Lekeith Stanfield in The Changeling Season 1 finale

‘The Changeling’ on Apple TV+ ‘Finds the Fairytale’ in New York City

North Brother Island is not just a place from Broad City, FYI.

Anyone can tell a good New York story. Anyone can say the city was “like another character” in their movie or show. Apple TV+’s The Changeling takes the greatest city in the world and twists it into something as magical and scary as a deep, dark forest.

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The folks behind the Apple TV+ series, including producers, directors, and designers, spoke to The Mary Sue at New York Comic Con 2023. We discussed what makes New York City the perfect setting for a fairytale infused with folklore and horror elements, and what The Changeling Season 2 might look like.

The Changeling stars Lakeith Stanfield, Adina Porter, and Clark Backo in an urban horror fantasy odyssey epic. Have I used enough descriptors?! The show earns each one. It’s about a family who discovers the enchanted world hidden in New York City in the aftermath of a tragic event. The title comes from European folklore—a “changeling” is a creature that fairies have switched out to steal a human child. But the show delves into many mythologies to create a fantasy world as rich as the city itself.

Why New York City is perfect for The Changeling‘s dark magic

“When you’re in a city as dense as New York you can walk down the street and see something new every day,” said production designer Lester Cohen. That’s what’s magical to him. “You can walk home,” he continued, “take a different block, and the world changes. That’s what I love about it. We try to make it feel that way. You know, that there’s mystery around everything.”

Costume designer Ane Crabtree, who is herself not a New Yorker, had similar observations. “I came to this place imbued with wanting to find the magic and really it’s in the people instead of the places,” Crabtree said. “There’s an energy that is so magical and an aura around everybody in New York that seemingly meshes in with everyone. But if you take a second to pause and look at the stranger that you’re passing, you realize that there’s something, whether it’s their past history, their emotional state, their energy… [everyone has] the same beautiful magical magic of New York City.”

Crabtree mentioned the (albeit cliche) concept of NYC as a melting pot. That aspect is where the directors and producers found the magic, so to speak. “The really interesting thing about New York is it’s got this fascinating immigrant culture to it—real, real history to it,” said director Jonathan Van Tulleken. “There’s this sort of shining glass capitalist New York that most people see,” he said.

Shows like Succession, Sex and the City, and Mad Men come to mind. “But I feel like there’s this other New York that is really never depicted in TV that has all this history and all this mythology and this blend of all these cultures,” Van Tulleken said. It was “a bit of a gift,” he said, “to kind of dig into that world and find the kind of fairytale, find the horror genre in a space that really never gets filmed.”

“Victor’s novel is like a treasure map to that perspective on New York,” said Michael Francis Williams, who directed the standalone Episode 7. “We just got to go and play in this very specific point of view.”

Author and native New Yorker Victor LaValle, who wrote the novel The Changeling, grounded this dark fairytale in reality. “What I love about this show and what I love about this book is every single place is real,” said series screenwriter Kelly Marcel. “North Brother Island is real. That Washington [Heights] Library is real. They are all real places.” You could watch the show, she said, and then “you can go on their journey” LaValle finished. “The secret history of New York,” he said, “that was like the underlying idea.” He enjoys it when people are shocked to discover that a place he mythologized actually exists.

If finishing each other’s sentences wasn’t already an indication, it was clear Marcel and LaValle genuinely like each other. The author praised his adaptor in particular for her work with “the joyous surprise” that was the Lillian-focused Episode 107. “That one was Kelly,” he said. “We talked about various things, but that was Kelly saying ‘I’m just gonna pour everything I’m thinking and feeling into this’ and make it into this ambitious, surprising, powerful like one-woman play almost.”

What’s next for The Changeling in (a potential) season 2?

Apple TV+ has yet to renew the series for a second season. But that hasn’t stopped the creative team from thinking about what they’d like to do and how they’d like it to look. “As far as I understand it would go more into Norse mythology,” mentioned Cohen. “Because we had Callisto and that sort of Greek mythology, but now we’re gonna head into different kind of mythology. (But, you know, according to Jung, it’s all based on the same thing, which I do agree with.)”

But for starters, the adaptation needs to finish the book! “We’re really only halfway through the novel,” reiterated Van Tullenken, “I think we’re just about to reunite Emma and Apollo. Their journey to recover Baby Brian is about to begin.” And, he said, the show would then begin to reveal the truth behind the fairytale.

“I think no one’s really expecting what is really happening,” said executive producer David Knoller. “We only got maybe a hint of it at the very, very, very end in a glimpse.”

To that point, Marcel is looking forward to “answering all the questions” set up by the season. The season 1 finale ends on a cliff-hanger. “Victor said an amazing thing earlier,” Marcel said, “which was, season 1 is the season of questions, and season 2 is the season of answers. It’s a fairy tale. We talk about it in the show: old fairytales told around the campfire. And I think that’s what the show is. Come sit around a fire and we’re gonna tell you a very long epic tale. It’s gonna start with all of these questions. And if you stay with us around the campfire then we’ll answer all of these questions.”

“As wild and as disturbing as things have been,” teased LaValle, “the second season is so much more monstrous and I’m so excited.” “You ain’t seen nothing yet,” added Marcel, overlapping. To be continued? We must hope so.

(featured image: Apple TV+)

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Image of Leah Marilla Thomas
Leah Marilla Thomas
Leah Marilla Thomas (she/her) is a contributor at The Mary Sue. She has been working in digital entertainment journalism since 2013, covering primarily television as well as film and live theatre. She's been on the Marvel beat professionally since Daredevil was a Netflix series. (You might recognize her voice from the Newcomers: Marvel podcast). Outside of journalism, she is 50% Southerner, 50% New Englander, and 100% fangirl over everything from Lord of the Rings to stage lighting and comics about teenagers. She lives in New York City and can often be found in a park. She used to test toys for Hasbro. True story!