LOS ANGELES – Hanging suspended from the ceiling all night long might not appeal to your average actor. But the feat was freaky fun for Jesse Plemons, who stars in NBC’s new horror anthology series “Fear Itself.”
“I have a new respect for every actor that I’ve seen in a horror movie,” Plemons says of his strung-up situation in “The Sacrifice,” the first of the series’ 13 stand-alone episodes, premiering June 5 at 10 p.m. EDT.
“When you’re upside down and there’s blood dripping off your head into a pan, there isn’t a whole lot of acting involved and you just kind of have to react,” Plemons says.
In “The Sacrifice,” Plemons plays a vaguely criminal character named Lemmon, who falls prey to a sharp-fanged critter and a trio of axe-wielding blondes in an old fort.
Best-known as Landry Clarke on the NBC drama “Friday Night Lights,” Plemons had never ventured closer to the horror genre than a guest turn on the bloodstained CBS procedural “CSI.”
But in “The Sacrifice,” written by series creator Mick Garris, Plemons cozied right up to the fright.
“There was this five-page scene where I had these really thick vampire contacts in and any light blinded me,” Plemons says. “And I kept hearing all these screams and you can’t see and you’ve got blood all over you. That was when I really felt like I was in a horror film. It was a great first experience.”
Which makes Plemons exactly the kind of horror aficionado – and advertiser-coveted young demographic – NBC hopes to woo this summer with the fresh faces and creepy content of “Fear Itself.”
Part of NBC’s push toward year-round original programming, “Fear Itself” is styled as a showcase for small films from more than a dozen genre writers, including Joe Gangemi, Steve Niles and Dan Knauf, and genre directors including Brad Anderson (“The Machinist”), Darren Bousman (“Saw II, III and IV) and Ronny Yu (“Bride of Chucky”).
“Yes, we can get people really scared in about 40 minutes,” says executive producer Keith Addis.
Addis and fellow executive producer Andrew Deane were also the execs on the show’s more grisly cousin, the 2005-2007 Showtime series, “Masters of Horror,” created by Garris. They also produced “Masters of Science Fiction,” which tanked after four episodes on ABC in 2007.
“Every one of these stories addresses that paper-thin membrane between sanity and insanity, and how little it takes to be pushed over that red line into a world where you have no power or control,” Addis says of “Fear Itself.”
That line has been the stuff of summer scares since Steven Spielberg’s bloody “Jaws” kept bathers off the beaches in the summer of 1975.
But it didn’t initially seduce Brandon Routh, who stars in an upcoming episode of “Fear Itself” called “Community.” The story centers on eerie doings in an all-too-perfect town reminiscent of “The Stepford Wives.”
“It hasn’t always been my favorite genre,” says Routh, who played the title role in the big screen’s “Superman Returns,” and who intentionally avoided scary movies as a child.
“I’ve actually been a little bit afraid of doing a thriller or horror,” Routh says. “But I wanted to show another side of Brandon Routh. And when I heard Mary Harron (“American Psycho”) was directing, it was ‘OK, wow, this is cool.’
“And there is something to playing the victim, and I got to do that in this episode,” Routh says.
For Elisabeth Moss of AMC’s “Mad Men,” the lure of “Fear Itself” was, well, fear itself. “I love walking around being scared,” she says.
In an episode called “Eater,” Moss morphs into a tough-but-terrified cop – and horror fan – who fights for her life inside a remote police station.
Moss grew up on a diet of fright flicks. And she kept “Halloween” star Jamie Lee Curtis in mind while filming “Eater.”
“It’s a classic role, the girl and the killer,” she says. “And being scared is basic to acting. It’s fundamental and physical, but not easy.”
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