In a matter of hours, Hulu will release all ten episodes of Helstrom and introduce Marvel fans to a corner of the universe they haven't seen in live-action before. Featuring Tom Austen and Sydney Lemmon and Daimon and Ana Helstrom, the series dives headfirst into the horrors and mythology behind some of the spookiest characters ripped straight from the Marvel mythos.
Though Chris Yen is a character original to the show, he fits in very well with the likes of the Helstrom siblings. We recently had the chance to catch up with Alain Uy, the actor behind Yen, to chat about the show's darker tone, Yen's intentions, and the wonders of Netflix cooking shows. Keep scrolling to see our full chat with Uy!
For the uninitiated, Hulu's synopsis for Helstrom can be seen below.
"As the son and daughter of a mysterious and powerful serial killer, Helstrom follows Daimon (Tom Austen) and Ana Helstrom (Sydney Lemmon), and their complicated dynamic, as they track down the worst of humanity — each with their own attitude and skills."
Horror & Chris Yen
ComicBook.com: Let's start off with the tone of the show. It's certainly a horror show, right? It's not like anything Marvel's done before. How in tune were you with the Marvel machine before you boarded the show?
Alain Uy: I've been a fan since I was a kid. I was indoctrinated into the world of comic books by my brother. He's a few years older than me, but he would always come home with just comic books. I remember, he would have cases of comic books with the sleeve, and the plastic, and he would be very gentle with it. I admired the artwork at first, it was just so beautiful to me. Then he let me borrow an X-Factor — that's what he was into, X-Factor, X-Men, Punisher — and I would just start reading.
I grew attached to dark Angel, Archangel, that character of the X-Factor, and I was like "That's so cool!" That's where the curiosity started for me, and then I eventually started collecting Wolverine. I remember the first comic book I bought was Wolverine number one, he was standing on top of a mound of bodies, and I was like, "That is so cool." Then it just kind of went from there, and I eventually found other interests. But yeah, I've been a fan and obviously with the MCU and everything else that Marvel Studios have been producing, you kind of get sucked back into that world.
So you play Chris Yen in Helstrom. You're reading the first script and you see the tone and the subject matter and the content, what's the initial thought that goes through your head reading this script, compared to all of the Marvel stuff you've seen or read before?
I think the tone is just that first initial scene really. You read it, and you visualize what the director, or what this eventually would look like, and it's immediate. You go, this is not anything that Marvel has done. There's a lot of nuance to it obviously, it's grounded in a lot of ... It ties into sort of a familiar, I don't want to say trope, but it's grounded in reality in the sense that it deals with family, but there are very horror, supernatural, type of elements to it.
Reading that first script, you get brought into this world immediately, and you see the main characters as they are during that time of where they're at at this point. You see it immediately, and it's like "Okay, we're on this ride. All right, cool." We see Daimon, we see Ana, and we see what the potential of this world is going to be. I think that's what drew me immediately when I first read that first episode. I was like okay, this is the introduction to the world and I'm into it. It's scary.
So Alain is a very nice individual and Chris is-
Well I don't know. [laughs]
I'll start by saying who I am as a person. Obviously I love chaos, I love being in things that are unpredictable, and Chris is the opposite of that. He likes to be in control of everything. Chris has a relationship with Ana Helstrom, and that relationship is a very deep, long-standing relationship. We've talked about this with the show runner Paul, that Chris is in some ways the surrogate brother to Ana. He was there throughout her adolescence. All the stuff that she had to go through as a character, I went through it at the same time. I think I could say that we grew up in foster care, and it's that element of, who do I trust? Usually in situations, if you're going through the foster care program, there's a lot of landmines you have to try to navigate your way through, and trust is one of those things where you don't really develop that trust, and once you do latch onto somebody, you trust them all the way through. You kind of become their ride-or-die type of partner.
In this instance Chris Yen is someone who has come from a very difficult past, there's a lot of challenges that he went through, very similar to Ana, and then they found their way through life finding success. Dealing with antiquities. So I feel as if Chris is the type of person that is trying to run away from, or at least push himself as far away from, that poverty in some ways, and then now he sort of in some ways have grown attached to a lifestyle that he wants to preserve. I think in this instance it's a balance of, how do I maintain this world as is, while I'm also dealing with someone ... Not dealing, dealing is a bad word, but just maintaining this friendship and loyalty that I have with Ana. Which in some ways, there's a potential for chaos with her, and I think that sort of push and pull between the two characters, where I'm really the only one who could kind of check her, I'm the only one that she trusts at this point, when we first meet these characters, is integral to that relationship.prevnext
Potential for Chaos
You said it best, I think, "Potential for chaos" might be a good tag line for the show.
