Exclusive: Peter Mensah Takes a Bite out of Midnight, Texas

Peter MensahNBC's Midnight, Texas centers around a small town that not only serves as a safe haven to its supernatural residents who want to stay hidden, but also to some mortals as well. Midnight sits on a fraying veil between the living and Hell that is drawing other supernaturals to the town.

This week's episode of Midnight, Texas ,"Lemuel, Unchained," focuses on the character of Lem, played by Peter Mensah, when other vampires come to Midnight. Fans get to learn how he first became a vampire, as well as how he is unique from other vampires.

Back in January, SciFi Vision traveled to Albuquerque, New Mexico to visit the set of the series, which is based on a novel series by Charlaine Harris. While there, the site was able to talk to the cast and crew, including Mensah.

Recently, the actor caught up with SciFi Vision in an exclusive interview to talk more about his unique character, Lem's relationship with Olivia (Arielle Kebbel), and more.

**Spoilers for 1.03**

Peter MensahSCIFI VISION: Can you talk about some of the practical effects that are used in your makeup - the contacts, the teeth?

PETER MENSAH: The great thing about this, is Charlaine sort of visits a certain kind of character, and then we illustrated it slightly differently, obviously. In order to create this sense of a new type of vampire, I think going with the blue eyes was the most distinctive choice, and I think it works brilliantly. I was completely on board with it; it was just a matter of going through the process to find the right sort of texture and coloring.

The contacts certainly adjust vision. Painted lenses can sometimes - and in this particular case they do - affect the dilation of the pupils. So when you're hit with certain spots of light, sudden bursts of light, which happens on set, you're momentarily blinded while your pupils are trying to adjust. So, when playing the awesome threatening vampire, and you actually can't see a thing, [laughs] it's an interesting challenge.

And teeth, we all know vampires have them, but the other thing was to have him not wear them all the time, so that while he's striking and different, you could see him as a normal part of the community, and that the teeth were only sort of as in True Blood, dropping in when the moment required. And of course you get fitted for them. Vampire teeth are not the most comfortable thing to have a conversation in, let's just put it that way. Your tongue goes into places, and sharp points are there where they're normally not when you make certain sounds, so it's hard not to lisp when you're wearing vampire teeth. So that's one hurdle you have to figure out.

When I talked to Monica Breen recently, she was telling me about the fight Lem had with the Rev (Yul Vazquez) as a tiger, in the last episode, who was really a man in a blue fat suit.
[laughs] Can you talk about that experience?

The weretiger fight was actually one of the really sort of interesting aspects for me when I read the episode. If you can imagine, we sort of get the pages, sometimes a matter of days before we go into production. So, you get it, and you read it and go, "Oh, and Lem wrestles a tiger." And I thought, "Wait a minute! [laughs] This is not what I signed on for!"

Then you go through the process, and go, “Is it going to be a trained tiger? Is it a man in a blue suit? Am I just waving my arms in the air? How is this going to be done?”

And the process actually was both interesting and challenging in very different ways, because there wasn't a real tiger, but what happened, is the stunt coordinators who had designed everything basically came up with a sequence of events that followed the script that allowed both characters, both the reverend's character and mine, to operate both in their sort of supernatural forms as well as the friendship that the audience would recognize. And this is one of the key pieces of all of it, that Monica and her team have managed to make sure that no matter what the action is, supernatural or otherwise, you're still involved in the interpersonal drama of the Midnight family.

Peter MensahSo, the fight was designed to show both the power of the reverend and his sort of beast side that's a little out of control, and also the relationships that all of us have.

So, even Olivia, in her attempts to protect the other Midnighters and to follower her word to the reverend, i.e. that she would end him if he threatened the other Midnighters, all of it is played out. And that's how it was designed and positioned, to show that, and then in the final analysis for Lem to use the power he knows he has to try and control the situation.

So, it was designed that the tiger would leap first. The tough part about that is that when there is no tiger, and with human limitation, they came up with cables.

So, the stunt guy in the suit in his cable leaps up, and we had the whole sequence figured out. They taught me the choreography, and then we proceeded to do the greater steps showing the attack, the initial blows, and then the subsequent shifts until Lem does the leeching.

