From Walking Dead to exorcism

Robert Kirkman now has another comic-book-based horror show under his belt.
Robert Kirkman now has another comic-book-based horror show under his belt.PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW YORK • Robert Kirkman, the man behind AMC's The Walking Dead - television's highest-rated drama among 18- to 49-year-olds - and its successful spin-off, Fear The Walking Dead, has a new comic book-based horror show, Outcast, coming to TV.

How will it be different? Here is his take: "Walking Dead is a survival show, first and foremost. Outcast is an exorcism show."

He added: "There's a different kind of struggle going on beneath the surface."

The show focuses on Kyle Barnes, a damaged young man with a family history of demonic possession, and his wary ally, a hard-living evangelist known as Reverend Anderson.

"It's a struggle that some people can see and some people can't. I think that makes it more terrifying."

Fans will judge, probably with a ruthlessness reminiscent of the zombie-apocalypse survivors of The Walking Dead, whether Outcast, whose 10-episode first season begins on Friday on Cinemax, is indeed more terrifying.

The exorcism subgenre and its trappings - priests screaming at levitating victims, crazy devil voices, the vomiting of evil coloured substances - have not changed much since The Exorcist in 1973.

The immediate popularity of The Walking Dead, which was a comic book years before it became a series, gave Outcast a very different route to television.

Kirkman conceived of the Outcast comic, which he would eventually collaborate on with artist Paul Azaceta, during the first season of The Walking Dead and mentioned it to an executive who handled international rights for that show. He said: "Calls were made the next day, people started getting interested and, by accident, we sold a TV show."

The Outcast comic and show were developed simultaneously.

For the show, the story's setting, the fictional town of Rome, West Virginia, was built on sound stages and shot on locations in and around Chester, South Carolina. During a break in filming there last autumn, Patrick Fugit, best known for playing a naive young journalist in Almost Famous (2000), talked about portraying Kyle, a hero who is angry, defensive and paranoid.

He said: "I saw an opportunity for Kyle to be very bright inside, but sort of shrouded by darkness. Wanting to break through that, but also trying to contain it for everybody's safety."

Kirkman said Kyle would become a very different character as the show progressed (Cinemax has already commissioned a second season) and that Fugit was cast with those changes in mind.

He said: "Kyle Barnes is somebody who starts out as not very engaging and very distant. He's hiding from the world because he feels this phenomenon of demonic possession that he keeps encountering is caused by him."

One challenge to Kyle's likability is a scene in the first episode in which he hits a possessed child, who is fully capable of hitting back.

Philip Glenister, a British actor and the star of BBC series Life On Mars, who plays Reverend Anderson, laughed as he recalled telling the crew that he would have to wear a disguise once the scene is made public.

"No children were harmed in the making of this scene," he said. "Adults were, but no children."

The Walking Dead, with its millions of viewers, casts a formidable shadow. But Kirkman is confident that the new show will have its own impact.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 31, 2016, with the headline 'From Walking Dead to exorcism'. Print Edition | Subscribe