Severance: Creator Dan Erickson on Casting Cristopher Walken, Blood Lists, and More

Be sure to check out our spoiler-free review of Severance’s two-episode series premiere right here.

Apple’s disturbing office drama, Severance, is one of the year’s best new shows, featuring an impressive ensemble that includes Adam Scott (Parks & Rec), John Turturro (The Batman, Barton Fink), and Oscar-winner Christopher Walken (The Deer Hunter, Batman Returns).

The series is set in the near future, where the employees of Lumon Industries undergo the “severance” procedure, which surgically divides their memories between their work and personal lives. It’s a twisted “work-life balance” experiment with an even deeper mystery slowly unfolding with each new episode.

We spoke to creator and showrunner Dan Erickson to learn how he came up with this wonderfully insane concept, what it was like collaborating with executive producer and director Ben Stiller, casting Christopher Walken, and more!

The Real-World Inspiration Behind Severance’s Story

Erickson revealed that he wrote the first version of the story about eight years ago, but it was ultimately put on Hollywood’s Blood List. “[The Blood List] is a list of all the horror and sci-fi unproduced scripts that industry people have kicked around but nobody’s made,” Erikson explained.

The initial inspiration for Severance comes from Erikson’s own experience working in an office.

“[Ben Stiller] brings up Christopher Walken and I was just like, okay, this is a prank.”

“It was a company that makes and repairs doors, and I was in this little underground office cataloging different hinges for eight hours a day,” Erickson told IGN. “And it was weird and it was just not what I wanted to do. And so I would walk in in the morning and be like, God, if only I could jump ahead to the end of the day and just skip the next eight hours I would totally do that. And then I was like, that’s a messed up thing to catch yourself wishing for. Less time on Earth basically.”

Erickson went on to say that the corporate world has an emptiness that’s pretty scary when you think about it. “Each [job] had their own version of this weird corporate culture where they’re sort of pretending to treat you like a human being,” Erickson said. “But then there’s this emptiness behind it. And it was the scariness of that that kind of propelled [Severance] along.”

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Casting Christopher Walken in Severance

Severance has a who’s who of Hollywood character actors, including Oscar-winner Patrica Arquette (Boyhood) and The Outsider’s Yul Vazquez. Oh yeah, and Ben Stiller directed six episodes in Season 1. But perhaps the most surprising veteran in the lineup is Christopher Walken, who portrays Burt, a mysterious figure from the Optics and Design department at Lumon Industries.

“We could do this in two seasons if we wanted, we could do this in six seasons if we wanted.”

Erickson wanted Walken because of his on-screen chemistry with co-star John Turturro. Without going into spoilers, Turturro’s Irving and Walken’s Burt develop an interesting relationship as the season progresses. We wanted to know how Walken was cast.
“I was still getting over talking to Ben Stiller at that point,” Erickson said. “So then [Stiller] brings up Christopher Walken and I was just like, okay, this is a prank. But yeah, he came in and is just lovely. He’s just so professional and personable and kind. And immediately [Walken and Turturro] just had it. They already had whatever that rapport is that you see. We had to do no coaxing to get that from them.”

How Many Seasons of Severance Will There Be?

While Severance hasn’t been officially renewed for a second season at the time of writing, Erickson told us that he does have an end game in mind.

“So I’m trying to keep a balance, keep it fluid enough where we could do this in two seasons if we wanted,” Erickson explained. “We could do this in six seasons if we wanted. But I do have an endpoint in mind. I have a general sense of what [Lumon] is up to and what their plan is and what our main character’s role is going to be in that. But there’s a lot of wiggle room within that.”

There are three episodes remaining in Severance Season 1 so be sure to check it out on Apple TV+. And for more on the world of streaming, here are some first-look photos from Stranger Things Season 4, our review of Bridgerton Season 2, and find out which Back to the Future star is joining The Mandalorian Season 3.

David Griffin is the TV Streaming Editor for IGN. Say hi on Twitter.

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