Yeah. There's a lot. Like we were saying earlier, in terms of the comic books and the universe that we're part of, it's a part of the universe, the Marvel universe, that hasn't been touched in the sense that it hasn't really been explored. It's a lot more mature, it's not something that, you may be reticent to have a 10-year-old watch. There's a lot of really deep themes that are dark themes, that are dark themes, that are being portrayed here, so potential for chaos is certainly a term you could use for it.
You bring up something interesting. The subject matter is obviously very dark. It's a pretty dark show, no matter which way you cut it. And each person reacts to that differently. How did you manage to keep the situation light on scene, or on set, and not get absorbed by all the subject matter?
Two ways, I think everyone has different approaches to the discipline, the craft. I always, for the first day on set, I always want to observe what everyone's process is, to be sensitive to that. I like to understand what Beth's process was, or what Sydney's process, and Robert Wisdom's process, and Tom's process, to be aware of what they do.
I like to keep things light on set. It is a very intense, or it can be very intense, in terms of the subject, in terms of the scenes that we're playing. So it really depends. Especially if you're getting your call sheet and you're saying, this particular day, the scene that we're shooting requires a lot of emotional preparation or what have you. That's when you kind of lay off a little bit. But for me, my approach has always been, do your work, obviously, be prepared, but I try not to get too far into it until we have to actually shoot. Keeping it light is certainly something I've always done. I love playing music before I go onset in my trailer, just to get the tone of the character. I created a soundtrack for Chris. That's how I sort of approach the darkness of being on the set, and playing these characters.
At the end of the day it was a fun set. It wasn't anything too crazy. We had a blast playing with each other, and playing opposite of each other. It was a lot of fun.
Absolutely. What was your go-to record or track?
Oh God, there is a track, I can't pronounce it very well, but it was in the Ocean's 12 soundtrack, where it was, Brad Pitt's character would always see Catherine Zeta-Jones' character, and it's a guitar song. The artist's name is Piero Umiliani, and I'm destroying his name. The track is called "Crepuscolo Sul Mare," I think. It's a beautiful track, and I've always felt that that track is in some ways who Chris Yen is. It's a sort of elevated, simple, "I'm going to sit and enjoy my wine and my cheese, and just think of beautiful things." While in the background of my mind there's some truths that I have to deal with, that I have yet to deal with. That's the kind of character I felt like he was. Or he is.prevnext
What kind of prep work went into this? You mentioned you and your brother collected comics andread comics. Did you go about and buy the Son of Satan trade paperbacks? Do you have a stack of Son of Satan comics around?
Oh man. You know what's funny, I didn't know anyone...when I auditioned for this role, they didn't tell us who or what it was. It wasn't until after the fact. And when they told me that it was based on the Helstrom comic books, I immediately Googled them. Because I had no idea who Helstrom is, or how he relates to everything. I even asked my brother and he was like, "Helstrom, Helstrom, why does that sound familiar?" He didn't even really fully know until it clicked to him, and he was like, "He's actually part of this other," I think it's the Midnight Sons kind of group, and that's when I started to read everything.
I ended up buying a bunch of comic books and just reading it, and studying what the world is is important, the mythology of it. And what we're dealing with is something that I think I wanted to be enveloped by. But at the end of the day, once you start shooting, once you start to delve into the characters that Paul and the writers have written, you just kind of get sucked into it. There's not much homework you can do, it's just, you deal with the realities of the script that's been written for you.
The one thing I will say is that Chris Yen is actually not in the comic books. He's a character that was created by Paul. But he's still part of the mythology of it, he doesn't deviate too far from what we would normally see, and that's something that I think gave me, at least, more freedom than, say, someone like Ana, that Sydney was playing. There's a responsibility to making sure that the character is true to the world, but there's also a lot of freedom as well. Because okay, this character hasn't been created yet, so I could create the character for the audience.
I was going to mention that. You look at Tom, and he's probably sitting down in his chair with a stack of comics, and Sydney's sitting down with a stack, and they're getting references and stuff. Even Robert had Caretaker.
