'Servant's M. Night Shyamalan, Rupert Grint & More Preview the Apple TV+ Horror Drama
The psychological drama tells the story of a grieving couple — Sean (Toby Kebbell) and Dorothy Turner (Lauren Ambrose) — as they face life after a tragedy. But when they welcome a mysterious young woman, Leanne (Nell Tiger Free), into their home, things quickly get very strange. Dark and moody, tense and weird, this eerie, quiet thriller is sure to appease Shyamalan's loyal followers and convince viewers to subscribe.
When it debuts Thursday, November 28, Servant's first three episodes will be available for streaming on on Apple TV+ with subsequent episodes to be added once a week.
TV Insider caught up with the creatives and stars behind the streamer at their Brooklyn-based red carpet premiere ahead of the series' launch. Below, they clue us in on what to expect.
Apple and the Storyteller
Since Apple TV+'s introduction, the company has been insistent about creating shows steeped in great storytelling, so what are the storytellers saying about the brand?
"You know, it's a very rare thing that they allowed the kind of autonomy that they allowed with this show,"' Shyamalan tells us. "I said, 'hey, can I pay for it? Can we shoot it in Philly? The tone — it's going to be a little bit odd, it's going to push buttons. It's going to be a little bit weird, off-kilter — that's what we're going for.' And they were super supportive," he adds.
Series creator and showrunner Basgallop echoed the director and executive producer's sentiments by saying, "It's been a dream ticket for me having Night — someone with that experience and that intelligence — coming in and working together with him on a lot of these stories and building this show out. [Apple has] been so supportive of us. I think with them knowing Night's reputation, that's brought us some license and some freedom," Basgallop admits.
"We got to do whatever we felt was right in the storytelling, and I want to use that as a way to get audiences to feel there's something special," Shyamalan shares. "The more specific it is, the more powerful it is in this marketplace where there's 500 shows every year."
At the time of the interview, he also said, "I hope it comes back to Apple, that they gave us that trust, and that we can come back and create a large audience for their streaming service." (They must have heard his hopes because the streaming platform renewed Servant for Season 2 on November 22, six days before its debut.)
Considering the heavy element of grief throughout the series, we asked the stars and creator how that factored into performances and the way the story is told. Toby Kebbell who plays Sean, is one half of a couple reeling from the loss of a child, which makes for plenty of tense situations and repression.
"What Sean's actually doing is denying the grief," Kebbell says. "He's making sure he doesn't lose Dorothy (Ambrose) as well. So, he is focusing on revamping recipes, which of course, turns out to be a bit of a metaphor, that he's resurrecting dead recipes and trying to do what he can to make himself have some control."
"He doesn't want to leave the house," Kebbell adds of his character. "He wants to stay tied there, but [viewers] will start to know why. He cannot lose Dorothy, too."
Meanwhile, despite not being part of the couple dealing directly with the loss of child, Rupert Grint (of Harry Potter fame) plays Julian — Dorothy's almost-equally distressed brother. "I think when we meet with these characters, it's still very raw and I think with Julian it's a little bit harder to see past his bravado. Because it is a facade he uses... but he unravels," teases Grint.
"Whenever he's in contact with Leanne," Grint says, "that's when you really start to see him kind of lose his grip a little bit."
As for Basgallop, he says, "there's a lot of symbolism," adding that "it questions, people's beliefs."
He continues, "Depending on what kind of a person you are, you can see this show in two different ways. You can believe in miracles or you can believe that everyone's out to exploit you. And so if you're looking for the good, you'll see the good story. If you're looking for the bad, you'll see the bad story. It's these two things when they go hand in hand in this show, I think they work really well."
We Need to Talk About Leanne
Leanne is a quiet and mysterious young woman who shows up at Sean and Dorothy's door under the guise of playing nanny to their son Jericho. But she remains just that — a mystery. "I think that there is a duality to Leanne," Nell Tiger Free (Game of Thrones) says of her character.
"She's got this ethereal, magical quality about her. Everything that you think is supernatural can also be explained logically. It's going to be a split audience, probably," she admits, before teasing, "I would say that she's just a fragile young girl and she just wants to be accepted, but maybe she doesn't. We'll see."
Basgallop backs up this idea, adding, "Leanne as a character comes in so innocent, that she's not formed yet. Whether she's good or bad, I don't think it's decided. I think it's going to depend on her experiences living in this house, being around these people. She can always go either way. And that's the great thing about her as a character, she's unformed."
Home and Family
Much of the action takes place within Sean and Dorothy's home which, as mentioned above, was filmed on-location in Philadelphia, a city that has popped up in Shyamalan's previous work in the critically-acclaimed The Sixth Sense. "I love Philly," Grint says. "It's a very unusual thing having everything done in one space. We were just in this house for most of the time."
The close quarters and familiar walls suggest a feeling of entrapment for the characters who are, in a way, imprisoned by their grief. "As an audience, you never really leave the house. It's a very different thing and it almost feels like a play, which is a really great thing for an actor," the star reveals. " Because you're kept in it. You're forced to stay in the moment. There's no escaping, it's very immersive."
Despite the darker nature and tone of the show, the story does revolve around a family and there is humor to be found. "If you can't find humor in a family situation, then you know it's false... I like dark comedy," Basgallop shares. "I like people who are sometimes offensive, sometimes loving, you know? It's that juxtaposition between the two that we find the humor."
Accents on Point
With the Philly setting, the cast had to adopt the accents of the area, including U.K. natives Grint, Kebbell, and Free. But, if you weren't aware of their English origins, you'd never know while watching.
"It's weird because it's the first time I've done it," Grint says of putting on an American accent. "As a Brit, the American voice is always there because it's part of our pop culture. But really when you get down to it, it's such a weird thing... Our tongues do completely different things when we talk."
He admits that "a few words kind of trip you up occasionally, but it's great to have that around you so you can always hear it."
Don't miss Grint or any of the other actor's accents when Servant debuts this Thanksgiving on Apple TV+.
Servant, Series Premiere, Thursday, November 28, Apple TV+