Julie Plec’s third series on the CW, “Containment,” premieres Tuesday night. The outbreak-themed series is set in Atlanta, following an epidemic that puts the city under quarantine with the citizens stuck inside fighting for their lives.
If the pilot — which airs 9 p.m. — is any indication of what’s to come, the series is filled with blood and gore. But Plec says there’s much more to “Containment” than the gross-out factor.
“I call it ‘The Breakfast Club’ philosophy,” Plec says. “There’s something about being trapped in a dire situation with a group of people that you would never normally be trapped with. The human element that comes out of that — who likes who, who hates who, what cathartic moments are had that you emotionally expose yourself to somebody that you just met that morning — I’ve always really loved that kind of storytelling.”
Here, Plec previews “Containment,” and tells Variety why fans of “Vampire Diaries” and “Originals” will want to tune into the show.
Will “Containment” appeal to “The Vampire Diaries” fans?
I think it will appeal to the viewers of “The Vampire Diaries” and “The Originals” who watch the show for the storytelling, more so than who just watch it for the love relationships. It’s all dealing with the same set of themes like how to deal with love and friendship and family and grief in a very extreme circumstance, whether it be because you’re in love with a vampire or whether it be because your girlfriend is trapped inside a quarantine. It’s definitely more grown up than the other two shows in a sense, but it’s also incredibly universal so I think that it can run an age range that’s pretty broad. My hope is that people will check it out — and it’s pretty addictive so once they’ve checked it out, hopefully they’ll stick around.
Why were you interested in doing a show with an outbreak theme?
I don’t know why I’ve always loved it, but I’ve always loved it. As a fan, I hated most of “The Day After Tomorrow” movie, except for the part where Emmy Rossum and Jake Gyllenhaal were stuck in the library and I thought, “Oh, I like this now.” There’s something about bringing people together in odd circumstances and exploring the petri dish of what happens.
How is “Containment” different from other shows or movie that have touched on similar themes?
Every outbreak reference that I use is global. It’s either apocalyptic or it’s potentially apocalyptic. The fun of this is that it’s so decidedly localized that it feels very like this could happen to me or these could be my next door neighbors, that could be my boyfriend, this could be my town. As opposed to this big larger than life, “Oh the world is not going to end tomorrow in real life so I’m not going to be that worried about this virus,” this is like, “That could be my convenient store at the corner that could be under siege by real life zombies.” It’s fun to explore all of that.
How do you balance the human stories and relationships with the gross outbreak footage?
With the gross stuff, we made a point of being as real as we possibly could and being very deliberate with our choices — what is the blood, what does it look like, where does it come from and how much — and kind of ground it in some kind of medical facts and really not make it overly gratuitous and not just say that we’re going to have blood and gore for the sake of blood and gore. It’s got moments that are downright disgusting. What’s funny is on “The Vampire Diaries,” I have people getting their heads chopped off and knives slashing and skin and cutting carotid arteries — nothing about that is as gross as the exploding spleen in the autopsy [in “Containment”], which we had to cut for broadcast standards. We had to pull back on that image and I’m like, “It’s an organ. It’s a human organ that’s behaving in a way that’s logical in its medical situation.” And they were like, “It’s too gross. Please show less.” It’s funny what people get squeamish about.
Is there any kind of social message you’re trying to deliver with the show?
Not overtly. I think that when you’re exploring themes of humanity and what defines a hero and what makes us our best self and what makes us our worst self, you’re going to stumble into territories of societal issues and that kind of thing. Sometimes you have accidents where you’re not trying, but then the opportunity just presents itself and you lean into it. We’re a show that shoots in Atlanta, which is an incredibly diverse city, and we wanted to make sure that the show reflected that diversity.
Any purpose in choosing Syria for the start of the outbreak?
It was only purposeful in that — much like a season of “24” — you need a villain and you look in the homeland and you look to the real world to sort of say, “Who are the monsters under our bed?” as a collective consciousness. Right now, it’s ISIS. I didn’t want to get deep into that organization, so I just blanketed it with the region. The way that the storyline goes over the course of the season explains a lot about, why Syria? Why does that make sense and what did that mean? There are a lot of questions that come up as a result of that choice in the narrative. Without exposing too much, I can say that it felt like reading in the news about a terrorist-rich area, it felt like it would be a good thing to draw from.