“To those before, to those after. To us now and to those beyond. Seen or unseen, here but not here.” So goes the axiom that opens every story told by the patients of Brightcliffe Manor under the lights of the converted hospice’s hazy library fireplace in Netflix’s “The Midnight Club.”
Co-created and executive produced by Mike Flanagan, who counts the YA horror sci-fi series as his fourth at the streamer, the show marks a majority of the ensemble members’ first in their acting repertoire. For its main cast, the “pressure” to deliver to Flanagan’s fanbase (carried over from “The Haunting of Hill House” to “The Haunting of Bly Manor” and “Midnight Mass”) was real, but it’s one that they handled together and in stride, not unlike the eponymous crew they portray in the pulsating show.
Adapted from Christopher Pike’s creative work of the same name, “The Midnight Club” follows a group of eight terminally ill young adults at a hospice with mysterious origins. While there, they form bonds over ghost stories and wine and — most of all — try to live in spite of their death sentences.
“We talked about this a lot as a group, that when they do come to the Midnight Club, it is a way for them to say all the things that they want to say — sort of like therapy — and to do it in a way where they don’t have to just bare it all,” Annarah Cymone, who plays the devout Sandra, told TheWrap. “They can tell it in this fantastical way through the story.”
Despite the show’s multiple forays into the paranormal, its foundation is laid on the mature topics its characters grapple with, including mental health, sexuality and the AIDS epidemic.
“Every character, there’s this inner turmoil or this inner struggle that they’re having that translates directly into their story in some way or form,” said Iman Benson, who plays Ilonka, a newcomer to Brightcliffe who’s hoping for a miracle in its disquieting halls.
As the narrative winds through every character’s backstory in allegorical retellings based on other Pike novels, references to classic film genres abound (which is Flanagan’s way), as do some familiar faces within the Flanagan universe (Rahul Kohli makes a guest turn, for example, and leads Igby Rigney and Cymone were in “Midnight Mass”). While the sprawling 10-episode show makes use of these tiny worlds as frames of references for its persona, it also takes care to uncover the broader happenings at Brightcliffe, past and present.
“Most of us, especially being new to these kinds of roles and positions and stuff, there was a big sense of pressure, especially with Mike having such a big following,” Aya Furukawa, who plays the introspective Natsuki, said. “And there’s a lot of expectation, there was a bit of pressure to always do good and that was always a really big challenge that I think a lot of us were dealing with, but, despite that, because we were all in it together, we’re all feeling the same feelings in regards to that, it got us to bond and be really close and find comfort in each other to keep each other going.”
Chris Sumpter — who portrays the lively Spence, a patient with AIDS who has a close friendship with nurse practitioner Mark (Zach Gilford) — added that he felt the weight of that responsibility, especially when tackling such heavy subjects.
“I just remember being up on nights like those to 4 a.m., like, bawling on the beach with all of us,” he recalled. “And we’re like, ‘Ah!’ and then you get home and you’re like, ‘Ah, wow,’ like, ‘How do I take that off?’ You’re not just like Elmo at Disney — you can’t just take your head off and then go on with your day. That’s you and all of the emotions are still there, and you tapped into them.”
He continued, “I think a great way that I got to balance that was just by bonding with the cast and knocking on Igby’s door at 3 a.m. and waking him up and being like, ‘Dude, we need a bottle opener.’ Those kinds of things definitely helped me come back into myself.”
Furukawa added, “For the show just in general, it’s a roller coaster of emotions. There’s so many highs, more humorous aspects of things, and I think a big challenge is being able to bring the truth and authenticity of what we’re dealing with as our characters, but on top of that, bringing a lightness and a humor and community and friendship towards the storyline as well. Just always keeping that in mind, making sure that it’s like a wave of things that we’re experiencing.”
In a way, that balance between lightness and darkness is achieved through the cast’s behind-the-scenes experiences — unburdening deep emotions with on-set connections (and sometimes, shenanigans).
Adia — who portrays the privileged Cheri in her first-ever acting credit — said it was practically difficult to shoot out of order. “If we’re doing retake after retake after retake, you have to stay in that emotion,” she explained. “The amount of tears that we had coming down our face, makeup coming in to fix it because [of] continuity — that was really hard for me and trying to match my emotions so that they were cohesive.”
Sauriyan Sapkota, who plays the wholesome and video game-obsessed Amesh, seconded that sentiment, pointing to one night shoot during Episode 5 between his character and Furukawa’s where the crew had to anxiously race against the early rising Canadian sun. For Cymone, every scene that she shared with Ruth Codd’s Anya, Brightcliffe’s resident thinly veiled softie, resulted in one of them cracking.
“Like the day I was crawling on the table, in the first episode, the look that Ruth gives me as I’m staring at her — I think I broke down and started crying-laughing and Mike [Flanagan] came over and he was like ‘What’s wrong with you?’” she joked.
That camaraderie is something the cast hopes audiences will take away from the show: “I hope people can see, especially looking at Natsuki, how much of an importance there is to talk, to express what’s going on, to have a community that you can fall back to, a strong network to lean on,” Furukawa said.
For Adia, the takeaway is about giving people “permission to be youthful.”
“I think a lot of times, especially on the cusp of our ages — we’re all kind of on the cusp of adulthood, but we’re still kids — we don’t have to have it all figured out,” she said. “You don’t have to have everything figured out. You can still be a kid, and you can still live life even if you have adult-like situations that you’re dealing with, you can still be youthful and have fun and tell ghost stories.”
“The Midnight Club” is now streaming on Netflix.