Interview: Them: The Scare's cast & creator on the new season's high-octane horror

THEM: The Scare - Courtesy PRime Video
THEM: The Scare - Courtesy PRime Video /

Amazon Studios' Them: The Scare is a roller coaster ride of frights, thrills, and real world horror. Set in 1991 in LA County, it addresses police brutality in the context of the Rodney King tape, while personalizing a broader political issue, showing how it impacts the characters. It also serves up grisly, unforgettable kills at the hands of a potential serial killer and/or paranormal entity. The new season has nods to Seven, several slasher films, Get Out, and, of course, 90s pop culture.

Them: The Scare premieres on Prime Video on April 25. We spoke with the show's creator, Little Marvin, as well as cast members Deborah Ayorinde, who plays Detective Dawn Reeve, Pam Grier, who stars as Dawn's mom, Athena, Joshua J. Williams, who plays Kelvin “Kel” Reeve, and Luke James, who turns in one heck of a performance as aspiring actor Edmond Gaines. This interview was slightly edited for clarity.

1428 Elm: Why the decision to set Them: The Scare in 1991, shortly after the release of the Rodney King tape?

Little Marvin: I think there are two key reasons that the 90s bubbled up for me. One was socio-cultural and one was creative and artistic. Socio-culturally, it was a very fraught time in LA history with the release of that tape. Our story takes place in the days right after that tape is released. It not only sent shock waves through the city, but it sent shock waves around the world. From a story perspective, I thought it would be fascinating to watch a woman who is a seasoned detective in the LAPD Homicide Division navigate through the tumult, thorniness, and complexity of the city at that time. I thought it would set up a really interesting tension, so that was the first reason.

At the same time, artistically and from a pop culture perspective, I'm obsessed with the 90s. It's the time of my youth. I'm increasingly nostalgic for the music, for the movies. It was a real shock to me. I had to go back and look at the list of the movies that came out in 1991 alone. It was a mind-blowing situation for me because i realized it was possible to see, on the same marquee, Misery, The Silence of the Lambs, Cape Fear, and Boyz n the Hood all in the same theater. Knowing all of those movies came out in the same year was like an explosion creatively. I knew that's where I wanted to go.

THEM: The Scare - First Look
THEM: The Scare -- Courtesy of Prime Video /

1428 Elm: There are several nods to other horror movies in this series. The first episode reminded me of Seven, but there are video rental store nods to classic slashers, including Halloween and A Nightmare on Elm Street. What other films inspired this season?

Little Marvin: That's very kind of you to mention Seven. Seven is the high-water mark and a constant perpetual influence. Obviously, that movie and Silence of the Lambs are hugely influential, but I would say, to the reference you're making, the 80s and 90s had supernatural serial killers. I was obsessed with those as a kid, these characters that managed to mix a certain type of iconography, gallows humor, and relentless terror that I found so inspiring. If you think about Freddy Kreuger and his claw, or Jason Voorhees and the mask, Mike Myers, and even Chucky and his overalls, I love the iconography of those characters. I pulled a lot of inspiration from the supernatural serial killers and serial killer movies from the 90s.

1428 Elm: Pam, you've done horror projects before, including Bones, Pet Semetary: Bloodlines, and other films. You're no stranger to the genre, but what specifically drew you to Season 2 of Them?

Pam Grier: That it reflected my life so closely, and now, I'm going to have to reveal my strengths and weaknesses, political issues, and so many layers that Little Marvin had written for me. I hid from him actually. [Laughs]. I knew he was coming for me. He's profound, and I know what he was doing. I said I wanted to speak with him, and whether I joined the cast or not, I was enamored with his confidence and creativity. It would take his voice to convince me to come on board because we're talking about elements of your critical persona as an actor that I do feel anxiety about. 

I knew I'd be attached to this character, the safety of my daughter and grandson, my aging, my psychosis, my medical issues, and the paranormal issues that are going to be given to me. When you have a washing machine that you wash clothes in 100 times, in a dark basement, with one light bulb, now this washing machine becomes this aggressive animal, attacking. I don't know where it's coming from. Is it real? Is it psychotic? I don't even like going into a dark room. [Laughs]. I'm losing reality, the confidence, and the support system I always had. That's a terrific role for me. You're alone. You don't know who to tell, who to confide in. Am I going to be put away, or is there something that's going to take me away, and I have no control?

All of those elements were in LM's voice. I just felt it was such a challenge and  extraordinary. I would not sleep unless I knew we achieved what LM was looking for.

