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Three things are inevitable in this world: death, taxes, and the promise that young adults in the Hollywood machine will be cast as high schoolers chased by a killer and/or supernatural forces. If you’re lucky, you get a two-for-one special, like in the case of Paramount+’s newest horror fare, Wolf Pack. The new streaming series comes from the direction of Jeff Davis, whose past work includes Criminal Minds and a television reboot of Teen Wolf. For fans of the latter, they’ll quickly find that the new series is a behemoth all on its own, unrelated to Davis’ past work and instead based on the horror novel of the same name from author Edo van Belkom.
Four episodes in, Wolf Pack has set a tone that differentiates itself from your standard teen sci-fi series. This isn't cable after all, so you have the liberty to go as Euphoria-esque as you want. Cue the werewolf-gnawed heads and occasional f-bomb. But the one unimpeachable component of the teen thriller industrial complex is that it must be led by a set of ambitious newcomers ready to embrace whatever twisted supernatural entity comes their way.
Enter Tyler Lawrence Gray, who plays Harlan Briggs in the series. "I realized that I was definitely a lot greener than a lot of the cast," he says. "But after I got over the anxiety and the fear, I was like, You know what? It doesn't matter. I'm here for a reason. I can't let those intrusive thoughts get in the way.” The wide-eyed 20-year-old had one acting credit to his name before signing on to play Harlan—a gay student who moonlights as a werewolf. (Pun fully intended.) Harlan and his sister keep their wolf-like identities secret until a wildfire draws wildlife of all kinds out of the mountains—and into the streets, where two other students are bitten by the beast.
Everett Lang, played by 19-year-old Armani Jackson, finds that the only people he and his peer Blake Navarro (Bella Shepard) can trust with their newfound afflictions are the two other wolf teens in town. Thus, the wolf pack. For Jackson, whose credits include Cooties, Ready Player One, and Grey’s Anatomy, he sees Wolf Pack as an opportunity to evolve into the next chapter of his career. “It's one thing to be on a supernatural show,” he says. “But it's another to be 18, 19 on a really adult show already jump-starting my adult career. I remember telling my mom, 'I know I get up for a lot of projects and lose a lot, but I have a feeling I'm going to get this one.'”
For the non-watchers, the foursome have allies and enemies. The Briggs kids have their father, Garrett (300’s Rodrigo Santoro) as a protector. Over the year, the Brazilian-born actor has become known for his handsome, macho exterior in shows like Westworld and Lost, but he saw Wolf Pack as an opportunity for something new. “[Creator Jeff Davis] was familiar with stuff that I've done in Brazil, which is rare. [That] made the conversation much easier, and we connected,” he says. “He was very open to collaboration, which I am a strong believer that when you can collaborate, it’s much richer and more interesting.”
Santoro admits this is the first time he’s worked this closely alongside actors this much his junior. He says he navigates the working relationship the same way he approaches the role of Garrett Briggs. In his words: How can I learn with them? How can we really exchange?
Gray remembers a moment from set when he and Santoro first connected. “While we're sitting in the green room waiting to shoot a scene, Rodrigo was just like, ‘Let's play a card game.” Well, what Gray thought was a moment of bonding was Rodrigo passing on a lesson in acting.
“Bullshit,” Santoro said, with a smile. He was teaching Gray and his on-screen sister how to properly prepare for an upcoming scene where the three of them would be sharing a meal together. "What would they be doing?" Santoro asked the actors. Chloe Rose Robertson, who plays Luna, suggested a casual game of bullshit.
“We built this whole thing for one little scene,” Santoro says. “By the end of the scene, it was Jeff [Davis] who was directing. He's like, ‘I love that 30 seconds of life that you guys gave me.'”
The series, of course, marks the return of TV sci-fi royalty, Sarah Michelle Gellar. She plays an arson investigator looking to get to the bottom of an insane fire that caused this stampede of (sometimes werewolfian) animals. Of course, this is a new generation of teenage sci-fi. Do these newcomers understand the gravitas of sharing a sci-fi storyline with the Buffy the Vampire Slayer? As much as one can when you’re removed a generation.
Jackson, who admits he wasn’t alive when Buffy initially aired, said that he’s always had a love of horror and thrillers. (Some favorites from growing up is Jordan Peele’s Get Out.) But he added, “When I found out that Sarah was going to be in the show, I was like… this is even bigger than I thought it was going to be.” Gray, who has since binged his way through Buffy had a similar response when he landed the role. “As soon as I found out that Sarah Michelle Gellar was joining, I was like, Wait a second. That's an awfully familiar name that I'm very familiar with,” he says. “Not only Buffy, but Cruel Intentions. Scooby Doo. I Know What You Did Last Summer—she’s an icon.”
Both actors noted that the vibe on set changes when she appears; it's a bit of inspiration to up their acting game, if you will. Neither Gray nor Jackson seem to be taking for granted the opportunity that's in front of them. Both had their high school experience disrupted by a little hiccup by the name of COVID. Both of them ushered in the next era of their careers filming audition tapes in parents’ basements and empty apartments. Wolf Pack is the kind of opportunity that could change their lives forever.
Talking about the education he’s had on set working with seasoned professionals, Gray quickly realized that this whole acting thing is a long-haul learning process. “How dare I respect this art and think I have it all figured out in a year?” he says, earnestly. “I still don't have it all figured out.”
“Wolf Pack is definitely the role that I had been waiting for a really long time,” Armani adds. “And every other project that I lost or that I was close on, it made sense why I lost it. So, now I'm entering my adult career. I'm excited to see where it goes.”
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