The DC Comics adaptation Swamp Thing which originally aired on DC Universe last year is coming to The CW for a Fall 2020 broadcast run which premieres this Tuesday, October 6. The series – from noted talents such as James Wan, Mark Verheiden, Gary Dauberman, and director Len Wiseman – starred Derek Mears as the famed swamp creature with a cast that also included Crystal Reed, Jennifer Beals, Andy Bean, Virginia Madsen, and others.
We were able to talk to Derek Mears as the premiere is approaching, and he had a lot to say about his experience of playing the creature, as well as whether or not he’d return to play the character in Justice League Dark or a continuation with the same creative team. You can find the interview below.
KSITETV’s CRAIG BYRNE: One thing I really appreciated about your performance is that even silently, there was so much of the acting was how he looked or moved. Was that a challenge for you?
DEREK MEARS: It was. The suit itself, and wearing full body prosthetics in general is difficult to do, especially when I go to the swamp set. The water has to be heated so the fog will stay on the water, and the actors and actresses who enter the water are safe and it’s not super chilled. So anytime you see us in the swamp, it is boiling inside, so the suit itself is hot, but then when you add the emotional performance behind it and your body doesn’t know the difference, that adds another level of stress. So, when you’re trying to hit the different scenes and hit the different points that you want to hit, and the emotional peaks and valleys, it becomes very trying after a while, but also I wouldn’t have it any other way.
It’s kind of like getting hired to be a lifeguard and then complaining that you have to get in the water. You know what you’re getting into, and also you just keep thinking yourself, “wait, I get to play Swamp Thing? No, this is fantastic. However this turns out with the pain, I don’t care. Let’s focus on the performance.”
Did you study Andy Bean’s movements at all in order to act like Alec Holland might be there inside the creature?
Don’t tell Andy… we went this many dinners together, and I don’t know if he knows it, but I was watching him like a hawk, to see his different timing and movements. It was fun to have that in my back pocket from time to time, to lay into the formula of the show.
When you got the role, did the producers have to assure you that the character will indeed be speaking?
Oh, yes. That’s one thing that really excited me. Originally when I met for the character, I was like, “oh, they’re going to do another Swamp Thing show for TV.” I was kind of neutral about it. But when they told me that they were going to base it on the Alan Moore run from the comics and make it a hard-R Gothic horror romance, and use Alan Moore’s series run as a bible for this show, I lost my mind.
I was absolutely on board, because would intrigued me was the challenge to deal with the complexities of the existential crisis that Swamp Thing is going through, and to be able to play those emotional peaks and valleys really excited me.
Having been in the horror movie world for a while, did you ever get the chance to meet Dick Durock (the original Swamp Thing of movies and television)?
I never did. All these years, I never did. I wish I would have. I was very fortunate — I got to work with Wes Craven multiple times in my career, which was a treat, but I never got to meet Dick.
Most of the suit was practically created, is that correct?
Yeah, the whole suit was created. We had CGI enhancements for growth, [like] different vine growth in certain shots, but the suit itself was created by Fractured FX, and it’s honestly one of the best full body suits I’ve ever worn.
Was the suit built kind of like a wet suit so that it didn’t get messed up in the “swamp?”
That’s a thing where I have nothing but respect for for Dick Durock, because originally saying that it was it was a thick wet suit that he wore, and the difficulties that he had to experience and and to deal with, was absolutely admirable. I can’t believe what he had put his body through. I was lucky for myself, because almost like the creators and designers over at Fractured FX are working for NASA. They would have different polymers that would dry quickly where we’d spend the day in the swamp soaked, and then they could have it dry by the time we’re ready to film the next day.
Don’t get me wrong; we did have multiple suits, but the technology for it to dry out was so well thought through, and the execution of it was just an absolute bullseye.
What was your reaction when you found out The CW had picked up Season 1 for a wider audience to get to see it?
I was really excited, because my big takeaway from this entire show is the family aspect of the cast and crew. It’s a special show, in a sense that there were no attitudes or no “do you know who I am” or “this is how we’re going to do it?” It was a group of artists. No matter if you are a caterer or a main producer, everybody respected each other for what they brought to the table, and everyone’s main goal was to make the best show possible. That was just mind blowing, because we all add something different. We were all cogs in this Swamp Thing machine.
So, when it was announced was gonna be on The CW, I got very excited. It was an opportunity for a larger audience to see all these talented artists in their own personal mediums on a bigger scale. And also, because of the current pandemic that were in, the opportunity to give people comfort, to give them a little bit of escapism from what’s currently going on; the horrors and tragedies that are going on right now, and our future seems uncertain, it feels good to be a contributor of a piece of art that would let people know, ultimately, that it’s going to be okay, no matter what you’re experiencing. That, for me, was very exciting.
Even though this was a TV series, did it feel like filming a movie every week?
It really did. The care and TLC that they put into lighting the shots, and every aspect of the show… it felt like we were doing a feature. like Basically, that’s what I tell people, or friends who ask about the TV show. I go “actually, it really is like we did a 10 hour feature.” [Sigh] I’m like a little child where I love talking about [the show].
