Q&A: “HEMLOCK GROVE” Actress Kandyse McClure


In HEMLOCK GROVE, the small town of the title finds itself enmeshed in a wave of murders, monsters, secret experiments and more. Looking into all the strangeness—or perhaps helping perpetuate it—is Dr. Clementine Chasseur, played by Kandyse McClure, who spoke to FANGORIA about her role and other genre credits—including a pair of Stephen King remakes.

Based on the novel by Brian McGreevy, who is one of the series’ executive producers and showrunners, HEMLOCK GROVE has broken ground by being one of the first series produced by and offered on Netflix, with all 13 episodes now available on the video service. Famke Janssen (last seen on the big screen in HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS) and Dougray Scott play two of the most powerful people in town, and Lili Taylor (of the upcoming THE CONJURING) is a gypsy newcomer, and younger characters played by Landon Liboiron, Bill Skarsgård and Penelope Mitchell also figure crucially in the strange goings-on.

McClure, born in South Africa and now a Canadian resident, recalls reading McGreevy’s novel as part of her preparation for HEMLOCK GROVE. “It’s always a great benefit to have that original source material,” she says, “and, in fact, the writer on set to mine for ideas and clues and insights into your character. Certainly, Chasseur is a great deal more fleshed out in the scripts than she was in the book, but that has this very deviant, sensual quality to it.”

McClure says that she got her role through a conventional audition process. “I wish they’d offered it to me,” she laughs. “When do I start getting offers? That’s what actors dream—that we could skip the auditions. Although I do have to say that HEMLOCK GROVE was one audition I had so much fun in. I really connected with the material; I loved that people would underestimate [Chasseur] physically, but she’s intensely intelligent and a bit sly in her questioning and the way she goes about things. So when I went in there, I almost really didn’t care if they cast me, and that’s always the best feeling. I just wanted to go in and say the words and have a bit of fun, because I found humor and quirkiness in Chasseur.”


Additionally, McClure notes, “She plays her cards very close to her vest. She’s the thorn in everyone’s side, and though she technically tries to get along with everyone—she likes to say the right thing, with the idea that you catch more flies with honey—at the end of the day, she is singularly focused, incredibly driven and a touch insane, we come to find. I would call part of her zealous. Although she has a very calm, collected exterior, there definitely is a burning desire inside her, and this almost desperate need to uncover the truth of what’s going on—and, in a way, to manage the stirring up of her own demons.”

The Netflix distribution angle also appealed to McClure: “I was really excited about that, actually. It’s the way I prefer to watch my TV shows. In these busy times, it’s not always possible to be home at 8:00 on a Thursday. And yes, you can DVR it—there is that technology—but I move around so much; am I really carrying my DVR around with me? I’ve long been a Netflix subscriber and use it quite a bit, so I’m excited to be a part of this, and also for the freedom, in a way, that it gave us in terms of the shooting process. This was going to be a more cinematic-feeling show, and we weren’t confined to having cliffhangers or certain things tied up at a certain point in the season. I was excited about that freedom as an artist.”

There was also the advantage of being able to shoot everything before there was an audience reaction, which meant storylines wouldn’t be derailed or otherwise impacted. “You get it all at once,” McClure notes. “It’s pretty immediate—terrifying but awesome.” Regarding the production pace, she adds, “It felt like a normal TV [series]—certainly, when we got to the end, shots were missing and stunt sequences needed to be redone, or some bit of continuity threw a spanner in the works, and the pace increased quite a bit. But because of the nature of my character—she touches everyone’s storyline, but is not necessarily there all the time—I had a great shooting schedule.”

Certain roles require actors to learn specific new abilities, and such was the case with HEMLOCK GROVE. “Over the course of my career,” McClure says, “I’ve had to do quite a bit of gun handling, so I have had lessons—you do have to look like you know what you’re doing with a weapon. Apparently, I’m a fantastic shot, which is good to know,” she laughs. For Chasseur, “I read books on the art of tracking, being able to read footprints and broken branches and light bouncing off things in the distance. That was very interesting to me. The researcher part of my brain loves and devours that kind of information, so I spent a lot of time walking around the park after the rain when there were muddy footprints on the track, with people looking at me strangely as I squatted down, staring at the [prints].”

Comparing HEMLOCK GROVE to her other horror projects, McClure says, “I would have to say it’s far more graphic. We tried to expose as much as we could get away with, visually and psychologically.” McClure does cop to having been grossed out on set before: “Absolutely. [The remake of] MOTHER’S DAY—there was an amazing prosthetic where someone had his head blown off, and it could not have looked more realistic. It was incredibly disturbing. And on HEMLOCK GROVE, some of the tactile things—you’re putting your hand in something or rubbing up against it, and it definitely sends shivers down your spine. You get that visceral, gross-out quality, and you have to keep it together.”

