If you’re looking for something to watch that treads the fine line between creepy and completely captivating, look no further than Apple TV‘s debut series, “Servant”.
Executive produced by thriller mastermind, M. Night Shyamalan (Split, The Sixth Sense) and written by Tony Basgallop (24: Legacy, Inside Men); viewers watch as a young couple attempts to face reality after their child’s passing, with the help of a mysteriously life-like reborn doll, Jericho, and his peculiar new nanny.
We sat down with the cast speaking with Lauren Ambrose and Toby Kebbell, who take on the role of the Turner couple, as well as Rupert Grint (Dorothy Turner’s brother), and the family nanny, Leanne Grayson (Nell Tiger Free). You can officially dive into the secretive depths of Turner family household on November 28th.
The Knockturnal: So, I noticed each character in the series has a different way of sort of dealing with reality when dealing with Jericho, the reborn doll, which I’ve never seen one like that ever. So, can you talk to me just about like for each of your characters, what that was like?
Nell Tiger Free: Yeah, I mean, it was very strange getting acquainted with the doll; when I first saw it, it terrified me honestly. (The doll is) actually very, very heavy, and it’s fragile as well, as we know as the head came off a few times —
Rupert Grint: It did, yeah. (laughs)
Nell Tiger Free: It did, which was very disturbing. (laughs)
The Knockturnal: And what’s it like for your character (Grint), you also had some interactions with it as well.
Rupert Grint: Yeah, absolutely, when we meet these characters, it’s still very raw, I think and they’re all grieving in their own kind of different ways and I think, I think seeing that doll is, it’s like seeing a ghost. (The doll) kind of, it looks like Jericho – it feels like it. I think it’s a very difficult concept for them to grow up, but it’s the only way to get Dorothy back. So it’s the idea that it’s kind of all out of love. It’s just a very unusual method, but it’s quite a powerful thing isn’t it, even on the set, just seeing it is quite disturbing.
The Knockturnal: And I understand there was a name for the doll given?
Rupert Grint: Yeah. (laughs)
The Knockturnal: What was that?
Nell Tiger Free: Scary Jerry.
The Knockturnal: Scary Jerry? (laughs)
Rupert Grint & Nell Tiger Free: Scary Jerry.
Nell Tiger Free: They made stickers and like, little gifts.”
Rupert Grint: Yeah they made it sort of a brand.
Nell Tiger Free: Yeah, the Scary Jerry brand. (laughs)
The Knockturnal: Oh wow, like a franchise?
Rupert Grint: Yeah. (laughs)
The Knockturnal: Very fitting. (laughs) So as many of our viewers may know, [Free] you were in Game of Thrones and [Grint], you were in Harry Potter; so you [two] were working on in such extensive, vast sets in your past roles. What was it like being in a role that was based in one singular area?
Rupert Grint: Yeah, no, it’s felt very different. It’s something I’ve never experienced, I think because we filmed it in sequence as well, so it was all in order. The takes were so long as well. It kind of felt like a play, and because we’re in this one place that was kind of our only stage, so it had this very kind of intimate feel. The set was incredible as well. Usually sets [are] kind of these two-dimensional things that kind of don’t really feel that real – but this was a functioning house.
Nell Tiger Free: A real house, yeah.
Rupert Grint: So it was very different.
Nell Tiger Free: I think when you take such big emotions and big characters and such a big story and you contain it and you, and you put it in this one place, it’s like, um, I don’t know. It’s like we [were] all vibrating against the walls; [that] sort of thing. It really heightens the tension and heightens the energy. I think it lends itself to the story and to the process.(laughs)
The Knockturnal: Very, very cool. So, you guys were just kind of vibing off of the energy as well within the room?
Rupert Grint & Nell Tiger Free: Yeah.
The Knockturnal: Working with, well we’re working under M. Night Shyamalan, I know he’s done so many iconic films, there’s too many that I could even name. What was it like working with him in this kind of series and what was your favorite M. Night Shyamalan film?
Nell Tiger Free: Oh, my favorite [is] “Unbreakable.
Rupert Grint: Oh, that’s good.
Nell Tiger Free: So good!
Rupert Grint: I love “The Sixth Sense.
