‘Locke & Key’ Star Darby Stanchfield Hints at an ‘Evil Origin’ Behind the Keys

“Scandal” alum Darby Stanchfield relied on instinct and natural cast chemistry to build out her character, Nina Locke, in the Netflix original series “Locke & Key.”

“For me, building Nina Locke and finding this character primarily has to do with my connection to the other actors, specifically the actors that play my kids and husband … Connor Jessup, Emilia Jones, Jackson Robert Scott, and Bill Heck, and how my instinctual relationship sort of informs Nina,” she told TheWrap. “We all had a great natural chemistry and a nice, believable family rhythm, and that helped me in terms of discovering who she is.”

Based on the series of comic books by American writer Joe Hill — novelist Stephen King’s son — the show follows the Locke family as they move into their ancestral home, Key House, in Matheson, Mass., after the shocking murder of their father Rendell. Season 1 sees the latest Locke generation Tyler (Jessup), Kinsey (Jones) and Bode (Scott) discover some magical keys as they adjust to the move and settle into their new home.

Nina (Stanchfield) deals with her own struggles of mourning the death of her husband and wondering if she made the right decision to move her family all the way across the country from Seattle.

Once cast in the role, Stanchfield gave her own spin to Nina because the series made her different from the graphic novel version.

“In the comic book series, she’s drunk the whole time,” Stanchfield said. “She’s always got a drink, a glass of wine or something. So she never actually leaves that state, really. She’s constantly got tears streaming down her face — I guess some of that’s a little similar — but she’s very depressed, alcoholic. She has a big leg brace … and she’s also got jet-black hair, she’s voluptuous. … She couldn’t be more different than me physically-looking as well.”

“Locke & Key” showrunners Carlton Cuse and Meredith Averill advised the actress to use the source material as a “reference.”

“They really advised me to enjoy the comics and to use the comics as a reference to this world of ‘Locke and Key,’ but not necessarily as to ground Nina in that comic book character,” Stanchfield said. “I had put some things on tape. They really liked it. They said ‘What you were instinctually doing, that’s what we’re looking for, so build on that.’”

During Nina’s alcoholic relapse in Season 1, the character found that she could remember the magic and the keys while she was drinking, but the drinking was the main reason she could hold onto those memories, and she didn’t want to go back down that road. Just as Nina faced some tough moments like the relapse, her inability to remember or keep track of the magical keys played a big part in her evolution throughout Season 2. And there may be more hope for her thanks to a new key introduced in Season 2.

“If Bode activates the ‘Memory Key,’ I think that would … be something that she would probably appreciate very much because her number one priority is feeling connected to her family and the happiness of her children and making sure that they’re really moving beyond their dad’s murder, which is a big deal. You don’t get over that quickly,” she explained. “I think all those issues from Season 1, carry over into Season 2, and would in Season 3 as well. So, I think Nina’s desperate for a connection to her kids. But, as we discovered with her alcoholism, she’s not willing to go that route with magic because she knows ultimately she can’t be a good mom for them when she’s inebriated.”

Looking back on Season 2, which is streaming now on Netflix, Stanchfield told TheWrap she believes it leaves viewers with a powerful message.

“I think some of the questions that are asked in Season 2 specifically have to do with this family, specifically the kids. They are the keepers of the keys and it has to do with issues of power and how they use it,” she said. “They realize that the power of these magical keys cannot only be used for good things, but could be used for bad things, and there’s sort of an evil origin behind the making of these keys. And so, I think these characters have to grapple with how that resonates with them and their values as a family and as people. I think it tests the bonds of their relationship as a family, where their loyalties lie, what’s most important to them in life, examining when one gets power and how they use it and the consequences of using it.”