Wayward Pines was a surprise hit for Fox last summer, the series’ thrilling mix of Twilight Zone-esque mystery and sci-fi action garnering both popular and critical acclaim. Despite the original intention for a one-and-done miniseries based on the three-book series by Blake Crouch, the network quickly coordinated with Crouch and exec producer M. Night Shyamalan, who put together plans for a new season of small-town intrigue and world-shaking peril. Hope Davis, who plays schoolteacher Megan Fisher, is returning for the second season of the show, despite what seemed like a gruesome fate at the end of last year. She spoke to The A.V. Club about the excitement of working on such a fascinating show, enjoying the sight of Toby Jones in a knee-length silver jumpsuit, and delivering one of the most unusual episodes of network television in recent memory.
The A.V. Club: What appealed to you about the project in the first place? It’s such a Twilight Zone-style narrative; that’s not for everybody.
Hope Davis: That definitely was an appeal. I think for me the fundamental question, which Chad Hodge posed to me at the beginning of the last season, is what would happen if humankind was able to have a fresh start? Would it go any better? I just thought that was a really intriguing question. The world of it seemed vaguely plausible, that the seas would rise and that would be the end of humanity. Where would we go from there? What would the world be like? Of course, we don’t have cryogenic pods to jet ourselves into the future.
AVC: Not yet we don’t.
HD: Yeah, exactly. [Laughs.] Not yet. It still all has to be found out. But that’s what really intrigued me; can man do any better than we’re doing right now? If all the sins were erased and we were able to start again, would it work better? Have we learned from our mistakes?
AVC: How much did you know going in? Did they unveil the entire arc to you before you started?
HD: No, I don’t think they knew what the entire arc would be before they started. You’re talking about season one?
HD: We kind of had to find the show. There were changes in who was running the show, as we went along; it was a very interesting time. But no, we didn’t know exactly what would happen. And what’s kind of amazing is that it was a bumpy road, and in the end, I think something really wonderful is there. I think the show is really intriguing. But we didn’t know where we were going, necessarily. I didn’t.
AVC: Sometimes series take awhile to find their tone, but despite the upheaval that went on behind the scenes, it really felt like the actors set a certain vibe for the series right out of the gate. Did you and the other actors talk much about the somewhat heightened reality of the show? Because there’s definitely that slightly “off” feel to it.
HD: We did. I mean, that’s something that I love about working on the show: All of the actors are really into it. We really were engaged in what we were doing, and we did a lot of talking about the story and what kind of thing we wanted to make, and how we felt our characters could add to the story. Yeah, it wasn’t the kind of show where people just clocked in and read their lines and went home. Everybody was very engaged in the world. And of course, you know, it’s such a group effort. Probably the biggest contributor is Curt Beech, who was our production designer and designed the look of the world. That was just so clearly and beautifully drawn, right off the bat. So we had all that stuff to work with. The scripts really told a great story. So it was just kind of all that stuff that actually came together to be this cohesive whole, I think.
AVC: You mentioned the design. Do you remember specific moments where you would see a certain set or design and it would help you realize the tone of the whole show?
HD: Oh, every set. The main street of Wayward Pines that they built, which is so creepily Normal Rockwell, and yet you see the wall on the outside of town. Of course, my favorite was the pod room where people are frozen cryogenically. When I saw that set, it just blew my mind. It’s a fantasy thing that someone created in real life, and it was incredibly fun to step into it and put our silver suits on. Curt really set the tone. And of course, M. Night, it’s ultimately his world.
AVC: It was fairly clear early on in season one that your character, Megan Fisher, was a bit of a zealot, someone who took a specific vision and held fast to it no matter the consequences. Playing someone like that, did it affect how you see real-life examples of those kinds of people?
HD: That’s a very interesting question, because I think it gets to the heart of what’s compelling for actors about acting, is stepping into other peoples’ shoes. You see these people on the TV, espousing certain candidates or whatever, and you’re thinking, “How can they believe what they believe?” But in fact, when you kind of step into the shoes of someone who is—in this show they’re called “true believers,” the people who really believe that David Pilcher’s vision of Wayward Pines is perfection—it is really interesting to feel that kind of energy that a person feels who has no doubts about anything and they don’t question themselves or their choices or the world around them. It’s a very joyous place to live, someone who’s absolutely sure of themselves, and of their power. You see that in Donald Trump, right? He doesn’t care what anyone says about him, he’s absolutely sure that he’s doing the right thing. It’s kind of fascinating to step into those kind of shoes. I don’t think Megan Fisher is anything like Donald Trump, but yeah, it does make you aware of where that person may be coming from, those real-life characters.
AVC: How do you see the politics of the show playing out? Megan comes across as such a villain, almost like the organizer of a Hitler youth group or something. But not to her.
HD: No, to her, the ultimate truth is that the human being is the most gorgeous work of art and creation of all time, and it should be preserved at all costs. That’s a Megan Fisher belief, and she will go to any length to make sure that human beings aren’t wiped off the planet forevermore. It’s easy to understand how someone could feel that way, if that’s her religion. I see that she comes across as kind of villainous, but she doesn’t seem that way to me. It’s really fun to play her. And wait’ll you see where she goes this season.
