Executive producers Dana Fox and Jon M. Chu discuss the finale's biggest revelation and look ahead to the new season.
Home Before Dark kicked off its first season with 9-year-old amateur journalist Hilde Lisko (Brooklynn Prince), investigating a neighbor's suspicious death. But what was supposed to be an open-and-shut murder case turned into something much more surprising. The road led the young investigator to a cold case surrounding the death of Matt Lisko's (Jim Sturgess) childhood best friend, Richie Fife.
While Hilde's intrepid reporting and eagle eye helped her catch the real culprits behind Richie Fife's death, the final moments of the freshman finale saved one last surprise: Richie Fife isn't dead after all. The question raised at the end of season, showrunner Dana Fox promises, will be one of the major mysteries of season two, which was already in production in Vancouver when the coronavirus outbreak forced the Apple TV+ series to suspend filming. With Hilde and Matt partnering up to dig into what happened to Richie Fife, where he went and why he never returned home, the upcoming season is ripe with drama.
Fox, along with executive producer-director Jon M. Chu, hopped on the phone with ET earlier this week to discuss the finale, season two plans and "making butterflies" (aka magic moments) with young star Prince.
ET: You were in the middle of filming season two before it was shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic. How has that impacted everything?
Dana Fox: We were lucky enough to get a second season of the show from Apple, so we had written most of our season two episodes. We just finished with the third episode and had just started shooting the fourth episode when we got shut down. It was one of those things where was it very clear that what was going on in the world was a lot more important than one TV show. Everybody handled it like total champs and everyone completely understood why we needed to shut down. And I think, like the rest of the world, most of us initially thought, "We're just shutting down for a little while and we'll all see each other again in a couple of weeks."
It started dawning on us that this is going to take a lot longer than that. So all of us are trying to stay in touch. We do weekly Zoom calls where we can all see each other's faces -- the whole cast and some of the crew -- just trying to think about happy memories, happy times we've had together and hopefully that will bridge the gap and we'll all see each other again soon.
Have new ideas popped into your head for season two during this time?
Fox: You know, it's funny, the only luxury about it is the fact that we're almost done with all of the scripts of season two. A lot of times you can't have the presence of mind to sit and say, "You know what I would love to do?" and just relax, think about the story and make sure that all the emotional beats are landing exactly where I want them to land. That's the one nice thing is we're going to have the time to do that. Where can I lay in more work that I probably would have gotten if I had had more time?
I will say that the emotional stuff that happens on our show is very real and very poignant because the actors are so grounded and wonderful. Reading some of the episodes that we had planned for season two, they feel even more emotional now because one of the themes of the show is you're in uncertain times and as long as you're with your family, you're going to be able to get through it. Those messages are coming through in a way that's even more emotional than we had initially intended them.
Home Before Dark doesn't feel like the typical detective drama, part of that is due to the young protagonist, Hilde (played by Brooklynn Prince), at the center of the story. How would you describe it? What was important to you guys visually?
Jon M. Chu: We talked about the visuals a lot. When Dana first came to me with the project, she already had a really strong vision, this young girl's old school but new school. So she has this journal where she's sketching things and the way she sees the world is very non-linear and she really wanted this sort of Anne Boleyn-esque tone, something that could be for the whole family to enjoy but at the same time that dealt with the messy nature of family and the messy nature of friends and a community. That it was not just about searching for the truth and the importance of journalism in the world, but even more importantly, inside the home itself and that that's complicated. I loved exploring that visually with her and our DP, Alice Briggs, and our production designer, Nelson Coates, the costume designer, Mitchell Travers. It was a team effort of trying to build this thing.
When Brooklynn came and with Jim [Sturgess] and Abby [Miller] came, they were so truthful in their acting. When they're in their kitchen and they're having breakfast, it's a real breakfast. The way they get annoyed with each other, it's all very real. That drove the tone more than anything. We could be as pulpy and fun as we wanted, but at the end of the day, they came across as real human beings dealing with real human struggles. That's the key to the show.
