love actors. But when you work in the theater, you see how fearless actors can be. How they’ll go out on stage—and often not leave for two hours—just them, the audience, their scene partners, and their own talent and lion’s heart. I really mean that. It’s not a coincidence that many of the principal actors in Let the Right One In began their career in the theater (Demián Bichir, Anika Noni Rose, Grace Gummer, Kevin Carroll, Caroline Neff, Michael Patrick Thornton, to name a few). And all of our actors are fearless. Truly, one of my number one goals, whether I’m writing a scene for a play or for Let The Right One In, is to create material that’s worthy of these actors’ mighty gifts.
Yanes: Your latest project is the Let the Right One In series for Showtime. Out of curiosity, what are some of your favorite vampire stories?
Hinderaker: Oh, so many! But I have to begin with Dracula, which exemplifies the poetry, sadness, and existential terror of a proper vampire story (and of horror, in general). The fact that Copolla’s adaptation came out when I was 13 only cemented the work’s indelible imprint on my imagination. The first vampire movie I ever saw was The Lost Boys (which I think I saw when I was 7 or 8), and I’ll always enjoy those movies and stories that show how ‘cool’ vampires can be (Blade and Blade II, From Dusk til Dawn, The Hunger, Near Dark, etc.) But for me, the quintessential vampire story captures the creature’s loneliness and sadness, which is why Dracula, Nosferatu, and Let the Right One In (both the novel and film) sit atop my list.
Yanes: For vampire and horror fans, Let the Right One In, is a beloved franchise with the 2004 novel and the 2008 film still converting people into fans. How did you develop your twist on this franchise?
Hinderaker: I honestly think of it less as my ‘twist,’ and more as how I connected, deeply and personally, with the material. Let the Right One In spoke to me as a story about addiction. It’s a love story between a vampire and a Renfield, between an addict and an enabler. It’s a story that depicts, beautifully and unrelentingly, how destructive and all-consuming addiction can be.
Yanes: On this note, was there a moment in which you knew that your Let the Right One In would work?
Hinderaker: I hugely appreciate the question’s implication that our series does work! There were two scenes from the pilot that immediately sprung to mind. The first is an emotional argument between Mark and Eleanor that plays out on the streets of New York. The scene really captures the essence of their relationship, and the heart of their dilemma (what if I’m never cured? What if this is all I’ll ever be?) The second is the pilot’s climactic scene, in which Mark kills a hugely sympathetic character, to bring his daughter blood. It’s really the event upon which the first season (and in many ways, the series) hinges. So if those two scenes don’t work, we don’t have a show. But in both cases, the actors—Demián, Madison Taylor Baez, and Ato Essandoh—absolutely brought it. And our director and DP, Seith Mann and Eric Branco, shot both scenes beautifully.
Yanes: Though you spent much of your early career in Chicago, you set the show in New York. What penances do you now owe Chicago?
Hinderaker: I owe Chicago a great deal. Truthfully, one of my dreams is to make a show in Chicago, so that I can employ so many of the theater artists I love! That said, the astute viewer will notice that there are quite a few Chicago theater folks involved with Let the Right One In…
Yanes: As you developed the show from idea to final edits, were there characters or subplots that took on a life of their own?
Hinderaker: Almost all of them, but I’d be remiss not to sing Nick Stahl’s praises. Nick plays Matthew, a supporting character in a supporting storyline—and in a lesser actor’s hands, that character could disappear into the periphery. But Matthew is indispensable—not only to Claire’s story—but to Mark and Eleanor’s, as well (in ways we don’t initially realize). And Nick was so good—such a pleasure to write for and to work with—that Matthew truly took on a life we didn’t anticipate. When we entered the writer’s room, I never imagined we’d have a scene between Matthew and Isaiah, but it’s now one of my favorite little scenes in Season One. Both Nick and Ian Foreman (who plays Isaiah) are spectacular in it.
Yanes: When people finish watching your version of Let the Right One In, what do you hope they take away from the experience?
Hinderaker: I don’t mean to sound evasive, but I don’t think it’s for me to say. I poured an enormous amount of myself, and my heart, into this show. And if folks take the time to watch all ten episodes, I believe their efforts will be rewarded. But more than anything, I’m just grateful to them for tuning in.
Yanes: Finally, what else are you working on that people can look forward to?
Hinderaker: I once heard showrunning described as ‘like being beaten to death by your own dream.’ That’s a little extreme, but it’s truly an all-encompassing endeavor, often with 100-hour work weeks. So, I haven’t found a lot of time for side projects. That said, I’m desperate to return to the theater, and there’s one play in particular, that I’ve been working and re-working for years, that I’d love to see produced. I also recently created a Sci-Fi series on spec which will no doubt be a tough sell, but I’ve never been one to shy away from a challenge.