The tricky part of course, is that at some stage I had to flip the guy, and that wouldn't have worked, so we ended up using a blue dummy, and part of the sequence is me fighting a blue dummy. [laughs] And as you can imagine, when you're dealing with repeat action, you have to show weight. There's resistance, and there's all sorts of things that aren't even there, but fortunately I've done quite a bit of motion capture, computer games, Avatar, and all of that, so this was really just sort of familiar territory for me.

It sounded like it was funny to watch though, at least from Monica's point of view.

Oh absolutely. It's sort of one of those things that you know that. But as a performer and a stage performer, the thing is, it's my job to completely buy in and do it regardless, and trust the team to do their work. I knew that our animation team was the best. So, you follow their instructions. They wanted certain kind of actions for them to animate the tiger, so my arms had to be a certain distance apart. There were certain technical aspects to it, which to the audience on the day would look ridiculous, but it allowed the animators the space to do their work.

You've done a good bit of action scenes from what I've seen so far. Did you do all of your own stunts, and do you enjoy that sort of thing?

Typically I enjoy it. I've done it in a number of productions, so it's one of the aspects that I'm sort of familiar with and comfortable with, and the only way to do it is to trust your stunt team. And honestly, they are so good, and I think that any actor is very fortunate to have people who coordinate these things to make our story more effective and to make us look good as performers. I think we're blessed also with a stunt team that really knows what they're doing. I enjoy doing it. I didn't have as much perhaps as Dylan [Bruce] or Arielle, [laughs] but certainly there were plenty of areas where Lem gets to do some rather fantastic things.

In this week's episode we get to see Lem's flashbacks. Can you talk about filming those scenes? Many of them are quite violent.

There's a really interesting aspect of this, and this is one of the genius aspects I think of Midnight, Texas. There are a number of subjects that are uncomfortable for people to talk about and deal with. You know, slavery, bigotry, prejudice, sexism, everything. In episode three, I think you get a taste of what is permissible in the sort of supernatural drama. We can talk about all these things, and we can show them. So, it's not just a light fantasy that we can sort of escape in; we can actually talk about the things that are a part of our culture.

Peter MensahSo, it is violent. Lem's survival getting through slavery meant showing slavery, getting through that transformation to he would do anything to survive, and that is why he became a vampire. He did it to survive, and in the process, of course, that transformation is not easy. In the fantastic law of vampires, it involved violence and blood.

And it also showed the human side of Lem, the part of him that grew to a point where he acted somewhat like his slave masters in killing, and at some point it dawns on him that it is just not the way to go.

So, all of it leads to the transformation of the Lem that the audience meets, and I think the great thing about it, is it discusses all these other touchy subjects and shows what's possible when a person makes a transformation and finds community.

Back in January, you talked about playing Lem as a human who happens to be a vampire. As a vampire, his need for blood can be compared to alcoholism or other addiction. Did you do any research or anything to get into that space of playing that part of it?

It's part of his transformational dialog in episode three; it's one of the key pieces. It's in that transformation scene with Xylda (Mia Stallard). Remember, he's in there to feed on her. While the other vampires are feeding, he's gotten to the point that he just doesn't want to see anymore death. He's contemplating suicide, because he recognizes that this continued killing to survive is not for him, and that's where the addiction part of it [comes in], so he's breaking the cycle. He's at that point where he's willing to end his life, which is when she decides to help him. At that point, you don't realize Xylda is Xylda (Joanne Camp). You don't realize the power of the little girl. And what's amazing, is that he goes through that piece of reaching the bottom. He's had this addiction; he's sick and tired of the cycle he's been going through.

Now in terms of playing that, I think everybody has reached rock bottom at some time in their growth, and to play that was to play that in of itself. And I think the thing about the human experience, is there are a lot of similar experiences. We don't all have to be addicted to know what that feels like. We don't have to hit rock bottom to know what it feels like. We've felt it in other ways, and that was the play. It was both hitting rock bottom and heartbreak, this sort of not knowing how to continue, and this allows Xylda to reach him and for his better nature to be saved and brought back.

I know he doesn't need the blood after that, because he feeds on energy. But I assume from what we see that even now he still struggles with it?

Yes. I think actually Lem references that in the introduction to Manfred (François Arnaud) in episode one in the pilot, sort of, where he says the biting and blood is always an option. There is an overwhelming desire that has never been sated, so it underlies his existence.