There are multiple showrunners on HEMLOCK GROVE, also including Lee Shipman and horror specialist Eli Roth, but McClure didn’t find this problematic. “I think everybody sort of had their sections, the things they were in control of. From my perspective, they all worked together very collaboratively. You went to certain people for certain things. If it was more of a [character question], there were Brian and Lee, and if it was more of a tone question or you wanted to bounce ideas around, there were Eli Roth and [executive producer/director] Deran Sarafian. In having them so available to us, [executive producer] Mark Verheiden, the writers were there and willing to make it the best it could be. And that’s always the ultimate environment for an actor.” McClure didn’t get a chance to work under Roth’s direction, however, as he only helmed the pilot and “Chasseur shows up a little bit later. I did have a great conversation with Mr. Roth over ribs at lunch, talking about BATTLESTAR GALACTICA and his Goretorium and other topics.”

She also enjoyed her acting colleagues on HEMLOCK GROVE: “It’s a phenomenal cast all around, and many of them are quite young and so talented. I guess the most [special] part would be working with Aaron Douglas. I worked with him on BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, but we never had scenes together, so it was odd and delightful to get to talk to him so much on camera.”

There are certain similarities between her GALACTICA role of Officer/Lt. Anastasia Dualla and HEMLOCK’s Chasseur, McClure adds. “Both are vulnerable in their own ways. Dualla was less good at keeping it covered up, and more sensitive than Chasseur. Dualla relied on the company she kept, the relationships she had on board. Those were very important to her, whereas Chasseur is more of a loner.”

GALACTICA was far from McClure’s only previous TV venture into fantastical/scary territory. While discussing her earlier work, RETURN TO CABIN BY THE LAKE is brought up, much to McClure’s amusement. “Oh my goodness; I haven’t thought about that in a really long time. Yes, my first electrocution.” The actress also appeared in the TV miniseries remake of CARRIE as Sue Snell, benevolent classmate of the title character (played by Fango fave Angela Bettis). As McClure points out, “Sue does not go to the prom—I see [Carrie] bloody in the distance coming out of the mist at one point—so I missed a lot of the messy stuff.”

HEMLOCKGROVEMCCLURE2Another Stephen King remake on McClure’s résumé is 2009’s Syfy premiere CHILDREN OF THE CORN (pictured right), in which her heroine Vicky Stanton spends a lot of the film trapped in a car. “Oh, far too much time in there,” McClure laughs. “I was definitely of two minds. It excited me, of course, being based on Stephen King—we were looking at the short story as a reference, as opposed to the original movie or some [of the other film] derivations. I loved that it was colorblind casting, and that I was going to work with David Anders [who plays Vicky’s husband Burt]—I was a big fan of his from HEROES—and he was such a pleasure and a joy to work with. We had a phenomenal time in Iowa, a part of the U.S. I had never been. The setting could not have been more perfect, in the cornfields, and the people were incredibly friendly. It was a beautiful set to work on.”

However, McClure adds that her role left something to be desired. “It was a challenging experience. I wanted to give Vicky much more range, but she sort of materialized as this nails-on-a-chalkboard type,” the actress laughs. “I was like, ‘People are going to want to kill me, at least by the second act! Please, just let me do something else.’ She just got herself involved in unfortunate situations.”

In another of her remakes, McClure played someone not inclined to celebrate on the bloody MOTHER’S DAY. She has fond memories of the experience, especially “working with Rebecca De Mornay—she walks into a room and changes the air absolutely. Jaime King also—what a touching, sympathetic performance. It was one of those sets; I did a lot of absorbing of this ensemble cast. Everybody was given such interesting things to perform, and I got to do a fair amount of tortured screaming and running and falling into gravel. Is it wrong if it was cathartic [laughs]? “I don’t know if it was supposed to be—you’re supposed to be emoting and evoking fear and transporting people into that situation, letting them live vicariously, but it was good for me. I hope it was good for them.”

MOTHER’S DAY also called for some stuntwork, McClure says, during which “You just have to find that balance between making it look realistic and not breaking your face. So they constructed this foam thing that looked like gravel to mimic it, and they did an excellent job. It wasn’t that bad—you could just tell there was hard cement underneath it, but anything for the shot. At the end of the day, it’s all about what it looks like. You’ve got to sell it, then go home and nurse your wounds after.”

