Okayplayer’s Danielle A. Scruggs sat down with Mario Van Peebles to talk about his new Syfy show, Superstition, and his favorite Hollywood experiences.
“We don’t run. We improvise, we adapt, we overcome.”
This is advice that Isaac Hastings, played by Mario Van Peebles in the Syfy series Superstition gives to his on-screen son more than once. And it’s sound advice we can use in this current moment in 2018, which is by design.
Superstition follows the Hastings, a close-knit family in the fictional town of La Rochelle, Georgia, who own a funeral home. But they’re more than just humble morticians, they are also soldiers in a fight against “infernals,” supernatural forces that have come to settle a debt with humans. The show also blends in social commentary into this Manichean battle between humans and infernals, who might not really be the bad guys you initially thought they were when you first watch the series.
The series also stars Robinne Lee as Bea, Isaac’s wife and partner in his fight, Brad James as Calvin, their estranged son who comes back after a 16-year absence, Demetria McKinney as May, the town sheriff and Calvin’s high school sweetheart, Morgana Peebles as Garvey, Calvin and May’s fiery and politically aware daughter, and Tatiana Zappardino as Tilley, the town coroner and the Hastings’ trusted assistant.
Van Peebles not only stars in the show but also is the co-creator (along with showrunner name Joel Anderson Thompson), writer, and also directs multiple episodes. We caught up with Mario Van Peebles to talk more about the show, his experiences in Hollywood, coming from an acting/directing dynasty, and some of his favorite contemporary filmmakers and series creators while he was taking a break from submitting his Oscar votes. (Fun fact: Clint Eastwood and Sidney Poitier ushered in Van Peebles into the Academy.)
Okayplayer:: Superstition is really fun for me to watch, because for the most part—aside from everyone battling ancient evil demons and your character is immortal—this is a normal, tight-knit family, who reminds me of a lot of my own family members.
Mario Van Peebles: You got it. At the core of the show is answering the question “What would the Obamas be like with the cameras off?” If the cameras were off, would Michelle really tell her daughter how to do her hair next time. What would Barack really say? I wanted to tell the story of a family that was smart and loving but had issues. There’s something life affirming about the family, there’s something loving at its core. They’re a moral compass at a time when we can’t count on folks acting with the kind of moral compass that the Obamas had. I don’t care what party you’re from, but come on, we’ve got to do better, you know what I mean?
So that was the kind of fun that you have all around these infernals. Even that is a tricky one. Early on, Isaac notes to Calvin and says that the more that humankind destroys the planet and all life forms upon it, the more the infernals are coming to put us in check. So the notion of who’s a bad guy and who’s a good guy gets pretty blurry when we’re the ones who have been the bad guys of the planet. The water’s polluted, we’re doing it. If the air is polluted it’s we doing it. Whether white, black, Republican or Democrat, when those fires burn we all breathe the same air, so what would it be like if the infernals were coming through with their own agenda but to some degree putting our species in check like we were a virus run amok. So there’s different layers to the show besides the family dynamic that are I think pretty exciting to deal with.
OKP: Absolutely, I thought that that was really interesting, too, that you’re making these political statements, too, without it being super obvious. But if you’re paying attention, you’ll get that aspect of, well the fact that your son in the show is a war veteran and he talks about what he went through with that, making reference to like you were saying, environmental justice and how people aren’t taking care of the earth and there are consequences to that so there is a lot of layers to this show that I was really intrigued by.
MVP: It’s been exciting that way and it’s also been exciting in where I am as a human being right now. I’ve lived for a while, I’ve gotten to do what I love doing for 20 to 30 years and I have family obviously and it’s helped me I think growing as an individual, it’s helped me to not just be my best but to create an environment where other people can be their best and I think that’s really exciting to get to the place where I can welcome everyone and everyone’s A game and know how to synthesize it, know when to use it, when to hold it, when to fold it, when to claim it, when to not do it this time, do you know what I mean?
That’s a real balancing act, but as a human being, when you’ve lived enough and you’ve got people skills and you love people as I do, it’s lovely to go, “hey Brad you know how to do that dope spin kick? Kick that zombie’s ass, put that spin kick on him, baby.” Robine, she speaks fluent French, I speak fluent French, this family’s educated. We can switch to French, we can switch to Italian, we know some words in Patois or Swahili, we can flip it up, you know what I mean? And that’s beautiful. “May [Demetria McKinney], you can sing? What? Sing your ass off. And dance and Garvey can dance, well let’s have mother and daughter working out, part of your everyday thing, that’s why you guys stayed so beautiful, work out together as you dance and you continue to sing while you do that, just like we do in real life.
OKP: What have been some of your favorite on-set memories?