No one has to have a chip in their brain to enjoy “Severance,” but fans of the show this year experienced their own version of Innies and Outies: the moment before they tuned in to the puzzling Apple TV+ series, and everything Followed by.
Executive producer and director Ben Stiller, who handled much of the first season, found a way to set the show’s complex tone and life inside Lumon. So what was he thinking when the show moved beyond the shocking ending?
The show has such a unique tone – commentary on workplace culture, mystical elements, and all these different parts of weird and funny and sad.
What was the conversation you had with series creator Dan Erickson about making sure all of this was well-represented?
Dan and I talked a lot about the real level of the show, in terms of being able to trust the world they live in.But in terms of tone, in terms of how these characters feel in this place, it’s all on the page, and the basic idea that he’s built on is [the Innies] Don’t really know who they are, and they don’t really question it. They know they’ve been told they have Outies, and they’ve been told they’re working in this place, and their Outies put them there. But since it is the only existence they know of, the premise is always below everything.
I don’t know if I’m going to tell you when we start producing that the feeling you get from watching the show right now is going to be what I think [was] when we started working on it. I thought it could be a little more comical and a little more lighthearted, and that’s what it turned out to be. A lot of that is also reflected in the cast and inner lives that the actors bring to the characters. It just made it clear to me that we have to really lean towards this because there’s more out there than you might think. I think things changed as we made it.
The actor Adam Scott also feels smart because of his ties to workplace comedies like “Parks and Recreation” and “Party.” What made him the right person to play Mark?
When I started reading the script, he immediately came to my mind – I think that’s why I have his image. I’ve worked with him before and have always been a fan of him, but I think the role he brings to that show and that kind of comedy, knowing him, as any actor, is a lot more than what we usually offer in them seen in the most popular works.
Adam also always chooses to do something deeper than one might know him. I know he has that quality, and I think the surprise of this show is to have someone like him. Because you get used to that comedy pace and that kind of people, but there’s a lot of other stuff on the show that you wouldn’t expect. I know, in my opinion, he does a better job than anyone in this role. I just thought he would be the one who would understand that. He had the same reaction when he first read it. I know he gets it the same way.
Let’s talk about your photography choices, as many of them really amplify our sense of surveillance and alienation throughout.
One of the big questions on the show is always, how much are they being watched? …what are the safety rules here? How many security personnel are there? Are they being watched all the time? Are they being heard? There are obviously story points related to this, so we’ve been questioning that. And we just thought it would be nice to have a really cool, objective feel to the way the corridors are shot there, wider than what we’ve used in the Outie world – there’s a naked feel and a stiff feel there.
Because there are a lot of scenes in the hallway, a lot of scenes in MDR, it’s just trying to figure out what’s the creative way to do it without getting too crazy. Then each scene of the cast starts to dictate how you shoot within the rules you’ve established.
You build that environment with your audience, knowing you’ll change it with events like waffle parties and music and dance experiences. How fun is it to play?
I was looking forward to it because I thought, ‘Well if people buy this series and this world, all of a sudden, the idea of seven episodes, ceiling lights [going] multicolored is going to be a big deal because the little things mean a lot to everyone out there. “The idea that lights always have the ability to change different colors has always been around, but we didn’t realize it, and I thought it was an interesting idea.
The great thing about the possibilities that Dan has built is that you can walk down a hallway, open a door, and there’s a whole different world out there.
The ending has a lot of revelations and major suspense. How did you guys decide to keep things where they were?
The original first season went a step further. That was the discussion we had during the writing when we were working on the season and discussing how many answers to give. And I’ve always felt that the show should have a certain rhythm to make these smaller events bigger, because that’s always been the fun part of the world, and it happens all of a sudden for these people who are living this monotonous life Issues.
I also think the mystery of what they are doing [at Lumon], Mark and Gemma, it should take some time to sort out all these things. We came to the conclusion that this could be a way to end the season and we allowed them to surface; Mark met Rickon and a lot happened. He found his sister and then had this great realization. Then we end the season. We couldn’t figure out a way to go further without going too far and revealing too much information.
You can’t say much, but can you tell us what’s on your mind as the season 2 story moves forward?
I think the most important thing is how to keep all those things in terms of the show feel while expanding the world from the end of the last episode. We’ve brought Mark and Owen and Haley to the surface, and I think those are all storylines that people will be interested in. So, it will find that balance. We’re writing now and getting ready to shoot in October.
OK, but will we find out more about goats?
Dan said yes at Comic-Con, so I guess I can! Yes. Goats can’t be there for no reason.