More physical trauma was part of McClure’s work on another genre TV series, JEREMIAH. “I met a deadly, bloody end, a shotgun to the chest,” McClure recalls. “It was one of my first experiences [with squibs]. It was a lot of fun, getting to do that myself. I do recall there being a stuntwoman there, but it’s always better for the actor to do it—you can get that immediate reaction. They hurt a little bit—they’ll sting you. They built quite a heavy vest under [the costume], because the squibs were quite concentrated [to make it look like a] gunshot wound, and I had all these tethered lines and the timing had to be perfect. I sort of hit the ground on my knees, which of course were padded. I remember thinking, ‘This is pretty intense!’ ” [Laughs]

Last year, McClure got to play a princess in ALADDIN AND THE DEATH LAMP, a horrific twist on the fairy tale. “I enjoyed that,” McClure says. “It was one of those fun Syfy projects. I was excited about getting to essentially play Jasmine, although she proves less fragile than Jasmine was. She wants to go out there and kick butt with Aladdin and the rest of them. It was funny—I was watching [Disney’s] ALADDIN the other day with a friend of mine, and as we flipped through the channels, there was ALADDIN AND THE DEATH LAMP. It was a weird colliding ALADDIN moment!”

Her other TV appearances have included the James Cameron-created DARK ANGEL (“One of my favorite roles, as Annie Fisher, the blind love interest of Joshua, played by Kevin Durand”) and the TWILIGHT ZONE and THE OUTER LIMITS revivals. “Very memorable,” McClure notes of her LIMITS episode “The Abduction.” “I played a young, very zealous religious fanatic, very conservative, with Mario Azzopardi directing.” On Syfy’s ALPHAS, she was Agnes, one of the title characters—humans whose genes grant them superpowers. “I was a sort of dark Alpha,” McClure relates. “That was such a fun role to play—and working again with [co-executive producer] Matt Hastings, who gave me one of my very first jobs on HIGHER GROUND when I was 19. We hadn’t seen each other since then, so it was great to collaborate again. Agnes had the power of being able to reach into people’s minds and read their past, present and future; the downside was that it was incredibly painful for those people. So she never had any intimacy in her life, and although she was very good at her job, she had a great sense of sadness she would carry around with her, even though she was this very put-together, controlled, guarded person.”

BATTLESTAR GALACTICA afforded McClure not only a regular role in an acclaimed series, but the opportunity to travel to the ongoing conventions devoted to the show. “I’ve got two coming up in May: Mobicon in Mobile, Alabama and Galacticon III, which is a reunion convention—pretty much all of us will be there, in Houston, Texas on May 23.” Having a fan following seems both overwhelming and pleasing to the actress: “Firstly, it still blows my mind. Sci-fi fans and horror fans are among the most loyal and intelligent people. They come out to conventions year after year. I often gain insight to the characters I’ve played by speaking to people who’ve watched those shows—‘Wow, that’s how you received that, that’s how you related to it.” That’s amazing to me. Every time I’m in the grocery store and someone comes up to me and says, “Hey, that scene in that show really affected me, helped me through a difficult time,” or “I got into this conversation with my roommate about it,” reminds me that what we do as actors affects people, and that storytelling is an incredibly powerful tool. Certainly, shows like BATTLESTAR GALACTICA dealt with current, often difficult subject matter.”

HEMLOCK GROVE was shot in and around Toronto; McClure makes her home on the other side of Canada, in Vancouver, and the topic brings up the question of how and why McClure originally moved up there. “My mother was a teacher in South Africa,” McClure explains. “She wanted good opportunities and greater freedom for both of us. We lived under the apartheid system; she saw a lot of tragedy around her. My mother is incredibly outspoken; she’s not a quiet woman, she’s certainly not well-behaved and that wasn’t going to go over so well in South Africa. She knew she needed to leave for her safety and sanity, and certainly for my future opportunities.

“That being said, I went back to South Africa as a young teenager. I was there for the fall of apartheid and the first elections, though I was too young to vote at the time. I go back often. It’s such a unique place, because it was so closed off from the world for so long. Under the sanctions, we were separated from the world in many ways, and because of that, I find there are stories in South Africa yet to be told that don’t necessarily revolve around racism or violence. Certainly, those are part of the fabric of the country, but I still consider it my home and find it beautiful—the people and the landscape. I look forward to seeing South Africa and the continent [flourish] in the decades to come.”

In her own immediate future, McClure says, “I have THE SEVENTH SON coming out in October. It’s fantasy meets action, with Ben Barnes, Jeff Bridges and Julianne Moore. It’s certainly not darker than Chasseur in HEMLOCK GROVE—well, actually, I’ll be curious if anybody recognizes me, because I’m quite the character. That was a lot of fun.”

Top photo: © Jean-Claude Photography; Jayme Kavanaugh (makeup), Ali Levine (stylist) 

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