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Interview: Carmilla Stars, Producer Talk Season 3 and Beyond

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Based on a novella that predates Dracula as the first vampire story, Carmilla is an award winning Canadian webseries that chronicles the strange happenings at Silas University in “picturesque” Styria, Austria. Its main character is a plucky journalism student named Laura Hollis (Elise Bauman), who spends most of the first season investigating the disappearance of her roommate while slowly falling in love with her new roommate, a 300 year old vampire named Carmilla Karnstein (Natasha Negovanlis).

The Mary Sue spoke with Bauman and Negovanlis, as well as Carmilla/Smokebomb Entertainment producer Steph Ouaknine via email to discuss Season 3, the show’s legacy, their relationship with Carmilla’s passionate fans, and future projects.

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Logan Dalton (TMS): When you signed onto Carmilla as actors and producer, what were your expectations? Did you envision the show having three seasons and millions of viewers?

Elise Bauman: I know it sounds a bit funny to say, but I had a gut feeling since day one that this web series would take off. Logically, there was no reason for anyone to expect it to succeed the way it has because there are so many shows that get made, and only a few ever gain a massive audience. But I think everyone believed in it from the start. That passion and dedication and willingness to tell a story, without a big budget, made the show into the unique, quirky web series that it is.

Natasha Negovanlis: I was definitely not prepared for the success we’ve been gifted with. I knew Smokebomb Entertainment had a great track record with their shows, so I had some idea that the show might do well, but it certainly surpassed my wildest dreams and everyone’s expectations.

Steph Ouaknine: To be honest, that early in the game, we [as producers] were focused on making a show we ourselves would love to death. Not gonna lie, it hits my own fangirl buttons. I never imagined it would be where it’s at now–though I suspected other queer viewers like myself would take a peek! Thankfully, it’s reached millions around the world, and that’s the best feeling and reception we could ask for. They love the show–and challenge us as well. They hold us accountable and gave us solid feedback to make it even stronger. We worked hard as hell on this show.

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TMS: What impact did changing the main setting to the library have on your performances and/or the show as a whole?

EB: The library adds such a magical element to the show this year. Carmilla has always been a bit sci-fi and mysterious, but having a magic set to interact with, and have it almost become a character in itself, was very fun.

NN: The fact that the library was built from scratch, and we shot in a real film studio (versus being on location like in previous seasons) gave the set a very theatrical feel and makes the show feel a lot more like a play. Carmilla also wears a lot of tight leather so getting to act in an air-conditioned room was a nice change!

SO: Opting for the Howl’s Moving Library as our main home base this season offered us visual gags aplenty, interesting entrances and exits, as well as having fun with its sentient nature. Having a cranky Old Book God as an ally isn’t always very efficient. For those who haven’t yet watched Act I of Carmilla season three: our trio is hiding from their nemesis in the Magical Library, and when you knock on the door, it might open to a fountain world, the Arctic, or an angry space whale!

In terms of blocking, the stairs allowed us to play with the vertical space, and the pillars add some depth to the playing field.

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TMS: The Hollstein relationship is the emotional center of Carmilla. (And the ship that launched 1,000 GIFs.) What can you tell viewers about the state of the relationship in Season 3 and hint at where it’s progressing?

EB: If you’ve watched Act I, you can tell that there are still strong feelings between the two. This season for me was very much about rebuilding trust and beginning again from a place of deeper love and friendship. They are stuck in a magical library together so communication has to happen, working together has to happen. There is such an emphasis on togetherness this season, and what that truly means at its core. Looking past differences, past fear, and finding that underlying layer of love that maybe you didn’t want to see before. Whether that love between the two forms a romantic relationship… well, you’ll just have to keep watching to find out.

NN: By the end of the first act, we know that Laura and Carmilla still have unresolved feelings. I can’t say whether or not they will officially get back together as girlfriend and girlfriend, but I can say that they’ll, at the very least, discover a new and much deeper level of respect for one another.

And maybe there’s more kissing. Like, a lot more kissing.

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TMS: In Season 3, Laura’s dad specifically says she is a lesbian. Why was it important for her character to explicitly have this label in Season 3? Also, what was your experience like working with Enrico Colantoni (above), who plays Sherman Hollis (and is easily my favorite TV dad from his time as Keith Mars on Veronica Mars)?

EB: I think of it more of an important story point and step forward in queer representation in media that Laura’s dad is, and always has been, accepting of her sexual orientation. Her dad isn’t worried about her liking girls. He’s worried about her being with the right girl.

It’s important to tell stories about the challenges of coming out to family because that unfortunately still is a massive problem that many people have to face. But I think it’s equally as important to tell stories where character’s sexuality is accepted and what happens beyond that. I have always applauded our show for that.

Working with Enrico was fantastic. He’s such a giving actor with an open heart. We connected instantly, and I felt like we created 19 years of history within the first day of meeting each other. Sometimes actors just click and you roll with that amazing blurry line of make-believe and real.

