For tonight's episode of The Originals, the king of New Orleans also became the king of the set.
Charles Michael Davis, who has starred as Marcel Girard since the beginning of the series, makes his directorial debut with "High Water and a Devil's Daughter," an episode that continues to deal with the threat of the evil Hollow. While the actor has directed a few music and dance videos before, tonight marks the premiere of his first major production as a director.
Davis has been interested in directing since fairly early on in the series, and says it was Paul Wesley directing an episode of The Vampire Diaries that inspired him.
"I became so curious," Davis tells E! News. "I got some tips, and then I started shadowing around season two, and then they gave [Joseph Morgan] an episode in season there and I watched and learned from Joe."
Davis says he flew back and forth between the set and editing bays in Atlanta and the writers' room in LA on his own time to learn about the whole process, and finally his turn came in season four.
Davis calls directing "a rite of passage" for him personally.
"What I learned was to be a director, to be successful, you have to have your own stamp, so you've got to have an opinion and be specific. I put a lot of thought and imagination behind it, and I really thought some things out so it was kind of a reflection of where I was in life, taking on this bigger responsibility. I need to stand by it and fight for it, you know?"
He even gained some new perspective as an actor on the show.
"I learned a lot about what it takes to really make a show, also as an actor what's really needed of you," he says. "If I take too long to walk out on set, then I cost the director a few minutes of a beautiful shot or take that he could have got, because I now know what it's not like to get a shot because I didn't have 20 minutes. … You start adding up minutes in a day, and you're like, ahh! Why do actors always have to be at craft services?"
Of course, when we asked Davis to name some names and tell us the biggest problem on set, he only laughed.
"Actually, none of them were problems. Some people could be challenging, but I'd say they're not problems because everyone had their hearts in it and they really wanted the best."
Davis jokingly says his "genius" cinematographer Roger Cingirian was the biggest problem, because he's such an artist that "I had to wait for him to light a candle."
As for the episode itself, Davis promises it will not disappoint, with at least three fight scenes and way too many deaths for us to feel comfortable with.
Read on for the scoop!
E! News: What can you tell me about the episode in general?
Davis: It's a real turning point episode. It's episode seven of a 13 episode season, so it literally is a turning point. It's the midseason episode, so a lot of character relationships become fuller, and they become more realized. So a lot of those relationships people were—no pun intended—hoping for, they get to see these characters interact. Like what happens when Marcel interacts with Hope? You can imagine it, but now we get to actually see it. And what happens when Freya teams up with Josh, and what happens when Vincent teams up with Elijah, and what happens when Hayley and Klaus are forced to be together and just do domestic things like not kill somebody. It's a really interesting episode. It's a lot of drama, and not just sitting and talking, but we had three fight scenes, six deaths—maybe seven. And a couple resurrections. So it was a really big episode.
What was it like to get to direct some of these new pairings, like you and Hope together?
It was nice. Of course I got the script and then I got to imagine it, and that was the great thing. I'd worked with the majority of the actors. I'd never done a scene with Hope or with [Summer Fontana]. My character never really did too many scenes with Freya or with Hayley, so it was nice to spend some time with those actors and actually get to see their process and be a part of it.
And there was actually an intelligent pairing where some of the more older characters, in the sense of the way they speak—I guess the word is antiquated—and they were put with more modern characters who speak in a quicker rhythm, so there's this nice energy to the scene where we never have two characters who are kind of slower in rhythm, so you never felt the ball drop. For me, my style was that I really like energy and I really like when something sparks. It's like the start of a 400 meter race or a Nascar race. I just want it to move, and move, and move. So it was nice, these pairings really worked well for that rhythm.
Any scenes you're particularly proud of that we should watch out for in the episode?
