When the creatives behind Apple TV+’s singular sci-fi drama Severance stopped by Comic-Con on Thursday, they offered little in the way of hints as to Season 2 story. Instead, they homed in on the assorted challenges of bringing the breakout series to life.
The first challenge to grapple with — both on the page and on set — was one of tone. During the conversation moderated by Patton Oswalt, creator-writer Dan Erickson noted that as singularly strange as Severance wound up being, the original pilot script was even “more acid trip-y.” It featured, for example, a pair of disembodied legs running down one of the show’s long white hallways. And it was elements like this that would eventually need to be pared back.
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One major challenge for Severance‘s actors was to carefully calibrate their performances with tone in mind—grappling correctly, to start, with the world-building show’s strange dialogue. “Dan’s writing is so specific,” director-EP Ben Stiller admitted, “that sometimes it was hard to get it just right.” But of course, the principal performance challenge stemmed from the show’s premise, which called for most cast members to find a way to play two subtly distinct versions of the same character.
Severance is a workplace thriller that takes place at an enigmatic, though clearly sinister, tech corporation known as Lumon Industries. Employees have undergone a severance procedure to surgically divide their memories between their work and personal lives. Its protagonist is the severed “macrodata refinement” team leader Mark (Adam Scott), who begins to call this daring experiment in “work-life balance” into question as he uncovers a web of conspiracy spanning Lumon and the outside world.
Those joining Erickson, Stiller, and Scott for today’s conversation included cast members Britt Lower, Dichen Lachman, Jen Tullock and Tramell Tillman, who spoke to the experimentation that informed their performances—also touching on the challenge of maintaining various kinds of continuity over almost a year of block shooting.
Another noteworthy challenge in creating Severance was the physical disorientation that came from shooting within the set for the “severed floor” where Mark and his colleagues work—a labyrinthine set of white hallways, with a visually peculiar office at its center.
“70% of the time trying to get to the office set, I had to walk through the set hallways, and they’d move them around, so you’d find yourself at a dead end after like three minutes of walking,” said Scott. “You’d just have to stop and say, ‘It’s Adam!’ And somebody had to come find me.”
“It felt like you were being immersed in an art installation,” added Lower, who plays severed employee Helly. “There was inspiration everywhere, and it was all frightening.”
The Severance creatives spoke later in the panel about their excitement to be at Comic-Con, and to see how much the show has resonated after making Season 1 in a Covid bubble. Erickson noted at the same time that the show’s fandom, and the fan theories that have come with it, are both rewarding and part of the challenge as he’s begun writing Season 2. “I was just on [Reddit] everyday for a while because it is kind of addicting. It’s really interesting to see what [fans’] theories are. But eventually I had to pull back a bit,” he said. “It’s just that thing of infinite options, and at some point, you have to commit to what you’re doing. There’s an infinite amount of paths that we could take, so I really enjoyed it, but have had to back off in recent weeks.”
Severance also stars Patricia Arquette, Zach Cherry, John Turturro, and Christopher Walken. The series, renewed for a second season in April, was recently nominated for 14 Emmys, including Outstanding Drama Series. Erickson exec produces alongside Mark Friedman, Chris Black, John Cameron, Andrew Colville, and the trio of Stiller, Nicky Weinstock and Jackie Cohn for Red Hour Productions. Arquette and Adam Scott serve as producers, with Endeavor Content serving as the studio.