Fox: One of the things that is so incredibly miraculous about working with Jon too, and truly I am furious at him for existing, because now I never want to work with anyone else. He's like, "Girl, I'm doing In the Heights. I'm busy!" I'm like, "No!" (Laughs.) He wants to make sure it's a super binge-able mystery, but he never once thought about Hilde as this little girl who you didn't have respect for. He always thought she deserved the biggest stage that he could give her. And sometimes that big stage meant intimacy and closeness and quiet, little moments. I remember in the pilot, we were so screwed on time all the time, because when you work with child actors, they say four lines and then they get air-lifted out to go to school, which is exactly where they belong and it is what they should be doing.
There was a moment that we wanted to grab Hilde missing the bunny rabbit that was her little kid stuffy and it seemed like such a nothing moment, it was a tiny little thing on our schedule -- and any other directors would have thrown it away and said we don't have time for it -- but Jon understood that that moment was as important as a huge drone shot flying over a house that gives you a ton of scope. He understood that being able to show that this incredible girl who is so ballsy and who's such a badass, she is still a little girl. The fact that he understood how important those moments were was such a gift, honestly.
What made working with Brooklynn so special?
Chu: Our conversations are very sophisticated for -- I haven't worked with a lot of child actors -- but she's not just saying lines. When you talk to her, she has to understand the scenario. She has to understand what Hilde would do here. She has to understand the conceit, what she wants and if she doesn't understand something, she will ask. So then you have to go deeper with her and explain how the world that we see works. Because she's a kid, she will ask the questions that a kid would ask like, "Well, why is it like that?" "Why do they have to do it that way?" That magic is what she brings to each scene. When she's interacting with Jim, those are real moments. He's grabbing her and hugging her and she's laughing and smiling or she's repelling from it because she's in that scene being very present. We got to capture a lot of those [magic moments]; we call them butterflies. We captured a lot of butterflies every time.
Fox: She's the most empathetic person I've ever met. She feels things incredibly deeply, so when she's experiencing a feeling on camera, you're not filming an actress trying to feel up feeling, you're filming an actress who is actually feeling that feeling and there's something so beautiful, so ephemeral about it because you know that it's this moment in her development as a child and you're watching her grow up in front of your eyes. As any parent can tell you, there's a reason people say, "Oh my god, it's going by so fast." There's a reason that's a cliche, it's because it's the most poignant thing there is. The fact that the show deals in nostalgia and in a parent thinking back on their own childhood and they're watching Brooklynn actually grow up in front of you... I had conversations with her about character that were so profound and so high level that I don't think I've ever talked to an adult actor on that high of a level. She comes at things from a very, very gut place, where she figures out that the moment is about something that I didn't even know how to articulate it was about. And she can articulate.
I do want to ask about the reveals in the finale and how it sets up season two...
Fox: It was always really, really important [that we didn't wrap up the main mystery]. I've watched other shows before where they completely wrap up the thing that they were investigating in the first season and they completely move on from it. I personally never liked that because I get very invested and I always knew I wanted to end the first season with a very, very satisfying reveal about a mystery that Hilde was trying to solve in the first season. But I always knew that I wanted it to feel like, "This is not the end of the story. This is actually the beginning of a much bigger story," which is where we are. That's where season two ends up picking up from.
The finale introduces new questions for season two, which you just alluded to, and the biggest one is about Matt's childhood best friend, Richie Fife, actually not being dead. He's still alive and out there in the world...
Fox: I'm terrible at keeping secrets, so for such a long time everybody was like, "You can't tell anybody what happens with the season!" And I'm like, "I'm bad at secrets. I tell everybody everything!" I can say that we definitely are not going to leave people hanging in season two. You are going to find out the answer to that question at some point.
Could a new mystery reveal itself?
Fox: 100 percent. There's a whole new mystery, but you are still going to find out the thing that you're hoping you're going to find out.
Home Before Dark is streaming now on Apple TV+.
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