1428 Elm: Deborah, what made you want to return for season 2?

Deborah Ayorinde: LM is a genius, and I really trust him. I think as an actor, a lot of times you do the work and put it out there and leave it in the hands of the directors, producers, and editors. With LM, I know that my work and art is in safe hands. When he said, listen come to Atlanta and let's get to work, I said, okay let's get to work. 

Also, the story and role he presented me with, I felt like she's so multi-faceted. She's the type of character I want to play.

THEM: The Scare - First Look
Pam Grier (Athena), Deborah Ayorinde (Dawn) /

1428 Elm: Deborah, you play a Black detective as the Rodney King tape is released, and your character, Dawn, gets a lot of pushback from the Black community in LA. Can you talk about that aspect of the character?

Deborah Ayorinde: That aspect of it kind of plays into the loneliness of Dawn. She's not really accepted by this community because they see her as an enemy, even though she's trying to fight for them, and she's not really accepted by the LAPD. She fights with them and tries to make a change within that institution. Where does she really fit? Even though she has family, you see her operating as a lone wolf. That, for me, was very true to her character. I'm really glad that LM touched on the complexities of that time via this Black woman being a detective and what her experience was like.

1428 Elm: Dawn really goes through the wringer. There's a scene where she crawls under a bathroom sink to try to solve a murder, and another where she's chased from a neighborhood by Black residents who throw stuff at her. What was it like filming those high-intensity scenes?

Deborah Ayorinde: You know, it's so funny, with the kitchen sink scene, I actually didn't know I'd be getting under the kitchen sink before I got to set that day. [Laughs]. But I got to set, and I saw it. I looked at LM, and I was like okay. There's that trust there. I'm so appreciative of LM. He just sees something in me and sees I can do things that I didn't think I can do. He's always right. [Laughs]. It's really, really powerful for me. When I watched that kitchen scene back, I was surprised I fit under there.

In that other scene, they were actually throwing things. We had to shoot that. For me, it just fueled Dawn's purpose, her story, and her journey. It's this idea that she's trying to fight for this community, but they're convinced that she's the enemy. As I said, that's a very lonely place. These things are just injected into the character. LM's mind is amazing.

1428 Elm: Luke, how did you prepare for the role of Edmund Gaines? The character goes through such a range of emotions.

Luke James: It was all written on the page. I just had to trust LM. He created such a beautiful universe with the Them anthology. I knew the level of where this thing could go from Season 1. I was prepared in that sense, but I just had to trust the process and tell the truth. I got the chance to really dig into my own childhood because Edmund, in some ways, is just big kid and lonely for love and acceptance. That's who Little Marvin wrote. It was in a sense, not completely easy, but that was the space. It was very clear. I just had to tell the truth.

1428 Elm: Edmund has this laugh that he does in almost every episode. Luke, how much did you rehearse and practice that laugh?

Luke James: Wow! It's so bizarre because I don't know. [Laughs]. Little Marvin and I just flowed ideas back and forth, what moved us, what gave us the chills. We let the emotion move. Once I put on the clothes, glasses, and hair, even his posture, with all of that history I had created in my mind and what's on the page, it was a culmination of all the things we put together. It sits in a space of creepiness. [Laughs].

THEM: The Scare - First Look
Luke James (Edmund) - Courtesy Prime Video /

What was it like working with such an amazing cast, including Pam Grier and Deborah Ayorinde?

Luke James: It was a dream come true. This type of work is something I've always wanted to do. It's nostalgic for me. Horror films are my favorite. I just love fantasy. Then, the cast! Pam Grier, someone who has paved the way for a lot of us, especially people of color to even be here, to express ourselves and show our artistic value. It's just everything, man. To even be part of something, with Pam Grier passing the torch to Deborah Ayorinde, I'm just grateful, truly.

Joshua J. Williams: I'll give you a little fun fact. When I auditioned for it, I didn't know who else was going to be part of it. It's an anthology, so it's a totally new season with different characters. When I got the role and found out Deborah would play my mom, I was like, for real? [Laughs]. When they said Pam Grier, I was like, wow. This ain't no game. I was eager to work with them and excited to be part of a cast with so many legendary people. Even Luke. He hasn't done anything like this. It was really fun to just be able to hang out with these people and to gain as much knowledge as I can. it was a dream.

1428 Elm: Joshua, your character, Kel, has some really powerful scenes, trying to process the release of the Rodney King tape. What was it like to film those scenes?

Joshua J. Williams: It was a little challenging because I knew these scenes were based on real events. Our horror is our reality. I just had to get myself ready for that. I watched a documentary called LA 92 that really, really helped me understand what it was like during that time period. It was challenging, but I understood it. I was ready. 

1428 Elm: Thank you all so much for chatting with us!

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