We’re in the final stretch to the debut of ABC’s new dark comedy, “Happy Town” — and actor Sam Neill says you can expect to find some serious humor in this show about “a small town with big, big secrets.”
The previews (which have been running nonstop on ABC) give you the impression that the show is all spook and no laughing matter.
But when Zap2it chatted with New Zealand-born Neill, who plays the mysterious Merritt Grieves, we were surprised to hear that it was the script’s comedy that helped spur his move to “Happy Town.”
What attracted you to this project?
“I think it’s this writing which made me laugh like a drain, and I found it spooky and scary and I wanted to know what happened next. That’s what good television writing does for me. I wanted to tune in next week and be in that episode.
“Clearly it’s a thriller, a murder mystery. But what I particularly like about it is the kind of strange dark comedy that runs through it.”
Did the writers/producers keep you in the dark about what’s happening next?
“I knew what was happening in the next episode, but what happened after that, no. They deliberately withheld that stuff from us …. We were well-briefed on who we were and where we’d come from, and some of that stuff we had to keep secret from each other. But what happened the next after next, we were excited to get those episodes to see what exactly we were going to be involved in.”
What about your character, Merrit Grieves? What appealed to you about this particular role?
“Everybody’s got secrets in this show, and he’s got probably more than most. He along with Henley [Boone] are sort of the two outsiders. They’re the two people from out of town. Why he’s in this small town and why he’s opened a movie memorabilia shop in a place that’s not particularly interested in the movies — much less memorabilia — that’s intriguing in itself. Clearly he’s after something … well, not something. Quite a lot. He’s on a quest. As well as Henley — she is as well. So they become sort of unlikely partners in crime.”
When do we start to learn more about who Merrit Grieves really is?
“Probably into 3 and 4 … something like that. But there are still questions unanswered at the end of this — as far as Merritt goes.”
I’ve read that the writers/producers are trying wrap up questions in each episode so as to not leave the viewer hanging, but then open up more questions at the same time. Is that the case?
“That’s true. And at the end of the 8 hours, we will know who the Magic Man is. But that will in itself open new questions.”
Any hints on who the Magic Man might be?
“What I will say is … don’t take the Magic Man too literally. The Magic Man could be more than one person. It may not be a man. The Magic Man could be an idea rather than a literal person. Don’t be fooled.”
What inspired the creators to come up with a concept like this?
“The producers were in New Zealand in my small town [Queenstown]. They were having a coffee in the sun, watching people walk past saying, ‘This is just perfect, isn’t it? It’s too perfect to be true. There’s got to be stuff underneath this perfect surface.’ And that’s what started them riffing off of the idea of a small town where everything’s not as it seems.”
Would you say all the comparisons to “Twin Peaks” are accurate?
“It’s 20 years since I’ve seen ‘Twin Peaks,’ but ‘Twin Peaks’ was … surreal, wasn’t it? And very strange. I’d say this is more like your small town than some kind of mythical small town out West.”
On Neill’s experience working with the other “Happy Town” actors:
“I had a ball and not just because of the writing, but because I loved working with these other actors too. It was such fun.
“A lot of really funny, smart actors in this show. They really have a good time.
“I don’t think there’s anyone on this show that didn’t make me laugh. And I made some really good friends. I can’t wait to get back. I miss them.”
“Happy Town” will premiere at 10 p.m. ET Wednesday, April 28.
Photo credit: ABC