So it wasn't a sense of jealousy or anything, it was just complete and utter freedom?
It was. It truly was, and it was obviously frightening at the same time, but it was great, because Sydney and I would sit down and just talk about character, and talk about our relationship, and what is it and there was a sense of fun there in terms of, okay now we could actually create something, and how fun is that, to create our own story. Obviously with Paul guiding us throughout the entire process, but it was a lot of fun. Freedom is great.prevnext
Keeping Busy in Quarantine
How have you been doing since March? Have you been keeping busy?
It's been good. We're trying to keep staying here in this household, and I have a five-year-old, so now he's starting to do the whole remote learning thing, the distance learning thing. It's a bit of a challenge, but we're taking it as we go, but at the end of the day it's been ... We're all struggling, we're all getting through it, and trying to keep sane.
I've been cooking a ton. It's a skill set that I picked up while I was in Vancouver, so now I'm trying to figure out, how do I cook this? Watching a lot of Chef's Kitchen on Netflix.
Awesome. What's your go-to dish?
What is my go-to? Fried rice is super easy, and I've been trying to figure out the recipes in terms of, my mom and my grandma would cook amazing fried rice, and just remembering what that tastes like. My mom gave me her recipe, and yet it doesn't taste the same, so I'm like how do you do this? Simple stuff like that. Easy.prevnext
Do you think the horror of Helstrom helps create a balance with the rest of the Marvel stuff? How integral do you think this dark and gritty and grounded stuff is when...I don't want to say everything else is comedy, but it certainly has a lighter tone.
It's not to say that Helstrom doesn't have that Marvel lightness to it. There is a bit of dark comedy to it. It still has that Marvel quality, I should say, to it. I think it's important, I think it's one of those things that audiences like myself are thirsty for. There is only so much you could consume, and I love it, it's great storytelling I think, and the characters are rich, but at some point you want to try something, you want to try a different dish.
Talking about cooking, it's like you want to try other flavors, and I think this is something that ... Like I said, when I was consulting with my brother he started to get really amped up about it. He was like "That's so cool, how awesome is that, that you're going to be a part of this other direction," so to speak. I've watched Agents of SHIELD, and I'm a fan of that show, and Daredevil and Iron Fist and everything that came before us, but this is a tangent that happens. I think it's something that will be welcomed, I think it's refreshing, and it allows for audiences who have been looking for something like this, from Marvel, to enjoy it. I think it's really up to the audiences that are going to watch this to see if we can get a season two. I think it definitely warrants it based on the stuff that I've seen.
But as a filmmaker going back to the stuff that you were saying, I think going into the project and understanding how they were going to tackle this fine line of, obviously, being responsible for ushering this IP, this comic book, but also being responsible to toe the line between horror and a little bit of comedy and the drama that unfolds between the family structure, I think that's a really difficult task. I certainly would be frightened by it, but they were amazing. They knew exactly what they were looking for, and you can't help but be comfortable and feel like okay, we're in good hands. That's all you could really ask for at that point.prevnext
X-Men & Future
You dropped the two letters, IP. It's something Hollywood very much runs on these days, right?
Yeah, it certainly does. I was speaking as a producer and director, but it's like yeah, the IP, this is the language that we speak.
Say Alain the producer could get his hand on any IP, any intellectual property he wanted, Marvel, DC, otherwise. What's that IP you have your eyes on?
Oh, man. I think Gambit is an interesting person. I've always liked that character. I thought it was always interesting that they had Wolverine, but didn't have Gambit. I just feel like they're kind of in the same thread, or cut from the same cloth. Yeah, I've always liked that character, and if I were producing something I would research that and figure out what I could do. I think all the other characters, obviously, have been made, and if they weren't making Shang-Chi that, I would've said that first. But thinking back as an eight-year-old little boy, reading those comic books, Gambit was one of things, I'm like "This guy's really cool. He's got playing cards and he's got a stick, and he's cool." So I would probably investigate Gambit as a potential IP to explore.
Awesome. What's up next for you?
I've got an independent movie that is making the rounds right now through the festivals. We just got accepted to Busan, which is this huge Korean festival. The film is called The Paper Tigers, and I'm one of the leads in the movie. It's an action-comedy about kung fu martial artists. It's a fun little ride for people to watch and to consume.0comments
Helstrom hits Hulu on Friday, October 16th.prev