From co-showrunners Eric Charmelo and Nicole Snyder and based on the best-selling book series by Charlaine Harris (author of the novels that inspired True Blood), Season 2 of the NBC series Midnight, Texas sees the bond between the residents of Midnight stronger than ever, especially after surviving the events of Season 1. But when a hotel opens in town and the mysterious new owners show up, they bring a whole lot of tourists into a town with a whole lot of secrets and where nothing is what is seems.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, actor Francois Arnaud (who plays Manfred, a charming and powerful psychic who can communicate with spirits better than he can deal with the residue that they leave behind) talked about amping everything up for Season 2, his suggestion for what he wanted to see from Manfred, how he ended up in a scene in only his underwear and boots, figuring out how to play someone with demon cancer, playing such extremes within the same role, how Manfred feels about the town’s newest residents, and just how bold and wild things will get, by the end of this season.
Collider: Last season was crazy and wild, but it seems like there’s just more of everything this season.
FRANCOIS ARNAUD: I think that was the aim for this year, to lean more into the mindless fun, as well as into the political undertones. It’s a little all over the place, but I think it’s also more obviously self-aware, and I very much enjoyed that. I think the new showrunners really found their footing pretty quickly, and I’m really happy with the new season.
Because it took some time for the Season 2 pick-up to be announced and the show came back with new showrunners, were you ever worried that one season might have been it and that you weren’t going to get a chance to keep telling this story?
ARNAUD: It certainly sounded like a possibility, at some points. What was important to me is that, if we did get a second season, that we were gonna do it the right way, and having a little bit of time between Season 1 and Season 2 wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. It certainly allowed me to come back to it embracing what it was, having had some time to reflect on it, what I wanted to do with the character, and where I wanted to take it. I had really good, extensive chats with the writers, and they were open to my ideas. For the season premiere, for instance, I don’t know if that’s what they had in mind, in the first place, but they reached out and I said that I would love to explore the aftermath of what had happened. I thought that was a great opportunity to jump into Manfred’s anger. I had some things in my life, at that time last winter, that made me very angry, so I was in a really good place to tap into that. I was like, “I really wanna shout right now! If you think you’re willing to let me do that for the show, I think I’ll do it well.” And then, they came up with the storyline for demon cancer.
It seems like it would have been hard to have him go through what he went through at the end of last season, and then wake up the next day and be totally good with it all.
ARNAUD: I know, but it felt like, sometimes in the first season, that happened too much. We didn’t fully explore various opportunities to their full potential, and I felt like it would be a mistake to just move on from that too quickly. As Season 2 goes on, especially in the second half of the season, I was pleasantly surprised with how ambitious the writing and mythology is. We really go into unchartered territories. I don’t even know how to hint at it without saying too much, but it becomes this really hard sci-fi, which I’ve never seen on television, and somehow doesn’t feel forced. It feels like it’s completely warranted. And by the end of it, I think it’s very satisfying. It was satisfying for me, and I think it will be for the viewers, hopefully.
While you were sharing your ideas with the showrunners, at any point, did you question why you were wandering around town in your underwear?
ARNAUD: I don’t really know what to say to that. It wasn’t problematic for me. I felt like it was in the right place. It didn’t feel exploitative. I always love when nudity doesn’t come from sensuality and there’s no pressure to be sexy. I think nudity is a tool that is too often used to talk about romance. For me, there’s a great thing about someone walking around in the nude. It’s so upsetting. It speaks of clearly unresolved mental issues, and to use that from the get-go, just to kick off the season, I thought was a really strong start.
At least he remembered to put his boots on, so you didn’t have to walk around barefoot for whoever many hours.
ARNAUD: True. There were a lot of pre-production meetings about the boots. I was totally willing to go barefoot, since it would make more sense, if I’d just gotten out of bed, but I think there was something even more unusual about someone in his boxer-briefs and leather boots.
Clearly, Manfred is not having the best time of things, when the season starts. How do you prepare to play someone whose dealing with demon cancer? How did you figure out exactly what that would look and feel like?
ARNAUD: I know that the showrunners hinted at parallels between Manfred and Jack Nicholson’s character in The Shining, so there’s a little bit of inspiration that came from there. But for me, with Manfred, it’s always been about his internal struggle to just maintain appearances and keep evil spirits out of himself, or kick them out when he’s done with them. What I really like is the sense of relief that he gets from finally going, “Fuck it!,” and just jumping in and giving into it. That makes it all the more scary that he finds it so pleasurable.
What’s it like, for you as an actor, to get to play those extremes of the character, especially as he’s going after some of his friends and you have to essentially try to kill your co-stars?
ARNAUD: There’s a lot to work with. There’s a lot to draw inspiration from. That’s part of the fun in playing someone like Manfred, in this context. You’re not tied to normal character study. Things have to make sense, and there is an arc for Manfred, but it’s punctuated by moments of invasion from others, whether it’s ghosts or demonic cancer. There’s an episode where Manfred goes through something heartbreaking, and I tried to ground it as much as I could, even though the stakes are higher than most of what a normal human goes through. I tried to ground it and make it as real as possible, so that there’s very real, tangible, probable heartache that he’s going through, and yet, right after he goes through something horrible, he gets possessed by this insanely comic entity. There’s a whole sequence in that episode that I would never be allowed to do otherwise. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to do anything like this again. I get to play an old Russian lady, while Manfred is going through the hardest time of his life, and I was able to lean into the comedy and absurdity of it all. That makes it all the more heartbreaking when you come back to what Manfred was going through before.