Director Sarah Boyd had a lot to unpack in The Boys’ standout episode “The Bloody Doors Off”. The season 2 installment kicks off with a disturbing sex romp between a turned-on Stormfront (Aya Cash) and Homelander (Antony Starr), but only after he crushed a man’s face in with his hand.
Meanwhile, Butcher (Karl Urban), Hughie (Jack Quaid), Annie a.k.a. Starlight (Erin Moriarty), Mother’s Milk (Laz Alonso), Frenchie (Tomer Capon) and Kimiko (Karen Fukuhara) take a road trip to the Sage Grove Center, a facility Annie stumbled across on Stormfront’s laptop. They discover the institution serves as a testing ground, where reluctant subjects are being injected with Compound-V… to varying results. To further complicate matters, former Seven member Lamplighter (Shawn Ashmore) had been recruited to keep the patients in line – or roast the unruly alive with his fiery powers. And, as it turns out, Frenchie and Lamplighter shared a shocking history together.
Boyd spent years as an editor on such high-profile shows as Lost, The Killing, and Bates Motel before successfully pivoting to directing on Bates Motel, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., The Flash, This is Us, and The Boys. Currently in pre-production on The Boys’ final two episodes of season 3, Boyd spoke to Den of Geek about season 2’s wildest episode, the series sex and violence, and what’s in store for season 3.
Den of Geek: When you received the script for “The Bloody Doors Off”, what was it about this episode that spoke to you?
Sarah Boyd: I’m not sure it spoke to me, but I got excited about the Sage Grove craziness, and the tension and action in there, and then the reveal of Lamplighter. I was really looking forward to introducing and creating a new character that the audience hadn’t seen before. I didn’t know who they were thinking of casting at first. Then I saw Shawn Ashmore’s audition tape. That’s when I first got super-excited.
How comfortable were you with the episode being so special effects-heavy?
Special effects and VFX, I’ve done both. And as a longtime editor, I’ve worked on lots of shows with visual effects and special effects. The action stuff was pretty comfortable for me. It involved a lot of prep. It takes a lot of time and forethought to orchestrate how you are going to shoot it, how you are going to make it look real. Of course, it’s not real, so how are you going to make it real? And when the stunts are happening, how are they going to be done faithfully? What’s the best angle to film them from? This show has a lot of gore, a lot of action and a lot of sex. These are all things that need to be carefully orchestrated and done to make sure everyone is comfortable and safe. Sage Grove was one example of where we knew we had a lot to do, so we had very jam-packed days at the Sage Grove Institution.
Taking into consideration the action and sex, were there any particular sequences that required extra discussion with the cast or producers?
We always have meetings with actors, individually and then together, when there’s going to be an intimate scene. For example, the scene with Homelander and Stormfront in the alley at the beginning of the episode… It’s not particularly graphic in terms of how much of their bodies you see, but anytime there’s enough people insinuating sex, you have a discussion with each person. Then there’s practical things like, “When you wear the super-suit, it’s hard enough to take off your pants if you don’t take off your boots.” It’s like, “OK, we have to think about this.” There’s a certain amount of conversation that goes into that. But we talk not only about logistics, but about the characters’ emotions. I wanted to make it clear that it was a scene where they were really having a connection and that it was an emotional thing. It wasn’t just graphic, and it wasn’t just empty sex or empty violence. It was all part of their commonality that brings these characters together.
The Boys is known for its extremes. How did you approach the bloody component with Homelander crushing a man’s face in?
We always have prep conversations about how we are going to shoot something. Is he going to smoosh a dummy or a prosthetic imitation of a person? Is he going to start pushing into a real person’s face and then we cut, and then VFX takes over? You go over different angles. In that particular scene, we were prepared to do a prosthetic, but we decided it would be better and more effective to what we needed to get done if we put a whole bunch of dots on the actor and then let VFX take over. Also, the actor had to get smooshed and then fall. When a dummy falls, it looks like a dummy falling. Whereas, when an actor falls, even if he’s missing a head, everything else about him would be himself. It was more effective for the actor and for us to change his head in postproduction.
For the Sage Grove segment, production took place in an abandoned asylum. In what ways did filming on location create an atmosphere and vibe for the episode?
It was an amazing, but also disturbing, location. It really did have the vestiges of what it used to be. It used to be a hospital for the criminally insane. It had a very musky old smell to it. We had to air a lot of those hallways, just so we could tolerate being in them. Then, of course, the production designer and team had to create a lot of specific things in those rooms. Those rooms were empty, and we had to fill them up. But the location was inherently right for what we were looking for. It had a labyrinthian layout. There were different looks in each hallway, in terms of the color scheme or whether it had carpeting on the floor. It was large, but it felt even larger.