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TMS: Even though she doesn’t really do much studying, Carmilla is a philosophy major. Who do you think her favorite philosopher would be, and why?

NN: Great question! I think she has a soft spot for Albert Camus. While Carmilla has some nihilistic tendencies, I don’t think she’s an absolute nihilist, and his absurdist philosophies combine ideas from both nihilism and existentialism. Absurdism also became popular after World War II, which is when she escaped her reinterment, and I think he reminds her of both her sister Mattie and the years she spent in France.

TMS: What do you think sets Carmilla apart from a host of other vampire shows and films, and why is it an important part of the Smokebomb Entertainment family?

SO: The cheeky meta tone sets it apart, as well as the wealth of pop culture references–not taking ourselves TOO seriously is when it’s at its best. And let’s be honest, the wonderful chemistry between Elise and Natasha. It’s a show that has resonated with so many people and that’s why it’s important to us. We’re very protective of it.

TMS: One thing I love about Carmilla is the super passionate fans: the Creampuffs. What is the coolest or most unique experience you’ve had with a Creampuff?

EB: I had an awesome experience with a fan recently! I was in Sydney, Australia, and I was walking into an art gallery when a fan approached me. She was an art student and had been sketching the building I was about to go into.

She knew I was in Australia from my social media posts and had been carrying around a copy of the Carmilla novella on the slight off chance she would bump into me in all of Sydney, and then it actually happened! I signed the book for her, and I just thought it was the coolest that people are that invested in the show.

NN: It’s difficult for me to pick only one because most of my interactions with fans get me verklempt. I honestly read, and try to respond to, every piece of snail mail I receive because the letters are so touching. The most recent thing that comes to mind, however, is a fan collected hundreds of thank you letters from Creampuffs around world the who weren’t able attend Fan Expo Canada in Toronto, and had them bound into beautiful books designed by a fan artist. She gave a copy to everyone in the cast and crew, and it’s a lovely keepsake I’ll always treasure.

SO: We got a wonderful book of ‘comments’ at Fan Expo Canada this year. Creampuffs worldwide wrote how the show spoke to them. I loved it! I’m also terribly excited when viewers are inspired to create their own work.

TMS: What influence has Carmilla had on LGBTQ representation in TV and pop culture in general?

NN: Since Carmilla debuted, I’ve noticed a lot more LGBTQ series cropping up in the digital realm, which is awesome. I still feel like television has a long way to go, but I believe I was the first actor from a web series to be lucky enough to attend the Canadian Screen Awards for a Fan Choice nomination. That says a lot about the future of storytelling, and how important positive lesbian representation is to young voting audiences.

SO: I can’t speak about Carmilla’s influence on mainstream television, but we’ve definitely seen power in a global niche. Hopefully, more brands and tech upstarts will believe that wholeheartedly and embrace the narrow focus. That’s the trend we’re seeing in original digital commissions–whether it’s Amazon Originals, Seeso, or even HBO’s slate with web series-turned-TV series like Issa Rae’s Awkward Black Girl, which is now HBO’s Insecure.

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TMS: With Carmilla Season 3 wrapped up, what projects do you all have that The Mary Sue readers can look forward to in the future?

EB: I’ll be releasing a single at the end of the month that I’m really excited about! I wanted to stay busy and creative after we filmed Carmilla this year to avoid the inevitable post-filming slump so my friend and I wrote and recorded a song. It’s still very much an experimentation of us finding our sound, but writing and recording is turning out to be such a fun passion project for the moment that I think I’m going to continue for now. And hopefully more acting work will be coming through soon as well! I’m feeling positive about it all.

NN: I have a small role in a musical comedy/horror series that shoots next month, and watch for my cameo in Darken–Smokebomb Entertainment’s first feature film. In the meantime, folks can catch me hosting on KindaTV on YouTube on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays!

SO: It’s a project we’ve just wrapped, but I’m so incredibly proud of our digital series Inhuman Condition, starring Torri Higginson (Stargate: Atlantis), Cara Gee (Strange Empire) and Robin Dunne (Sanctuary). It’s a labour of love that’s been in the works for years–think queerer X-Men with a female Professor X who treats supernatural patients struggling to be human.

Carmilla Act II is currently available to stream via YouTube; look for Act III premiering October 13th.

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Logan is a nerdy bisexual ginger, who is a grad student and freelance pop culture writer in Hunter S. Thompson’s hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. He loves comics, music (especially New Wave and BritPop), film (especially Quentin Tarantino and Edgar Wright), sports (college football and NBA), TV, mythology, and poetry. Joss Whedon is his master, Kitty Pryde is his favorite superhero, and his current favorite comic is The Wicked + the Divine. Follow him at @MidnighterBae and Graphic Policy.

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