There are just two weeks left until Cult premieres on The CW — and you're not prepared for how meta this show is going to be. As creator Rockne O'Bannon explained to us, "the audience watching Cult at home is watching a show about people watching a show called Cult." And Cult is a show about a cult following for a show about a mysterious cult leader, with the fictional show's creator also being a cult figure. So we can't help but wonder: Is Rockne O'Bannon the ultimate villain of his own show?
In Cult, a reporter named Jeff (Matt Davis from The Vampire Diaries) discovers that his brother is obsessed with a TV show called Cult, which is full of weird clues and hints and breadcrumbs and has generated a huge following. And it seems like the show Cult has emerged into the real world and is making people disappear — including Jeff's brother. As Jeff starts to investigate, he learns that nobody has ever met the creator of Cult, a mysterious figure named Stephen Rea. And creepy events seem to be following him around, and he can't be sure if anyone he meets is part of the conspiracy.
Rockne O'Bannon originally came up with the idea for Cult after his show Farscape generated a huge, passionate fanbase — and he became interested in how that sort of cult following can take over people's lives. Since he originally conceived the show in 2005, he told us, the explosion of social media and online fan groups has only become more intense.
We caught up with O'Bannon and the cast of Cult at San Diego Comic Con last summer, and here's what they told us about the show that premieres on Feb. 19.
O'Bannon tells us he hopes the audience will connect to all the strong emotion in Cult, but also have a "visceral" connection to the layers of mystery — in which there's a show within a show, and mysteries inside mysteries. The pilot, which we watched, is definitely full of spooky events and weird reality-bending moments, but O'Bannon refuses to say whether there's anything overtly supernatural or science-fictional going on in this show. Also, he seems to want to claim that Stephen Rea, the mysterious creator of the fictional show-within-a-show Cult is a real person, who actually wrote the bits of the show we see inside the actual show.
So is it possible for a show to get too meta? We asked Matt Davis, and he responds:
You definitely can run that risk. And there is a needle that needs to be threaded, and there's definitely a tension that needs to be kept. It's definitely a challenge for the writers. I don't envy them. But at the same time, if they can rise up to it, they've got a great opportunity to tell a really cool story.
And Davis tells us that before long, Jeff won't need to be watching the fictional show Cult — he'll be so deep into the mystery, he'll be (in some sense) part of the show itself.
Robert Knepper, who played T-Bag on Prison Break, is really enjoying playing a dual role on Cult — he plays Roger Reeves, an actor, who in turn plays Billy Grimm, the apparently evil cult leader on the show. "It's great playing someone who scares people," he says — and he can relate to Roger Reeves' struggle with people confusing him with the character he plays. After Knepper started playing T-Bag, he went from being someone who people vaguely knew was an actor to being instantly recognizable on the street. He enjoys the way Cult plays with the issues of fame and identity that an actor deals with after becoming an emblematic character, like T-Bag or Billy Grimm.
We also talked to Alona Tal, who used to play Jo on Supernatural and now plays Kelly, the cop who is chasing Billy Grimm inside the fictional TV show Cult. (And presumably, at some point we'll also meet the actor who plays Kelly.) She explains to us that Kelly used to be Billy Grimm's right-hand woman and is now determined to bring Billy down. And perhaps the other cops in Kelly's department don't fully realize how much she's on a one-woman vendetta against her former cult comrade, since all she ever seems to investigate is Billy's shenanigans, including his recent kidnapping of her sister. As the show goes on, we'll question more what's going on with Kelly, and which side she (and the actor who plays her) are on, says Tal.
Meanwhile, we also talked to Jessica Lucas, who plays Skye Yarrow, a production assistant on Cult who decides to help Matt Davis' character learn the truth. She's been having questions about what's going on with this show and all the mysterious things happening to its fans for a while, so she sees Jeff as someone who can help her get to the truth — but she cautions us that her character, too, may have mysterious hidden motives.
So given that the cult leader in Cult appears to be a villain, and the showrunner of Cult is also a mysterious, shadowy figure who seems to revel in creating a deadly cult following for the show, what does that make O'Bannon himself? He's the ultimate figure pulling the strings of all of this, after all. Is O'Bannon saying that he, too, is a cult leader? His answer: "Not just me alone, but yes. The folks who create a television show that then causes people to rally around something... yes. I guess you could refer to it as a cult."