And there was so much extra stuff we had to film for the security cameras. We ended up having a second unit working one of the days of that same week, just to get those extra bits. They weren’t just random. We carefully planned them. There’s little bits of people running and screaming and going down the hallways, running down the hallways and getting attacked. There’s even a little Easter egg with Love Sausage grabbing someone and pulling them by the leg down the hall. Each of those take a while to set up.
There’s a brief scene outside where Butcher has Starlight in his line of fire. There’s a certain look in his eyes. In your mind, how close was he to killing her?
There’s always that tension between Butcher and Starlight. There’s no love lost there. It’s interesting because it puts Butcher in a position. Hughie likes Starlight so much. Butcher is conflicted there. I love that moment and the payoff as soon as Starlight gets back to the van, when they have it out and she’s like, “What’s your problem with me?” It’s an example of Butcher’s pickle. He needs Starlight, but doesn’t like her.
You mentioned Lamplighter earlier. What were some of the challenges of establishing the aesthetic of his fiery powers and how they would manifest?
Shawn and I had a bunch of Facetime conversations, where he would try different things. He got a Zippo lighter and practiced and became really comfortable with that. That was a big aspect to his character. It had to become second nature. There are over 50 ways to light a Zippo lighter. There are all these tricks. There’s actually a lot of videos about tricky ways to light your Zippo lighter. There were a few we loved, and we were like, “This is great. Let’s show it to Eric (Kripke).” Eric was like, “It can’t be too tricky.” At the end of the day, we had a couple of pitches that were more complicated. We wanted to make it different from other flame-throwing characters, which he is, but we wanted to make it wildly different, and Eric wanted it to be more grounded. We came to a happy medium.
We had concept art from visual effects. They present lots of drawings and options. Is it going to look like a plume? Is it going to be a straight shot? Is it going to be similar to a laser? We had lots and lots of conversations and choices there.
Cindy knows how to make an entrance. The telekinetic Sage Grove patient made an orderly explode. Take us behind the scenes of pulling that off…
In terms of the splat and the crunches, again, it was a conversation and an evolution of ideas pitched and then coming to an agreement of what it should be. The idea is she doesn’t have to do much with her own body. She just has to bend her fingers in to make multiple metal doors crunch and fall. The smaller little things are more chilling than some giant movement on her body. That was an example of multiple layers. There was an element of her, an element of green screen and an element of gore.
What was it like for you to get to explore Frenchie’s backstory and his friction with Lamplighter?
It was great. Tomer took it really seriously and we dug in together. It was excellent. I enjoy those flashback scenes. I like, in any story, when you learn about the past, as long as the flashbacks aren’t too early. There’s a sweet spot for when you want to introduce a flashback and it has to be when you are curious. It can’t be when you don’t care. The show waited just the right amount of time. “What’s the deal? What happened? What made Frenchie so haunted?” To get a glimpse of the good old days, when Frenchie was robbing banks and killing Supes… And, then when everything took a turn for the worse in regard to their drug use and Frenchie getting caught and joining forces with Mallory, just finding out how those things happened is very satisfying for an audience.
Was there anything in the script that didn’t make it to the small screen?
The only thing I can think of is this tiny scene, which was at the end. Annie is in a car, having left Hughie and Butcher at the hospital. What she is doing is driving to see her mom, I guess, but you don’t know that. So, she’s driving and looking conflicted about having left and where she’s going and how she feels about what she’s becoming. It was a lovely little scene and Erin did a great job with it.
You are currently in post-production for the final two episodes in season 3. What drew you in about the script for the finale?
It’s always exciting to get the actual script you are going to be working on. But, in order to understand my script, I had to get all the scripts before it. I got all the scripts in a big clump and just tore through them. I was so excited. It’s always amazing when a season that you already like, such as season 2, was as good if not better than the first season. And now, the same thing has happened again with season 3. How do they keep doing it? How do they keep finding the stories that are exciting and surprising you with unexpected things and irreverent moments and smart political satire?
In what way do you approach directing a finale differently than a regular episode?
No matter what episode you are directing, you try to tell that story as captivatingly as you can. The stakes are high for the finale, so generally they pull out all the stops. There’s just more work to do. I don’t know if it’s any different than any other episode, because you try to make every episode you work on as good as it can be.
Maybe one thing that’s different about the finale is these are going to be the images you leave fans with, and for quite some time. So, you want to do right by each character and leave them in a place where you understand where they are at, whether that’s a good place or a bad place, depending on what’s happening. It’s just making sure everyone has their moments.
Jensen Ackles joined the cast as Soldier Boy. What’s impressed you about the Supernatural actor?
Jensen is fantastic. I’ve already met with him a couple of times, just to talk about his character, and get to know each other. He seems extremely kind and hardworking and thoughtful and is having a great time with his character. That kind of enthusiasm is contagious and I’m looking forward to working with him.
The Boys seasons 1 and 2 are available to stream on Amazon Prime now.