AVC: Before we get to this season, let’s discuss something else from season one. In the fifth episode of the first season, you deliver what’s essentially a 20-minute monologue straight to camera, revealing the entire premise and mystery of the show, and it’s just riveting. Had you ever done anything like that before?
HD: No, and there’s another case where the set was just incredible. You read it on the page and a lot of times, especially when something is only being used once or twice, you don’t see it until the day you step onto the stage. I stepped into that incredibly gorgeous white floating box that Curt Beech built, and everything made sense. Their modernist vision of this glorious future for humanity. It is really exciting to do that. I thought the writers were really smart not to hold the mystery any longer, of: Where are we, and why are we here? Because that wears out its welcome after a certain amount of time. So I thought it was really smart of him to do it in that time. It was a scene that was just perfectly set. It was really, really fun to do it. I just loved every second of it.
AVC: In the wrong hands it could have so easily just turned into an exposition dump or something. Did you have discussions about that, or were you were so confident that the material was compelling in itself that you almost didn’t have to worry about it?
HD: Yeah, I didn’t worry about it too much. That episode, we had these two young writers, they’re called The Duffer Brothers, and they’re just enormously talented. They have a new Netflix show of their own coming soon. The thing about TV is that, except in the case of True Detective, you have different writers coming after the first few episodes, and it can be a real crapshoot. These young guys swoop in, very low-key guys, and delivered this script, and everyone just breathed a huge sigh of relief, because it was just the absolutely perfect thing at the right time. So I had a lot of faith in the material.
And then sometimes as an actor, you’re playing a character, and you walk into what’s supposed to be your house, and you think, “Oh God, this is all wrong. Everything is off, it’s wrong, it’s not how I would live.” In the case of Wayward Pines, you would walk into a set like that, and it just made my job that much easier, when I saw that floating white box. It all just came together. The unusual thing about Wayward Pines is that even the information’s really interesting. Yes, it was a big bit of exposition. But like a great sci-fi thriller, you just couldn’t look away from these bits of knowledge that were being dropped. It was exciting. I felt it when I read it.
AVC: Just that moment when she tells you what year it actually is, you could collectively sense the entire audience go [gasps].
HD: [Gasps.] I know, I know. [Laughs] Yeah, that’s what I felt when I read it. I love all the little weird things that Wayward Pines is. How Megan Fisher, she came into the room with this old A/V cart that squeaks, so you can hear her coming. It’s a very Hitchcockian touch of the squeaking, someone’s coming down the hall. The silence of it. And then this huge bit of exposition. It was really beautifully constructed by all the powers that be.
AVC: It was originally intended to be a one-and-done miniseries. At what point did you realize the story would continue, and they wanted you back?
HD: When the fourth or fifth episode was being aired, and people were really getting into it. I think they knew that the audience wanted more, and that the thing worked. You could never have known that until it’s all put together. And then I think it became a matter of, that the world is worth exploring. The world of Wayward Pines just really works. It’s really intriguing. And there’s so much that can be explored there. You know, enough of the actors wanted to come back—and the story line, because of the town, you can unfreeze people, and bring in some interesting new characters. The possibilities are kind of endless. Let’s see, when did I know it was happening? About three weeks before I started. [Laughs.] Everything happens at the last second with television, it seems to me. It was all very quick once Fox decided they could put it together again. But I was really happy that it was coming back.
AVC: When they reached out to you, was your first response, “But aren’t I dead?”
HD: I can’t tell you how many people have asked me that question. “You’re back on the show? Wait a minute, aren’t you dead?” And all I can say is, “You’ll see!” You’ll see if I’m dead or not. [Laughs.]
AVC: How did filming this season feel different than the last? M. Night Shyamalan’s been very vocal that he now wants it to be at least a three-season story arc. Did the knowledge that this likely isn’t the end affect the way you experienced it this time around, as opposed to the first season?
HD: Not necessarily, because none of us ever know. I don’t think anyone is committed to doing more than this, and who knows what will happen. One day at a time. I think people are excited. I’ll speak for myself, I can’t speak for the other actors, but I know that I love working on the show. Sometimes it’s a real drag, you end up playing some character that’s such a dull bore, and I just relish playing Megan Fisher. If I get to come back next season, and you’ll see after this season if that would possible, I would be excited about that. I do think the world of Wayward Pines… who knows who’s sitting in the freezer? It’s got a lot of possibilities.
AVC: Are there any memories or stories of behind the scenes during shooting that were particularly unusual or memorable for you?
HD: I can’t really tell you about season two yet, but I think one of my favorite parts of season one was the scene that you described, episode five, which was just terrifically written and so fun to do. My other favorite thing was emerging from the pods and seeing Toby Jones in his silver suit. He didn’t want a suit that came all the way down to his wrists and his ankles, because he thought it would be way too hot. They were these silver diver suits. So Toby’s suit was cut off at the knees and at the elbows, so he had, like, the shorty suits. Emerging from the pods with all the dry ice with Melissa Leo and Toby Jones in his shorty silver suit was one of my favorite things. Never a dull moment on Wayward Pines.