It seems rather poetic how much colder Rose has to become amidst the worsening zombie apocalypse in the Netflix Z-Nation spinoff Black Summer. With season two fast approaching, the next chapter finds the mother played by Jaime King and her daughter Anna (Zoe Marlett) among a small band of survivors facing a harsh winter and battle-hardened to deal with its threats from both the living and the undead. I spoke to the star and co-executive producer of the series about how her dual role behind and in front of the camera, her co-star Marlett, how the pandemic affected filming season two, the series' storytelling structure, and the dramatic changes we'll see between the mother and daughter in season two.
"We were filming from February to I believe it was March 14th (2020) when we were shut down," King said. "We were the first production back up for Netflix during the pandemic. So we went back up around August. We shot in tiers. There were seven Americans, the rest were Canadians. We had to get these essential workers' visas. We were quarantined for several weeks and I produce the show as well. It was definitely an interesting experience, not being able to be on set every day and producing. That routine was so different for me. So it was like literally like I was in the house for months and only leave specifically to go on set and be on camera."
King reflected when production had to shut down. "I'm really thankful for Netflix, the cast, and the crew because it was like when Carrie Fisher says, 'I take your broken heart and you put in art,'" she said. "It's like everyone just channeled all of that emotion and all of that experience and put it into the show. I remember like the day before we shut down Zoe, who plays my daughter Anna…we're in the closet and I looked out when we're doing the scene, I looked down and I can see my heart racing through my shirt. I see her heart racing through her shirt. It was like we were filming a movie or filming a series about an event, but the event was actually happening in real life. It's really trippy and very wild. I'm so proud of this season and I'm so proud of the cast and the crew. The elevation of season one was so extraordinary and this season is like next like truly next level."
The star admitted having half of the second season in the can when the lockdown was announced. "So we had shot four episodes in the can and Netflix was amazing because we were able to edit," King said. "I don't think I've ever told anyone this before, but our final day when we knew that it was our last day, we are in one of the episodes that I loved the most. We're doing this dolly shot where it's me, my daughter, and another character walking out of the house, and because we shoot consecutively and we're doing this thing, we're walking to the house. That literally was like our last shot. That very much felt like a profoundly emotional experience and what was great about shooting in that manner is that we got to keep people employed. We got to do all of our post-production in our editing. We were just we were logging each episode during the pandemic. So when we went back up, we completed the other four episodes. I think most productions don't allow you to shoot consecutively, but that's the gift of the way that we make our show and how it stays really immersive."
When it came to how Black Summer told its story, King emphasized the importance of having the characters' stories told through their current actions rather than exposition flashbacks even to the point of evoking one of the series' most famous fans. "When season one came out like the first couple of days, people didn't understand because we don't explain back story," she explained. "Thank God for Stephen King, who tweeted twice his love of stripping the dialog. [There's] no explanation to the audience of the time passed nor how we approach season two. It was like, 'OK, you know how much time has passed. What was that look like and what is this really about.' It's really about like commodity, right? Like what is the value of commodity? How do people experience and sort of from tribe's right in a really traumatic event, which also is very parallel to what we've experienced this past year? We didn't realize this pandemic was coming."
As far as keeping the series fresh, King admits there are some wrinkles thrown in to help keep the performances as authentic as possible. "So I come from the Actors' Studio and we all have different processes," she said. "It was a lot of side discussions internally between actors, producorial for me with my showrunner and everyone really keeping surprises. That time and what has happened is all internal like we know what has happened. So it's informed through the performance. What we also do is essentially improv and rewrite everything at the moment. So we have our blueprint scripts and then come to set and say, 'OK, what do we do today?' For newer actors, who never been on this show, they're like, 'Wait, what's happening? Right when we just memorize 18 pages, and I'm like, 'No, we don't do that." So what it does is it keeps everything super active and alive and we again strip everything away. So you never really know what's going to come. That keeps it very visceral and a lot of the actors say they're like, 'We've just been so spoiled because John Hyams is such a brilliant director and showrunner that you really can free fall and trust.' It creates like this kind of liberty where you're in that moment and like what we're experiencing is truly what we're experiencing in that moment and the audience gets that, too."
While King admits it takes a lot to wear as many hats as she does on set, there's still a ton of work beyond staying on top of her survivalist training demanded her character especially going into season two. "Rose from season one is dead," she admits bluntly. "Internally the Rose from season one that viewers saw and when people are like, 'You're doing so much prep, so much work.' I was like, 'Because she's dead and she's a completely different person now.' So what happens when you become a soldier, your heart is shut down, and the 10 percent like the only thing that matters is your child. You have to train your child essentially to be a soldier and to survive in case something happens to you. The Rose from season one does not exist in season two. [Zoe] is like a next-level superstar. I'm not just saying that. People were literally crying on set watching her performances. So what you can see is the relationship of a mother and a daughter living in an unbearable world and its circumstances. Yet the ordinariness of she's still turning 13-14 like it's like that like humanity doesn't go away just because you're going through this thing. I think there's a beautiful combination of that. I think people will be speechless."
Season two for Black Summer, which also stars Justin Chu Cary, Christine Lee, and Sal Velez Jr premieres on June 17.
Bleeding Cool TV on Instagram: For all of the stuff too random and bizarre to make the site, make sure to follow us on Instagram (with an official launch on June 19): Bleeding Cool TV (@bleedingcooltv).
BCTV Daily Dispatch: For a look at what's going on across the television and streaming landscape, sign up for Bleeding Cool's daily email round-up of the news you need to know here.