Extreme Makeover, vampire edition: Natalie Brown, Richard Sammel on looking human on The Strain

Spoiler Alert: The following discusses major plot details from "Intruders," last night’s episode of The Strain on FX.

It was a transformation worthy of David Bowie’s song changes. In last night’s episode of The Strain, the Nazi vamp Eichorst (played by Richard Sammel) teaches Kelly (Natalie Brown) how to look and act human. 

The scene was almost touching, and was an important development in the episode that also saw Eph (Corey Stoll) conducting impromptu surgery while seeking a sniper rifle to take out Palmer (Jonathan Hyde), Quinlan (Rupert Penry-Jones) recruiting Gus (Miguel Gomez), and Fet (Kevin Durand) and Setrakian (David Bradley) pursuing a crooked cardinal with knowledge of the Occido Lumen. "Intruders" featured a lot of great team-ups (and violence), but Kelly's relentless pursuit of her son Zach resulted in a showdown between the mama bear vampire, her Feelers, Eph and Nora (Mia Maestro).

During my visit to the Toronot set of The Strain last April, I spoke with both Sammel and Brown about Kelly’s makeover -- and what it might mean for the character’s future. What follows is their take on the the Bonnie and Clyde relationship of the vampire realm.

To Richard Sammel: Eichorst gives Kelly a makeover. What else can you share about their relationship?

Richard Sammel: Well, it’s Bonnie and Clyde, vampire version. 

There is Eichorst helping Kelly to not only to do the makeup but only to behave as a human because she’s still like [jerking motions] and she can’t control the [more jerking motions]. So it’s a kind of father figure, it’s a big brother, but it’s also … yeah, there is a kind of it’s the bride of the Master, you know? I can’t f--k her, but I can treat her well, you know?

Like Pygmalion?

RS: Yes, exactly! That’s on a subliminal level, but then she’s creepy. I mean, she looks like a vampire, and Eichorst was not the most lovely guy. But they have this lovely relationship, you know? And that’s absolutely wonderful. Because that’s exactly the same, in a certain way exactly the same thing. With the help of Eichorst, now you have the make-up scene of Kelly. She’s insecure and you see a f---ing monster, and little by little she turns into lovely Kelly. And I suppose you know about the Feelers and her role about the Feelers, and I introduce her also into that, you know. There is a kind of … I protect her and because the Master has chosen her, so I protect her; I take her under my wings, and so that’s great.

To Natalie Brown: Talk a little about the dynamic with Richard Sammel.

Natalie Brown: That was on my wish list from last season, when I was speculating what is in store for Season 2. I said I didn’t know what they would keep from the books, or how they would venture off, but I would love to work with Eichorst, and it’d be great if he could teach me some makeup tips. But working with Richard Sammel is such a gift. He definitely has his vampire down. Richard is a mentor of mine both as a person and as a vampire. Eichorst is also a mentor to Kelly; he can show her the ropes.

Is their relationship father and daughter?

NB: To use his words, it’s Bonnie and Clyde. It is like tutor and pupil, it’s father and daughter. We’re hardly lovers, boyfriend/girlfriend, but it’s the closest thing to an ally Kelly has. The Feelers are her children, and Eichorst is daddy, partner in crime.

Since you get the makeover from Eichorst is, how do you think Kelly’s new look is different?
NB: A new color palette. Yeah, I was happy to get out of the many shades of brown Kelly wore last season. And to get out of that sweater! That vomit-stained sweater. I have been dying for a costume change for a while. The fun was, it could be anything. Eichorst has exquisite taste, so the sky was the limit as far as what I could be wearing, or the look, or the haircut. I am really pleased with what he chose for me. 

As an actress, is it more difficult for you to play the full-on parasitic vampire or the vampire trying to suppress the tics, trying to become more human?

NB: It was an interesting challenge, because all the things I was striving for last season were now things I had to resist. Just when I got my twitch on? Now not so twitchy. Finally got my flexible to be down on all fours, now they want you to be upright. The thing as an actor you work at -- being less mechanical, being more articulate – are things I had to work against as the season progresses. It was a much more visceral and physical way of working. I didn’t have to worry as much about dialogue as I had when I was a human. So certain pressures were eliminated and other challenges added. I really relished in it.

Even though you don’t shoot a lot of scenes with The Master, what is your sense of their relationship? Is she a means to an end, or is she emerging as one of his favorites?

NB: I would like to think she is emerging as one of his favorites. Although you could see Kelly as a pawn of The Master -- he is exploiting her love for Zach and her connection to Eph for his own purposes. Use away. As long as it aids me in my mission. I don’t know how cognizant Kelly is, necessarily. He has given her a very long leash to do what it is she set out to do. If he happens to benefit from that, then great; it is a win-win situation.

Is her relationship with Eph just adversarial at this point, or is there a part of her vampire side that remembers she loved him at one point?

NB: Kelly never stopped loving Eph. It was just a dysfunctional relationship that had to end. So it will be interesting; if you do turn the ones you love the most, Zach is first and foremost. I wonder how long it would take for me to go after Ephraim. 

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