It's part of the threat even in his relationship with Olivia, because it is a desire he has to continue to control. The analogy that I used actually was a reference material that I wrote for myself that was, "You can't drive in a straight line without constantly adjusting the wheel." So, he's constantly working on that. And remember, one of the threats in Midnight, [is] that Midnight sits on that fraying veil, and that fraying veil at times affects the Midnighters. So he's the guardian of the gate, but he feels the pressure of the demonic influences pushing against that gate.

That's part of the dilemma for the Midnighters, is that while they might be struggling under normal circumstances, they're all sort of being affected by the very things that could tip the world the other way.

Lem and Olivia have such an interesting relationship; can you talk about how they met?

Peter MensahThere is some layering to the story, which I think will be revealed further down, I think is the way I've been told. So, the story of their meeting hasn't been revealed yet, so I can't get into that.

They are kind of perfect for each other. She needs to get rid of this emotional energy, which is what he needs as sustenance, and they really complement each other, but that obviously isn't all of it. They seem to be in a deep relationship as well; there seems to be more to it than just the exchange of energy.

Part of their relationship, is they're sort of almost symbiotic. He's able to take away what would otherwise break her, the pressure, the depression, the anger, and things have happened to her, really bad things. And I guess when the nightmares get too much, there's a pent up energy which he can feed off, and they've developed a more sensual way of going through the process over their time together, so they both benefit.

The part of what the brilliance is with Charlaine's characterization and Monica's illustration, is that they're in a real relationship. They are struggling to navigate day to day issues. It's not just the fantastical that keeps them together. There actually is an understanding and a support system. As unusual as they are, their relationship has to do with navigating caring about each other. It might have been unexpected when they first met, but that's the situation that we leave them in. So, what we were trying to do is navigate, "Okay, we can continue to focus on how fantastical these characters are, or we can have these moments when they're just a couple," and that's sort of what we tried to play.

In this week's episode, the female vampire, Pia (Odelya Halevi), makes a comment about Olivia growing old if she doesn't let Lem bite her, and Olivia says that she doesn't want that. I assume they've had to have talked about that at some point. Do you think she's entertaining the thought, even though at the moment she doesn't want it?

That's part of their relationship dialog that remains unclear, just as certain things remain unclear between couples: what the future holds. Yes, even though they know aspects of their relationship are impossible or incredibly difficult, their day to day survival and affection for each other has allowed them to be together, but the future still remains a tricky, delicate subject in their relationship. That's part of what plays out for the audience in the season. So, the dialog obviously has happened in different ways. They are dealing with it, so even though the female vampire refers to it, it's a delicate part of their relationship. It hasn't been resolved yet.

In your option though, if she does decide to move down that road, is he okay with that, or does he not want to do to someone else what was done to him?

Well, that's part of what weighs on him. He's finally found a companion that makes him feel whole, and he's not isolated, but at the same time he understands the burden that being the vampire is. You notice he's not pressing her to turn, and I think part of what is going on for him, is he understands what an incredible responsibility it is. So, to a certain extent, he feels it should be her decision. He would like her to do it, but at the same time, he's aware that it could potentially bring her some of the misery that he's faced.

Peter MensahLem is one of the oldest members of the town, along with Joe (Jason Lewis) and the Rev. Because they know more about the town, is there going to be anything with them discussing solutions for what's going on because they know more about it, without involving the others, or will it be the whole town?

I think the direction that this is going, and I think what the audience will sort of get used to it, is that while each episode tells some individual stories and background etc., at the same time, the reveal often brings the Midnighters closer, human and supernatural, and each has something to contribute. Yes, the supernaturals have been around longer for the most part. We've gone through very, very different experiences, but the humans are often teaching us how to be a community, so they have a very important part to play in the dynamic. So, everything that happens tends to happen with the involvement of the rest of the Midnighters.

But as in episode two, the Midnighters might be going through something individually that may or may not take them out of the community, but the community typically operates together or in combinations of. So, the idea really is not to separate supernaturals and humans, but to sort of humanize the supernaturals and show the heroic side of the humans.

Can you describe Lem in three words?

[laughs] I didn't see that coming. Strong, deep, sensitive.

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