Oh yeah. The scenes between Vincent and Elijah—especially there's one out in the cemetery. It's an iconic shot, like the one with [Yusuf Gatewood] and what he does. It's so visceral. We had fire, we had lightning, those actors were like they were really focused and intense that night, and we had rain, so they were dealing with all these elements and they would be just soaking wet. I'm very proud. And the camera guys, we had a dolly rig, so we had these sweeping shots. So when you watch, I would love for people to count how long we hold on some shots. I tried to shoot a lot of oners where we would hold on the shot for at least more than three seconds. So we got some good Steadicam shots, and we got some good dolly shots in there too.
What has it been like for you this season to play Marcel with more power than he's ever had, especially over the Original family?
It's been nice. There's a balancing of thinking as a character, oh yeah, he couldn't do something before. He couldn't fight back, or he couldn't just kill them. But now he could, so the choice not to says something about his restraint. And so it kind of also helps to ground the character. For me, there was also groundedness being like fourth season, after moving into directing. Like I said, there's a different sense of responsibility about just how to be on set and also thinking about moving on in my career to being a lead or number one on another show, doing films, remembering that there's a bigger responsibility or bigger power.
So for the character, it was like a rebalancing. I think the Marcel of old would have fought and would have lashed out towards…which he did at the end of season 3 a little bit, but now he has to temper that. And we saw that in episode two when he told them, I could be like you, but I'm not, so you know, I'll let you guys live. But understand that it's because he allowed it, that he showed them mercy, and that is what mercy should look like. So I think he's balancing it pretty well.
A lot of this season has been spent on other characters trying to kill Marcel. Was that weird to direct when everybody wants to kill your character?
[laughs] Yeah, to go up to somebody and go, hey, remember, you really want to kill this guy. He doesn't deserve to live. He's nothing, nobody…wait a minute. It's funny. I'm in New York right now, and I was walking around the city. I went to go buy a ticket at a ticketing office, and I bought the ticket and she was smiling and she just goes, "Don't die." And I was like, well, I mean, everyone's gonna die at one point or another? And then I was like, oh you mean my character, oh yeah, don't worry, he won't die. I'm sorry to break it to you honey, but we all gotta go one day. The train's gonna come in, check into the station.
But it was easy to be removed from it. From a director's stand point you just know it's the story and the plot points. I know they're not going to kill me. I shouldn't say this, but I know I'm under contract and I know I have a relationship with them. If they decide to kill me, it would be a surprise. But I would understand, it's just part of the show. Just like I told that girl, everyone's gotta go. Their number will be called.
What can you tease about what's coming up in the fight against the Hollow?
The Hollow's an amazing character. We had fun—we actually got to cast the Hollow in this episode, so I was part of the casting process and the decision making, and also how we introduce this character. And I of course have seen what we've already shot in other episodes, so I can tell you that it amps it up even more to a villain like we've never seen before. So we break out some really cool special effects and we use really great lenses to illustrate, and we again bring in some really great audio effects to really heighten the character.
How do you cast a character like the Hollow?
You know, on our show, we deal with a lot of old souls if that makes sense. Like Danielle Campbell is a young girl but a little bit of an old soul in her maturity and her understanding of the world. And all the other cast members seem to be that way, where they're all sort of independent, like these cats. You know, how they're independent and they seem curious about the world but they seem very content. I think that's one of those things where the Hollow is a character that I believe predates the Originals.
So you're looking for someone that kind of has a sort of old soul vibe, and the person that we found, I got to work with them, and we would talk about art and we would talk about all sorts of things they were really into, and also interesting to see someone's confidence level to be so calm. That's one of the things we really looked for in casting, someone that can really hold their own.
Would you direct again?
Yeah, for sure. I hope we get picked up again. I would love to direct another episode. It's kind of a high to see these things become a reality. Yeah, I would love to do it again, and keep going bigger. I would love to direct films. I have so many ideas. I would watch videos—I made a Youtube list that's like a hundred something videos about film. I watched all these videos like about David Fincher and stuff. So it's like I got all this knowledge now, and I got to put it to good use somewhere. So I hope I at least get to direct another episode of The Originals, and you know, I'm in the [Director's Guild] now. I hope I can go out and find another outlet to express a lot of the things that I've learned.
The Originals airs Fridays at 8 p.m. on the CW.