How exciting was it to get new Swamp Thing scripts when the show was in production?
I would be excited each week, going like “what happens this week?” I would get the scripts, and I felt very much like when we were younger, when you had a comic book subscription, and you would go down to the comic book store and a new issue would be in. It was like “I can’t wait to read it! What’s going to happen?” But I got to live that comic book, which is bizarre.
Speaking of feeling like you’re like living that world, what did it feel like when you first saw the sets of Swamp Thing?
I was stunned, because I have problems painting a wall, and seeing what some of these artists would come in and do to make it lived in and feel natural, and just the minute details; some things you don’t catch in the background to gve it more history. Like going into Dan Cassidy’s video shop, and seeing the posters on the wall, and seeing the different aspects of his own life, giving detail that are directly given from the character, but you’re picking it up by the objects and things that are around him.
It was the same thing with Marais. It really feels like town to me rather than just “yeah, there’s a town in Louisiana where all of this mysticism and magic happened,” but it really feels like it’s a lived-in town. I love seeing some stand responses on social media, where they would ask, “is Marais a real town? Is that somewhere could go to in Louisiana?” and I was like, “ahhh! this is great.” It’s great when people don’t know the difference. Hats off to the designers and production companies.
If HBO Max approached you to play Swamp Thing in their Justice League Dark series, would you be interested?
Possibly. It all depends because with Swamp Thing, what we did for the series — I am not Swamp Thing. Every artist that worked on that show is Swamp Thing. We’re all cogs that build the Swamp Thing machine. So it would really depend on what they wanted to do, or who was involved in the Justice League Dark series, because I can’t take sole credit for the character, because we all created it together from the directing, the producing, the writing… the chemistry I have with the other actors.
So, I really don’t know. I’m not opposed to it whatsoever, but I would have to see in the future. I have no idea.
Are you suggesting your ideal would be to work with the exact same team again, if you ever to play Swamp Thing again?
If we had an opportunity to come back for a second season, I would hop on that in a New York minute. Filming the show was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had creatively in front of the camera. It really felt like a family. There are still some of us who text each other from time to time. It was really a special place. II don’t know how it would feel to come back without them, but they were all involved, I would hop on it.
Can you talk about some of the cast that you were able to work with on Swamp Thing?
It was so much fun, because as artists, we all have different ways that we approach our art, and seeing how kind and courteous everybody was to each other, and open to whatever they needed for to where they needed to be emotionally for the scenes, was so much fun. Working with Crystal [Reed], for example at one point, I was blown away.
I was doing my thing, [where] we have a very emotional scene between us and off camera, where you don’t see Crystal, where most actresses would kind of dial it in or just say the words, she would hit these emotional peaks and valleys, and bawl and cry. The camera’s not even on her, but she’s giving that to me as a fellow actor to help hit the emotional peaks and valleys, that I needed, that I’m currently having in front of the camera.. so giving and so caring. I can’t thank her enough. She’s is truly a talent, and also for her to have chemistry with Henderson Wade, with Andy Bean, with myself…. to switch all those gears…. she’s just a true, true talent.
Andy Bean is one of the sweetest human beings on the planet. When we originally met on Swamp Thing together, we discussed ideas, and philosophies, and theology behind the character… to have someone who was so open about their creative process… at one point Any was offering me notes. He was like “hey, do you want some of my characters note that I made for myself for Alec?” He’s just a good human being. I’m happy to call him my friend.
Then you get to work with legends like Virginia Madsen and Will Patton. Just to see them command their craft on set, and be at the level that they’re at, and swinging at these fastballs of acting, and knocking them out of the ballpark…. even when I go back and watch some of the episodes, seeing some of the scenes between Jennifer Beals and Virginia… it’s an acting class. Like, these professionals are murdering it on screen, and as a fan, I get the front row seat to watch all of this. I’m trying to keep it together, so everyone thinks I’m cool, but I’m like, “oh my God, that was such a good scene!”
Another thing about the show that was really inspiring: When you’re doing live theater, for example, you’re seeing what everybody’s bringing to the table and what they’re doing. But when you’re doing a TV show, I would meet people, and for months later not do a scene with them. And so, when you’re trying to find like a through-line, to gauge your performance by like how big someone’s playing it, or how subtle someone’s playing something, we all just kind of trusted our instincts in the way that those puzzle pieces just naturally fit together. Everyone was playing it like a Chekov play, where everyone’s dead serious. No winking to the camera. No “we’re doing a monster show.” It was like you were doing serious theater, and everyone was on that same page instinctively.
I just don’t know how you capture lightning in a bottle like that; to have everybody so kind and talented, but also hitting the same mark without talking about it.
Ultimately, why should people be tuning into Swamp Thing on The CW?
Because you’re in a pandemic and you have nowhere else to go, that’s why!
Why should people watch Swamp Thing? There are many different reasons. It’s similar to a rock song that we hear. I could tell you the reason to watch it, but I’m not trying to sell it to you. I think the reason is to find your own interpretation, and being that it’s so layered and complex, we’re all gonna find something different in it.