Nell Tiger Free: Oh that’s fantastic.
The Knockturnal: That’s a classic, definitely.
Rupert Grint: But yeah, [Shyamalan’s] great; he’s just such a great —
Nell Tiger Free: The Village is great. Sorry, sorry carry on!” (laughs)
Rupert Grint: He’s just such a lovely guy just to have on set. [Shyamalon] really brings this kind of excitement, there’s always this kind of buzz on set when he’s around. [Shyamalon’s] notes are, just incredibly, sometimes quite surreal but then you understand exactly what he means. It’s very, um — he’s a genius.
Nell Tiger Free: [Shyamalon] really dives into the minutiae of everything and he doesn’t pick things apart, he puts them sort of together for you, you know? Does that make sense? You know what I mean? It’s not dissecting things and going ‘well, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah’, it’s like he sort of makes things clear to you that you would never have thought of before.
The Knockturnal: As I watched the trailer [for Servant], I have never before seen a reborn doll before. I’ve never seen that; It was really creepy, but I noticed throughout the series you two often dealt with this doll. Can you just describe what it was like working with this kind of doll in the series?
Toby Kebbell: For me, it was creepy and unusual because it has an anatomical movement that’s correct, and yet no one’s holding it like it’s a real baby. So, the prop guy just hands it to you and you’re like, ‘Oh yeah, that’s a fake doll’. So, it has has a creepy element, but I felt so bad for his hair —
Lauren Ambrose: Yeah, it kind of got matted. (laughs)
Toby Kebbell: It got matted because [the doll is] lying down a lot.
Lauren Ambrose: I mean, this thing is painstakingly constructed and very expensive too. It’s like someone [has] painted and laid every eyelash —
Toby Kebbell: And the nails.
Lauren Ambrose: So it’s the ultimate prop; ultimate baby doll. I have a daughter who, I just kept thinking like she would love this doll! (laughs). It would be so fun.
The Knockturnal: And [Ambrose] your character, Dorothy; she periodically goes through a range of complex emotions. Can you talk to me about, without revealing too much, just what it was like playing this type of character?
Lauren Ambrose: Yeah, it was challenging, which is why I wanted to do this piece. I feel honored to get to play this very complicated lady who’s in the midst of this tragedy and then dealing with it really badly; I mean, she’s not facing reality at all! (laughs) I don’t know, I mean my heart broke for her and sometimes I just deeply disagreed with the things she was up to. I mean, just every day presented a new challenge [in] trying to keep it grounded while amidst these just bizarre circumstances that she’s in; but having beautiful actors to work with was definitely the way through it and really interesting script and words.
The Knockturnal: And [Kebbell], your character Shawn Turner is a famous chef, but he’s also dealing with supporting his wife and also dealing with the tragedy himself. How did you find yourself preparing for this role and were there any challenges that you faced?
Toby Kebbell: Yeah, I was slightly nervous about whether I could actually chef to that level, but I was supported by a great chef, Drew DiTomo, who was there with me every day. [DiTomo is] a fantastic teacher which is not always the way when someone’s great at a thing, that they can actually teach it as well. So, I was supported there and I had wonderful actors to work alongside. Lauren’s one of those actors who’s so good, you’re sometimes doing a scene and you’re like, ‘Oh, it’s my line, what is my line?!
Lauren Ambrose: Aw, Toby. (laughs)
Toby Kebbell: No it’s true! There’s a scene we do in the bath. I’m sitting on the lavatory, I’ll say it in the English way
Lauren Ambrose: The can, as we would say. (laughs)
Toby Kebbell: I was sitting on the can, and I was watching her like ‘boy’, I mean, she’s just so great. Everyone was lovely actually, everyone was so good, but poor Dorothy. It’s true. And Sean; he can’t lose both. [Sean] adores Dorothy and everything about her and they wanted to have this family, and that struggle as a chap where you’re like, ‘wait, so am I going to do?’ Of course, you’re not going to go through anything, she’s going to have the child and have everything that happens to her body and you just, you know, [Sean is] a self-absorbed guy. Then, this tragedy is just, I couldn’t lose both. So, I don’t want to say [it] was an easy thing to play, but I understood it. I was totally there; I knew who Sean was as I read episode one.